Dar: Loss of forests should worry farmers
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Philippines — Resuscitating depleted forests should now be a priority of the farming sector, as extreme weather affects food production, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said here on Friday.
Droughts, landslides and abnormally strong rainfall have beset the agriculture sector, which remains the slowest economic performer in the country, Dar told a forum attended by farmers at the Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center here.
Citing the Cordillera, he said communities were “fragile” and a balance must be reached between farms and forests because “farmers themselves would suffer the impact of a failed ecosystem, based on the latest studies.”
“Our mountains are now denuded. That began with the loggers but we farmers continued to do so with ‘kaingin’ (slash-and-burn farming) to open up vegetable gardening,” said Dar, who taught at the Benguet State University here.
Metro Manila’s daily supply of salad vegetables like carrots, cabbages, lettuce and cauliflower is grown on mountain gardens of Benguet province.
About 300,000 hectares of land in the Cordillera are being cultivated, including the rice terraces of Ifugao province and parts of Mountain Province.
Dar said: “While we want farming to succeed, you need to make sure sustaining the capacity of the ecosystem is observed. Otherwise, we will always have concerns about water availability. Why has water vanished when it used to be abundant? That was true when we had vast forest areas, but we lost the trees that served as the natural water impounders.”
He said he was promoting rain harvesting after a farmer from Mountain Province complained about the dry spell in the early part of 2019.
The country has one of the highest rainfalls in Asia, with 2,400 millimeters annually, “but we only harvest 6 percent of that rainfall while India, which has only an average of 700 mm of rain, harvests 60 percent,” he said.
To preserve the environment, Dar urged farms to be governed by comprehensive land use plans, given that provinces have exceeded the carrying capacity of their natural resources.
“The long-term solution is to identify lands for agriculture, and lands for revegetation and reforestation. Population is increasing, which would necessitate more farms,” he said, adding that inaction meant “the environment would suffer the extent of human activity.” —Vincent Cabreza
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