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Friday, September 04, 2009

Groups join hands for sustainable agriculture in Cordilleras

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet - The crop protection industry have joined hands with the working journalists in this upland province in a show of force for sustainable agriculture in the Cordilleras.

Underlining corporate social responsibility, CropLife, Crop Protection Association of the Philippines (CPAP) and the Philippine Integrated Crop Management Association, Inc. (PICMA), all associations of the manufacturers of agricultural chemical products in the country, sponsored a seminar that sought to untangle for communicators and journalists the confusion over what is sustainable agriculture and what is not.

Regional Executive Director for the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resrources (DENR) Primitivo Galinato Jr later appealed on the need for an advocacy to help protect the Cordillera watershed areas, citing the wanton encroachment of vegetable farms in the upland areas as a cause for alarm.

"These farming activities might be of help economically to our farmers but it is not sustainable in the long run, for our ecosystems when destroyed will be very hard to bring back to its intended usage, that is, of being a watershed," he said.

Part of the problem, Galinato said is a local legislation in the area that presently "allows the issuance of tax declarations even in national parks."

Describing the Cordilleras as "the watershed cradle of northern Luzon, a giver and sustainer of life to our neighboring regions, we have 13 major watersheds that need to be protected and enhanced instead of being degraded," he added.

The region's total land area is 1,829,368 hectares with 1,549,909 designated as forest land area. This means that only 729,539 hectares remain with forest cover. There is a dire need to rehabilitate and reforest more than 481,491 hectares for the Cordilleras to have a more sustainable environment.

The only mossy forests in the Cordilleras, bound by the tri-boundary of Mountain Province, Benguet and Ifugao, continue to be encroached upon by the so-called vegetable farmers who wantonly convert the forested areas into vegetable gardens without regard for the environmental degradation it entails.

Should these environmentally harmful encroachments persist, it will soon affect the region's river systems, Galinato said. Rampant improper farming in the uplands will eventually cause erosion and siltation of the waterways, leading to a general lack of water that will adversely affect even the region's role as the power generator of the area – they propel the turbines of our hydroelectric dams.

This same general lack or lessening of water has begun to negatively affect lowland agricultural production. Due to the silted waterways, lowland harvests have begun tapering off in Pangasinan.

The CAR-DENR is currently trying to curb vegetable garden encroachment and stop the further destruction of the remaining forest areas in the upland watershed areas.

The CAR-DENR will also try to educate and inform the upland communities about the dangers these encroachments will bring. They are also embarking on an advocacy to promote semi-permanent crops like coffee in the watershed areas, even as inter-crops among the vegetables to further help stave off erosion and water run-offs.

The CropLife-CPAP-PICMA team-up, in pursuing their corporate citizenship, is looking to support more production on the limited areas now planted to help stave off even more encroachment on the slopes.

Florence Vasquez, CropLife president, maintains that "more production on the now-existing farms will hopefully keep the slopes intact by providing enough economic rewards to the farmers now without their having to expand their farmlands even more."

Jojo Alejar and Max Obusan, CPAP president and executive director respectively, add that "sustainable agriculture demands a balance between man's need for economic sustenance today and society's need to keep our ecology and environment able to meet the demands and needs of our children and people in the future."

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