Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has set a 45-day deadline for a nationwide soil-mapping scheme after reprimanding officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the continued use of outdated soil analysis data.
In a statement entitled “Wrong data, wrong planning,” Piñol said that DA personnel admitted to still using 40-year-old soil samplings in their programs to prepare for the effects of climate change and identification of land suitable for cropping.
“In the first briefing I received from officials of the DA, I found out that the soils analysis data used by the department in waging a war against hunger were actually gathered over 40 years ago,” Piñol said.
“When the presenter started showing which areas would be suitable to rubber trees, I knew there was something wrong with the data. When I confronted them with questions on the accuracy of their data, they admitted that these are based on soil samplings done in the late 1970s,” he added.
The DA chief, however, did not specify whether outdated soils map were limited only to Mindanao due to decades of conflict.
He also failed to cite whether the area, initially identified for rubber plantations, would be planted to rice or corn as part of the Duterte administration’s initiative to provide sufficient and affordable food for Filipinos.
The briefing in question was conducted by the DA’s Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative in Agriculture (AMIA), a special group reportedly tasked to prepare action plans to combat climate change.
Piñol said that an official of the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM) told him that they have been asking for additional budget for the updated soil mapping but the request was not granted.
“I have no way of validating that claim,” he said, adding that he ordered the AMIA and BSWM to submit an estimated budget requirement for the conduct of a national soil assessment.
Piñol said that he has already imposed a 45-day deadline for the creation of a Color Coded Agriculture Guide Map. Officials who fail to comply with the order will be asked to leave the government.
“What many have waited for 40 years to happen will have to be done within that short period of time because when the next planting season comes, I would like the farmers to be able to determine what crops to grow in their farms and what fertilizer to apply and use,” he added.
“Success in agriculture is all about correct data, right strategy and immediate action.
While I have promised them all the funding support they need to accomplish the task, I also made it clear that if they fail, they will be asked to leave government. That is how it is in the Duterte Presidency: Produce results or leave government to others who could do better,” he added.
Some work underway
Prior to Piñol’s takeover, the DA-BSWM was already conducting various research and development work on effective soils and water management to help in developing and managing soil rejuvenation programs for the country.
In fact, DA-BSWM has already implementing its Soil and Water Resources Research and Development Roadmap for 2016-2022, which aims to conserve and enrich the country’s soil and water resources.
Last year, the Department of Agriculture partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and various farmers’ groups for a collective effort to combat soil degradation as a result of climate change and wrong agricultural practices.
Healthy soils are the foundation for food, fuel, fiber and even medicine, but often go unnoticed by farmers. Healthy soils are essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts, the DA said.
Realizing the crucial role of soil health to food security, DA-BSWM started conducting massive soil mapping activities nationwide in 2015, with the aim of improving sustainable agriculture production.
BSWM Director Dr. Silvino Tejada Jr. earlier said that there are about 11.2 million hectares of degraded lands in the country, which will be prioritized for the soil-mapping scheme.
Meanwhile, Inanglupa President Dr. William Dar said that it would take as much as P500 million to conduct a one-time soil mapping scheme nationwide—which already includes the upgrading of soils regional development per province and capabilities of staff in soil laboratories.
Dar said they are ready to provide technical assistance on the implementation of the Yamang Lupa Program expansion to include soil health mapping and upgrading of national and regional soils laboratory.
Dar, who headed the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics, said they will also assist BSWM in advocating policies and bills in Congress that are relevant to national land use policy, land use conversion, soil and water resources conservation, and management and sustainable land management.
ICRISAT is known for its Bhoochetana or land rejuvenation approach, which is now being adopted in three pilot regions in the Philippines, covering 30,000 hectares to increase food production and improve the livelihood of poor, rain-fed farmers through sustainable and integrated natural resource management.
Dar noted that rejuvenated soils, modern and climate-resilient crop varieties, and scientific farming are the keys to adequately feed the country’s population by 2050.
The FAO estimates that by 2050 the global population will reach 9 billion, and to support food needs, global agricultural production should increase by 60 percent. Developing countries including the Philippines would have to double their agricultural production from current levels to meet that level of output.
Dar also said 35 years from now, the country would need to source or produce 50 percent more water for agriculture.
“This is the enormity of the challenge we are confronted with in the future and it all starts from the basics, which is soil,” Dar said.