That thing called Bhoochetana (and the ‘Yamang Lupa’ program)

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DR. WILLIAM DAR

(Second of two parts)
How many times have I stated in my past columns that the Philippines is blessed with rich rainfall or 2,300-2,400 mm annually, which is more than three times that of India’s 700 mm? But India has outpaced the Philippines when it comes to agricultural productivity, with the country exporting wheat, rice, cereals, among others.
Rains in India are actually good news with people welcoming it as a blessing, while in the Philippines it is oftentimes treated by mainstream media as a weather disturbance.

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So when the Bhoochetana program was introduced by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in the Karnataka region in India in 2008, one of the measures put into place was harvesting or impounding water during the rainy season to prevent floods from depleting top soil and making sure water is available during the rainy season. By 2014, the region was registering 5-percent growth in agriculture from zero when the Bhoochetana program started in 2008.

Learning from the success of the Bhoochetana program in Karnataka, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and ICRISAT spearheaded the Yamang Lupa Program (YLP), which initially yielded very encouraging results.

It was in 2013 that DA-BAR adopted and implemented Bhoochetana principles and approach in pilot provinces in regions 4A (Calabarzon), 8 (Eastern Visayas) and 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula). Also tapped for the program was the DA-Bureau of Soils and Water Management (DA-BSWM) that, along with selected members of the YLP management group, was trained by ICRISAT experts on how to interpret the results of soil analysis and develop Soil Health Cards (SHCs).

As of December 2014, a total of 216 SHCs covering 4,927 hectares were generated that represented 16.42 percent of the target areas of the program in three years.

Also, 21 demonstration farms on rice, seven for vegetables, one for corn and one for sweet potato were established. Rice was given more demonstration farms since the usual cropping season for the crop in the Philippines was from May to November, or the normal rainy season.

The 216 SHCs were developed from a total of 239 soil samples collected from the three pilot regions in coordination with DA-BSWM: 85 samples from four barangay in Sariaya, Quezon province; 94 samples from six barangay in Sta. Rita, Samar; and 60 samples from four barangay in RT Lim, Zamboanga.

The SHCs were critical in providing farmers the information on the nutrient recommendation of crops to be planted, amount of fertilizer to be applied, the type of fertilizer to be used, and the soil fertility status of their farm.
Like in Karnataka’s Bhoochetana progam, the farmers in the pilot-testing areas were trained on appropriate pest management practices while those growing rice adopted high-yielding cultivars.

In the demonstration plots for rice, yields were 11 percent higher where Bhoochetana principles were applied according to the YLP.

The YLP through the initiative of ICRISAT and local executives eventually expanded to Ilocos Sur, Nueva Vizcaya and La Union.

The three provinces were covered by their respective satellite programs under the YLP: Sustainable Intensification for Prosperity and Growth (SIPAG) Program in Ilocos Sur; Building Resilience and Rural Livelihoods Program (BRRLP) in Nueva Vizcaya; and Improving Productivity and Building Resilience Program (IPBRP) in La Union.

The DA was instrumental in helping expand the YLP to the three provinces through its capacity building activities and awareness campaign about the importance of the program.

Although the DA-BAR, DA-BSWM and ICRISAT were the spearheads of the YLP, the role of local executives, farmer facilitators and lead farmers or lead farmer technicians was critical in undertaking the program.

However, the YLP also faced numerous challenges particularly limited resources. Also the strict government procurement process limited subsidy support for the farmers-beneficiaries, while the lack of laboratory facilities hampered and delayed the generation of SHCs.

The total cost of the YLP program over three years was P27 million.

Realizing the potential of applying Bhoochetana principles in farms in the Philippines, the DA and ICRISAT in 2014 proposed for funding to the Department of Budget and Management an expanded Yamang Lupa Program (Adoption of Bhoochetana Principles and Approaches for Natural Resources Management Towards Sustainable Philippine Agriculture).

The first major activity/objective in the expanded YLP are assessing soil health status from pilot sites in Luzon (Quezon), Visayas (Samar) and Mindanao (Zamboanga) using stratified soil sampling technique. From the data to be generated, GIS (geographic information system)-based soil fertility status maps will be generated for developing barangay-wide specific nutrient management recommendations. The upgrading of soil testing facilities to “state of the art” and training of personnel will also be undertaken with the help of experts from ICRISAT.

The second activity/objective is to develop, evaluate and popularize best-bet soil, water, nutrient and crop management options to increase crop productivity, cropping intensity and farmers’ income by 20 percent using the inclusive market oriented development (IMOD) framework. IMOD builds on four principles: inclusiveness; science-based; market-oriented; and resiliency.

The third activity/objective of the program is to develop and strengthen existing seed systems to sustain the production and supply of good quality seeds of improved high-yielding cultivars. This is a critical factor in improving productivity of small holder farmers.

The fourth activity/objective is to develop and pilot test farmer-friendly ICT (information and communication technologies)-enabled innovative extension and delivery system so small holder farmers can be reached more effectively. This component will include the procurement of tablets and pico projectors for selected pilot sites, and development of a YLP website to digitize and upload information regularly.

The fifth activity/objective is capacity building of different stakeholders for increasing agricultural productivity through sustainable intensification, using integrated scaling-up model in the pilot provinces. Consortium partners and master trainers from LGUs and state colleges and universities will be identified to provide them with the necessary training for the program with technical support from ICRISAT and other partners.

One of the expected outputs of the expanded YLP program are increased farm incomes by an average of 20 percent, which is realistic considering the Bhoochetana program in Karnataka resulted in a 20-66 percent increase also in farm incomes.

In rain-fed areas, cropping intensity is expected to increase by 30 percent. This is also realistic because the Philippines has three times the rainfall of India.

The availability of seeds for high-yielding cultivars will also be enhanced, while the soil health and land use maps will assist farmers in choosing what crop to plant and farming practices to be adopted, including the use of micronutrients and fertilizers.

The cost reduction and risk management benefits from the expanded YLP will also give farmers the opportunity to produce market-led agricultural products and go into value-adding, which will increase their incomes and make them part of the agro-processing industry.

Eventually, the lessons learned from the impacts and successes of the program can be used to upscale agriculture RDE (research, development and extension) for other provinces in the Philippines.

Although the expanded YLP has not taken off the ground based on its original timetable, I believe it would generate a good return on investment because Karnataka registered 5-percent growth in its farming sector after it successfully implemented its Bhoochetana program. And I repeat – the Philippines has more than three times the rainfall of India, which will give the YLP program a better chance of succeeding. Need I say more?

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