Watersheds: Long-term solution vs drought

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William Dar, former Agriculture Secretary and director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said that the government should construct and develop community watersheds in drought-prone areas as a long-term solution against droughts. Citing the success of community watershed projects in India, Dar said that such facility will serve as springboard for other interventions that would enable farmers’ groups to produce more crops despite prolonged dry spell.

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“In India, ICRISAT has enabled thousands of farmers in 66 watersheds in India increase their crop yields up to four tons per hectare from a measly one to two tons per hectare,” Dar said in his keynote speech at the 2016 Annual Symposium of the Global Food Security Consortium at Iowa State University, USA.

He also said that effective management of community watersheds should be complemented with the provision of interventions, notably soil rejuvenation or ‘Boochetana,’ quality seeds, and better technologies and cropping systems.

Dar is president of InangLupa Movement, an agri-based civil society organization he founded in January 2015, upon retirement at ICRISAT. He led the India-based research facility for 15 years.

He said the ICRISAT community watershed and Boochetana program has been implemented in India since 2009, covering 3.1 million hectares, and benefited 4.4 million farm families, whose average crop yield increased by up to 66 percent.

In all, its accrued net benefit in four years amounted to $240 million or about P11 billion.

“The Philippines can also replicate the ICRISAT community watershed and Boochetana model, which in fact, is being piloted in three sites in Quezon, Samar and Zamboanga Sibugay, under the Yamang Lupa program,” Dar said.

Yamang Lupa program is jointly implemented by InangLupa, ICRISAT, and the Department of Agriculture through its Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), and regional field offices (4-A, 8 and 9).

“Yamang Lupa features community watersheds and Boochetana, and after two years, about 900 participating farmers were able to increase their average yield from 50 percent to a high 230 percent, and their average net income to 150 percent,” Dar noted.

The BSWM has also developed 216 soil health cards, covering 4,927 hectares in the three pilot sites in Samar (Sta. Rita, Basey and Pinabacdao), Sariaya, Quezon, and in RT Lim, Zamboanga Sibugay.

In Samar (Sta. Rita, Basey and Pinabacdao), where 834 farmers volunteered to join Yamang Lupa, they increased their harvest of lowland rice by at least 58 percent and 104 percent for sweet potato.

In Sariaya, Quezon, involving 48 farmer-cooperators, average yield of onion more than doubled, from 11.6 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha) to 25 MT/ha, for a 115.5 percent increase.

In RT Lim, Zamboanga Sibugay, with 31 farmer-cooperators, harvest of peanut doubled, from 3.3 MT/ha to 6.75 MT/ha harvest from Yamang Lupa techno-demo farms.

“We are heartened to know of such favorable developments, as we are right all along that the country’s farm soils have to be rejuvenated, and that farmers should adopt modern, yet sustainable ‘Boochetana’ soil and community watershed management technologies,” Dar said.

“We thank Agriculture Secretary Alcala for partnering with ICRISAT to showcase and pilot Boochetana technology in the Philippines, and hopefully expand it nationwide,” said Dar.

Given additional funds, the BSWM said it can increase Yamang Lupa program area to 16,600 hectares (ha), with the bulk in Sariaya, Quezon at 10,000 ha, followed by Samar (5,900 ha), and Zamboanga Sibugay (704 ha).

James Konstantin Galvez

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