Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The rains of December

In the Philippines and other tropical Asian climate, the rainy or wet season is from June to October. Before the current climate change, until about 15 years ago or earlier, the wet season would start by May. This year, considered as among the hottest, if not the hottest year over the last few decades, regular rains came only in August, rather late. With delayed rains, regular planting of rice and other food staples was also delayed. So last August, I had wished that the rains would last until December, to “compensate” for the delayed onset of regular rainy season.

Last month and until the first half of this month, rains would come regularly, either induced by some typhoons or a cold front or the clouds just converged by themselves and they became heavy and they fell as rains. And it was a good thing. Many rice farmers who were hesitant to plant for the second cropping were encouraged by those rains and they did plant as the rivers and streams were still regularly replenished by regular rains.

Some sectors or industries of the economy like tourism, were of course a bit unhappy with those rains in an otherwise “cold but dry” months of November-December, until February. Typhoons and heavy rains would naturally result in cancellation of some flights or boat trips, and beaches are not so enjoyable if the waves are big. There were actually fewer typhoons this year, only about 13 so far, compared with the 19 to 20 that the country would normally get annually.

In our farm, I have noticed last week that some light moss or tiny green flora have appeared on the bark of some of our trees there. Those things that one can find in trees on high elevation and colder areas. I did not notice them last year or earlier years, only this year. Does this mean that our farm is getting colder while most parts of the world are getting hotter? Or those flora have evolved and they begin to appear on trees even in lower elevation or in less cold areas as a result of global warming?

I do not know the answer, but I suspect that the rains of the past few months and the colder season of December, have conspired with our now bigger and taller trees which provide refuge and “natural umbrella” from the hot rays of the sun. This is a good development even at the micro or farm level, at a time when the world is getting more pessimistic or alarmist about climate change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Agri development, East Asia vs. Africa

I think what distinguishes (north and south) East Asian experience in agrarian reform and agricultural development compared to that in African experience, is that in the former, there is strong entrepreneurial component. Maybe it's because of the "Confucian ethics" (see how hard-working are the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, Singaporeans, for instance) or similar philosophical or religious beliefs, but there is strong entrepreneurial spirit even among many Asian farmers. The desire to produce for a surplus beyond the household's regular consumption needs, sell the surplus output to buy new farm inputs + household needs like appliances, etc.

Even Hanoi City and Vietnam as a whole, although it is under a communist government, private entrepreneurship is very much alive. Rice farmers produce plenty of rice for export to other countries in Asia and elsewhere. Vegetable farmers produce extra for profit in the cities and abroad.

If farmers have sufficient opportunity to make profit for their hard labor, they will not need much WB or ADB money for their farms, they can borrow money and farm inputs elsewhere, pay the loans after a good harvest and have extra for their farm modernization.

Meanwhile, the Philippine experience in on-going "agrarian reform" is one of the biggest hindrance to agricultural investments. Some farm entrepreneurs are reluctant to develop their farms into say, fruit orchards, because there is a threat that once the farms become productive and profitable, the government's agrarian reform officials will come in and say that the land will be under land reform and be sold to the farm workers. So the environment of uncertainty contributes to lack of agri investment.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A few typhoons this year

While Southern California was reeling from plenty of wild fires aided by very strong desert winds with gustiness up to 100 mph sometimes, Metro Manila and surrounding provinces was cloudy and wet for 3 straight days. The reason was a low-pressure area in the southern part of the country that pushed those cold winds and thick rain clouds. The low pressure area though, did not graduate to become a new typhoon.

It is now late October and so far, the Philippines has had only about 6 typhoons this year. This is unusual. The country would get around 19 to 20 typhoons a year on average. The rainy season usually ends by October, with occasional rains falling by November and December. The country's weather bureau, PAG-ASA, earlier announced that "La Nina" phenomenon might extend the rainy season until December this year. Lucky for us if this happens, because the rainy season was delayed by 2 months this year. Instead of May or June, the regular rains came by August.

Of course, less typhoons means less destruction. Last year, the country experienced about 2 super-typhoons -- typhoons with winds more than 200 kph. One typhoon, localled called "Milenyo", packed winds up to 250 kph, so it knocked down thousands of trees, electrical posts, houses and giant billboards. Many people were also killed, and much plentier were rendered homeless and injured. This year, we are lucky that we don't have such kind of super-typhoons.

Since early this year though, the price of rice and other agricultural products have been rising. The delayed rains middle of this year is among the main reasons. Delayed rains meant delayed planting, and hence, delayed harvesting. Many rice farmers are just harvesting their first cropping in the previous weeks, when they should have already planted rice in the second cropping.

Meanwhile, dams for irrigation and/or hydro power plants have not fully stock enough water for the coming dry and rainless months. One beauty of plenty of typhoons is that they pour plenty of rains for the fields and the dams. With few typhoons, we had less rains to fill up our dams.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Seeds of certain forest species

Planting trees is fun, and you should protect them to become big trees someday -- so you can cut some of them and build your own wooden house from the trees you have planted a decade or 2 ago, some you can keep so you can tie long hammock to lie down and sleep, or play with your children or grand children someday.

Watching the big trees producing their own seeds is also fun. Some tidbits about the seeds of some trees.

1. Mahogany -- among the fastest-growing hard wood species.
The seeds are lumped on one bundle of brown, oblong-shape thick cover, lit ooks like chiko fruits, but much bigger. Inside this bundle is around 65 seeds on average. A seed has a wing on its tail. So when that bundle matures, it releases the seeds from the tree, and the seeds fall and fly like small rotor blades of helicopters, enabling the seeds to travel farther, thus ensuring that they can perpetuate their specie to a much wider area. One mature tree can produce thousands of seeds per year. Even assuming that only 5 to 10% of those seeds would grow to become young saplings, there are hundreds of new saplings (or seedlings?) of them that grow around or near the mother tree.

2. Narra -- the Philippines' "national tree".
This is slow-growing, but hard wood quality. The seeds are small, enrircled by tiny layer that acts like wings too. So when the seeds fall from the mother tree, they can fly away if there's a strong wind, ensuring the preservation of their specie to far away places. Narra can produce lots of branches, so if you want to produce long and huge trunks someday, you should plant them close to each other (2x2 meters distance initially, later make them 4x4 by removing the trees in the middle).

Note: birds don't eat the seeds of these 2 trees. The seeds are big for most birds, and they don't seem to taste yummy for the birds too.

3. Acacia auri, acacia mangium, eucalyptus, others -- are fast-growing.
But you can hardly see their seeds, very small. Some bird species eat their seeds, when the birds make po-po, they scatter the seeds to far away places. Of course there are forestry techniques how these very small seeds can be collected and planted to produce seedlings.

Other trees that have very tiny seeds are benguet pine (like the trees you see in Baguio), ordinary pine trees, some local dipterocarp species like molave.

Making tree planting real tree growing

People who are serious in "tree growing" and not just "tree planting" do NOT plant trees at the end of the rainy season, ie, end-October or November. They plant in June (or late May), at the start of the rainy season. Those seedlings are still frail, unless they are at least 3 feet tall already, meaning their roots and stems are already hardened from strong sunlight.

My observation as a practitioner of agro-forest farming for more than a decade now, is that if you plant at the end of the rainy season, and you don't water them for the next 5 months at least, plus the necessary cleaning of undesirable weeds and vines that compete for sunlight and soil minerals, survival rate of those seedlings after 1 year is only around 10%, you're lucky if you get 20-25% survival. The rest are dead, sayang ang pagod, sayang ang seedlings. And if grass fires occur (they usually occur anywhere from January to May), you'll have zero survival. The tree planting activity then would be good only for picture-taking and project reporting.

Whereas if you plant at the start of the rainy season, you save on labor and watering for at least 5 months straight. By the time the rainy season has ended, the seedlings have already developed strong roots that will allow them to penetrate deeper sub-soil for water and minerals. That is why survival rate is much higher.

If the seedlings are still small, ie shorter than 3 feet tall, better keep the seedlings in one place, remove the small plastic bags that hold their roots, put the seedlings in bigger plastic bags, add more soil, water them regularly, and plant them June the next year, at the start of the rainy season. By then, the seedlings should be at least 4 feet tall, would have vigorous roots and will have much bigger probability of survival. Those who will plant the seedlings would also be glad to see that the small tree they have planted are already tall, taller than grasses and weeds.

Groups that are intent on planting at the end of the rainy season should allot more money to hire laborers who will regularly water those plants, remove the competing grasses and vines, apply fertilizers (organic or inorganic), and replant those that died. The cost here should be higher. Nonetheless, people should be aware that it should be a "tree growing", not just a "tree planting", activity.

Finally, for people who want to see real big trees someday, better that they buy lands in the provinces, just a few hectares, and do what they want or plant what they want. If they want "bio-diversity", they can plant several dozens of different species of trees, from fast-growing commercial species to slow-growing, dipterocarp and vanishing species. The area can be made later into an income-generating eco-tourism resort, or for bird (or some wild life) research sanctuary, the options are unlimited.

Planting trees on lands you do not own, especially if it is "public forest land", meaning "owned and managed" by the DENR, is very often a waste of time. It is because if you have open access to plant those trees in those lands, other people also have the same access to cut those trees on those lands someday. The DENR is the biggest manager of lands in this country (in behalf of the state that owns all lands). It is also the lousiest and laziest manager/s. If you want to check or refute this, try to visit any nearby "public forest land" and estimate the percentage of that area that still has thick forest cover.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Stone terraces and water logging

Building stone terraces on sloping and hilly areas of a farm serve three main functions. One, conserve precious top soil and organic matter like decomposing and dried leaves and branches, from unmitigated erosion. Two, conserve water and minimize water run-off during strong rains, reduce flash floods, as rain water seep into the soft ground, even recharging the water table underground. And three, help beautify the farm.

Through time, with continued building of stone terraces – whether raising higher or moving backwards existing ones -- low-lying areas will be rising and uneven areas become flatter. In addition, it is possible that spring water can develop later at the bottom of high terraces as more rain water are deposited deep in the new soil created by the rising land. If the farmer is entrepreneurial enough, he can develop his farm into an eco-tourism resort with those spring waters and beautiful, high, and plentiful terraces around the farm.

So the terraces and the land become higher. One big question that will bug the farmer is whether to cement those stone terraces, or leave those stones as they are?

The advantage of cemented stone terraces is that the structures become more stable and more permanent. Like the various rice terraces in the Cordillera mountains in north Philippines, particularly the Banaue rice terraces in Ifugao. These terraces were “cemented” using special clay and strengthened by small and rough stones that fill in large spaces in-between the large stones. The terraces have been in existence for more than 1,000 years and they have withstood minor earthquakes.

There are three big disadvantages though. One, new layers of organic farm waste like rice straws, dried leaves and branches of trees, can no longer be accommodated by the terraces because the stones are no longer movables. So upland farmers just burn the rice straw every year, the same practice being done by lowland rice farmers. Two, water logging can be a real problem if there are not enough outlet. So that either the big volume of water trapped behind those terraces will destroy the structure through time, or the roots will be suffocated as water will fill in tine air spaces underneath. And three, if there are big trees near the cemented terraces, the roots show their hatred to cement by bulging wide and high, eventually destroying the structure.

Terraces that are not cemented and continuously adjusted upwards and/or backwards, have the disadvantage of being less stable, especially if they are not constructed well. But they have the advantages of avoiding the 3 pitfalls of cemented terraces mentioned above. In particular, the terraces are porous, water can come out anytime on thousands of spaces between the stones, so that probability of water logging is small. Except of course during very heavy rainfall where flash floods are occurring anywhere.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Urban flooding and the cement jungle

Metro Manila and many big urban sprawls around the world are more susceptible to large-scale flash flooding than those in their counterpart rural areas. And such flooding is highlighted in broadcast media like TV, radio, newspapers and the web. Well, majority of those media centers are based in the big cities, that’s why.

But there are certain characteristics of urban areas that make them more susceptible to wide flooding than those in rural areas, on per hectare or per square kilometer comparison. I see a number of reasons for this.

One, with a few exception, big cities and urban sprawls are located in the lowlands like mouth of seas, bays and big rivers. Hence, by the simple law of gravity, all rain water runoff will pass by these big cities until it gets out onto the seas.

Two, construction and repair of drainage and canals sometimes lag behind structural developments surrounding these waterways. For instance, space (like width and depth) for canals can be sacrificed when buildings and other structures are maximizing each square meter of land that it can develop.

And three, the cement jungle. Most rain water, especially if the rain is not strong, are supposed to seep down the soil and not drain onto canals, if the land surface is not cemented. But with all those houses and buildings, schools and malls, roads and sidewalks, parking lots and other open areas that are cemented, the volume of rainwater that go into canals and drainage becomes big. And the heavier the rains, some canals and drainage can overflow, resulting in ever bigger and deeper flood.

But growing urbanization and the desire of people to get rid of mud and slippery surface when these get wet makes the cement jungle expand ever wider.

One solution to this problem is to have more open spaces and non-cemented land in cities and communities. Examples are community parks and gardens, urban forest parks, and golf courses. Many environmentalists will not like or realize this, but the open space for grass and trees of those golf courses help absorb huge volume of rain water to seep into the soil and not fall into drainage and canals. Although it's true that during the dry season, these golf courses also use huge amount of water to irrigate those grasses to keep them healthy. But it's the trade off if we want to have more open spaces that absorb rain water, not to mention recharge the underground water table.

Another solution, a minor one, is that in constructing open parking spaces, the surface should not be cemented, and use crushed stones to prevent the surface from getting muddy while allowing the rainwater to seep below the ground.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Farming and government support

My friend from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, Nguyen Chi Trung, also a batchmate from SUS 2003 seminar on "sustainable agriculture" held in Sweden, commented on my earlier posting re. government support on farming. He wrote,

"Dear Nonoy and friends, I completely agree with you that farmers should not expect so much from support and subsidy in any form. However, at least in this stage, the number of independent farmers like yourself is not much, and remember that farming is your moonlight play, not the main livelihood. For most farmers, subsidy is still playing an important role. Generally speaking, most farmers could not attend my lectures, if I were not paid by the state or a project. Similarly, I could have never been attended the SUS 2003 training without the kind sponsor from SIDA."

Well, Trung is right. Before I get misinterpreted, let me say that I am not advocating zero government support in agriculture. One government support that I see is very helpful to farmers, are farm-to-market roads and bridges, and irrigation. Good roads support not only farmers but also their children who go to school, their spouses who go the public markets, etc. But beyond infrastructure support, the impact of most government support to farmers are little. Like price support and credit support.

Many agricultural economists and consultants propose that governments should focus on "production support", not "price support", like government buying "high" from farmers and selling "low" to consumers. In this kind of scheme, a lot of waste and corruption are happening.

For the "independent farmers", they are driven more by bigger profit when they harvest their crops and fruits, and less of any subsidy that they can get from government. For mango producers like Cocor Soriano (SUS 2006) and me, there are almost zero government support for mango production, but we continue producing because the price of mango is good very often, not to mention that our families and friends get to taste our very sweet mangos.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Weeds, drought and soil conservation

My friend from Morocco, Nahid Elbezzaz, my former batchmate in an international training on “Sustainable Agriculture in an Environmental Perspective” in 2003, held in Sweden and sponsored by SIDA, wrote the following comments to my earlier posting, “Weeds and Herbicides”. She said,

“Hi Nonoy, Your article is interesting and can provide some good solutions to some problems encountered by some farmers in some areas worldwide as you said. But in my opinion, it is quite simplistic because the problem is different from one part of the world to another. In some areas, it is compulsory to use herbicides and (-cides) in order to have a good yield. The production is the target and it is essential to do the maximum of work in a very small lap of time. However, in other areas, the farmers can use the manual work to remove weeds because they are more close to their lands and also they don't have the same perspectives than other farmers under others skies. Each area has its own characteristics and conditions.”

Yes, Nahid is right that there should be different applications to different problems and situations, there should be more approaches to more and varied situations, no single approach will work everywhere. My point of view when I wrote that short paper was how to accumulate lots of organic materials for mulching, organic fertilizers production, soil and water conservation, and over the long-term, higher yield for crops. It's one of several approaches in the cycle of deplete-replace- deplete-replace. .. of rich soil for the crops.

What also prompted me to write that paper is after my short readings on banana culture and production from some materials available on the web. A number of the papers I read say that application of herbicides is necessary for bananas. But then I also read that bananas when their fruits are maturing, need around 2.5 kilos of NPK fertilizers per banana to support the fruits. That's a big amount and should be expensive for the farmers.

In addition, a new (or maybe old) development that I have read is "no tillage" farming. Which means not disturbing the soil's current compactness and hence, minimize if not control soil erosion. Having lots of uprooted grass and weeds as mulch for the crops should be consistent with "no tillage" farming. The earthworms and other soil micro-organisms that feed on decomposing organic materials will provide the aeration of roots of the crops.

Then Nahid replied back:

“Dear Nonoy, Your analysis is very interesting regarding the use of fertilizers and it is worthy of a soil scientist if the expression is right. The point is, in our region, the Mediterranean, we have experienced the phenomena of drought since quite a long time. All the projects of development had focused on natural resources protection. If my information is right, drought has and still occurs since more than 20 years. So you can imagine that since then, many approaches are being tested and implemented.

However, they were mainly top down oriented and the managers had omitted to involve local communities and population, wasting a potential local know-how to address environmental concerns. Nowadays, the intervention is conducted with and for people. The protection of natural resources remains the main concern of numerous projects. Water and soil conservation is a one of the main component of the projects implemented. But water conservation and soil conservation are, in some cases, implemented separately and this is one of the reasons why many actions are turning to failure…”

Well, I'm no soil scientist. Just a trying-hard farmer (hehehe) who likes to touch the soil as often as possible and in the process, learn from it.

Drought means prolonged dry spell, prolonged lack of rain. So, any water that you can conserve by reducing direct evaporation from the soil to the atmosphere, can be used by the roots of crops, right? Hence, the more that farmers should practice mulching using uprooted weeds and other organic matter as soil cover. And in the process, you not only conserve soil from erosion by strong winds, but you even "create" new rich soil, with the help of earthworms and other soil micro-organisms that feed on decomposing matter.

About the practice of many government agriculture agencies or departments of "top-down" approaches, I think it applies to many if not all agri countries in the world. There is even a danger called "moral hazards" in economics, where the people, farmers in particular, become less innovative and less entrepreneurial because they expect that government assistance (local, national, and multilateral or foreign aid) -- from credit subsidy to seed and farm tractor support, etc. -- will come anyway, at no cost to them.

Farms that are sustainable and profitable, in my observation here in the Philippines, are those that rely the least assistance and dependence from government. If you wait for government assistance, you waste time and money waiting for it, following it up at the municipal or provincial or national level. And you also become indebted to the politicians, whether local or national. Farming should be an apolitical, zero politics, endeavor. And farming should be an entrepreneurial, business project where farmers and investors produce food for themselves and sell the extra output for cash and profit. When farmers have plenty of profit and savings, then they can escape from poverty.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Weeds and herbicides

Among the problems encountered by farmers in their crops are weeds and their cousins -- grasses, vines, unwanted herbs, other short plants. And among the "-cides" that farmers resort to, is buying herbicides to control said weeds. Oh, the other "-cides" are pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, etc. to control other problems in the crops.

But crops, from rice and maize to vegetables and bananas, deplete lots of minerals in the soil as they mature and produce grains, edible leaves and fruits. So that in many agricultural literatures, the application of fertilizers, say a certain mixture of N-P-K, is a must if farmers want to continue getting high yields.

In our experience in our farm, those weeds can be our allies. But we have to put lots of time cutting them, if not uprooting them, then put them above the roots of trees and plants as mulch, and wait for them to decompose naturally. Of course the more weeds you put there, the higher the pile becomes, and new soil from decomposed organic matter is being created. Then we need to put stones around these piles so that they won't be eroded by raintwater or strong winds. But overall, after these laborious activities, we have lots of new rich soil, lots of organic fertilizers to replace the depleted minerals, and better yield from the crops and fruit trees.

If those weeds are not allowed to grow because of herbicides, then there will be more evaporation from the soil since those grasses and weeds help cover the soil. There will also be more topsoil erosion during heavy rains since those grasses and weeds help absorb strong raindrops before they reach the soil. And there will be less materials for production of organic fertilizers. So those weeds can be a farmer's ally somehow, huh? Yes, but the farmer must put extra effort and labor to manually cut and uproot them when they become big and tall and use them for mulching.

But what if the area is wide? It will be almost impossible for the farmer/s to manually cut and uproot those weeds. One solution are those ruminants like cows and goats. They feed on the grasses, make the area relatively clean, while leaving animal wastes that can help fertilize the soil. And when those animals are mature enough, they can be sold for cash or slaughtered for food.

Cloud watching and cloud seeding

It's now the last day of July, and monsoonal rains are not yet in. The past few days, we have some rains, short ones like several mnutes long. I thought that at least those thick rain clouds up there are falling somehow. Then it was reported that many of those rains were a result of cloud seeding operations by the government. Maybe the government feels guilty that it has neglected several millions of hectares of public forest lands that it own and manage, that have become bald and deforested.

When it's very hot at noontime when it's already July, you tend to look up the sky to watch and see where the clouds are that can provide a wide umbrella from the sun's scorching energy. Of course when it's very hot, it means the clouds are either absent or they're far away from where the sun is situated. And so you wish that the clouds would come quick to your rescue; or at least to your crops' rescue if you're a farmer.

Last week, some broadsheet papers here in Manila headlined things like "Power outage and water rationing looms". This is after knowing that some hydro-power plants have to shut off operations even temporarily for lack of strong water to fall down and turn the turbines. And the conflict between the need for irrigation water for rice and other crops, and the need for drinking water has once again resurfaced as the water level in some dams are breaching critical levels. Of course some of those headlines maybe exagerrated and are too alarmist, but somehow there are grains of truth in their stories.

At least one province in the northern part of the Philippines has already declared a state of calamity due to prolonged drought. When provincial officials do this, they intend to get a certain percentage from the nation's calamity fund and give the money to their people, also to themselves. One measure that the provincial officials have thought, is to give free fuel to farmers (xx liters per farmer) so they can pump water from the drying creeks and rivers with low water level, into their rice fields.

Tomorrow it will be August. Historically, it is among the wettest month of the year. I remember in August 2003, when Europe was wobbling from a terrible heatwave that killed around 35,000 people, the Philippines, or at least Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces, had 7 days and 7 nights of non-stop rains! So that tens of thousands of hectares of rice lands were flooded, resulting to huge crop losses as many rice varieties cannot recover after being submerged in water for several days. For those rice varieties that survived, the harvest was adversely affected.

As the Philippines and other countries slightly north of the equator are sizzling, other countries, especially those slightly south of the equator, are having floods. Rather weird. Similar to Europe middle of this month -- where southern Europe is scorching, north Europe like Britain is flooding.

This climate change will spur people to adjust accordingly -- economically, physically, even biologically. If this trend will continue, maybe 1 or 2 decades from now, us Malays, our brown skin will slowly become dark brown. Especially those who work under the sun too often.

What we shall be watching in the coming weeks, aside from cloud watching, is if there are mutant diseases that will pose serious threat to public health. Or at least pose threat to livestock, animals that we eat as supply of grains and other crops will decline relative to demand in the coming months.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Prolonged summer, heatwave and evolution

It's now the 4th week of July and there are not enough rains yet in the country. I went to our farm 2 weeks ago, and I saw along the way that hundreds of hectares of rice land in the municipality and neighboring towns in Pangasinan are still not planted with rice. I doubt that said lands have been planted with rice by now as there were no strong rains yet that could really wet the lands for easier plowing and planting.

I really believe that poverty and hunger will rise in the coming months in this country. If rice production is delayed for just 1 month over thousands of hectares of rice lands, then rice output should decline and hence, rice price will rise. If the delay is 2 months, then the adverse impact is worsened. This situation can only be prevented if there are lots of rice output in other parts of the country, say from the Visayas and Mindanao. But this does not seem probable because the whole country is experiencing lack of rain. At this time, typhoons will be welcomed by many people, if it's the only way that can bring in plenty of rain.

Today I read in the papers how southern Europe is scorching with a deadly heat. It's reported that in Hungary alone, about 500 people have died from the heat just last week alone. And thousands of hectares of forest land are burning in many parts and countries of southern Europe -- southern Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, etc.

The worst-affected country in Europe during the 2003 heatwave was France, with some 15,000 people estimated to have died. My country is near the equator. And yet when the temperature hits 38 degrees Celsius, life is very uncomfortable already. So I cannot imagine staying in a place where you can have snow during winter, and temperature can rise to 41 degrees, even 45 degrees!

Meanwhile, central Britain was swamped by heavy rains and flooding. I wondered earlier where the big evaporated water from the Philippines, southern Europe, and other continents are being dumped in the form of heavy rains.

This climate change is really tragic. Perhaps this is a new round of evolution and extinction of some species by nature. People have to live with this, endure this new climate development, and consequently, evolve with it. Food science and agriculture too, will need to change and evolve. Drought-resistant crops will be in bigger demand in the coming years, along with flood-resistant crops and varieties. Really ironic, but this seems to be the way if current trends will continue.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Our dogs in the farm

We have 6 dogs in our farm. A Japanese spitz, named "Vampy", a Dalmatian, named "Spotty", a cross-breed of Labrador and native breed, named "Jenny", and 3 native breeds named "Tiger", "Elma", and "Ryan".

Vampy is sort of a toy dog, she just stays in my tree house. With her long furs, she easily gets lice and other pesky dog insects in her body if she stays in a concrete house. In my tree house, with fresh air around her, I notice she hardly gets any lice there. She's the pet dog of my former girlfriend, now my wife, Ella. Ella loves her so much -- before, when we didn't have a daughter yet.

Spotty is an adopted dog from Ella's auntie in Quezon City. Some neighbors complained of Spotty's loud barking, so he was transferred to our farm, inside his metal cage. There, when he barks, his voice could be heard sometimes in another barrio or village more than 1 km. away! He's in a cage most of the time, as we can't let him loose all the time because he might walk away and never find his way back home.

Tiger (name taken from his tiger-like fur) is our "chief security" in the farm. He's the oldest there, he's about 4 or 5 years old now. Anyone passing by our farm, whether people, or rats and birds, he'd chase them. But his habit of chasing people is more of scaring them. He has never bitten anyone all these years, nor came close to biting anybody. But in the evenings, I don't think Tiger will hesitate to bite any intruder, say a theft, who will come close to my tree house.

Jenny (name taken from a famous Filipina golfer, Jenny Rosales) is also very brave. She can bark all day or all night, so long as there are faces or creatures that she doesn't like. Our farm caretaker has several cows. When he goes home down the barrio, he has to leave his cows somewhere between our farm and his house. And Jenny would come and guard the cows all night! Not every night, but on a number of evenings.

Ryan (name taken from former champion of the Philippines' multi-stage cycling race, Ryan Tanguilig) is another brave dog. When I'm not in the farm, here in Manila, Ryan does not stay near my treehouse, he stays in another hut where the mango trees are. There, some children from the barrio would come to steal some of our coconuts, or cashew, or calamansi, even mangos during mango fruiting season. And Ryan makes sure that they don't come too often. When he barks continiously, Tiger and Jenny would come quick to join him.

And last, Elma (taken from former Filipina athlete, sprint and long-jump queen, Elma Muros). She's also brave, but when the 3 dogs are out chasing something or somebody, or if they're accompanying our farm caretaker, Mang Endring, Elma stays behind to guard my tree house and other things inside the house.

We have a 7th dog before, Zorro (name taken from famous Mexican hero, Zorro). He's also a Japanese spitz, supposedly to become Jenny's boyfriend. He was very brave, and he'd bark loudly and continiously when 1 or more dogs are barking. Unfortunately, he died. He was ran over by a "pugpog", a barrio truck used in hauling various farm and forest products, which entered a public forest land via barangay road in our farm. I talked to all the barangay leaders there and requested that said barangay road be closed from "pugpog" because those vehicles are used mainly to transport illegally-cut trees for firewood, charcoal and poles. Plus the fact that said vehicle killed my dog. The barangay leaders gave me that permission.

In a sense, Zorro's death became a trigger for the closure of that barangay road. Now there are less cutting of trees in the public forest land. In addition, we put a tomb (made of cement) for Zorro right beside the barangay road. So some people who walk to the mountains to cut some trees for their household needs are scared that there's a tomb nearby. Maybe they thought that a person was buried there.

Whenever I visit our farm, our dogs are among the happiest welcome sights that I see there. They are just too happy, too loud, to welcome me. And I always bring lots of food for them.

In the evening, where I talk to Mang Endring on some plans for the farm, all of the 6 dogs would also enter my treehouse and just stay there. Before we go to sleep, all of them have to get out, except Vampy. When I wake up in the morning, the dogs are already waiting at the door, waiting to be touched and wanting to walk around with me.

Tiger and Ryan don't exactly like each other though. They'd fight from time to time, especially over food. Maybe this is one reason why Ryan stays out of my tree house area, where Tiger stays and guards most of the time.

Dogs are indeed man's best friends. You can get 100% loyalty from them, and your properties they help secure. This week, a new puppy, local breed, was added to the farm. She will be our 7th dog. I still have to think of a new name for her though.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Physics of global warming

The most dominant thinking nowadays about global warming and climate change is that their main cause is man-made pollution and green house gases (GHGs) emission. But I read some articles saying this is wrong. It's more of the earth's natural cycle of global cooling-then- warming-. .., in relation to the sun's magnetic field and cosmic activities, largely created by natural nuclear activities in our solar system and from the outer space.

One such article that I've read is written by a Physicist, Dr. Michael J. Fox. He's saying that recent discoveries in climate physics show that the sun's current magnetic field is strong, more than 2x its normal force, and it's deflecting cosmic rays that are supposed to help form clouds that help cool the planet. With strong magnetic field by the sun, there are less cosmic rays, less clouds, and we have global warming.

Thus, while I fully believe that there is global warming and climate change, I don't fully believe that it's mainly because of man-made pollution. I would say it's a mixture of humanity's pollution and the sun's internal dynamics, though more of the latter.

Below is a portion of Dr. Fox’s article, posted in Hawaii Reporter. For brevity purposes, I removed certain paragraphs. If you want to see the full article, see

When Physics Trumps Hysteria in Global Warming
By Michael R. Fox Ph.D., 7/1/2007

Studiously hidden from public view are some extraordinary findings in physics which are providing new understanding of our planetary history, as well as providing a much more plausible scientific understanding of Global Warming. Regrettably, the current hysteria about global warming is based much more on fear, political agendas, and computer models that don’t agree with each other or the climate, rather than hard-nosed evidence and science.

The climate forces which have led to the estimated 0.6C degree temperature increase over the past 100 years or more (according to the International Panel on Climate Change) have been assumed to be man-made CO2 emissions from advanced nations including the US. We know this can’t be true for several reasons.

The first is that water vapor provides 95% of the total of the greenhouse gases, not CO2. The total of the CO2 represents less than 3% of the total. The second is that of the total atmospheric CO2 inventory, the manmade fraction is less than 3% of the CO2 total and therefore far less than 1% of the total greenhouse gas inventories. Third, studies of the recent climate variations are finding, for example, (See article by J. Oestermans, Science, p. 375, April 29, 2005) that glaciers have been receding since 1750 or so, well before any significant man-made CO2 emissions occurred….

Basically, the more cosmic rays, the more clouds are formed and the cooler the temperature. Since many of the cosmic rays can be deflected by the Sun’s magnet field, the cosmic ray intensity varies inversely with the strength of that field. The stronger the solar magnetic field, the fewer cosmic rays hit the atmosphere, fewer clouds are formed, and the climate becomes warmer.

Today the Sun’s magnetic field is more than twice as strong as it was at the turn of the last century. During the mid 1700s during the Little Ice Age there was a 70 year period when there were no sunspots (called the Maunder Minimum), and the solar magnetic field was very weak.

The cosmic rays were not deflected as much by a weakened solar magnetic field, more clouds were formed, thus a cooler climate at that time. These findings provide a simple plausible explanation, defensible with sound physics, and don’t involve a major role for CO2 at all….

It appears that the Sun’s magnetic field has had a stronger effect on our climate than just the variations in solar irradiance could explain.

Political leaders, environmental advocates, and even Oscar-winning documentarians who claim that “the debate of climate science is over”, have been shown once again to be very wrong.

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., a science and energy reporter for Hawaii Reporter and a science analyist for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, is retired and now lives in Eastern Washington. He has nearly 40 years experience in the energy field. He has also taught chemistry and energy at the University level.

This, in relation to the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, I cannot comment much because those technical reports and their corresponding scientific methodologies are beyond my intellectual comprehension. But I cannot dismiss that physics theory of the sun's strong magnetic field that deflect cosmic rays that reduce rain clouds. After all, the sun is very much an important equation in all of these discourses. Even islands and places where there are no factories and people living, meaning no pollution, there's sunlight. So any changes in the sun's nuclear energy emission or deflection will naturally impact positively or negatively, on earth and other planets especially in our solar system.

I think this will be a running debate for a long time. My concern is that if contrary opinions like those of Dr. Fox is correct, that those GHGs may affect global warming but only on a very minor role, then the proposed drastic actions by many governments and the UN can be dangerous. If many governments will double the petroleum taxes because they want to discourage the use of petroleum, us, the public, will bear the burden. And if many governments will strongly advocate the use of bio-fuels, then most of those corn and grains for human and animal consumption will be diverted to producing bio-diesel, then the price of those corn and grains will increase, and that will contribute to global hunger.

That is why I cannot fully accept at this time those alarmist analysis like Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" movie. We should be wary of alarmist analysis because the burden ultimately will be on us, not on politicians and international bureaucrats.

Privatizing some public forest land

At the moment, the only sensible public "forest land" in the Philippines that I can think of are those in:

(a) Sierra Madre mountain range, northern Quezon-Aurora-eastern Cagayan & Isabela provinces, fronting the Pacific Ocean.

Sierra madre's western side, ie western Cagayan-Isabela-N.Vizcaya-N.Ecija-Bulacan-Rizal-southern Quezon provinces are generally deforested, converted to rice land, corn land, other agri lands, human settlements.

(b) Palawan, especially north of Puerto Princesa up to Busuanga.

(c) Cordillera, Mountain Province especially. Abra, Benguet, and Ifugao are highly deforested, large tracts of previously forest land converted to rice land (the famous rice terraces), vegetable land (baguio beans, carrots, cabbage, etc.).

(d) Zambales mountain range, especially north-east of Subic and Olongapo.

(e) Mindoro, especially the mountain areas (Mt. Halcon, other neighboring mojuntains)

(f) Romblon's Sibuyan island, especially around Mt. Guiting-guiting.

(g) Certain areas of Mindanao, like surrounding Mt. Apo, Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Matutum, etc.

(h) Pockets of forested areas in other provinces like around Mt. Arayat ni Pampanga, Mt. Makiling in Laguna, Mt. Banahaw in Quezon, Mt. Canlaon in Negros, Cebu south of cebu city, etc.

Most of the other "public forest land" is either upland rice area, volcanoes, brushland, marginal forest land and grassland. And sadly, these areas comprise the majority of the public forest land.
Currently, these areas contain almost zero logging companies, but hundreds of thousands of poor households. I would say that almost 100% of current forest destruction and denudation is caused by poaching, logging, and slash-and-burn by poor households from the agri lowlands, to upland settlers. You can include military loggers sometimes, in military reservation areas and neighboring mountains to their military camps. Like Camp Magsaysay in Laur, N. Ecija.

The “tragedy of the commons” is at work here. Majority of those forest poachers, loggers and slash-and-burn farmers are in the thinking that “if I don’t cut this thigh-big tree now and wait for it to become bigger, someone else will cut this tomorrow or next week, so I better cut it now.” A resource like a “public forest” that is owned by everyone and no one in particular can unleash the energy of race to mass destruction.

Privatizing some public forest land, assuming it can be done when the next round of Constitutional change happens, is possible. The demand for industrial trees, cash and food crops, from bananas to mangos to pineapple to palms, as well as crops for bio-diesel and agri-petroleum, will keep increasing. These crops you cannot plant inside greehouses and via hydroponics. You need vast tracts of open land with lots of sunlight to grow these crops well.

Maybe we can start from there, the degraded, denuded, and turned-grassland "public forest land". Government has no real interest, much less incentive, to conserve and develop these lands back to real forest land. The first thing that the DENR and LGUs will ask if we expect them to do this is, "can you give us more money?" Which means actually, "can you raise more taxes for this job?"

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

If there's global warming, where's the rain?

Two weeks ago, I posted a discussion entitled "Climate Change and dry June". I complained about the lack of rain for the month of June. Until a few years ago, when June comes, it's usually a wet-wet month. And until about a decade and a half ago, "wet season" in the Philippines and other tropical places officially starts on May. Back then, rice farmers were busy plowing their fields by May to start planting rice.

I've been into part-time farming for the past 15 years. And I try to be observant of weather pattern, like when the regular rains will start, when they will end, how sizzling summer is, how big and tall are our trees to give us natural umbrella from the sun's scorching heat, and so on. And I can say that this year, or at least last June, in terms of dryness and lack of rain, is the worst. It's now early July and I feel that the temperature and weather is like March with occassional clouds hanging up there that don't fall.

So this is climate change and global warming. I can personally agree with this. But it puzzles me, or perhaps I just forgot my high schoo earth science, but I ask myself this question and I can't seem to figure out the answer. If the earth is getting hotter, then there are lots of water evaporation, then there are lots of rain clouds up in the sky (I see them often especially during afternoon), and yet the clouds don't fall as rain, so where do the excess evaporated water go?

I read in the news that recently, heavy rains pounded and flooded southern Britain; also Pakistan and India, and before that Indonesia, etc. This could be the answer. Too much water evaporation elsewhere, and too much rain somewhere. Could it be that some of the excess water up in the sky escape to the atmosphere? It does not seem probable because of gravity.

Meanwhile, I see that many rice farmers, especially those who rely on rain for irrigation, complain of the lack of rains. Poverty incidence should increase in the coming months, when many lands are idle, food production is delayed while food consumption is increasing due to sheer population growth and momentum.

Up in many mountains in the country, poaching and cutting of trees, including small trees, by many poor people in public forest land continues, even worsening. Well naturally I guess. If you can't plant rice and other crops because of lack of rain, or in some cases, your crops are wiped out by too much rain and flash flood, and your family is getting hungry, the easiest way to find food and money is go up the mountains. Cut trees for firewood and charcoal, or for poles and housing materials, sell them, you have money. Then chase reptiles, birds, wild pigs and other animals in the mountains -- slowly converted from forest land to grassland because of annual cutting and burning -- and you have food for the family.

What is the government doing, the "owner" of 53 percent of the country's total land area, the public forest land, to protect the forest? Good question. On some cases, you will see them doing something good. But on many cases, you will get a bad answer: nothing. You will likely read in newspapers and see on tv, government officials, police and military generals, leading in various "tree planting" activities in many parts of the country every year. But you will seldom or never see them guarding the forests from endless poaching and cutting by hit-and-run rural poor.

If the rainy season is delayed, I just hope that the rainy season once it starts, will be extended. Hopefully until November and December. We may have a wet Christmas, but at least it helps the agriculture and food production sectors of society to produce more food.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Heat wave and global warming

I have read in the news that at least 38 people have already died in southern Europe this year because of the heat wave, maybe similar to, if not worse than, the 2003 heatwave. Among the countries severely affected are Greece, Italy, Romania, Albania and Serbia, especially the southern parts and provinces of these countries.

Last May, I have also read how the French people celebrated a seemingly “early summer” as they had cloudless skies for several days, when it should be springtime then and still a bit cold. At about the same dates, it was raining almost daily here in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces. I have thought that if there are lots of sun in Europe and perhaps the Atlantic side of the globe, there should be lots of rain elsewhere as the evaporated water have to fall as rain somewhere. So I have thought that it was the start of the regular rainy season for the country and other countries in tropical Asia. I was wrong.

June is about to end in 3 days, and the regular rainy season is not yet here. Yes there are lots of rainclouds everyday, especially in the afternoon, but there are only scattered showers, no heavy downpour yet. Climate change is showing to be worse than I have expected, at least for the first half of the year in this country.

Back to Europe. When I arrived in south Sweden, in the city of Lund in September 2003 to attend an international training on “sustainable agriculture”, our Swedish host there, Marie, told us that it was one of the finest summer they ever experienced in Sweden. Although she recognized that it was terrible in south and central Europe. Well, north Europe like the Scandinavian countries are lucky in seasons of severe heat and droughts. Nonetheless, a lot of indicators of global warming, like fast pace of melting ice in the north pole, are observed in these Scandinavian countries, especially in Greenland (part of Denmark).

I doubt that governments around the world can really arrest or slow down the bad effects of global warming. Many governments are characterized by wastes and profligacy, a characteristic that is least effective in the fight against global warming. People in their individual capacities, once aware of the bad environment ahead of them, will be more effective in slowing down the negative effects of global warming.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Climate change and dry June

Evidences of global warming and climate change continue to pile up around the world. The more "alarmist" the claims of global warming, the more harsh the measures to be imposed on people and societies. In fact, I will not be surprised if some alarmist guys will just propose doubling the petroleum taxes that motorists and the public have to pay to governments, and governments and the UN and other multilateral bodies will use the additional revenues to "clean" the world.

Here in the Philippines, Metro Manila in particular, we often have cloudy days, especially in the afternoon. But rains hardly come; even at this time of late June. Some showers or brief rains, and that's it. No monsoon rains or heavy downpour yet. When I visited our farm a week ago, the running water in the creek seemed fewer and smaller compared to those in the middle of last month. Sometimes I wish the downpour would come now, so that the clogged waterways in Metro Manila will be flushed. But I also don't want the downpour to come yet, until we have put more terraces in the hilly parts of our farm, to control or minimize the erosion of rich top soil made by earthworms and newly-decayed dried leaves and branches.

What I find discomforting though, is the humidty these days. It's cloudy, but it's hot. The past 2 weeks, I took bath about 4-5x a day. This week, I take 4 baths a day. Our electricity bill this month and the past 2 months have been increasing, as we have to use 2 electric fans in the sala during daytime.

Looking down and afar from the 25th floor of my sister's office here in Manila, I can see the width and expansion of Metro Manila. The mega-city is simply expanding and expanding. What used to be forest land a hundred years ago became rice land and other agri land 50 years later. Now those agri lands are gone. Houses, buildings, roads and parking spaces have taken over. So, what people used to complain as "deforestation" (meaning conversion of land from forest to non-forest uses, especially agricultural use), we can now call "deagriculturalization". What could be next, "dehousingzation" where lands are converted from housing to theme parks or memorial parks?

This afternoon, a thick and dark rain clouds are high up there in the sky. They've been there for the past 3 hours I think, but they don't fall. Yesterday and the other day, I think it was the same sight and phenomenon. In less than 2 weeks, it will be July, and the downpour are not yet in. Of course I hate to see flash floods in Metro Manila's roads; much less when I myself will be caught in high street flood waters. I've experienced it once, about 4 years ago, it was really scary and I swore I don't ever want to experience it again!

I hope there will be strong rains early next week, at least in our farm. I want the thick deposit of green algae and decayed leaves and branches in the stream near my treehouse be wiped and cleaned by a quick flash flood. Once they're gone, the stream and stones in river bed becomes clean. Then I can bring again my 9 months old daughter to the creek, and we'll frolick in the clean running water once again. I've brought her there more than a month ago, she liked it. :-)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Little Greenland

Over the weekend, I visited our farm in Bugallon, Pangasinan. This is about 200 kilometers north of Manila. On my way, I noticed that a big portion of the mountains in Mangatarem-Aguilar towns, also of Pangasinan (about km posts 170-180), have become “little Greenland”. That is, instead of dark green view (meaning thick forest), they’re now light green, indicating the mountains are now almost 100% grassland, with cogon as the dominant vegetation. This is one very clear example of deforestation – conversion or transformation of forest land into non-forest use, usually for agriculture or plainly abused and neglected.

This “little Greenland”, occupying probably several hundred hectares, actually change its color through months. At this time, June to October or November, they’re green in color – meaning these are newly sprouting cogons and grasses. By December to February or March, they become brown – meaning the grasses are now old and mature. You may call this scene as “little brownland”. Some people harvest the old grasses mainly for roofing. The cows don’t like to eat old grass anymore, so people who pasture their animals deliberately burn these grasses so that new grasses will grow. And so the grasses become black – meaning they got burned, either accidentally or deliberately. And so you may call this view “little blackland”.

The cycle of green-brown-black-green… can continue for many years. The large-scale cutting and clearing of forest trees, then burning them to give way for agriculture and/or pasture land for cattle, brought this cycle. Endemic forest species usually regenerate by themselves, without people planting them. Seeds blown by the wind or scattered by birds help these endemic forest species to grow by themselves. Problem comes when people would cut whatever new growth of trees, mainly for firewood or charcoal or for some household wood needs.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government’s main bureaucracy to “manage and protect” forest land, is either undermanned and lazy, or corrupt and lazy. DENR people can always claim that with more than 15 million hectares of “public forest land” to manage, they do not have enough manpower to guard and protect said area. Well if they do not have enough manpower (especially dedicated manpower) to do its mandate, then the safe way to unburden itself is to accept that they can’t do it, better lease or privatize ownership of many of those “public forest land”. The point is to have someone accountable to make sure that each hectare of land is managed for forest or agricultural or commercial use, and not relegated to a severely degraded land producing neither forest or agricultural products and services.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Upland mangos sweeter than lowland mangos?

Mangos are ready for harvest usually after 120 days from the 1st day of spraying flower inducer using potassium nitrate (KNO3).

Our experience, and corroborated by other mango growers and sprayers, is that if your mango trees are in the lowlands, you need 120 days before harvest But if your mango trees are in the midlands to uplands, we can harvest 115 days, sometimes 112 days. Why? The fruits mature faster and start falling to the ground before 120 days, resulting in a potentially big crop loss.

I notice, and again corroborated by other people, that upland mangos are sweeter than lowland mangos. I have personally tasted mango fruits on the same barangay or village. One in the lowlands, after 120 days harvest; the other in the midlands (ours), 114 days. Result? Ours in the midlands are a lot sweeter than those in the former. Even other people who have tasted the same set of mangos said the same thing.

Still don't know the exact explanation why this is so...

Climate Change and Agriculture

While many literatures are exploring how agriculture should cope with climate change and global warming, it can be said too, that agriculture and large scale food production greatly contributed to climate change. There are nearly 7 billion people in the world now, and several billions more heads of cows, carabaos/water buffalos, pigs, chickens, other animals for human consumption. In the Philippines for instance, to have 4.2 million hectares of rice land, then another 1+ million hectares of corn and sugar land, we had to cut down forest land by the same area and convert them into rice land and corn land. We also had to cut down several million hectares more of forest land for vegetable production, pineapple and banana plantation, mango and other fruits plantation, animal grazing land, for human settlements, industrial and commercial lands, military reservation, etc. One can repeat the same estimation in any country – the large-scale conversion of forest land into agri land, residential land, commercial and industrial land, public infrastructure, and so on.

But we cannot stop food production, or we cannot stop building houses, schools and shops, roads and power plants. At the end of the day, we really have to live with climate change; the most we can do is to reduce the deterioration of climate change, but never really stop it.

While it is acceptable to say that conventional agricultural practices are more unsustainable compared to organic or ecological agriculture, demand for the former will just remain to be big. People would rather die 20 or 30 years from now for eating inorganically- produced foods, than die next month or next year for lack of money to buy expensive (due to limited supply) organic products.

One remote possibility someday, is that mankind will be forced to re-convert agricultural land back to forest land, hundreds of millions of hectares of them. And mankind will have to eat agri food from very small agri land, using greenhouse structures and genetically- engineered crops that use zero pesticides, zero chemical fertilizers, and produced on a mass-scale.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Green Revolution and Int'l Trade

Many rich countries of Asia are less concerned with "food self-sufficiency" now.
The trend is:

The poorer an economy is, the more urgent the issue of food self-sufficiency.
The richer an economy, the less urgent is food self-sufficiency.
Their wealth assures them of "food security".

You can see it in HK, Singapore, Brunei, middle-east countries, to a certain extent Korea and Japan. Their wealth plus easier trade among Asian countries assure these countries of sufficient food supply from abroad that can supplement their domestic production.

Middle-income countries like Thailand and China, even Vietnam, are now in the business of food exports. They supply the food needs of their richer neighbors in the continent, as well as other countries outside Asia. Thus, there is continuing, non-stop research and innovation in agriculture, from improved seeds to post-harvest and packaging technologies. Agri is becoming more and more knowledge-intensive, more science-based.

There are institutional and public policies that are supposed to help farmers and agriculture, but they tend to work against farming and agricultural development when you look deeper. One such policy, in the Philippines for instance, is "land reform".

The law on "comprehensive agrarian reform law" was made in 1988. The law stipulated a 10-year time-table. After 10 years, they extended it to another 10 years. Now, there is no more timetable, it will be a "continuing land reform". And this creates disincentives to some businessmen who want to put their money, expertise and technology in agriculture. Once you're done developing vast tracts of land for commercial agri plantation, there is a danger that the government's "Department of Land Reform" will come to you to get your land, subdivide it to the workers, and pay you a pittance, a small amount. This kind of uncertainty is one of the big reasons why commercial agricultural plantation in the Phils. is not well-developed.

More government investment in agriculture is not necessary. Maybe in infrastructure, like rural roads and bridges. But in technology (planting, marketing, packaging, etc.), it should be more private sector -- the network of producers (farmers) and buyers (traders, consumers, restaurants, importers, etc.) to determine the pricing, quality, quantity, and timing of agri production and marketing.

Canals vs. Terraces

Our farm is hilly and has a rolling terrain. There are a few flat lands, but the bigger area is hilly. It's in the middle of the flat lowlands, and the mountainous upland.

Uplands and hilly areas naturally have strong current of floodwaters during heavy rains by the simple explanation of gravitational pull. In order to protect hillsides, we facilitated pathways of rainwater by constructing canals. What I observe however, is that constructing canals also facilitate more soil erosion, aside from facilitating strong floods. Over the last rainy season alone last year, about 2-3 inches deep of soil along a canal path that we constructed have been eroded by the rain waters and occasional flash floods. Many shallow roots of trees previously covered by soil are now exposed.

So this year, we're changing track: instead of creating canals, we put up strong stone terraces, several "humps" along the waterpath, to (1) trap some of the eroded soil and organic matter (fallen leaves and branches, etc.), and (2) slow down the speed of water and flood, thereby help minimize the damages of flash floods.

Repeating this process through time, by constructing ever-higher terraces as more eroded soil and organic matter are trapped and deposited along those stone terraces, we expect the formerly low and depressed areas to be gaining height, and hilly areas should become flatter through time.

As to how strong those terraces should be so they can withstand strong flash floods, it's an experimental project that should vary from one place to another.

Utilizing this practice and similar soil erosion control technologies, the height or elevation of agricultural lands should be rising through time, as more organic matter are deposited in the soil every year. A "bonus" could be the emergence of new water springs in your area since those organic matter deposit in your land are trapping more rainwater, releasing the water hours, even days, after the rains have stopped.

Who benefits from GMO crops?

Someone asked, "who benefits from GM crops?"
My answer is: the public, the expanding population of the world.
And if I make my own question too, like "who benefits from organic crops?"
my answer is: the public, the expanding population of the world.

The Philippines alone for instance, population is expanding by 1.8 million people/year, net of death and migration. At this rate, we are creating the equivalent of Sweden's population every 5 years; or 1 Singapore every 2 years and 3 months. What is the population of Jordan, 5M? Then the Filipinos can create one Jordan every 2 years and 8 months!

We are not talking about population increases in China (100+ million/year, net of death), India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and many other countries in the world.

We just have to continue producing food, whether by GM, or organic, or inorganic.
People will buy the food based on their budget and food preference.
Because the alternative to not consuming GM crops if supply of organic (and inorganic) crops is not enough, is... HUNGER.

Besides, based on my limited readings with literature by some local scientists here, GM crops are approaching organic production (minimal if not zero pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, for instance).

Our farm caretaker once told me that when he was young, about 40 years ago, the rice varieties during his father's time were tall, the grains were few, and harvest comes after 6 months, so he could plant only 1 crop a year. The rest of the year, the land's on fallow.

With the new varieties developed and commercialized in the 60s and 70s and he started farming himself, he was very happy because the rice varieties (like IR 42) were short, had plentier grains per stalk, and harvestable after 4 months, so that they could plant 2 crops per year; even 3 crops if irrigation is available during summer. In short, their incomes have increased.

Obviously, rice is among the most common GM crops, and there are hundreds, even thousands, of new varieties that have been developed through plant breeding and biotechnology. So my understanding is that with plant breeding and GM technology, scientists (and many GM companies) are forced to preserve as many varieties of old and "orig" plants for them to develop newer varieties based on certain needs and the environmental situation of their farmer-seed buyers.

Agri production should continue to expand. Some growers use only organic crops; others use traditional, inorganic crops that use a lot of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and so on. Others use GM crops which are developed by science and use cultural and planting practices of organic farming (ie, minimum if not zero chemical fertilizers and pesticides) because the new and specific varieties have been "engineered" to withstand certain pests and insects that use to prey on those crops.

So that ultimately, the public should be allowed to choose what crops they will buy based on their household budget and consumption preferences. Those who are economically well-off would tend to buy organic products which are generally priced higher than non-organic products. Those who have little money would buy cheaper but inorganic crops. Short-term savings in money in exchange for long-term health risks. And they may be aware of this, it's just that they cannot afford to choose a worse alternative, which is hunger and severe malnutrition.