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.

No comments: