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.