Soil Rejuvenation Program Gets P100M

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has committed to allot P100 million for a 45,000-hectare soil rejuvenation program that will maximize farm productivity in three towns using drought-resistant crop varieties and fertilization.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) is partnering with the DA and its funding agency Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) in a program that will adopt in the Philippines a similar successful program in Karnataka, India.

DA Asst. Secretary Dante Delima agreed to support the program, according to Icrisat Director General William D. Dar.

"In a review on rain-fed agriculture, Assistant Secretary Delima committed P100 million for this program. It will be under a BAR proposal with (director) Nick Eleazar. We decided why don't we upscale what we did in Karnataka?" Dar told a press briefing.

"We discussed let's identify one whole province as a pilot area, not only 100 hectares. It should be at least a town of 15,000 hectares. It hasn't been done in a big way. It's been done piecemeal, but we can do it much better."

Eyed as a pilot area is an entire town in each of the three islands of the Philippines. It should cover an area of around 15,000 hectares per town or a total of 45,000 hectares for three islands (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao).

The objective is to achieve a minimum yield increase of 20 percent for any existing crops in the pilot area. Actual average increase in yield over an expansive three million hectares in Karnataka was 40 to 50 percent despite only a 20 percent target.

"Even with a 20 percent increase in production, we won't have to import food staples," he said. To achieve an increase in yield, a primary step is to analyze soil and apply appropriate fertilization using both micronutrients and macronutrients.

DA should upgrade its soil analysis equipment to keep up with global technology. For one, a state-of-the-art technology involving a high throughput analyzer can give results just within one day. Such equipment costs $120,000 and is imported from the United States or Australia.

"If there is one investment DA should do this year, it's in this (equipment). In the Philippines, it takes one month to get the result of soil analysis. In some regions, it takes even three to four months. We've already been doing these (soil analysis and fertilization), but on a piecemeal basis. We should conduct soil analysis and mapping at least once in five years," he said.

Because of the success of the Karnataka project, the governments Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are now asking Icrisat to conduct a similar soil rejuvenation project there.

"They're asking us to do it there to in a big way. Last year (2011-2012) the net benefit that accrued to Karnataka was $130 million. This year, Karnataka is adding two million hectares more, so we'll have a total of five million hectares," he said.

DA and BAR are putting this under its climate change program since the Philippines is projected to become one of the most vulnerable countries in the impact of climate change.

Simulation models showed rice yield could be reduced by 30 to 40 percent under Philippine setting and at an even rate of up to 50 percent in drylands-those that are not irrigated or are rainfed, thus receiving seasonal water supply.

Farmers' organization is also a key success factor in this program. DA's regional offices will also play an active role in its success.

"We also identified (in Karnataka) what we call farm facilitators coming from farmers themselves because we only have a limited number of technicians."

The program has to be stretched over at least five years so that any experimental success can be repeated many times over.

While the only known fertilizers for most farmers in the country are the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), many other micronutrients are needed by crops to grow well, according to Dar. And with these, it easy to raise yield by at least 30 percent even in open pollinated rice varieties from the average yield of three tons per hectare.

Icrisat's technical assistance will be worth around P20 million, or 20 percent of the P100 million budget, but this is apparently being extended as a grant. In Karnataka, its government spent around $8 million for Icrisat's expertise. Icrisat is sending its team in February this year to meet with DA and BAR.

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