Organic agriculture persists in Ifugao town

BAGUIO CITY — Mayoyao in Ifugao is just among the Cordillera towns that remain living testaments to the viability of organic agriculture, especially for indigenous rice.

Mayoyao town in Ifugao has maintained most of its rice farms on zero chemical fertilizers, according to municipal agriculturist Joe Choy-awon, who was among the participants in the three-day orientation on the fertilizer subsidy partnership program of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Choy-awon said Mayoyao farmers use available technology to produce organic fertilizers that sustain their rice fields from transplanting to harvest time.

Indigenous knowledge at work

“The secret lies in the land preparation when farmers would just dump all kinds of weeds taken from the rice terraces,” Choy-awon told this reporter. He adds, the land preparation is done two months before transplanting the seedlings from the seedbed, to give the weeds and rice hull time to rot in the rice paddies. Rice hull from the previous harvest make up the bulk of local materials used to enrich the soil.

Farmers also put a liquid organic fertilizer from banana stalks and molasses fermented for at least seven days.

Land preparation is done manually with the indigenous Mayoyao farmers “plowing” with their bare hands and pressing down the weeds with their feet, until the green manure is embedded in the rice paddies, according to Choy-awon who narrated the indigenous practice on producing natural organic fertilizers.

After the rice seedlings are all transplanted, farmers usually clean the stone walls holding the terraces in place and all the weeds get into the paddy.

Sunflower, or the common marapait, which grows abundantly in most Cordillera provinces, is utilized to enhance soil fertility in the seedbed, according to Choy-awon. “Simply cut leaves and the young twigs and leave these on the seedbed 10 to 15 days before adding the palay to germinate,” he said.

“The yield remains at the maximum levels,” said Choy-awon, adding that Mayoyao continues to produce some three to four metric tons per hectare for every harvest season.

Only a portion of only two of Mayoyao’s 27 barangays are using inorganic fertilizers. “These are the areas where the soil fertility has dwindled,” according to Choy-awon.

Indigenous Mayoyao rice

The good thing about organic farming is that it allows the indigenous rice varieties to persist. Mayoyao still produces traditional rice varieties, the most common ones are red rice phajlar and phu-an; and white rice chumajaw and jampon, all planted in November and June.

Rain-fed varieties include both red and white varieties of linawa, which are planted in July and harvested in December.

Indigenous glutinous rice varieties are also existent in Mayoyao. The red variety is called chukitan, while the red is simply diket.

“All these are grown with organic fertilizers,” according to Choy-awon.

Barely affordable rice

Choy-awon is among local officials who stood against the procurement of inorganic fertilizers from the internal revenue allotment differentials for 2001 and 2004 to enhance rice productivity and encourage farmers to produce more rice.

In his reaction during the open forum, he asked if the 50% of the town’s IRA differential intended for local food security program could be utilized to subsidize the National Food Administration (NFA) or buy a shredder instead of commercial fertilizers.

Choy-awon said an ordinary Cordillera farmer could barely afford to buy fertilizers. At P1,700 to P1,900 per sack of the common fertilizer urea, the farmer would rather buy the cheaper government-subsidized rice from the NFA, he said.

He also espouses the idea that the IRA share be used to subsidize rice procurement, instead of using it to buy commercial fertilizers. A cavan of commercial rice is around P2,000.

Farmers cannot buy the commercial rice now, according to Choy-awon. He said, instead of assisting in fertilizers, the government could help the farmers directly by subsidizing the NFA so that more cheap rice could be distributed to the poor people.

“I still do not know the effect of inorganic fertilizers on the indigenous rice varieties,” Choy-awon said, adding that the land treated with the chemical inputs usually lose their fertility. Palay, he said, may be attacked by insects and rodents, following his argument that rice on the table is what farmers need.

Hybrid rice varieties depend on inorganic fertilizers as a requirement to yield more, according to the DA personnel in the forum.

The government will only subsidize the June-October 2008 cropping season.

Fertilizer subsidy

The DA-LGU partnership on fertilizer subsidy program proposes a local government subsidy for four sacks of fertilizers and DA shoulders the subsidy for another two per hectare of rice land this cropping season which is June to October. With P250 subsidy for each sack, the farmer will shoulder around P1,500 per sack for the first six sacks he would use for a hectare.

LGUs are enjoined to share at least 20% of their IRA differentials to this project envisioned to meet the 17 million metric tons target rice yield before the year ends.

DA asked LGUs up to the barangay level to list down farmers willing to undergo the fertilizer program.

In Mayoyao, some 710 hectares, or more than half of the town’s 1,296-hectare rice farms, have been identified for the program.

Some P37.8 million has been allocated for fertilizer subsidy in the Cordillera, according to rice program Coordinator Virgie Tapat. # Lyn V. Ramo(NorDis)

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