DA urged to start soil rejuvenation programBy Niña P. Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—A research group based in India is urging the Department of Agriculture to embark on a massive soil rejuvenation program, which promises to bring back soil health and increase crop yield by at least 20 percent.
“We need a major strategy to bring back soil health. Our soils are sick and overused from various activities like mining,” said former Agriculture Secretary William Dar, who is now director general of non-profit group International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (Icrisat).
Dar said the DA, through the Bureau of Agricultural Research, had committed P100 million for the program for 2013. But a formal agreement between Icrisat and the DA has yet to be signed, Dar said.
“They (DA staff) are now identifying sizable areas which will serve as pilots for the program. Once a memorandum of understanding is signed, we will begin the program immediately, hopefully by March,” Dar said.
Dar is pushing for the country’s adoption of the Icrisat’s project in Karnataka State, India’s second-largest dryland rainfed cropping area, to boost the Philippines’ agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change.
In three years since the rejuvenation program in India, crop yields increased by an average of 30 percent across three million hectares, benefiting 2.2 million smallholder farmers, Dar explained.
Dar said farms were given deficiency-correcting fertilizers so crops could withstand calamities like drought.
He explained that the first step in a land rejuvenation program would be soil analysis and the soil mapping, which might take a month and a half with the equipment that the DA had.
The former agriculture official said that in the past few years, the government has been doing less on soil tests when it should have been done every three to five years to help the farmers determine what varieties and cultivars the soil needs.
Instead of doing the soil tests on few selected areas, Dar proposed to do it across the country on a regular basis.
“While we are doing the soil analysis, we intend to build up farmers’ organizations because in the end those would facilitate in the program would come from the farmers themselves,” Dar said.