EL NIÑO: Different ways of coping with drought

THERE ARE simple but practical ways of coping with the prolonged drought brought about by the El Niño phenomenon.

Garlic in the Ilocos is mulched with rice straw.

We would like to share what we have gathered from the field as well as from attending briefings from the El Niño Task Force, PCARRD and other agencies regarding the drought problem.

COVERCROPPING – One way of conserving moisture in the soil is to plant covercrops, particularly in tree orchards. These are the crops that cover the soil surface, thus preventing the rapid loss of moisture.

The idea of covercropping is not new but is often overlooked by farmers. One of the earlier plants used for covercropping is the Calopogonium. It is a leguminous vine that crawls above the ground. It does not climb the trees, hence it is not a pesky weed.

BETTER IDEA, CAMOTE – One orchard owner, however, thinks he has a more practical ground cover. He plants the camote with big leaves between his rambutan trees. The camote does not only overpower the undesirable cogon and other weeds, it also provides the farm owner with nutritious camote tops and roots.

CREEPING PEANUT – One of the newest ground covercrops which should also be popularized is the Arachis pintoi, a very close relative of the ordinary peanut. The leaves look like those of the ordinary peanut but it has a creeping growth habit. A friend of ours who was responsible for bringing it here in the Philippines swears that the plant is very drought-resistant. It could also be used for landscaping.

PASTURE FOR CHICKENS – Actually, the Arachis can be beneficial in other ways in addition to being a sturdy ground cover. It could provide forage to farm animals. A friend of ours has obtained some planting materials and intends to plant them in his farm where he has some fruit trees. When the covercrop shall have been established, he will use it as pasture for his native chickens.

VEGGIES INSTEAD OF RICE – At a forum conducted by the El Niño Task Force, one fellow from Bulacan was concerned about what the rice farmers in his province could do since there would not be enough water for growing the cereal.

The experts advised that the farmers should turn to crops that require less water such as vegetables. Vegetables that have high value and which can be harvested in a short time are particularly recommended.

MULCHING – Farmers who are growing various crops, including vegetables and trees, could also conserve moisture by mulching. This is a practice that is common among garlic growers in the Ilocos. They spread rice straw over the surface where they plant garlic and that is often enough to enable the garlic to grow to maturity even without any irrigation.

Mulching can be applied on other crops. Fruit trees, for instance, could be mulched not only with rice straw but also with grasses or other leafy twigs of leguminous trees like kakawate and ipil-ipil. The mulch when decomposed will also add fertility to the soil.

SALT SYSTEM – For upland areas, advocates of Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) recommend the planting of hedgerows along the contour of the land. The recommended plants include kakawate, ipil-ipil, Flemingia and others. The plants in the hedgerows are regularly pruned to a height of half meter and the leafy topcuts are used as mulch in the alleyways that are used for growing vegetables, corn, rootcrops and others.

PLASTIC MULCH -There is also a newer mulch system that is also effective but could cost some money. This is the black plastic much that is very popular in Taiwan where they use it for growing watermelon and other crops. This has also been tried in the Philippines on strawberries, melons and similar crops. They suppress the weeds and at the same time conserve moisture.

ADD MANURE – One other means of improving productivity on the farm is to use more organic manure. Instead of just applying chemical fertilizers, it is best to add manure to improve the texture of the soil and to make it more retentive of moisture.

Our friend Pat Dugan has been regularly applying chicken manure in his farm in Batangas. Every Saturday when he visits his farm, he buys at least 20 sacks of manure from a poultry farm in the province which he spreads all over his property. He has observed that by doing so, the soil has improved a lot and so has the harvest. He has observed that the soil with a lot of organic matter retains moisture longer.

MORE WAYS – There are certainly many other ways of coping with El Niño. The above are just a few practical ones. What is important is for every farmer to be innovative. There are those who use plastic gallons as drippers for their young trees so they will go through summer without drying up. Others add polymers to the soil to hold the moisture longer.

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