A NATURAL FARMER IN GUIMARAS PROVINCE
A First Person Account By Elias Sustituido
as told to Lorenzo P. Locara
When I retired from teaching in 1985, I immediately put to work the farming plans that I have worked out both in my head and in my notes. Years before, my wife and I had bought a four (4.0) hectare tract of land in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras Island, now a full-fledged province across Iloilo City.
We were not able to buy the land in Guimaras outright. To come up with the money we had a round about way of generating it. We first invested some savings in a subdivision lot which appreciated in value in a few years. We sold it when the price was attractive enough and this enabled us to come up with the money for the farm lot in Guimaras.
I grew up a farmer and my father and his father before him were all farmers, feeding their families and providing for basic necessities through their farming efforts, mostly planting cash crops like rice in the wetlands and corn in the drylands and hilly farms of Sta. Barbara, Iloilo.
As I started farming, I put to work, the many ideas that was formed in my head based on my readings, experiences especially when I first worked in Fabrica, Sagay, Negros Occ. where I experienced first hand the floods that reached 30 meters high. My years as a farm broadcaster for DYLL in Iloilo also gave me stock knowledge that helped me during those starting years.
In the early years, I planted corn in the hilly portion and rice in the terraced fields. However the returns from these crops were low and we oftentimes lost instead of gaining. Since cashew were growing well even if unattended in the island, I thought of planting cashew in the dry portions. The nuts sell well in the public markets of Jordan and can fetch an even higher price if sold processed.
As I farmed, I studied various concepts and learned various approaches to farming. I have already focused on dry land agriculture since my farm is hilly and water requirements for traditional crops is high. Besides, Guimaras island is known for its harsh dry season where short term cereal yields are low or even total failures when planted after November.
As I farmed, I also studied other farming methods. First, there is the multi-storey integrated farming system advocated by the Department of Agriculture. There was also the Natural Farming System of Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. Then there is the Perma-culture System of Bill Mollison of Australia. All these pointed to tree-based permanent farming systems where after a certain period when the fertility of the soil had been restored, and the trees with various maturity and productive periods had been established, the farmer can simply settle to routine maintenance work and regularly earn from his farm.
Thus, I settled for a mix of these technologies and also strove to participate in the programs of the Department of Agriculture and the Provincial Government of Guimaras. I developed the slopes into a series of water catchments that will trap rainwater and force it to percolate into the underground aquifers beneath my farm and in the neighboring areas. Where soil was clayey and dense, I was able to harvest rain water and reserve it for the dry months for as long as I can. So after two decades, I was able to develop a sustainable farm we lovingly call ELI’S FARM:
All the slope areas had been terraced 5 meters apart. The dikes were planted with cashew and langka to help hold and strengthen them as well as make them productive. The paddies of low lying areas were first planted to rice then later some portions were planted to napier, other grasses and legumes like centrosema, desmodium, rhinzonii, etc. to provide fodder for the livestock like goats and cattle. During the rainy season, the paddies also acted as ponds that held water for use during the summer months as well as help replenish the fast dwindling underground water supply of the island as a result of massive extraction for household, irrigation and commercial use.
Maximal Use of the Land:
We have four hectares of land but we jokingly tell people that we have 4 hectares of cashew, 4 hectares of langka, 4 hectares of coconut and 4 hectares of forage for animals. This is possible because of the maximal use of the land and by planning how we planted the crops we established. All our trees were planted in an East to West direction and where possible, in quincunx. By establishing terraces, we ensured that even during the hottest periods of the year, water is available so our trees grew fast and produced more fruits.
Base Crop: Cashew and Langka.
I realized early the potentials of casoy or cashew and langka (jackfruit). Cashew is a major small farm product in Guimaras Island. Mostly growing wild, they are gathered by families and sold in the public markets of Alibhon, Jordan and Buenavista. Langka both green and ripe are also sold in bulk both ex-farm and brought by small farmers to these local markets. Green langka is a favorite vegetable of Ilonggos and cooked as salad, added to pork legs and cadios (pigeon peas). Guimaras ripe langka is as popular as the mangoes produced in the island.
So I established more than 400 casoy trees and about 100 langka trees as my base crop and major income source. The other assorted fruit trees like chico, star apple, tambis and other minor fruits were intended for our family’s consumption. Cashew green beans sell well in the public market of Alibhon, Jordan, the major farmers’ exchange point in the Island. But processed, the value is even greater so our family started processing these into various forms like roasted, buttered and honeyed and personally sold these in various outlets and in fairs and exhibitions promoted by national and local governments.
We also made money on our jackfruit or langka. The fruits which came out of the branches were harvested early and sold green as this is a favorite vegetable among Ilonggos. Those that grew on main stems or trunks were wrapped with sacks to prevent insect damage and allowed to ripen. Either green or ripe, langka fetched good price in both the local market and the markets of Iloilo City.
Integration with Other Crops and Livestock:
Between the cashew trees planted 5 x 5 meters I established napier grasses and leguminous bushes because from the start, my family raised goats and a few heads cattle. I also built a small hog house so that we can sell fattened/ finished hogs which can provide us with periodic sources of income for much needed expenses like tuition fees for the children, etc.
Napier grass is a rich source of energy and coupled with leguminous leaves like ipil-ipil (Leucaena spp.), madre de cacao glyricidia sepium), rhinzonii, arachis, pigeon pea or cadios and other legumes, they provide perfect nutrition for the ruminants. We only need to sparingly add rice bran and other concentrates to speed up growth especially to catch good market prices. We practiced cut and carry and seldom ranged or pastured the animals so that the trees will not be disturbed and the forage crops will not be damaged by trampling by the animals.
By planting these forage plants, we solved the problem of weed control and at the same time earned through the sale of the animals. The green cover also prevented excessive moisture removal from the soil and kept our farm greener throughout the year. The leaves of the leguminous trees and shrubs which cannot be consumed by the animals were periodically cut and used as mulch around the base of the trees and other crops to preserve soil moisture and as they decompose, they provide added nutrients.
No Wash Pigs. We are always on constant look out for new technologies which can be adopted by our farm. We immediately adopted the NO WASH PIG TECHNOLOGY published in this magazine a year or so ago. We mixed our own bedding made of carbonized rice hull, river sand and added a few kilos of sea rock salt per 20 kilos of bedding mix. After each cycle of fatteners grown for 120-150 days, the beddings are removed, dried and mixed into the vegetable beds as organic fertilizer and material. We feed our pigs with both commercial ration and cooked and raw rations made from farm by products such as vegetable trimmings, leguminous and high protein leaves of madre de agua, ipil ipil, cadios and flemengia. Our starch or carbohydrates sources come from cassava and camote which we also grow in the vacant spaces and along the fence line of the farm.
Water Harvesting. Guimaras Island Province has a Type II climate and is a fairly dry area. Where water is available underground, residents and investors massively undertake uncontrolled water extraction which depletes to a large extent the water resources of the island. Such wanton activity will sooner turn our island into a desert and even now, where farmers do not practice water water harvesting and recharging, they are limited to just one cropping per year for rice especially in rain fed areas with no available irrigation facilities.
This situation had encouraged me to develop the slopes of my property to a series of terraces which serve as mini fishponds/ricefields and water catchments. While the pond bottom is fairly dense allowing me to store water for as long as six (6) months, there is also limited percolation that enables me to recharge the underground aquifers located underground. By this system, I am able to retain the shallow water table for the past 20 years. Even now, I can extract water in certain parts of my farm in shallow wells just about 12 feet deep.
Organic Vegetables for the Family: The goat and pig projects have enabled me to produce enough rich organic matter for vegetable production. Every year, we choose some spaces in between the cashew trees to clear and pile rich organic matter and spade it under 2 or 3 times and create garden beds. Once we have prepared the beds, we sow the seeds. In the case of Chinese mustard, pechay and early maturing crucifers, we weed a few times and in 40 to 45 days, we can already harvest. The richness of the soil allow us to harvest better than average sized vegetables that our friends and neighbors often wonder how we grew them.
Carbonized Rice Hulls: Carbonized Rice Hulls (CRH) is one mainstay of our farming system. This invaluable waste product is very useful in many aspects of farm operations. CRH is good for odor control for the pig and goat houses. It also binds nutrients from the manure so that it won’t be leached and thus lost. CRH is also useful as a soil enhancer. It can hold up to 10 times the amount of water and is an ideal medium for growth of beneficial microorganisms. That contribute to the total health of the soil media. CRH is easy to produce using a simple contraption that allows the hulls to be burned totally.
The Future of my Natural Farm:
I believe that natural farming is the wave of the future. We may call it by many names like Integrated Farming, Permaculture, Multistorey Farming, Masanobu Fukuoka Model, etc. Whatever it is called, the fact remains that we are farming for permanence and to preserve the land for the future generations. I am happy to have contributed in a small way to helping the environment by way of taking care of my family through my farming endeavor!