Life in Liguasan Marsh: A garden in a flood zone

Ferdinandh B. Cabrera
in Barangay Balong, Northern Kabuntalan, Maguindanao

It looks daunting but people living in Liguasan Marsh have learned to deal with the floods that often visit their communities. For them, life must go on.

In the village of Balong, for instance, young parent Jamela Abo and mothers like her ride the “awang” (boat) almost every day to visit and manage a small vegetable farm.

But it’s not your usual farm on dry land. It grows in the middle of the surrounding water, a “floating garden” so to speak.

Using rich soil from the marsh, residents developed a farming technology where they loaded heaps of soil into a huge box, kept afloat by water tubes and bamboo underneath and shaded with a fish net above to protect the seedlings from intense heat.

Every time they visit, there is no need to haul water to shower the plants; water is just within reach.

“We were born and grew in this kind of environment and will live with this situation,” according to Jamela.

She said early this year, around 30 women in the community with the help of their husbands put up the floating garden to augment the local food supply. They planted vegetables like pechay, string beans, cabbage, eggplant and okra (lady’s fingers).

Frequent floods

A catch basin of waters coming from upstream Southwestern Mindanao and one of the country’s top 10 provinces in terms of flooding, Maguindanao province suffers every now and then devastation from rising water levels.15liguasan2

With scarce dry land on which to grow vegetables, women in Barangay Balong, Northern Kabuntalan, Mindanao have developed floating gardens in the middle of the Liguasan Marsh. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh B. Cabrera

According to the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the government had spent P6 billion on post-calamity needs from 2008 to 2013.

Around 16,000 people were affected and damage reached around P34 million, mostly in agriculture.

Climate change adaptation

Balong is surrounded by water tributaries. There’s no telling when the floods would come. But residents already know what to during floods after a series of training on participatory capacity and vulnerability analysis.

With the help of Community Organizers Multiversity, a local nongovernment organization based in Liguasan Marsh area and with support from Lutheran World Relief that has been assisting the periodically flooded communities, several villages have organized themselves into small groups and undertaken local initiatives.

Here in Barangay Balong, they call the organization Kadtabanga Nu Talainged Sa Barangay Balong (KTBB), which has formed a barangay disaster risk reduction committee.

KTBB vice president Alikan Asid said they had trained members of the local emergency response team who are standby during critical situations.

A flood warning information board was erected along the river to monitor from time to time the water level.

“The mosque’s amplified sound system will serve as communication tool for information dissemination once the situation calls for an emergency evacuation,” he said.

And as a long-term response to the recurring cycle of floods, the group has planted around 5,000 bamboo trees along the river banks while dikes were being rehabilitated through a food-for-work scheme.

Climate-resilient farming system

Residents covered by the program of CO Multiversity have developed a climate resilient farming system. In one community for example, farmers are planting an organic and flood-resilient rice variety. This has solved the problem of crop damage due to floods as the rice will continue to grow and will no longer turn yellowish even if flooded.

In addition, many households have developed elevated gardens where vegetables and other plants are grown in sandbags, a practice they had not done before.

Others received assistance for duck-raising, which is suited to Kabuntalan’s marshy environment.

Some farmers received farm inputs and equipment while the women’s group underwent training in alternative ways of earning income like fish processing, handicraft making and dressmaking.

Fisher folk, on the other hand, received boats and fishnets.


Lately, the provincial government, CO Multiversity and other agencies initiated a provincial summit on disaster management and climate change adaptation in Tacurong city.

Themed “Building Resilient Communities, Strengthening Local Governance”, the summit aimed to enhance the resiliency of communities and the responsiveness of the local government units to ensure that they can adapt to climate stresses and immediately recover when calamity strikes.

During the summit the local government units signed a memorandum of partnership in combatting disasters, both manmade and natural.

ARMM Interior and Local Government Secretary Anwar Malang said investment in communication equipment is most needed for disasters.

Maguindanao Governor Mangudadatu announced they had purchased 10 mobile water purification units worth P500,000 each to be deployed in evacuation centers or affected areas that may need them during disasters.

He also announced the planned procurement of multi-million worth of dredging machine which is awaiting approval by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to address clogging of the marsh area by water hyacinths. The province also bought additional rescue equipment like boats and life vests.

The production of hazard maps, strengthening of barangay emergency response, coordination among government line agencies and other concerns also surfaced during the summit.

Residents of Balong meanwhile said they can manage a “normal life” in a hostile environment such as theirs granting the government has enough political will to assist them.

“In fact what we want to deal with next and hopes to build in the future will be a floating rice orchard, it’s just we really need a capital,” according to farmer Buwao Panalunsong. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera/MindaNews)