Environmental groups urge plantations to follow sustainable agri practices

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Oct) – Environmental advocates urged pineapple and banana plantations in Southern Mindanao to heed the proper agricultural practices to prevent further damage in the rivers and the seas.

This call was raised during the policy forum on “Climate Change Adoptive and Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Sloping Landscapes” at the Episcopal Mission Center along McArthur Highway in Matina here Tuesday.

Raoul T. Geollegue, technical team leader of the Relief International-Enterprise Works Worldwide Philippines (RI-EWWP), said that the improper practices of some agricultural firms have already caused major damages by destroying the natural landscape that contributed to the soil erosions.

In many of these farms, the soil erosion goes unnoticed because the bare soil will slowly be swept to the river during heavy downfall and the silt will gather in the riverbed.

Geollegue said a farm that is compliant with sustainable farming protocols should observe buffer zones and apply methods that will prevent soil erosion.

These buffer zones are usually forest trees and bushes which will serve as a biological filter so that the water containing the toxic agri chemicals will not go straight to the rivers and creeks, he added.

“How many kilos and tons poured into banana plantations? All these will go to the main rivers,” Geollegue said.

He added that the RI-EWWP’s works focus on revegetating the easement and rehabilitation of bulldozed creeks.

He urged the companies to use alternative to harmful chemicals and use manual weeding to remove the grasses, which “provides local employment and less harm to the environment.”

In his presentation on “Sustainable and Climate Change-Adaptive Agricultural Practices in Pineapple and Banana Growing,” Engr. Edren Panti, vice president for environmental and health safety of the Unifrutti Philippines Inc., said that farmers must lay out their farms properly in such a way that will not cause soil erosion.

“Soil erosion is silent crisis, waiting for heavy rain to exacerbate the problem,” he said.

Panti said the roads in conventional farms are left naked, giving less importance to the natural vegetative covers like grasses.

In slope farming, he added that the farmers must not go beyond 2 percent slope because the velocity of water will significantly increase if they go beyond the limit, making it easy for rainwater to scour soil into the river.

Panti also highlighted the importance of putting up canals that are at least equivalent to 20 percent of the total plantable area. This will impound the water, he said.

Unifrutti, he said, has a total area of 1,100 hectares in Bukidnon, but only around 650 hectares are planted to pineapples. The rest is allocated for buffer zones and canals.

“The water will only flow to the next canal. It is also concluded that it is charging the water table below. With this technology, when we do monitoring at the low level of plantations, there is zero silt,” Panti added

He said that they also do manual weeding but some of the grasses on the roads are intentionally planted to hold the soil and prevent the accumulation of silts on the roads, which can be costly on the part of the companies in terms of maintenance.

He said that 35 percent of the company’s capital expenditures is allocated for manual weeding.

The company also avoids using herbicides and other toxic chemicals that may harm not only the environment but also of the consumers, Panti said.

Nematicides, for instance, are deadly up to fourth level consumption, he pointed out.

“The area which has been applied with nematicide should allow no one to enter for at least 70 hours, others four days. But if there’s heavy rains, then the soil will bring along with it the chemical,” he said.

It is also necessary to leave the harvested area aside to rest for four to five months until the next planting season, Panti added.

At the farms, they let the residues of the pineapples to rot as fertilizers.

“In conventional plantations, they apply desiccant to pineapple trash and sometimes burn it,” Panti said.

Reacting to the presenters, Maria Socorro Mallare, of the Environmental Education and Information Section (EEIS) of the Environmental Management Board (EMB) 11, said the impacts of climate change can only be minimized, hence the best practices should be followed by not spraying herbicides and avoid practices that will further damage the environment.

She said pesticides and burning may contain greenhouse gasses that will only trigger climate change.

“Using manual labor in weeding is a very good practice. You employ people, help in their livelihood, at dagdag sa economic benefits,” she said.