Firm’s Soil and Water Conservation Programs Beneficial to Coffee Farms
A coffee company’s ongoing soil and water conservation programs in coffee farms throughout the Philippines are proving to be beneficial during the dry months.
Joel Lumagbas, head of the agricultural services department of Nestle Philippines, Inc. (NPI), says the company is promoting soil and water conservation programs in coffee farms in various ways through the company’s Coffee Based Sustainable Farming System (CBSFS} under the worldwide drive of Sustainable Agriculture Initiative of Nestle (SAIN).
One method uses Jatropha curcas, known locally as tuba-tuba. Aside from being a source of glycerol and biodiesel, Jatropha curcas is one of the secondary crops that CBSFS has been promoting to provide additional income for farmers and to prevent soil erosion.
Because of its strong root system, Jatropha grows almost anywhere, even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It can hold water and survive the driest of seasons.
“Jatropha is currently being used extensively in Africa and India as a strategy to arrest soil erosion and the expansion of desert lands,” says Lumagbas.
Another soil conservation measure that Nescafe’s CBSFS advocates is the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology or SALT.
Developed by missionaries in Bansalan, Davao del Sur in the early `70s, it is a technology that integrates soil conservation and food production by combining different soil conservation measures in just one setting.
Basically, SALT is a method of growing field and permanent crops in 3-meter to 5-meter wide bands between contoured rows of nitrogen-fixing trees that arc thickly planted in double rows to make hedgerows. When a hedge is 1.5 to 2 meters tall, it is cut down to about 75 centimeters and the cuttings (tops) are placed in alleyways to serve as organic fertilizer.
More importantly, SALT allows farming in uplands and rolling terrains with slope of more than 15 percent.
“Currently, we are applying SALT in two coffee demonstration farms we helped build in Davao and Sultan Kudarat,” said Lumagbas. “Both farm lands are mountainous with elevation of 600 to 800 meters above sea level.”
According to the Department of Science and Technology’s agro-forestry study, SALT is a simple, applicable, low-cost and timely method of farming uplands. It is a technology developed for Asian farmers with few tools, little capital, and little learning in agriculture.
“Another strategy that we are teaching the farmers is the establishment of `check dams’ or artificial barriers to slowdown the flow of run-off water in small gullies with the use of bamboo stakes and sandbags,” Lumagbas adds.
Lumagbas says that this practice should be adopted in all upland farms to save the topsoil and prevent the disastrous effects of soil erosion such as mudslides, landslides and flash flood. With this in place, as the run-off water hits the barriers, its velocity will be reduced, thus preventing the gullies from getting bigger and deeper.
“What eventually happens is that the topsoil collected in these check dams levels the small gully and becomes a fertile ground for planting crops,” Lumagbas adds.
Topsoil, the rich and fertile part of agricultural land, stores plant nutrients, air and moisture. The nutrients in topsoil are crucial to crop production. So if the topsoil is lost due to soil erosion or industrialization, a good harvest is not possible for farmlands unless the farmers use expensive commercial fertilizer.
Nescafe realizes the topsoil’s importance in sustainable coffee farming and has taken the lead to conserve it,” says Lumagbas.