No Such Thing as Barren Soils, Only Barren Minds
Dr. Davide couldn’t forget what a high-ranking agriculture official told him when he presented his FTSP proposal for possible support. He was told that his project was good but he should not undertake it in Cebu because Cebu has barren soil and that it is not suited for agriculture. The government official suggested that he carry it out in Bohol instead.
That suggestion only served as a big challenge to Dr. Davide. That’s precisely why he wanted to help the farmers in his province so they could improve the productivity of the poor soil through scientific methods. He has thought to himself that “there’s no such thing as barren soils, only barren minds.”
The training of participants consists of three phases. Those who can participate are men and women from 18 to 60 years old who at least know how to read and write. They should own a piece of land and should have been farming in the previous three years.
Dr. Davide chose his hometown as launching pad of FSTP because Argao is one of the most depressed towns in Cebu where the farmers harvested an average of only 500 kilos per hectare of their favorite white corn, the Tinigib. Eventually, the other towns of Cebu were covered by the program. Today, the 34 towns and cities of the province are included in the coverage of FSTP. Cebu was given priority to pilot the program because it is one of the poorest provinces producing the lowest average yield of corn, and yet majority of its total population of 2.8 million people eat milled corn grits.
Cebu has mountainous farm lands where about 135,051 hectares are planted to corn in rotation with vegetables, root crops, legumes and others. These are cultivated by more than 122.000 smallhold farmers, majority of whom could not even produce about 50% of its total corn needs. If the corn yield could be doubled or tripled, Cebu would be selfsufficient in corn or even produce a surplus for sale, according to Dr. Davide.
The main objective of FSTP. according to Dr. Davide is to give farmers, especially those in upland communities, direct contact with agricultural scientists to develop their technical and scientific capabilities to grow corn and other crops utilizing appropriate farming technologies. It also aims to strengthen the agricultural research and extension capabilties of local government units and state colleges and universities, so they can later on render services in their areas of responsibilities.
There are three phases in the training of farmers to become scientific farmers. In the first phase, the focus is on giving the farmers lectures and discussions on the principles and applications of releveant technologies as well as direct exposure and experiences in conducting research studies on corn production and post harvest handling and marketing.
Volunteer agriculture experts from UP Los Banos and other agencies conduct lectures on the various principles of scientific crop production. These include such topics as soil fertility determination with a soil test kit, seed selection and varietal improvement, use of integrated pest management to control pests and diseases, storage and marketing problems.
They also conduct experiments in a demonstration farm which they observe throughout the growing season. The scientists assist the farmers in setting up experimental plots of corn to provide them with bands-on experience in conducting different studies. They compare, for instance the effects of bio-organic fertilizers like Durabloom, Bio-N and chemical fertilizers.
They test the growth and yield performance of different corn hybrids and varieties. A plant breeder is invited to teach the farmers how to observe and gather data on the agronomic characters of each hybrid or variety and how to produce hybrid corn.
The farmers are also taught to identify the beneficial as well as harmful insects in the corn field. And they learn how to control the destructive pests through what they call integrated pest management (IPM).
For example, there is one very doable technique of controlling corn earworm damage that the farmers learned from into experts. Corn eurworm is a very common pest that does a lot of damage on corn. The technique is simple enough. It is called “detasseling” or removal of the tassels or flowers. Here’s how to do it : For every four rows of corn, remove the flowers of the three rows before they open, usually 40 to 45 days from planting. Don’t remove the flowers of the fourth row.
How will this reduce corn earworm damage? Well, the flying insect that produces the worm that damages the corn ear lays its eggs on the corn flowers. The eggs usually fall and some of them will land on top of the developing ears. The egg will then hatch to become the worm that will damage the ears. The flowers of the fourth row are not removed so that they will be the source of pollen that will pollinate the developing ears of the detasseled plants.
In one experiment by Phase I participants in Tuburan, Cebu, the farmers found that the detasseled corn plants yielded one ton more than those not detasseled. They harvested four tons per hectare compared to only three tons from the plants not detasseled.
In another experiment in Tuburan on the use of different fertilizers in 2007, they found that the Durabloom bio-organic fertilizer increased yields tremendously. A one-hectare corn plantation fertilized with Durabloom yielded 5.5 tons compared to only one to two tons from those unfertilized corn plants.
There are many other experiments that the farmers are undertaking in the demo farms as well as in their own farms. All these have been contributing to the increased yields of the farmers’ crops. This only means that even the poorest soil can be made productive with the use of scientific techniques. As Dr. Davide has now proven, there is no such thing as barren soil only barren minds.