By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Those of you who passed through the Halsema Highway going to Sagada have probably stopped at the Highest Point in Atok, Benguet and took a selfie with the majestic mountains where carrots, cabbages or any of the other chopsuey vegetables are planted as your background, if not for the fog.
On a clear day along Halsema, a traveler would not miss the symmetrical vegetable gardens carved on the mountainside. At some portions of the highway, the gardens are just beside the road.
But has it ever crossed your mind that most of these gardens were once forested areas? That years back, pine trees stood where the broccoli or cauliflower now grows?
According to Kenneth Laruan, dean of the College of Forestry of the Benguet State University (BSU) vegetable expansion in Benguet started after the killer quake struck the country in 1990. “After the 1990 earthquake many of our pocket miners decided to till the land instead of small scale mining due to fear of being buried alive,” he said.
He pointed out that it is also about the same time (1990) when the timber license agreements of corporate logging concessionaires have ended. “The Benguet forests were just starting to recover from the massive logging activities when vegetable gardens started to expand,” he said.
He cited data from the Department of Agriculture that vegetable production areas expanded by 42.88% from 1991 to 2009.
Laruan, spoke in a research conference at the BSU’s Gladiola Center on October 1. He presented his research paper on the climate change adaptation of among Benguet vegetable farmers within the Ambuklao watershed also called the Upper Agno River Basin Resource Reserve.
The said watershed reservation spans 77,561 hectares that include portions of nine of the 13 towns of Benguet. The nine towns that include Atok, Bakun, Bokod, Buguias, Itogon, Kabayan, Kibungan, La Trinidad and Tublay; are largely temperate vegetable producers.
Benguet supplies 80% of the temperate vegetable in Metro Manila. According to Benguet Farmer’s Marketing Cooperative, the province supplies vegetables to as far as Batanes in the north and General Santos City in the south.
Laruan said climate change is now the new challenge not just to Benguet or the Philippines but to the whole world. Changing weather patterns, increasing temperature and stronger typhoons, he said, are some of the problems that affect vegetable production.
But drying up of water sources, he said, is the most pressing problem to Benguet farmers.
He said the drying up of springs can be attributed to the diminishing forest cover of Benguet.
According to the latest data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Benguet’s forest cover is now down to 100,977 hectares out of what used to be 214,523 hectares.
Ironically, Laruan mentioned that one of the adaptation measures of farmers to the dwindling water supply is to bring there gardens nearer to the remaining water sources. “Instead of spending more for additional garden hoses, farmers would opt to cultivate lands nearer to existing water sources,” he said.
Laruan recommended that instead of just planting trees, farmers should be encouraged and taught to develop and maintain their own water sources. He said the DENR should assist farmers carry out spring development activities.
“More than just tree planting, farmers should be encouraged to do spring development and protection activities,” he reiterated.
He explained that by spring development he meant that farmers should be taught the importance of nurturing and protecting a watershed to sustain their vegetable farms. He added that there is no problem with planting trees but to ensure that these trees will live and grow into a forest is more important.
He further said that to develop a watershed, a variety of trees, plants and even animals must be considered. He stressed that the more diverse the ecosystem of the watershed is the more chance for it to survive and be sustained.
“Once the farmers realize the importance of having their own watershed, it would be natural for them to protect the forest,” he said. # nordis.net