SANREM Celebrates its 20th Anniversary in the Philippines

Dr. Agustin Mercado explains one of the trials at the Claveria Center. The SANREM replicated trials are shown in the background.

Dr. Agustin Mercado explains one of the trials at the Claveria Center. The SANREM replicated trials are shown in the background.

This year marks an extraordinary milestone for SANREM: its 20th year in the Philippines. The program has come a long way since SANREM’s first field sites were established at the Manupali River watershed on the island of Mindanao in 1994.

In Mindanao, SANREM has teamed with smallholder farmers to conduct research, train stakeholders, and promote new technologies. Team members integrated food production with several practices designed to conserve soil, water, and biodiversity in the area. This resulted in increased agricultural productivity and food security.

To recognize two progressive decades of SANREM achievements in sustainable agriculture, a field day and anniversary celebration was held on July 24 at the Conservation Agriculture with Trees Learning Center (CATLC) in Claveria. The celebration was attended by over 100 participants, including farmers, students, government officers, scientists, and faculty and administrators from four universities.

On the morning of the event, attendees visited a broad variety of field experiments and demonstrations which displayed unique solutions developed by SANREM to solve the area’s agricultural problems. Among these included sites displaying alternative cover crops like the grass Adlai and legume Arachis pintoi, which can also be used to feed livestock, and animal-built rainwater harvesting ponds that use gravity to provide water to sprinkler and drip irrigation systems.

Farmers build a rain harvest pond using simple tools drawn by carabao buffaloes.

Farmers build a rain harvest pond using simple tools drawn by carabao buffaloes.

Most striking on the tour, perhaps, was the study comparing five conservation agriculture production systems (CAPS) to plowed systems. CAPS plots were grown using minimal tillage, cover crops, and crop rotation in place of traditional practices like plowing. The plowed study plots showed signs of erosion and stunted corn, while the plots grown under CAPS had visibly healthier soil and lush, green crops.

After lunch, participants gathered indoors at the CATLC auditorium to discuss all that had been accomplished over the years. SANREM Director Adrian Ares delivered the keynote presentation “SANREM Global Experience on conservation agriculture,” which covered SANREM’s work with conservation agriculture across the globe.

“The overall goal is to increase smallholder food security and income and promote natural resource conservation through the development of participatory, gender-sensitive, economically viable and socially-scalable conservation agriculture production systems,” explained Ares

The meeting ended with a lively debate about launching the Philippine Conservation Agriculture Network. The network will promote scaling up of conservation agriculture technology in the Philippines. There was ample support for the idea, and the group decided to form a planning committee to determine its main goals and produce a charter.

For dinner, the SANREM group met Maximo Rodriguez, Congressional Representative for Abante Bisayas and Mindanao, who showed strong support for expanding conservation agriculture and working on legislation to protect natural resources in the Philippines.

“I will work on legislation to protect soil, water, and biodiversity resources in Mindanao that includes Conservation Agriculture with Trees,” promised Rodriguez.

“Most of Mindanao’s lands were beautiful rainforests,” explained Manuel Reyes, Principal Investigator of the SANREM project in South Asia and biological engineering professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. “They have been cut for timber and agricultural production and are now rapidly degrading, polluting streams and oceans. But we have hope. After 20 years of research, I am convinced SANREM has found a solution to produce food and, at the same time, arrest land degradation and restore degraded lands in Mindanao.”