Fighting Climate Climate With Local Know-How – OpEd


Sali Dummay personifies what wordsmiths call a “dirt-poor farmer”.

His crops are at the mercy of adverse weather conditions, sky-rocketing farm inputs, middlemen monopoly and worsening attack of pests and diseases, not to mention anti-farmer government policies.

Worse, climate change, a man-made enemy, is rearing its ugly head– there are more destructive typhoons, droughts are longer, water sources are drying up. Not even science or the most advanced technology can reverse the phenomena.

But Sali, unschooled, every bit illiterate to any schooled pen-pusher, but learned in the ways of the old, has what it takes to survive this fast-changing world. So much so that he can take scientists to school.

Old Ways Given New Names

Sali makes use of traditional heirloom seeds—upland rice, corn, beans squash,— handed down by ancestors for generations. His kaingin garden is watered by cool spring water, his soil fertilized by rotten remains of weeds, sedges and grass.

“Outsiders came to say what I’m doing is organic gardening, , what is that, another new name for an old practice?, he sneered.

“When government foresters visited my father’s “tayan” (communal woodlot), they said we were doing agroforestry, why do they give names to our old ways, ways they don’t understand”?

“Our ricefields are fertilized by rotten pig manure, rice hay and wild sunflower leaves and this is good government agriculturists say but these are the same people who brought poison to kill insect pest that later killed birds and bees, the same people who brought the golden snail that now kill our rice plants, “ Sali exclaimed.

The indigenous practices that Sali still adheres to are sustainable ways that help stymy global warming and climate change.

Amy Dickie and Monica Zurek of the University of Oxford, in an IPCC Conference paper titled “Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change in Agriculture”|,they said organic farming practices including those of indigenous peoples reduce the GHG intensity of agriculture, both by changing production practices without harming yield.

By using traditional organicfertilization techniques, Sali and his lot enhance regenerative agriculture strategy focused on the nourishment of the soil, an effective way for farmers to adapt to the challenges of a climate change and even help reverse the problem.

Maybe it doesn’t look like much more than dirt, but soil does more than just give crops life — it also serves as the terrestrial ecosystem’s most significant carbon storehouse. Fertile soil is microbe- and carbon-rich, traditional practices are less excessive tilling and use less monocropping (producing a single crop every year on the same land) thereby killing less of those critical microbes that oxidizes in the air and transforms into carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat and contributes to warming temperatures.

Traditional Crops, Cropping Patterns More Climate Change Resilient

By using traditional crops, Sali and his lot refrain from depending on expensive and input-demanding and intensive genetically-tinkered seeds.The local heirloom seeds have adapted to local conditions for hunreds of years.The crops include bush beans, pigeon peas, corn, rice, chillies, squash and sweet potato tubers

Also included are indigenous vegetables water cress or tongsoy, Amaranthus spp, bracken fern, Sonchus spp., and Pasiflora spp. amti, gendey and burburtak, all climate change resilient indigenous crops.

As climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of communities worldwide, indigenous peoples contribute the least to greenhouse emissions.

In fact, indigenous peoples are vital to, and active in, the many ecosystems that inhabit their lands and territories and may therefore help enhance the resilience of these ecosystems. In addition, indigenous peoples interpret and react to the impacts of climate change in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions which may help society at large to cope with impending changes.

Sali also makes use of a variety of seeds,often, exchanged with other farmers to enhance agro-biodiversity. This allows good characteristics of other seeds to blend with others through cross-pollination. A drought resistant pigeon pea seed may acquire weevil-resistant trait from another seed.

Sali is also changing his cropping patterns, a knowledge gained from ancestors, When most neighbors plant following sucessive patterns of sweet potato, he deviates and does not plant because the pattern completes the life cycle of insct pest, increasing infestation. He plants cassava, instead. When his neighbors harvest all their sweet potato, killing all the vines, thereby eliminating host plant of pests, he plants sweet potato becauase there will be least pest infestation.

Ensuring Water Supply of Springs and Brooks

While Sali’s family owns a tayan or a communal woodlot, he ensures that the spring and brook where he farms have ample water recharge. This he does by transplanting giant ferns or tanapu and Ficus nota figs or tebbeg wildlings above his watershed headwaters.

Tayans are hereditary communal properties such as forestlands inherited through generations. The tayan system refers to the indigenous concepts of managing the communal properties. Common to the indigenous peoples is their land tenure system that defines the practices of access, use, and control over resources by individuals, clans, and communities. These practices among indigenous cultural communities are restricted and modified by varying economic and political transformations as well as national land laws within a diversity of historical and social conditions.

Replanting with ferns and figs is a practice long been learned from old folks who say both fern and tree have good water holding capability.
Sali said “What most don’t realize is trees are important members of the landscape, what good is a land without water and only trees can give us water.

Sali’s tayan is Pinus insularis pine dominated with a mixture of few semi- tropical dipterocarps, wild edible berries and vines and mossy trees. Guarded by members of Sali’s clan, cutting of timber for housing, furniture, firewood and for rituals is covered by unwritten laws passed down from one generation to another. Use of any part of the land, trees, plants and water are likewise ruled by customary laws of the clan and tribe.

Forest Gives Life

Sali has developed a forest garden, where trees, indigenous vegetables , different species of diverse biological types annual herbs, perennial herbaceous plants, climbing vines, creeping plants, shrubs and trees thrive.

Natural processes of cycling water and organic matter are maintained; dead leaves and twigs are left to decompose, keeping a continual litter layer and humus through which nutrients are recycled. Compost, rice terraces mud and green manures are commonly used on cropland. These forms of recycling are sufficient to maintain soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilisers.

Sali, unschooled, regulates or modifies the functioning and dynamics of each plant and land within the system.

He understands this, his people have been doing it for hundreds of years. Didn’t they carve stairways to heaven with their rice terraces?

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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