Category Archives: Agriculture

Treatments from Mother Nature

THE Philippines loses billions of pesos each year from the importation of drugs, some of which are not only nonessential but also even extremely dangerous.

Unknown to most Filipinos, Mother Nature has provided some treatments of common ailments in the form of food, plants, and herbs. Most of these can be found in the kitchen or in your backyard garden.

Arroyo Watch: Sun.Star blog on President Arroyo

If you have sunburn, why don’t you treat it with aloe vera? “We’re starting to see evidence in medical literature that aloe vera may really help wound healing,” said Dr. Rodney Basler, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine.

Simply break off a leaf and apply the juice. But test a small area first, he cautions, to make sure you’re not allergic to aloe.

One natural remedy for colds is the versatile garlic, which has an antibiotic effect, according to Dr. Marin Haas, author of Staying Health with the Seasons. “It can actually kill germs and clear up your cold symptoms more rapidly,” he said.

Indulging in garlic is another way to cure sore throat. “When a sore throat is caused by a virus infection, as opposed to bacteria, eating garlic can bring quicker relief,” suggested Dr. Yu-Yan Yeh, associate professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. “Garlic has been show to have antiviral and antifungal activities.”

Stuffy nose can also be treated by sniffing an onion. “Basically, the only thing you get from rubbing on menthol or other decongestants is some irritation that stimulates the nose to run and unblock the stuffiness,” said Dr. Hueston King, an otolaryngologist and visiting professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “You can get the same effect from smelling an onion.”

A hangover once is a hangover never wanted again. ÿBut you can say goodbye to hangover by drinking coffee. “The coffee acts as a vasoconstrictor, something that reduces the swelling of blood vessels that causes headache,” said Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive director of the US National Headache Foundation. “A couple of cups can do a great deal to relieve the headaches associated with hangovers.”

But don’t drink too much coffee, though. You don’t need coffee jitters on top of the alcohol jitters.

Motion sickness can make even the most enthusiastic traveler miserable. One study showed that taking two to four capsules of dried ginger before traveling in a car, boat, plane, or trains prevented motion sickness in 90 percent of the people who participated in the study.

“To combat travel sickness, take a quarter of a teaspoon of powdered ginger or a one centimeter slice of fresh root ginger at least 20 minutes before you get in the car or board a ferry,” suggests an article which appeared in Reader’s Digest.

Ginger tea (salabat) is one cheap remedy for inducing delayed menstruation, also for cleansing your body system. Boil a sizeable piece of ginger rhizome, add sugar to taste, and drink the tea a little hot.

Your tardy bowel movement will perk up. Your saliva always dried up? Chew a piece of ginger and saliva will flow again.

Ever tried treating sprains by eating pineapple? Yes, you read it right!

“You can speed recovery and get rid of any bruising from a sprain by eating a lot of pineapple, especially right after your injury,” explained Dr. Steven Subotnick, a sports podiatrist in Hayward, California. “That’s because pineapple has bromelain, an enzyme that helps heal bruises and speed healing.

Pineapple along with papaya can help treat your black eye after a brawl. “Eating pineapple or papaya, or better yet, a fruit cocktail of both, can help remedy a black eye,” said Dr. Michael Rask, chair of American Academy of Neurologist and Orthopedic Surgeons. “An enzyme found in those fruits changes the molecular structure of the blood, so it’s more easily absorbed by the body.” If you have black eye, eat three papayas a day for faster healing.

Loading up on pineapple will also do the trick, according to Dr. Rask, and both fruits give you a healthy does of vitamin C.

Most warts eventually go away on their own, but if you want to speed up the process, soak a cotton ball with fresh pineapple juice and apply it to wart.

Ampalaya has been considered as nature’s answer to diabetes. Diabetics who wish to try ampalaya need not spend money on the tablet, capsule or tea forms of the plant. They can cultivate the plant or buy it from the market and make their own preparation.

To prepare ampalaya extract, the Department of Health says the following steps should be followed: Wash and finely chop leaves. Add six tablespoons of the chopped leaves in two glasses of water. Boil the mixture for 15 minutes in an uncovered pot. Cool down and strain. Drink 1/3 cup of the solution 3 times a day. Alternately, ampalaya tops can be steamed and eaten (1/2 cup 2 times a day).

“One medium-sized banana boasts of 100-125 kilo calories, 4-5 grams fiber, about 400 milligrams potassium, 17 milligrams calcium, 36 milligrams phosphorus and traces of other minerals like iron,” said Professor Kanwar, an eminent biophysicist who writes for the Health Tribune.

No wonder, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit’s ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.

Researches conducted recently at the University of Minnesota, School of Medicine, substantiate earlier reports that high potassium diets (banana being one of these) lower blood cholesterol levels.

Mango fruits are bursting with protective nutrients. The vitamin content depends upon the variety and maturity of the fruit, when the mango is green the amount of vitamin C is higher, as it ripens the amount of beta carotene (vitamin A) increases.

A partial list of the many medicinal properties and purported uses attributed to the mango as follows: antiviral, antiparasitic, antiseptic, expectorant, cardiotonic, contraceptive, aphrodisiac, and laxative.

By the way, in treating ailments with herbs and medicinal plants, use only one herb or medicinal plant at a time. Also, don’t use them for other than what is called for, as herbal medicines have specific uses. More importantly, never do experiments; leave them to the experts. — ###


Life is a box of chocolates

By Henrylito D. Tacio


If life could be compared to something sweet, then chocolate would be more like it.  As Forrest Gump (played by award-winning Tom Hanks) said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.”


Chocolates are very popular around the world.  Every time I am in the airport waiting for my plane, you can find me eating a chocolate.  They come in different forms and sizes and the boxes are always beautiful.


There’s more to chocolate than just for eating.  “If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?” French writer Marquise de Sévigné wondered.


Any sane person loves chocolate,” declared Bob Greene.  In fact, “nine out of ten people like chocolate.  And the tenth person lies,” said John Q. Tullius.  Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, believed that what people really need is love.  “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” he added.


Oftentimes, chocolates have been equated with love and romance.  John Milton wrote, “Love is just like eating large amounts of chocolate.” Miranda Ingram argued, “It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let’s face it, far more reliable than a man.”


Chemically speaking, “chocolate really is the world’s perfect food,” to quote the words of Michael Levine, the author of The Emperors of Chocolate.  As Geronimo Piperni puts it: “Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.” 


Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said chocolates are “helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work.”  Baron Justus von Liebig considered this beneficent restorer of exhausted power as “the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”


Some years back, I was touring a group of American kids at the farm in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.  While walking, an eight-year-old boy inquired, “What is that?” as he pointed the cacao tree.  “That’s where chocolates come from,” I replied.  Almost immediately, every stopped.  “How do you get chocolates from that tree?” they chorused.


Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Central America and Mexico.   Although Christopher Columbus came to know the beans, it was Hernando Cortes who brought it to Spain.  “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits man to walk for a whole day without food,” he wrote.


In the Philippines, it has been cultivated since the 17th century when Spanish mariner Pedro Bravo de Lagunas planted the crop in San Jose, Batangas.  Since then, cacao growing flourished in the different parts of the country.


The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground and liquefied, resulting in pure chocolate in fluid form: chocolate liquor.  The liquor can be further processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.


Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining chocolate with sugar.  Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk.


If you care to know, the word “chocolate” comes from the Mexico’s Aztecs and is derived from the Nahuatl word xocolatl, which is a combination of the words, xocolli, meaning “bitter,” and atl, which is “water.”


While chocolate is regularly eaten for pleasure, there are potential beneficial health effects of eating chocolate. Cocoa or dark chocolate reportedly benefits the circulatory system. Other beneficial effects suggested include anticancer, brain stimulator, cough preventor, and antidiarrheal effects.  As an aphrodisiac, its effect is yet unproven.


Recent studies have suggested that cocoa or dark chocolate may possess certain beneficial effects on human health. Cocoa possesses a significant antioxidant action.  Some studies have also observed a modest reduction in blood pressure and flow-mediated dilation after consuming dark chocolate daily.


There has even been a fad diet, named “Chocolate diet,” that emphasizes eating chocolate and cocoa powder in capsules. However, consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking fat-containing milk with dark chocolate, appears largely to negate the health benefit.


A study reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation indicated that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.


People having headache are advised not to eat chocolates.  The reason: chocolates contain tyramine, a chief suspect in causing headaches.  However, many young people outgrow this chemical reaction.  “The body appears to build up a tolerance,” says Dr. Seymour Diamond, who has co-written several books on headaches.


If you have heartburn, you should avoid eating chocolates, too.  The sweet confection deals heartburn sufferers a double whammy.  It is nearly all fat and it contains caffeine (which may irritate an already inflamed esophagus).


Other things are just food. But chocolate’s chocolate,” said Patrick Skene Catling.  That’s why Brillat-Savarin advises, “If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of chocolate – and marvels will be performed.”


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Where learning is taught by doing

By Henrylito D. Tacio


Buencamino “Boy” Talabucon was only three years old when his family left Tondo, Manila to settle in Davao del Sur.  Coming from a poor family, he started driving a jeepney after graduating from high school.  “For more than 10 years, I drove a passenger jeep,” he said.  “Twelve hours along bumpy road.  It was grueling.”


Boy decided to quit driving and became a farmer.  A distant relative allowed him to till his 1.5 hectares land on the slope of a mountain provided that Boy remits 25 percent of his produce. 


With very little knowledge on farming, he cleared one-fourth hectare of the farm and planted corn.  Initially, the harvest was good.  But the production of his farm significantly reduced as years went by.


He was ready to give up farming when he learned about Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) while attending a meeting conducted by a European-funded organization.  Fortunately, he was chosen as one of those who would attend training at the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc. in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.


After the training, he returned home and adapted the technology he learned from the training center.  He also adopted other livelihood technologies in his farm.  Now, his farm is teeming with various crops. 


Boy is just one of the thousands of farmers trained by the MBRLC on various sustainable farming systems.  Every year, some 6,000 people to the center to observe, see and adopt the technologies which the center has developed through its years of existence. 


Almost one-third of those who come to the center opt to immerse themselves on the training programs which the center offers.  “Most of those who undergo training are farmers,” said Elsa N. Ablayon, the current head of the training department.  “But we also train technicians, teachers, students, and even participants send to us by government agencies.”


Among the government agencies that utilize MBRLC as their partner in countryside development are the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and Department of Education (DepEd).


During the 30th anniversary of MBRLC, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hailed: “The MBRLC has been at the forefront of improving the lives of Mindananaoans, both physically and spiritually.  You have provided our people, especially our upland farmers, with the necessary guidance in order to become productive members of society.”


The MBRLC is a non-government organization located 86 kilometers away from Davao City (the travel time from the Ecoland bus terminal is about two hours).  It nestles at the rolling foothills of Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.


At its 19-hectare farm are various farming technologies which most people can adapt and follow in their respective farms.  As one British who came to the center wrote in his report: “This relatively small operation is the most self-sufficient of all of the projects seen on this trip, and has had an influence throughout the Philippines and elsewhere far out of proportion to its size.”


Actually, the center was a product of the masteral thesis of its founder, the Rev. Harold Ray Watson, an agriculturist from Brooklyn, Mississippi.  “When I was doing my research, I found out that most training programs on farming from all over the world have facilities but not actual demonstration farms,” he said in an interview some years back.  “So, I decided to put up this training center where farmers can actually see and learn what they are hearing from the lectures.”


This what makes the MBRLC truly unique in its training programs.  “Unlike other training centers which don’t have their own signature technologies, MBRLC has founded, tested and popularized the systems it has been doing,” said Ablayon, who graduated from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.


She cites the case of Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) and its modifications.  “In terms of authenticity,” she explained, “the center has all the rights and authority to training people because all the models can be found and all the data are available for all to see.”


The MBRLC has a “farmer-oriented philosophy.”  As Watson puts it, “Our philosophy is, if you have something that works, go ahead with it.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, since people won’t copy systems perfectly anyway.”


Which is why its technologies are catered to the needs of the poorest of the poor.  “Our aim is to promote projects and systems that would enable rural people to improve their standard of living,” said Roy C. Alimoane, the current director of the center.


Aside from SALT, the MBRLC is also known for Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2), Sustainable Agroforest land Technology (SALT 3), Small Agrofruit Livelihood Technology (SALT 4), and Food Always In The Home (FAITH) gardening.  It also offers trainings on plant propagation (grafting, budding and seed production) and nursery management, livestock raising (goats, pigs, chicken, and rabbits), and aquaculture (particularly tilapia raising).


Its most recent technologies include vermicomposting (composting with earthworms), natural pig raising (using the Korean method), and natural fertilizer and pesticides formulation. 


For community development, MBRLC offers training on extension techniques and strategies.  It also conducts training on water development.  There is also a resident program for young people called Baptist Outside Of Training (BOOST), where the trainees are taught how to become family assets instead of liabilities.


“Our training programs are designed to help and equip the trainees,” Ablayon said.  “We conduct our training in a way that only 25 percent are allotted to lecture while the remaining 75 percent are spent in doing something.”


MBRLC calls this method as “hands on experience.”  For instance, in SALT training, the participants must learn how to use the A-frame in locating the contour lines of a slope.  They must also know how to propagate hedgerow species like Flemingia macrophylla and Desmodium rensonii and how to plant them in the located contour lines of the farm.  In raising goats, they have to practice how to milk and disbud goats.


Since its humble beginnings in 1971, MBRLC has become one of the most-often visited places in Mindanao.  To date, over 300,000 people have paid a visit to the farm.   People from other countries also come to the center.  Among the countries represented were Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, El Salvador, Fiji, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.


Zacarias B. Sarian, the Agriculture editor who visited the training center in 1998, commented: “It is not surprising therefore by MBRLC is a favorite destination of people from here and abroad looking for a model of upland farming.”


MBRLC has received various citations and awards from different award-giving bodies.  In 1991, the regional office of the Food and Agriculture Organization bestowed the Food Day Silver Medal for “its contribution to mobilizing people’s participation in tree planting and sustainable forest resources management.”  Previous to that, in 1989, it received a presidential citation from then-president Corazon C. Aquino.


Its former director, Rev. Watson, was also honored with the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1985 for peace and international understanding “for encouraging international utilization of SALT” and other farming technologies.


The US$20,000 prize he got for the award was donated to the MBRLC treasury.  “I like to preach,” he said, “but sometimes preaching has its shortcomings when people are hungry, or when they’re diseased or poor.  The thing I’ve wanted to do is be involved in people’s problems.”


Although Watson is no longer with the MBRLC, his legacy continues.  The MBRLC is still serving the needs of those who come to the center.  “We will be here as long as we are needed,” Alimoane said.  “We can help and teach them how, but they must do them themselves.  Outsiders can help, but insiders must do the job.” — ###


Mindanao goes organic farming

By Henrylito D. Tacio


Filipino farmers who are searching for a system that is not only environment-friendly but improves their income as well should look no further.  The answer to their quest: organic farming.


In Mindanao, at least 120 hectares of rice farms in Sultan Mastura, Maguindanao is planted to organic rice, an agriculture practice that is already gaining ground around the country’s second largest island as many farmers have now seen the sweet harvest of those who went ahead of them and practiced what was earlier was less popular.


“Organic agriculture is the answer,” pointed out Jessica Reyes-Cantos of the Manila-based Rice Watch and Action Network.  “It won’t only retain soil productivity but it can make farming viable.  If farmers will have additional income from their land they will continue to plant rice.”


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supports the idea.  Its report, Organic Agriculture and Food Security, explicitly states that organic farming fights hunger, tackles climate change, and is good for farmers, consumers and the environment.

The FAO report frames a paradox within the conventional food production systems.   Global food supply is sufficient, but 850 million are undernourished and go hungry.  Use of chemical agricultural inputs is increasing; yet grain productivity is dwindling to seriously low levels.  


Not only that.  Costs of agricultural inputs are rising, but commodity costs have been in steady decline over the past five decades.  Industrialized food systems cause deaths through pesticide poisonings and high numbers of farmers have committed suicides, while millions of jobs have been lost in rural areas.


Organic farming, according to FAO’s Nadia Scialabba, is “a holistic production management system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes the health and productivity of plants, animals and people.”


Organic agriculture products trading in the world is increasing by 20-30 percent every year.  It is a vibrant commercial agricultural system practiced in 120 countries, covering 31 million hectares of cultivated lands and an additional 62 million hectares of certified wild harvested areas.  The organic market was worth US$40 billion in 2006, and expected to reach US$70 billion by 2012.


In Mindanao, some big agricultural firms – like La Frutera, Inc., Marsman Drysdale and Del Monte – have started looking at organically grown products due to their potential in the international market.  Popular organic products exported from the Philippines include bananas, beef, mangoes, muscovado sugar, papayas, peanuts, poultry, soya milk, vegetables from the uplands, yellow corn and rice.


However, promotion of organic farming should not be driven as a “profit making” scheme, to quote the words of Tom Villarin, but rather for family food security.  “If the farmer has excess products, he can sell it to the local markets,” explained the Mindanao representative to the National Organic Agriculture Board of the Department of Agriculture.  “What we are after is the food security and nutritional value to the farmer and his family.”


If the country goes organic, it would be able to feed its growing population.  A study conducted by the University of Michigan (UM) found out that organic farms in developing countries can yield up to three times as much food as low-intensive methods on the same land.

Professor Ivette Perfecto, one the study’s principal investigators, said that in developed countries, yields were almost equal on organic and conventional farms.  And in developing countries, food production could double or triple using organic methods.


“My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” said Prof. Perfecto, who is with the university’s school of natural resources and environment.  In addition to equal or greater yields, the study found that those yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers, without putting more farmland into production.

Prof. Perfecto finds it “ridiculous” with the claim that people would go hungry if farming went organic.  “Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies – all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food,” she said.

In Mindanao, rice farmers are proving once and for all that organic farming can improve one’s income.  While it is true that conventional farming has higher yields at an average of at least 100 sacks per hectare, in the end of the computation it “is still not lucrative as it appear,” observed Eddie Panes, chairman of the Association of Sustainable Agriculture Practitioners of Palimbang (ASAPP), a core group of farmers practicing and propagating organic farming in Sultan Kudarat.

He claimed the net income per hectare is only P4,000 after deducting all the expenses (chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides) spent in conventional farming.  In comparison, organic farming has only an average of 60 sacks per hectare but the net income is P7,000.


In Davao del Norte, farmers who adopted organic farming claimed that their income has considerably increased.  Jerry Rivera, president of a farmers’ group in Santo Tomas town, said the adoption of organic farming has significantly lowered the cost of inputs. “Our farmers there are also helping in the local government’s thrust at proper solid waste management since we do not anymore burn rice hull,” he reported.


By doing away with chemicals, farmers are helping the environment.  With the high costs of fertilizers and pesticides, farmers are turning to old farming practices where plants grow without chemical intervention.  “It is an environment-friendly farming method,” said Father Greto Bugas, who organized ASAPP.  He added that organic farming is one way of restoring their dignity as farmers.


Going organic is being one with nature, and respecting God’s creations.  That is how Eugenio Geraldo, a farmer from Bukidnon, sees the traditional system.  “Why would you use pesticides and kill those insects?” he asked.  “They’re God’s creations!”


Geraldo plants rice, corn and a variety of vegetables organically.   He doesn’t apply fertilizers but uses animal manure, compost from decayed organic matters from his farm, and similar concoctions.  He claimed that, with his concoctions of sorts, he could command the ants to drive away pests from his crops.  And because he does not spray chemicals that would kill all insects in the farm, the predator insects become the farmer’s ally, driving away the pests.


“I now realized the importance of natural pest management especially what plants are useful for preventing pests in my farm,” observed a 37-year-old farmer from Lipao, Datu Paglas, Maguindanao after attending a training on organic farming system.


Organic farming is sort of a way in unifying Christians and Muslims.  Ishmael Pasaporte and Harry Mulod are two Muslim members of ASAPP.  Both are active in all activities and convince other farmers to shift to organic farming.


By joining the cooperative, Mulod said that his eyes were opened to the utmost importance of unity in achieving their goal.  “We were oriented on how to focus on our commonalities not on our differences as Christians and Muslims.  Organic farming helped bridge the gap created by wars and cultural differences,” he admitted.


More importantly, organic farming mitigates climate change.  A 30-year scientific trial shows that organic practices could counteract up to 40 percent of global greenhouse gas output. Andre Leu, chairman of Organic Federation of Australia, claims the trial of organic and conventional farming practices has proved that organic practices “can be the single biggest way to mitigate climate change.”


Scientists at the Rodale Institute in the United States have proven that organic farming practices can remove about 7,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the air each year and sequester it in a hectare of farmland.


According to Leu, the scientists estimated that if all of America’s 100 million hectares of cropland were converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of taking 217 million cars off the road.  “This is not a theoretical estimate as in some of the tree plantation models or unproven like the millions of dollars being spent clean coal or mechanical geo sequestration trials,” he said. “This is being achieved now by organic farmers in the US, Australia and around the world.”


“Lives are changing because of organic farming,” Trento Mayor Irenea Hitgano of Agusan del Sur said during the 5th National Organic Agriculture Conference held in Davao City recently, for which her town was named by the Department of Agriculture as the municipality with the best organic agriculture initiative.  “It’s laborious, yes, but the benefits will offset the process.”


As such, the government must help promote organic farming throughout the country.  “We urge the government, from national to local levels, to adopt policies that will ensure sustainable, organic agriculture and make this a primary agricultural strategy,” Villarin said.  Agricultural lands, like forest and aquatic resources, must be spared from mining operations, deforestations, land conversions and unlawful reclassification, he added.


Villarin’s group helped the farmers of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Agusan del Sur to shift into organic farming. “It is inspiring to see that organic farmers are now self-sustaining while as they increase their productivity right at the household level,” he said. — ###


The healing wonders of fruits

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Since time immemorial, fruits – whether fresh or dried – have been a natural staple diet of human beings.  Replete with minerals, vitamins, enzymes, they are easily digestible.  In some parts of the world, fruits serve as medicines and can treat ailments. 

Fruits, eaten raw or consumed as fresh juice, are excellent ways to retain and balance the moisture level in the body. The low level of sodium in fruits plays an important role for people who would like to avail of a salt-free diet.

Recent scientific studies have also claimed that the naturally occurring antioxidants found in most fruits and vegetable juices can help lower a person’s risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease.   In addition, fruits are known for their ability to promote detoxification in the human body. Fruits help to cleanse the body, especially those with high acid levels.

Being a tropical country, fruits abound in the Philippines.  They are available throughout the year and in any parts of the country.  One of this is the national fruit called mango.  Reference to mangoes as the “food of the gods” can be found in the Hindu Vedas.  In the Philippines, the fruits are made into ice cream, pies, jams, chutneys, drinks, preserves, brandy and vinegar. 

Unripe mango is eaten with bagoong.  Dried strips of sweet, ripe mangoes have also gained popularity both inside and outside the country, with those produced in Cebu making it to export markets around the world.

Dried mango flowers, containing 15% tannin, serve as astringents in cases of diarrhea, chronic dysentery, and catarrh of the bladder.  The bark possesses 16% to 20% tannin and has been employed for tanning hides.  

Mango kernel decoction and powder (not tannin-free) are used as vermifuges and as astringents in diarrhea, hemorrhages and bleeding hemorrhoids. Extracts of unripe fruits and of bark, stems and leaves have shown antibiotic activity. In some of the islands of the Caribbean, the leaf decoction is taken as a remedy for diarrhea, fever, chest complaints, diabetes, hypertension and other ills. A combined decoction of mango and other leaves is taken after childbirth.

Another readily available health-packed fruits is the banana.  Alexander the Great described this “heavenly fruit” as something “that tasted like nectar sweetened in honey.” 

Nutrition experts claim that banana is low in protein, free of fats but high in energy. A fully ripe banana has 20-25 percent sugar. It has a significant amount of B-vitamins, especially B1 and B6. B1 is a brain tonic whereas B6 relieves, in particular, uncomfortable symptoms of the pre-menstrual tension syndrome like irritability, headaches, tender breasts, and water retention.

A recent survey undertaken in the United States has shown that many people suffering from depression felt much better after eating banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.

If you are having trouble with stress, potassium-rich banana can help you.  Potassium is a vital mineral, which helps normalize the heartbeat, sends oxygen to the brain and regulates the body’s water balance.  When you are stressed, our metabolic rate rises, thereby reducing our potassium levels. These can be rebalanced with the help of a high-potassium banana snack.

Another fruit that Filipinos should eat is papaya.  Its pulp is basically very sweet in taste, fiberless and refreshing. Some liken the flavor to melon and apricot.  It is used in salads, pies, sherbets, juices, jam, jelly and confectionery.

“Low in calories and full of nutrition, papaya has more vitamin C than an orange,” says Amy Tousman, a registered dietitian based in Hawaii.  “It’s loaded with vitamin A, potassium, folate and fiber.  It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, substances which help protect our eyes from age-related blindness.”

Likewise, papaya helps in the prevention of atherosclerosis, diabetes and heart disease. Folic acid found in papaya is needed for the conversion of a substance called homocysteine, an amino acid. If unconverted, homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls and if levels get too high, it is considered a significant risk factor to heart attack and strokes.

Papaya is also a good source of fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels and helps in easing the discomforts constipation. The fiber is able to bind to cancer toxins in the colon and keep them away from the healthy colon cells.

In addition, vitamins C and E found in papaya are all associated with reduced risk of colon cancer. The pigment in the fruit called carotene is similar to that of carrots and squash. Carotene in food is converted into vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight.  Papaya is also an ideal food for those with difficulty chewing and those who are smoking.

In Mindanao, particularly in Davao, one of the  most popular fruits is the durian.  The Muslims claim it rejuvenates fertility (which is why is known as an aphrodisiac).  It is called the king of fruits because in Hindu-influenced, it was reserved only for royalty.

Durian, described as “the fruit that smells like hell but tastes like heaven,” contains a high amount of sugar, vitamin C, potassium, and the amino acid tryptophan, and is a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. 

In Malaysia, a decoction of durian leaves and roots are used as an antipyretic. The leaf juice is applied on the head of a fever patient.  Just a warning:  Discover magazine reported an incident where a woman with preexisting renal failure ate a durian and ended up critically ill from potassium overdose.

Another fruit grown mostly in Mindanao is the mangosteen.  The fruit hull of mangosteen has been used for many years as a medicine for treatment of skin infection, wounds, and diarrhea in Southeast Asia.
In her book, Fruits of Warm Climates, Julia F. Morton wrote: “Dried fruits are shipped from Singapore to Calcutta and to China for medicinal use. The sliced and dried rind is powdered and administered to overcome dysentery. Made into an ointment, it is applied on eczema and other skin disorders. The rind decoction is taken to relieve diarrhea and cystitis and is applied externally as an astringent lotion. A portion of the rind is steeped in water overnight and the infusion given as a remedy for chronic diarrhea in adults and children.”

Outside Asia, mangosteen is completely unknown.  Recently, however, the fruit receives some popularity in the Western countries because of its medical properties.  Dr. James Duke, who worked for the United States Department of Agriculture for 35 years, mangosteen has over 138 beneficial properties including antioxidants and Xanthones, a unique biological compound that can kill cancer cells.
Extensive research on mangosteen juice has been conducted in countries worldwide over the past years and revealed the benefits gained from drinking mangosteen juice.   Reportedly, mangosteen juice can combat Parkinson’s disease, fungal and viral ailments, aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fruits, anyone? — ###

Poinsettia: The Christmas Flower

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Can you name this plant?  In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called cuitlaxochitl, which means “star flower.” In both Chile and Peru, it is known as “Crown of the Andes.”  In the United
States, people celebrate the national day of this plant on December 12.

I guess if you don’t know it, then I have to tell you the answer then: poinsettia.  It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific
coast of Mexico to Chiapas, Guatemala and as far south as Nicaragua. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas and in temperate North Central
Nicaragua.  Red is very common although there are also orange, pale green, cream and marbled leaves.

In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow to ten feet tall.  The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think are the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified
leaves).  The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the colorful bracts. Poinsettias are priced according to the number of blooms. The more blooms, the more expensive the plant.

Because of its brilliant color, the poinsettia was a symbol of purity to the Indians. It was highly prized by both King Netzahualcoyotl and Montezuma, but because of the high altitude climate, the plant could not be grown in their capital that is now Mexico City. The Indians used poinsettia bracts to make a reddish-purple dye. They also made a medicine for fever from the plant’s latex.

During the 17th century, a group of Franciscan priests settled near Taxco. They began to use the poinsettia in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre, a native procession. Juan Balme, a botanist of the same
period, mentioned the poinsettia plant in his writings. He described it as having large green leaves and a small flower surrounded by bracts, almost as if for protection. The bracts, he said, turned a
brilliant red.

All over the world, it is known as a flower that symbolizes Christmas, the day when Jesus Christ was born.  Its association with the Nativity happened in Mexico during the 16th century.  According to a legend, a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday was told by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar.  Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias.

Another legend has it that the poinsettia became associated with Christmas because the Mexicans regarded it as symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem.

From the 17th century, Franciscan monks in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.

The name “poinsettia” is named after Joel Robert Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.  Scientifically, it is known as Euphorbia

There are some misconceptions that poinsettias are toxic.  The origin of this could be found in the fact that most plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic and also because the name of the plant seems to refer to the word poison.

In the United States, the misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.  While it is true that the plant is not very toxic, those sensitive to latex may suffer an allergic reaction and it is therefore not advisable to bring the plants into the home of sensitive individuals.

In a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 22,793 cases of poinsettia exposures were electronically analyzed. 98.9% of the exposures were accidental with 93.9% involving children, 96.1% of the exposed patients were not treated in a health care facility and 92.4% did not require any type of therapy.

Poinsettia sap can irritate the skin and cause an upset stomach if consumed in large enough quantities.  A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts might have a slight tummy ache.

In the United States, growing Poinsettia is a big industry, representing about 85% of potted plant Christmas season sales.  The US exports about 90% of the world’s poinsettia plants.  It is thought
that poinsettia is grown commercially in greenhouses in all 50 states and over 60 million plants are produced for sale. — ###

“SALT” can sweeten upland farming

By Henrylito D. Tacio


Global food supply is sufficient, but 850 million are undernourished and go hungry, points out the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in its recent report.  Use of chemical agricultural inputs is increasing; yet grain productivity is dwindling to seriously low levels.  


“Costs of agricultural inputs are rising, but commodity costs have been in steady decline over the past five decades,” FAO admits.  “Industrialized food systems cause deaths through pesticide poisonings and high numbers of farmers have committed suicides, while millions of jobs have been lost in rural areas.”


Such is the paradox of modern farming.  The solution to the current problem: organic farming.  Organic agriculture is the answer,” points out Jessica Reyes-Cantos said of the Manila-based Rice Watch and Action Network.   “It won’t only retain soil productivity but it can make farming viable.”


FAO official Nadia Scialabba defines organic farming as “a holistic production management system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes the health and productivity of plants, animals and people.”


Perhaps one of the most well-known organic farming technologies developed for the uplands today is the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT), which the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc. is heavily promoting. 


The uplands are rolling to steep areas where both agriculture and forestry are practiced on slopes ranging upward from 18 percent.  The sloping uplands occupy about55 percent of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares.


“SALT is basically a method of growing field and permanent crops in three-meter to five-meter wide bands between contoured rows of nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs (NFT/S),” explains Roy C. Alimoane, the MBRLC director.


Organic fertilizer


In SALT farming, the use of commercial fertilizer is no longer needed.  The NFT/S are thickly planted in double rows to make hedgerows.  When a hedge is 1.5 to two meters tall, it is cut down to about 40 centimeters and the cuttings (tops) are placed in alleyways to serve as organic fertilizers.


When the technology was still in its developing stage, the MBRLC used the leaves of ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) as its main source of fertilizer for the crops grown in the farm.  Every year, ipil-ipil produced 36,080 kilograms of green leaves and stem per hectare with the following NPK equivalents: 258.5, 120.2, and 90.1.


But in the late 1980s, ipil-ipil suffered from the attack of psyllid (Heteropsylla cubana).  With this infestation, the MBRLC started intensive testing the different nitrogen-fixing species which they had collected through the years.  Among those that have the same as that of ipil-ipil are Flemingia macrophylla, Desmodium rensonii, and Indigofera anil.  Alimoane recommends planting all three instead of just one species.   “As in organic concept, the more species, the better,” he says.


Diversified farming


If the recommended species are not available, farmers can still use ipil-ipil but should be planted with other local species available in their area like kakawate.


SALT is sort of a diversified farming system.  Rows of permanent crops like cacao, coffee, citrus and other fruit trees are dispersed throughout the farm.  The strips not occupied by permanent crops are planted alternately to cereals (corn, upland rice, sorghum, etc.) or other crops (sweet potato, melon, pineapple, etc.) and legumes (soybean, mung bean, peanut, pigeon pea, and winged bean, among others).


“This cyclical cropping provides the farmer some harvest throughout the year,” Alimoane says.  In addition, the practice also discourages pest infestations.  As crops are healthier and sturdy, they don’t use pesticides in their SALT farm.


Soil erosion


The thin layer of earth we call topsoil is essential to land’s fertility.  Typically, only some 15 centimeters deep, topsoil is a rich medium containing organic matter, minerals, nutrients, insects, microbes, worms and other elements needed to provide a nurturing environment for plants. “It takes thousands of years to build one inch of topsoil but only good strong rain to remove one inch from unprotected soil on the slopes of mountains,” Alimoane claims.


A six-year study conducted at the MBRLC farm showed that an upland farm tilled in the traditional manner erodes at the rate of 1,163.4 metric tons per hectare per year.  A SALT farm erodes at the rate of only 20.2 metric tons per hectare per year in the same period.


Computed, the rate of soil loss in a SALT farm is 3.4 metric tons per hectare per year, which is within the tolerable range.  Most soil scientists place acceptable soil loss limits for tropical countries like the Philippines range of 10 to 12 metric tons per hectare per year.  In comparison, the non-SALT farm has an annual soil loss rate of 194.3 metric tons per hectare per year.


“As a sustainable farming system, SALT replaces ugly eroded and denuded slopes with the luxuriant beauty of abundant vegetation,” points out Alimoane.


Three variants


The success of SALT has given birth to three more systems: Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2), a system which integrates livestock raising (particularly goats) into the SALT system; Sustainable Agroforest Land Technology (SALT 3), a combination of food-wood production; and Small Agrofruit Livelihood Technology (SALT 4), where fruits and crops are planted together in the same area.


In Mindanao, some farmers are now adopting SALT in their farms.  One of them is Glicerio “Onyok” Gabais, Jr. from Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat, whose story was featured in Philippine Recommends for Agroforestry as a case study.


His farm in barangay Sewod was planted mainly to corn.   But after attending an intensive training on SALT systems at MBRLC, he started adopting the system by establishing contour hedgerows in some portion of his farm using Flemingia and Desmodium.  He still planted corn but this time with some fruit trees.  Later on, he added goats, which were the source of milk that sustained his two children who were still growing up at that time.  He planted the boundaries of his farm with various trees.  On the banks of the creek that runs through a portion of his farm, he planted ipil-ipil.


His income increased considerably.  Today, Onyok is one of the farmer-leaders in his barangay.  His farm has also become a favored destination of farmers from other areas doing cross farm visits.


SALT is known not only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well.  Danny Blank, farmer manager of the Florida-based Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), wrote: “In 2001, we implemented SALT on ECHO’s demonstration farm.  I liked the success we experienced with legume tree hedgerows.  But it was not until I visited Rancho Ebenezer in Nicaragua in 2004 and 2007 and saw SALT being used on a large scale that I became convinced that this is one of the better methods for sustaining and improving agriculture production on hillsides.”


SALT farms can also be found in Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.   


Three out of four farmers in developing countries farm in the ecologically-fragile uplands, which are susceptible to erosion.  “If SALT were applied in all the tropical uplands damaged by soil erosion, the lives of half a billion poor people could be improved,” Alimoane says. — ###