Nestle helps coffee farmers
A coffee company's ongoing soil and water conservation programs in coffee farms throughout the Philippines are proving to be especially beneficial during the dry months of the year.
Joel Lumagbas, head of Nestle Philippines Inc. (NPI) agricultural services department, says the company is promoting soil and water conservation programs in coffee farms in various ways through the company's Coffee-Based Sustainable Farming System (CBSFS) under the worldwide drive of Sustainable Agriculture Initiative of Nestle (SAIN).
One method uses Jatropha curcas, known locally as "tuba-tuba." Aside from being a source of glycerol and biodiesel, Jatropha curcas is one of the secondary crops that CBSFS has been actively promoting to provide additional income for farmers as well as to prevent soil erosion.
Because of its strong root system, Jatropha grows almost anywhere, even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It can hold water and survive the driest of seasons.
"Jatropha is currently being used extensively in Africa and India as a strategy to arrest soil erosion and the expansion of desert lands," says Lumagbas.
Another soil conservation measure that Nescafe's CBSFS advocates is the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology or SALT.
Developed by missionaries in Bansalan, Davao del Sur in the early 1970s, it is a technology that integrates soil conservation and food production by combining different soil conservation measures in just one setting.
Basically, SALT is a method of growing field and permanent crops in three-meter to five-meter-wide bands between contoured rows of nitrogenfixing trees. The nitrogen-fixing trees are thickly planted in double rows to make hedgerows. When a hedge is 1.5 to 2 meters tall, it is cut down to about 75 centimeters and the cuttings (tops) are placed in alley-ways to serve as organic fertilizer.
More importantly, SALT allows farming in uplands and rolling terrains with slope of more than 15 percent.
"Currently, we are applying SALT in two coffee demonstration farms we helped build in Davao and Sultan Kudarat," shares Lumagbas. "Both farm lands are mountainous with elevation of 600 to 800 meters above sea level."
According to the Department of Science and Technology's agro-forestry study, SALT is a simple, applicable, low-cost and timely method of farming uplands. It is a technology developed for Asian farmers with few tools, little capital, and little learning in agriculture.
"Another strategy that we are teaching the farmers is the establishment of "check dams" or artificial barriers to slowdown the flow of run-off water in small gullies with the use of bamboo stakes and sandbags," adds Limagbas.
Check dams are standard practice in commercial pineapple plantations in Mindanao.
Lumagbas says that this practice should be adopted in all upland farms to save the topsoil and prevent the disastrous effects of soil erosion such as mudslides, landslides and flash flooding. With this in place, as the run-off water hits the barriers, its velocity will be reduced thus preventing the gullies from getting bigger and deeper.
"What eventually happens is that the topsoil that gets collected in these check dams levels the small gully and becomes a fertile ground for planting crops," Lumagbas adds.
Topsoil, the rich and fertile part of agricultural land, stores plant nutrients, air and moisture. The nutrients in topsoil are crucial to crop production. So if the topsoil is lost due to soil erosion or industrialization, a good harvest is not possible from farmlands unless the farmers use expensive commercial fertilizer.
Nescafe realizes the topsoil's importance in sustainable coffee farming and has taken the lead to conserve it," says Lumagbas.