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Philippines Monsanto introduces contour
farming in gov’t corn program by Melody M. Aguiba
20-February-2008 Manila Bulletin
Monsanto, world’s pioneer in
modern biotechnology, is introducing an old conservation practice,
"contour farming," on corn expansion areas targetted
by government at 75,000 hectares of hilly grasslands.
Advanced in technology yet conscious of current environmental
protection needs, Monsanto has already started adopting
a farm conservation practice in areas where it supplies
genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (borer-resistant
Bt corn) and Roundup Ready (herbicide-resistant) corn.
In Sara, Iloilo, conservation tillage (zero tillage or
no plowing) is being practiced by farmers which controls
erosion on this upland.
But to complement this ecology-friendly technique, it is
interspersing contour farming on all corn areas where there
is conservation tillage.
Dr. Victor V. Alpuerto, Monsanto commercial acceptance
director, said the company is aligning its conservation
farming techniques with the corn expansion program of the
Department of Agriculture (DA) on 75,000 hectares for 2008.
DA’s expansion program is after hilly lands that are mere
idle grasslands. Without proper conservation farming, these
lands can have erosion problems which threaten land productivity
and farming sustainability.
Contour farming is the planting of crops across mountainous
slopes instead of up and down the slope.
This way, topsoil is kept on sloping fields, rainwater
flow is controlled, water soaks into the soil and is conserved,
irrigation is improved, labor need is reduced, and harvest
Monsanto will work with the International Center for Research
in Agroforestry (ICRAF) on this technique as ICRAF has successfully
demonstrated productivity and environmental harmony of conservation
farming through its pilot sites in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.
Alpuerto explains that in contour farming, a strip of natural
vegetation of half-a-meter in between plots is be retained
as part of the environmental conservation system. This strip
takes up space that should otherwise increase production.
However, the tradeoff from the loss of this productive
area, he said, is a long-term gain of a sustainable high
yield from the land owing to retention of the soil and its
"If you don’t have contour farming, the land becomes
unproductive after a short period of time. The soil is then
lost to erosion. When you have the terraces (from natural
vegetation strips), farm area is reduced. But you can use
the land for a very long time," he said.
Monsanto keeps a staff that will train farmers on contour
farming in upland areas earlier identified in Ifugao, Aurora,
Zambales, Bataan, Zamboanga and in corn-after-rice areas
in Ilocos and Central Luzon provinces.
But it is coordinating further with the DA on government’s
identified corn land expansion areas.
As global warming poses serious threats of erosion and
landslides, Alpuerto said the use of these conservation
farming techniques becomes more imperative.
"This is very significant (in helping reverse climate
change). Without cultivation of soil, there is reduction
in fuel usage (by land preparation tractors) which reduces
carbon dioxide emission," said Alpuerto.
The use of borer-resistant corn seeds also spares spraying
of environmentally-destructive fossil fuelbased pesticides.
Bt corn which omits the need for spraying is being used
in corn borer-infected areas in Pangasinan, Ilocos provinces,
Pampanga, and other Central Luzon provinces.
It is estimated that less than 10 percent of all 2.3 hectares
of corn lands in the country practice conservation farming.
And this technique may be targeted at a big 1.62 million
hectares of potentially hilly corn lands outside of hybrid
corn areas (680,000 hectares).
Apparently, there is a need to teach farmers on contour
farming and zero tillage in hilly areas in Northern Mindanao,
Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino, and Nueva Vizcaya.
DA is targeting to raise corn production in 2008 to 7.384
million metric tons (MT), up by 9.61 percent from 2007 by
developing an estimated 66,502 hectares of idle grasslands.
It has programmed a P660 million budget for farmers’ training,
establishment of 50 post harvest centers, and seed subsidy
Monsanto enabled commercialization in the Philippines of
Bt corn in 2003 and of Roundup Ready corn in 2005. Its history
dating back to 1901, Monsanto introduced the first bollworm-resistant
cotton, stacked trait corn (with corn borer resistance and
herbicide resistance), and corn hybrids that yield more
ethanol per bushel.
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