Trees for Life – Sugarcane farmers in the Philippines are fighting the El Nino by planting trees

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The El Nino has hit the Philippines particularly hard his year. A long drought brought along by the weather phenomenon has crippled a large part of the agricultural production. Crops are dying on the island of Oriental Negros due to the lack of rainfall and farmers are faced with high production costs as they relentlessly replant their sugarcane. In the community of Don Salvador Benedicto the farmers are better off. Despite the hardship their sugarcane is growing better compared to other parts of the island. Their secret: trees planted along the borders of their parcels.

In 2014, 21 farmers of the producer organisation PIBFA joined the reforestation program implemented by PUR Projet in partnership with ATC. A total of 6,000 trees were planted by farmers including jackfruit, sursak, coconut and rambutan.  During our field visit, Rolly Turabella, one of the participating farmers tells us with a huge grin that the seedlings are growing well despite the prolonged dry season. He observed that parcels with trees had better crop survival rates compared to sun exposed plots. The trees helped regulate the microclimate of the parcel and favoured water retention. Some trees species resisted particularly well the lack of water such as Sarsap and Jackfruit. In addition, their fruit catch a good prize at the local market providing an additional income to the farmers, which is especially important at a time where the main crop is struggling. His favorite species is however the Lanzones tree as he loves it sweet fruits that grow in clusters similar to grapes. He is particular proud to be growing this species as seedlings are not readily available and the fruits are hard to come by. Besides the climatic and economic benefits, the trees also help farmers to comply with the rigorous requirements imposed by organic and Fairtrade certification bodies. Trees along the borders of organic parcels provide a buffer from conventional crop contamination and the plant residue is used to produce organic compost.

Spending the day with the farmers, it becomes evident that they really have assimilated the benefits of planting trees and are keen to share their experience with the rest of the community. Dolores Ceralbo, the president of PIBFA, tells us how the program has helped the community to gain a greater appreciation for their natural environment. Her light blue umbrella glitters with raindrops as she leads us through her parcel. She is so pleased by the seedlings she received as part of the program that she has continued to plant more trees by herself. She is particularly excited about the Epil Epil trees she trialled growing in her banana parcel. The Epil Epil is a leguminous species and easy to propagate. Its sparse canopy allows enough sun penetration to not interfere with the main crop and has many direct uses to the farmer – for instance the leaves are used as deworming medicine for young children but also as buffalo and pig feed and organic fertiliser. She is telling us about her plans to propagate Epil Epil seedlings to sell to other farmers. Her enthusiasm about this tree has us convinced and the tree has now been added to the species list for the upcoming plantation wave. If her small nursery takes off, the project will buy the seedlings from her to distribute to new participants.

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Listing to the testimonies of Rolly and Dolores from the small farming community of Don Salvador Benedicto only reinforces my believe: we need to plant more trees to counter the effects of climate change and to assure the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the world!

By Emilia d’Avack

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