jlb upland Some 200 participants composed of researchers, academicians, local chief executives, representatives and dignitaries from various government and private organizations throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao convened on October 22-24, 2013 at the Visayas State University (VSU) for the National Conference on Development Initiatives in the Philippine Marginal Uplands.

Spearheaded by VSU in collaboration with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) under the project Philippine Higher Education Research Network (PHERNet), the three-day national conference sought to document the current state of knowledge of marginal uplands in the Philippines. Moreover, it aimed to synthesize the best management practices in organizing, managing, and sustaining initiatives related to improving farm productivity and environmental quality in climate change vulnerable upland communities; determine the factors that facilitate success and cause failure of upland development initiatives; identify gaps in upland development efforts in the Philippines; and identify strategies for improved cooperation and partnership in upland development initiatives.

The conference focused on the theme “Enhancing farm productivity and environmental quality of Philippine marginal uplands: A scan of the past and a look into the future.”

The VSU President welcomed the participants, especially those who came for the first time to the University. “You have the mountain covered with secondary and primary forests, plain inhabited by very hospitable people, and the sea,” Dr. Bacusmo stressed. He also emphasized that VSU is very active in conducting research and in producing graduates who can really deliver what are expected of them.

On the other hand, Dr. Othello B. Capuno, VP for Research and Extension and at the same time the PHERNet Program Director, pointed out that upland ecosystem is among the most important ecosystems in the Philippines that comprised about 40% in the country’s total land area with twenty million people inhabitants.

Dr. Capuno further said that farming is the basic means of livelihood among those in the marginal uplands and agricultural productivity has declined significantly due to severe degradation of soil caused by erosion.

He likewise enumerated some of the problems in the uplands such as: 1) lack of technical skills of the farmers living in the area, 2) limited access to livelihood opportunities, 3) poor access to market and capital, and 4) misuse of chemical fertilizers. Thus, according to Dr. Capuno, the national conference was conceptualized.

In her message read by Engr. Crestelo Loreto, Sangguniang Panglungsod Member and Chairperson of the Committee on Environment of the City of Baybay who represented Honorable Mayor Carmen L. Cari, the mayor lauded the organizers for the opportunity to be with the researchers, academicians, representatives from the national agencies, local government units, and other stakeholders.

The city executive is very optimistic that the conference would come up with desirable outputs during the whole duration of the workshops, and identify development projects especially on water resource management and farming systems that would elevate the socio-economic conditions of the marginal upland farmers.

Moreover, Hon. Carlo P. Loreto, Vice Governor of the Province of Leyte, revealed that the Philippines is logging behind in research. He challenged the participants to be prepared and be globally competitive in 2016 since the global market will be opened to all nations.

Atty. Loreto also acknowledged that VSU has been active in research and extension services. “I am truly honored to welcome the initiatives you are doing, the research efforts that you exerted to make our world a better place,” he said. He emphasized that whatever leadership or research position you find yourself in, we learned lesson from our brethren no matter how small or old they are.

Dr. Ruperto S. Sangalang, CHED Commissioner and keynote speaker, whose message was read by Dr. Bacusmo, expounded the theme of the conference. Dr. Sangalang pointed out that most of Philippine uplands are seriously degraded due to some factors such as: population pressure, land tenure arrangements, uncontrolled exploitation of forests, shifting cultivation or kaingin, improper agricultural practices, overgrazing, construction of road networks, and land clearing for national infrastructures.

“Of those factors, rapid population growth and widespread rural poverty that induce lowland settlers to migrate into steeply sloping upland areas whether cultivation techniques are inappropriate and causes accelerated erosion seems to be the more vicious reason,” the keynote speaker mused.

Dr. Sangalang also revealed that soil degradation is the major problem confronting the upland and is considered as the major threat to food security that lowers the current or future capacity of the soil to produce goods or services. He mentioned that many upland soils in the country today are degraded due to pollution as a result of the accumulation of various types of wastes and toxic materials from the industry, mining, households, and agricultural activities. Moreover, he said, upland areas have been characterized to have a rapid increase in population due to migration of lowland settlers to upland areas as a result of limited employment opportunities in the lowland.

He added that there are an estimated 17.8 million Filipinos living in the upland areas in which 8.5 million live in the forest, 5.95 million are tribal Filipinos, and 3.35 million are lowland migrants whose primary occupation is farming. They convert areas into productive farmlands resulting to decrease in the country’s forest cover due to continuous cutting of trees.

“Regardless of migration pattern, upland dwellers are the poorest of the poor having an annual income of PhP2,168,” Dr. Sangalang quipped. He further said that their inadequate diet lead to malnutrition, they are least educated, least hopeful, and considered the most neglected by the Philippine government in terms of exerting effort for their agricultural development.

The speaker also mentioned two strategies to rehabilitate degraded uplands where VSU is at the forefront. These are the use of mura grass or vitiver in hedgerows, and the rainforestation that promotes planting of native timber species in denuded lands.

According to him, we have already reached stock of knowledge but still need to do more research on our degraded uplands. “What we need is not only research, but research for development, researches that will contribute to the socio-economic upliftment of our fellow Filipinos whether they are in the lowlands or in the uplands,” Dr. Sangalang stressed.

Likewise, Dir. Antonio P. Gerundio, Regional Executive Director of the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit 8, presented the DA-8 plans and programs. He emphasized the need for enough food and looking for alternative ways to augment productivity in a sustainable manner in which upland ecosystem holds lots of promises. “There is hope in upland areas as exemplified by successful development initiatives like the Sloping Area Land Technology in Digos, Davao Del Sur, Multi-storey Cropping in Cavite with seven crops planted, among others,” said Dir. Gerundio. He challenged the participants to focus on the development in the upland areas and at the same time taking into consideration the preservation of ecosystem to sustain production.

Dr. Libertad P. Garcia, CHED-8 Regional Director who introduced the keynote speaker, also presented a paper on “CHED’s Initiatives in Increasing Research Productivity” in one of the plenary sessions.

Other guests who served either as paper presenters or participants in various sessions included Mayor Silvestre Lumarda of Inopacan, Leyte; Mayor German P. Saraña and Vice Mayor Rogelio Pua of Bayawan City, Negros Oriental; Dr. Romulo G. Davide, UPLB Professor Emeritus; Mr. William G. Granert, Executive Director of Soil and Water Conservation Foundation; Ms. Maureen G. Mangaring of the Bureau of Agricultural Research; and Mr. Godofredo T. Villapando, Executive Director of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment.

Moreover, winners in the Scientific Poster Contest were also proclaimed and received certificates and cash awards. The winners and their posters were as follows: 1st place – Alejandro A. Bernardo, Jr. – “Impact of Forest Degradation on Palawan Endemic Birds: Its Implication to Avifaunal Conservation on Degraded Upland Ecosystem”; 2nd place – P. A. B. Carnice, Suzette B. Lina, Victor B. Asio and Ian A. Navarrete – “Nutrient Status of Soils Under Secondary Forest Transformations in Leyte Island, Philippines; and 3rd place – Kier Lambert B. Demain and V. B. Asio – “Characteristics and Nutrient Status of Degraded Upland Soils in Samar Island.”