Dr. Victor B. Asio, Professor VI of Soil Science & Geo-ecology and VP for Planning, Resource Generation and External Affairs of VSU, delivered a SEARCA Professorial Chair Lecture entitled “Biophysical Characteristics and Sustainable Management of Marginal Uplands in the Philippines” on March 27, 2015 at the PhilRootcrops Training Hall.

Dr. Asio mentioned that marginal uplands are widespread in Southeast Asia and other parts of the humid tropics in which most of the resource-poor farmers in the developing world dwell on these risk-prone marginal environments.  Specifically, he revealed that the poorest, most vulnerable and most food insecure households in the Philippines are living and farming on marginal uplands because they [tribal communities] have been forced by more powerful groups to retreat from one site to another which resulted to losing control on their ancestral homelands.  Asio also quoted the Asia Forestry Network findings that poor families continue to migrate to the uplands due to failure of government policies and programs to effectively address unemployment and inequitable land and income distribution in the lowlands.

The SEARCA Regional Professorial Chair also said that, until now, there is no exact and standard definition of what marginal uplands is.  However, Dr. Asio defined uplands as the undulating and steep lands that range in elevation from near sea level to about 1,000m elevation.  It gave him the idea to postulate that marginal uplands are those undulating, hilly or steep mountainous lands having very low crop productivity due to poor soil quality, limited water availability, and unfavorable socio-economic conditions which is synonymous to “degraded uplands”.

Dr. Asio elaborated the biophysical characteristics of marginal uplands which are affected by climate, geology and geomorphology, vegetation, and soil constraints.  He pointed out that aside from being common on the humid tropics, undulating and mountainous topography, marginal uplands are also underlain by various geological materials and with low biodiversity.  “The soils are infertile due to one or more soil constraints to crop production caused by deforestation, shifting cultivation, and destructive land use which enhanced soil erosion,” Dr. Asio averred.  He also mentioned the various physical and chemical constraints which contributed to marginal soil infertility, such as: acid or alkaline pH, low organic matter content and low nutrient status, high electrical conductivity, shallow solum, compaction, low rate of water infiltration, low water holding capacity, and unfavorable slopes.

Finally, in addressing the above problems, Dr. Asio identified some sustainable management strategies that would somehow resolve the issues depending on soil characteristics, cropping systems, and socio-economic factors.  Among these are:  agroforestry, SALT agroforestry, integrated nutrient management for crop production, and rainforestation farming.

Dr. Asio has been conferred the SEARCA Regional Professorial Chair in 2014, together with other four awardees from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (3) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (1), for his outstanding contribution to agricultural research and development as academician in Southeast Asia who has championed inclusive and sustainable agriculture and rural development through his instruction, research, and extension activities in the country and in the region.  JFMBaldos