Thursday, 9 January 2014

Farming on sloping lands: it’s not all downhill from here

One of ACIAR’s Graduate Officers, Jack Koci, recently travelled to Bohol Island in the Southern Philippines, to review an ACIAR project that is improving land-use planning in upland watersheds...

In the Philippines, agricultural development on sloping lands is intensifying in response to a growing population and the need to diversify food and income streams. However, sloping lands are vulnerable to erosion and degradation of watershed function. Land-use planning is therefore critical to ensure that these slopes can provide vital economic benefits as well as ecological services.
Upland watershed in southern Philippines - Farming needs to balance
intensifying crop production with preserving watershed function
With so many catchments to assess in the Philippines, and with a shortage of expert soil surveyors and soil analytical laboratory capacity, agencies tasked with land-use planning at watershed or community scales face considerable challenges.

The ACIAR project Watershed evaluation for sustainable use of sloping agricultural land in the southern Philippines is working in the Cabulig and Inabanga watersheds. Its aim is to help farmers plan how to use their land most effectively: choosing the most suitable crops while maintaining the land’s structural integrity to avoid landslides and other negative impacts. Work is focused on developing digital techniques to assess the land’s resources and limitations, and providing information in a form that farmers can readily use.

researchers demonstrating SOIL SAMPLING techniques
Training local staff on soil sampling method
An important component of this work has been to develop simplified approaches to soil sampling and analysis. The emphasis is on directly estimating soil properties, such as clay content, pH and organic carbon, using rapid methods (e.g. mid-infrared spectroscopy). As a result, locally trained staff, rather than soil experts, are able to efficiently collect data on the soils and landscape.

To help train field staff effectively, the project team has produced a short video showing the basic routine for soil sampling. The video is shown to all new staff before they start field work, and given to in-country partners.

Scenes from the instructional video
The project team, led by Dr Anthony Ringrose-Voase of CSIRO Land and Water, is doing some great research in very challenging conditions, with a strong emphasis on capacity building. The research will have long-term impacts through balancing agricultural and conservation needs, improving productivity while protecting vulnerable areas.

Chocolate Hills on Bohol Island
While on Bohol Island I also visited the amazing ‘Chocolate Hills’. There are over 1200 of these hills, so-named because they're covered with grass, which turns a chocolate brown at the end of the dry season.

By Jack Koci, ACIAR Graduate Officer 

More information
ACIAR project SMCN/2009/031 Watershed evaluation for sustainable use of sloping agricultural land in the southern Philippines 

CSIRO blog
from project leader Dr Anthony Ringrose-Voase  

Philippines
research strategy

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