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Privilege Speech of Senator Cynthia Villar; International Year of the Soils "Save our Soils (He

The United Nations General Assembly, through the Food and Agriculture Organization or FAO, declared 2015 as ‘International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential eco-system functions.

Locally, the Department of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Soils and Water Management, is leading the Philippine’s participation under the national ‘Save our Soils’ campaign. It encourages all stakeholders to take an active role in soil conservation and management.

Napakaimportante sa atin na maging aktibo tayo sa implementation ng campaigns during the International Year of Soils, lalong lalo na at ang Pilipinas ay isang agricultural country. We depend largely on soils for our produce or crops. The Philippines has 9.7 million hectares of agricultural land and two-thirds of our population is involved in farming in those lands.

We are all stakeholders in soil conservation and management. Lahat tayo, no exemption, ay mga stakeholders sa usaping lupa dahil higit sa lahat, nakasalalay diyan ang food security ng ating bansa, because healthy soils are the foundation of food production. It sustains 95 percent of food production, according to FAO. As FAO Director General, José Graziano da Silva cited: "We need healthy soils to achieve our food security and nutrition goals, to fight climate change and to ensure overall sustainable development."

We should be alarmed about the threats to healthy soils and take action in reversing those threats. Unang-una na diyan ang soil degradation na umabot na sa 33 percent globally at 38 percent here in the Philippines. Based on data from the Bureau of Soils and Water Management, out of the Philippines’ total land area of 29.55 million hectares, 11.45 million hectares are ‘vulnerable areas’ to land degradation or moderately to severely degraded, and 2.60 million hectares are ‘hotspots’ or in an advanced state of land degradation and, as such priority areas for conservation measures.

These degraded soils are in the sloping agricultural areas in the uplands which are not practicing soil and water conservation measures and with substantially minimal vegetative cover or those denuded forests, shrubs and grasslands.

Soil degradation is a threat globally, every minute we lose the equivalent of 30 football pitches of fertile soil. The threat is even more alarming in Asia, according to FAO. Our region needs soil more than ever to satisfy the demands of the growing population. By 2050, we need to increase food production by at least 60 percent to meet the needs of an additional two billion more people. Around 95 percent of our food comes from the soil. As per FAO data, most of the arable land in Asia is already fully utilized. Thus, it is imperative for us to save our soils, which is a non-renewable resource. It takes up to a thousand years for just one centimeter of topsoil to form.

Ang ilan sa mga dahilan ng pagkasira ng lupa ay erosion, acidification, chemical pollution at iba pa. There is an urgent need to reduce soil degradation and restore degraded land. Marami rin naman paraan ng soil restoration. Iba-iba man ang tawag sa mga konsepto o proseso—agro-ecology, progressive or sustainable farming—iisa lang naman ang goal natin ng lahat ng mga iyan, ang preservation and conservation of our resources for the future generation.

Katulad nga ng nasabi ko kanina, maraming paraan at isa na diyan ang crop rotation at inter-cropping. Sa paglilibot namin ng DA sa mga lugar na nasalanta ng bagyong Yolanda, nakita namin na ang mga coconut farmers, for instance, ay hindi pala pina-practice ang intercropping. So, that’s what we taught them to do dahil it takes between six to nine years for coconut trees to reach full productivity. Matagal na panahon din at sayang naman kung during those years, wala silang harvest at source of income. Intercropping is included in Yolanda Recovery and Rehabilitation Project of DA and is being promoted by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Besides providing farmers with insurance against the risk of income loss during extreme weather conditions such as long dry spell or El Niño and typhoons, intercropping also maintains soil fertility since the nutrients flow from both layers of crops. It is also environment-friendly as it, promotes better soil and water conservation potential than mono-cropping. Consequently, it also increases soil biodiversity.

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Hindi lang sa food security, importante ang soil. Alam naman natin na interconnected ang lahat sa ating nature. There is a chain reaction kapag hindi na-maintain ang balance at sustainability. Soils host a quarter of our planet's biodiversity. In the same way that we protect our oceans, we should also save our soils.

Organic farming also helps maintain the health of soils as it retains higher levels of essential organic matter. And there is more to organic farming than reducing the use of pesticides. It also includes crop rotations and composting. Kung ang ating mga magsasaka, pati na rin mga gardeners at horticulturists, ay matututuo o magsi-shift into organic farming, malaking improvement ang makikita natin sa ating mga arable land at horticultural soils. Dapat natin paigtingin ang campaign at information dissemination on organic farming.

Actually, our country has a National Organic Agriculture Program, which envisions the organic agriculture sector contributing to the overall agricultural growth and development of the country in terms of sustainability, competitiveness and food security. Under the said program, at least five (5) percent of Philippine agricultural farm will be converted into organic by 2016, that’s next year.

Ako mismo ay advocate ng organic farming dahil ito ay kaakibat ng ating tinatawag na sustainable agriculture. Ang benepisyo nito ay long-term, lalong-lalo na sa ating environment. And as an environmentalist, importante iyan sa akin. After all the natural disasters that have happened, environment protection should be of utmost consideration.

Organic agriculture eliminates the use of synthetic or chemicals-laden fertilizer and pesticides at iba pa na nakakasira sa ating environment at ng fertility ng agricultural soil. Bukod sa harmful sa environment, ang inorganic pesticides at fertilizers ay mahal at nagpapaliit sa income ng mga farmers. Natutuwa ako na marami na ang nagpo-produce na ng organic fertilizers. Ako mismo ay merong organic fertilizer-making enterprise sa aking home city ng Las Pinas. Vermicomposting ang aming prosesong ginagamit.

We built composting centers in all of our city’s barangays to convert kitchen and garden wastes into organic fertilizer. There are seventy (70) composters distributed in the city, which presently serve 30,000 households. We target to install additional composters to service 50,000 households. We distribute the organic fertilizers we produce to farmers for free all over the country.

Interlinked din ang iba pang social problems at issues na masosolusyunan natin when we save our soils. The sustainable use and management of soils is also linked to poverty reduction, hunger eradication, economic growth and environmental protection.

Dito lang sa Pilipinas, more than two-thirds of our population are involved in agriculture at majority sa kanila ay mahihirap na mga magsasaka. Healthy soils will not only provide us abundant and nutritious food, but will also increase the farmers’ crop yields. With abundant harvest, the economy of Philippines, as an agricultural country, will also grow abundantly. That is a win-win situation.

This is a call para lahat tayo ay magtulungan at maging involved ngayong International Year of the Soils sa mga activities at advocacies to save our soils. This is for our own benefits, especially the future generation. May ongoing exhibit at schedule seminars ang DA at BSWM throughout the year para sa mga interesado. The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food also put up an exhibit outside. We can all help in the information drive and in our own way adopt in our households, gardens or farms environment-friendly methods (organic gardening/farming, composting etc.). As I cited earlier, we are all stakeholders here, no exemption.

Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, cited an anonymous saying in relations to soils, let me re-quote it: “whatever mankind does, even when we produce the most marvelous art work, we depend on a few drops of water and 10 centimeters of soil”. And let me end this privilege speech with another quote that served as my inspiration or motto in my environmental advocacy efforts: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

Thank you esteemed colleagues, Mr. President.

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© 2016.Philippine Senate Committee on Agriculture nad Rural Development (Agridevt.ph). All Rights Reserved.