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Northern Samar islanders’ farming system boosts biodiversity–study

DON’T sneeze at the Abaknons, the people who inhabit island of Capul in Northern Samar, since their traditional farming system helps conserve biodiversity and protect the surrounding fishing grounds.

A study of the interrelationships of the farming system and coastal ecosystem in Capul was undertaken by Tito M. Cabili, a doctoral student at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB) whose work was funded by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca).

Cabili is with the faculty of the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) in Catarman, Northern Samar.

Searca Director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said the Cabili dissertation was significant and formed part of the center’s publication “Discovering New Roads to Development—Coastal Ecosystems Technologies.”

In the study, Saguiguit said, Cabili “analyzes the interrelationships between the Abaknons’ farming system and the productivity of the coastal ecosystem. Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection and analyses, the impacts of upland farming on the coastal ecosystem were assessed.”

Cabili paid attention to such indicators as sediment load, runoff water quality and seagrass and fish productivity to determine whether the traditional island farm system damaged the ecosystem or not, Saguiguit added.

His conclusion was that Abaknons’ upland farming system, which is practiced from Decemebr to March, is not only efficient but also protective of the entire ecosystem and noted that the islanders have devised a calendar that governs when they have to plant rice and rootcrops, and where they have to cultivate other crops to shield them fromthe gusty winds and heavy rains brought by the habagat or southwest monsoon.

Cabili also noted that Capul is right smack at the center of the turbulent San Bernardino Strait but is contiguous to coral reefs and rich fishing areas.

Traditional site selection for farms depended on the rituals that the Abaknons conduct, with Cabili describing the age-old practice in this wise: “Before dawn, the head of the family would go to the chosen site and hang an axe on a dalakit [balete or banyan] tree or any big tree [if dalakit is not found in the area] for three days. This is usually done without the knowledge of the other members of the family. If, after three days, the axe still hangs where it was originally placed, it signifies permission from the forest spirits for the clearing of the site. If the axe is no longer in its original position, it indicates non-permission. Farmers believe that those who go against the will of the forest spirits will get sick or die.”

Rituals are also performed for field preparation, like the paharang.

“During the preparation of the field, a paharang is conducted. Although this is not practiced in all fields at all times, it is done if the field has not been cultivated in years. Paharang is a ritual used for various purposes [such as asking permission for the use of a farm area, for thanksgiving, or even treatment of ailments], usually conducted by an elderly member of the family or a hired tambalan [folk healer], inviting the unseen spirits to partake of the food offering,” Cabili said.

“The ritual requires usually three eggs, any candy, anisado [wine], tinapay [bread], cigarettes, cooked rice, kamangyan [herb], baga [fire] and meat. The number must be odd so the unpaired one is for the unseen spirits, which to the Abaknons are unseen stakeholders of nature. This ritual is also done in thanksgiving and supplication for the spirits’ protection of the plants. The food offering is not eaten by the farmer and family members,” Cabili said.

Coconut farming is the principal activity in Capul, with 2,230 hectares, or 75.7 percent, of its total area of 3,500 hectares devoted to coconuts. Rainfed rice is grown in 367.8 hectares, or 12.5 percent, of the land while irrigated rice farms only cover 136 hectares, or 4.6 percent, of the area. Corn is grown in 54.9 hectares, or 1.9 percent, of the land and vegetables are grown in 6.3 hectares.

Cabili noted that the farmers are engaged generally in multicropping, with many of the crops growing in sandy loam soil called burobaybay, which holds water even as it is porous, and this type of soil is found in the uplands, or 63 percent of the total area.

 

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