Bringing the Cordillera Experience to the Lumads of Mindanao

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Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan, a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City and an environmentalist from the Cordillera Region, was once contracted to rehabilitate at least 2,000 hectares of some 500 families under 25 datus of the Matigsalog tribe in Marilog District of Davao City and Davao del Sur in Mindanao, Philippines. The land was badly ravaged by 50 years of logging. Together with a six-man team from the Cordillera Ecological Center with multidisciplinary education, skill, and training in sustainable agriculture, ecology, and forestry, they assisted the lumads in Marilog making use of conventional science and the indigenous knowledge. This is their story.

Creation of Climate Change-Resilient Communities 

The muyung or pinugo is an indigenous agroforestry practice of the Ifugaos of the northern Philippines where woodlots are created on top of mountains and intercropped with fruit trees to provide water for rice terraces and camote or sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). The Banaue rice terraces were built through this system and Dr. Bengwayan built his 5-ha forest following the same method.

For two years, Dr. Bengwayan and his team taught and trained ten groups of lumads the hands-on skills in creating muyung. A two-hectare training sloping area was offered by the datus to be used as a pilot site for all training activities and it became their school for three years. The teaching methodology was to apply whatever they learned in the pilot area in their land. 

The lumads identified non-fruit-bearing and fruit-bearing trees that they wanted to raise. The selected species were evaluated based on their soil and water holding capacity, water recharge potential, food and medicinal significance, carbon sequestration potential, durability; economic, social and cultural relevance.

The trees selected by the locals were Samanea saman, red and white lauan, Syzygium cuminiDiospyros  philippinensisFlacourtia rukanTamarindicus indicaTectona grandisSandoricum koetjapeManilkara zapotaAnacardium occidentaleLagerstroemia speciosaVitex parvifloraPterocarpus indicusPithecellobium dulceTheobroma cacaoDurio zibithenusAnnona muricataLansium domesticumLitsea perrottettiMoringa oleiferaFicus nota, Arabica coffee, Pittosporum resiniferumCalliandra calothyrsusFlemingia macrophylla and Cajanus cajan.

The trees were raised in a nursery and planted on top of the hill adjacent to a spring just above the pilot site. The farmers also planted on the top of the slopes of their lands, especially above brooks, springs, and rills. The intention was to establish a permanent source of water recharge that will increase and pull groundwater from the water table thus making it available when needed especially during summer.

Introducing the Modified Sloping Agricultural Farming Technique or Sloping Agricultural Land Technique (SAFT/SALT)

SAFT or SALT was popularized by the Baptist Church in Mindanao where a small sloping piece of land was planted to 40% trees and 60% to food crops. Dr. Bengwayan’s Team modified these systems based on the crop preferences of the lumads, and seasonal performance of crops due to climate change.

In the pilot area below the woodlots that followed the muyung and pinugo system, they planted Miscanthus chinensis following a contour line as soil erosion protector. From this three-meter natural buffer, more contour lines were dug. On the bunds of the contour lines, cowpeas (Cajanus cajan) and Rensonii were planted alternately. This allowed nitrogen from the atmosphere to be fixed by the said plants, prevent topsoil from being washed away and retain more water in soil rather than being wasted as well. In between the 3-meter contour bunds, the farmers planted sweet potato, peanut, ginger, cabbages, pechay, potato, onion, sitting beans, string beans, eggplants, patola, upo, sayote, okra, ampalaya, garlic, squash, and chilies. Each of all the 500 farmers trained did these on an average 1/2 hectare of their lands.


Rapid Composting for Fertilizer Using Bontoc IK and Fungus

The soil in Marilog District is poor as rain has washed-off most topsoil after 50 years of logging. Vital NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), especially N, was very low after a soil test. After having introduced multi-purpose nitrogen-fixing trees to help restore N to the farmers’ soil, they were trained on rapid composting using a very old indigenous knowledge (IK) of the Bontocs.

The Bontoc composting method is called “lumeng”. Here, leaves, grass, and weeds are mixed with pig manure. These are mixed with trichoderma, fungi, and soil activator to hasten decomposition in just one month. After being composted, the lumeng is then mixed with some soil at a ratio of 1:2 (lumeng: soil) and applied as basal fertilizer for crop production. If used as basal for upland rice, it is mixed in the soil with sunflower leaves (Tithonia diversifolia). The combination of science to this IK was introduced by the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB).


After seven years, some 1.2 million fruit and permanent non-fruit bearing trees were planted in the 2,000 hectares of the Matigsalog homeland. Vegetables are abundant and sold every weekend to Davao City about 3 hours away from the lumad farms. Now, the project beneficiaries grow diversified vegetables and upland rice crops which they till on the hills; their harvest also increased. Later, a vegetable trading center was constructed in Marilog where wholesale buyers from Davao City meet the farmers to buy their crops. A primary school was also set up so the lumad pupils get educated while their parents sell their produce. 

Dr. Bengwayan and his team finished their project in April 2016, and up to these years, the harvest and vegetable selling continue along Marilog highway. “Doc Mike,” as he is fondly called, was made an adopted son of the Matigsalog Lumad Tribe, an honor bestowed and cherished after a ritual was performed to honor a hard-working and visionary man.


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