2013 BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY (REGIONAL)
IMAGINE being able to plant crops, rain or shine, without the threat of floodwater or drought. Imagine this possible, even in perennially flooded areas like swamps and canals.
In a village in the City of San Fernando, villagers need not imagine because they live amidst this possibility using the latest farming technology, all in the heart of one of the most highly urbanized city in Central Luzon which, unfortunately, also suffers from perennial flooding.
Barangay Del Pilar has launched the first-ever floating garden in Pampanga using water hyacinths as floating rafts for garden and vegetable cultivation in an area that has been perennially flooded each year.
Village chief Pandoy Policarpio said much of the methods they are now using employs technology learned from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). Currently, there are at least 200 floating gardens at the almost 2.3-hectare property of the barangay that is constantly flooded even during summer.
The whole property is a catch basin for floodwater that drains from nearby subdivisions, along with rainwater drained from the nearby seminary and university in
the area. The property has plenty of water hyacinths (Eichornia crassipes) which provides for the free raw material in creating the floating rafts for the garden.
The floating gardens are an innovative farming solution that uses water hyacinths, which are collected to construct a raft and then covered with top soil and organic fertilizer.
Each raft is topped with three to five inches of top soil. The fertilizer for the floating garden is also made by the village folk who maintain the gardens utilizing organic kitchen waste, crushed dried leaves, saw dust and even palay dust.
The gardens are able to withstand flooding and can be planted with leafy vegetables like pechay, herbs, chilli and to some extent even palay.
“We are very thankful for the help of PhilRice and Pampanga Agricultural College. Now our residents here can avail of the produce of these gardens for free,” Policarpio said.
Sustainable community garden
The floating garden sits on a 2.3-hectare property that includes a 330-square meter herbal garden. All produce of the garden are given to the people. The property, which was donated to the barangay, is managed by volunteers who also raise chickens and ducks that are also given to residents for free.
“People can come here and take vegetables they need for their meals. We give it to them for free. Indigents can take more but we teach them to be self-sufficient and have their own gardens,” Policarpio said.
Policarpio added that they aim to improve the garden with the help of PhilRice, a government corporate entity attached to the national agriculture office, the Department of Agriculture (DA) that aims at developing high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos. Recently, it has developed a rice variety that will survive even it is submerged underwater.
Policarpio said their garden can be a model for other barangays who would like to come up with a healthier project that would benefit their local communities. He added that the technology is another way of adapting to the flooding effects of climate change and can greatly help in the local food security initiatives. In fact, surplus produce in their floating gardens are distributed to poor families in the barangay.
The project, Policarpio said, is a model for urban areas that can convert flooded areas, swamps and even coastal fronts into productive floating gardens for commercial and even community level production of vegetable produce.
The floating gardens are agriculture innovations copied from the ancient Mesoamerican agriculture. Sometimes referred to as "floating gardens," chinampas were artificial islands that usually measured roughly 98 ft × 8.2 ft (30 m × 2.5 m), according to PhilRice.
PhilRice and the DA are currently studying impact of floating gardens. But currently, the technology is seen as a promising way of producing agricultural crops in flooded areas, both urban and rural, and is seen as a way of making swamp lands productive.
Floating gardens are also encouraged by PhilRice as community projects wherein a community of volunteers can produce their own food supply and even sell surplus into the local market for extra income.