Camote Revitalization for more Disaster Resilient Communities by Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM)

Kin-iway, Payeo, and Besao West, all of Besao town

Claudine Panayo, Michael Billy Karty, Nestor Peralta, & Daniel Dulnuan

Camote revitalization through community-based reproduction of trichoderma - a fungi that can control fusarium wilt, and production of clean planting materials. This will be through trainings, nursery propagation of clean planting materials, field testing, and mass production of planting materials to be used by individual farmers.

The IPM envisions Ifugao communities that are empowered, able to analyze their situations, define their needs, and act collectively in addressing their problems; ensured food security and has capacity during disasters; where indigenous socio-political, socio-cultural, and socio - economic development is sustainable, people-based, and people centered; where gender-sensitivity is part of daily life; and where the environment is protected and developed to serve the basic needs of current and future generations.

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In order to support the efforts of the Ifugao communities in ensuring food security, the community-based camote revitalization project must be continued and sustained. Eradication of the fusarium wilt infestation needs widespread participation of clustered communities. The project then needs financial and technical support in order to replicate it to other communities. Financial support will be used in continued research and documentation, education and trainings, nursery establishments, demo farms, and administrative costs.

ipm.ifugao@gmail.com

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We will defeat this Trichoderma infestation and get to eat our own camote again.

CAMOTE, CULTURAL CROP OF THE CORDILLERAS

Ms. Claudine Panayo, team lead, attended the first information session of Tuklas Northern Luzon in October 2017. During the event, she opened the discussion on the Fusarium Wilt infestation of camote (sweet potato) fields in Ifugao and other parts of the Cordillera. Camote is considered the staple food of most Ifugao ethnic communities, especially the Kalanguya, who are known as the most nomadic of the Igorot groups. It has been a part of their culture for centuries and considered as a sacred cultural crop that represented their hunting and foraging way of life.

By the end of the call of proposals in November 20, Ms. Claudine had submitted to Tuklas their innovation idea. Why not take out the fungus treatment from the lab and produce it in the community? The proposal: community-based Trichoderma production of clean planting materials and testing of the same on camote crops affected by Fusarium Wilt. Apparently, such large-scale testing has not been done before.

The idea of community-based revitalization of camote came from the research output conducted in 2013 -2014 in the Municipalities of Asipulo and Tinoc by NGOs under the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) and its local partner peoples organizations including the IPM in Ifugao. This research firmly established that the massive dying off of the camote crops immensely affected the food security and subsequent disaster resilience of the affected communities. Samples of the infected plants were given to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) in Baguio city to identify the cause of infection. They identified it as a fungus called Fusarium Wilt and that it can be controlled by Trichoderma according to their laboratory testing.

The original concept was to produce Trichoderma in the community and use it to cure the soil from Fusarium Wilt. But as the project implementation was commented on by community members, and with advice from mentor, Ms. Ines Gonzales (of the Benguet State University Northern Philippines Rootcrops Research and Training Center), we were able to pivot towards reproduction of Trichoderma through soil compost to be used as the soil media in producing clean planting materials (mother plant). This will in turn produce rooted vines that can be planted in the field.

DEVELOPMENT WITH THE COMMUNITY

Camote revitalization requires wide and massive treatment of soil and the plants themselves because it would be useless to treat one part of the production area while the adjacent areas are still carriers of the infection that can invigorate from time to time. Fusarium wilt is a soil-borne disease and can stay in the infected fields for years. Thus, the dwindling of camote production in the Cordilleras.

The IPM, with limited resources and experience, decided to implement the project in 3 pilot areas. Even if these are only a small portion of all affected areas, IPM wanted to test the idea of community-based production to prove its effectiveness and later campaign it to other affected areas. The identified communities were from the Municipality of Asipulo and one community from the Municipality of Tinoc, both from Ifugao Province.

Even before IPM received word that they were included in the final 10 sub-grantees of Tuklas Northern Luzon, the farmers’ organizations from these areas already agreed to be partners in implementing the project, with the help of their barangay officials.

During courtesy calls to the municipal mayors and the local Department of Agriculture Office, the project was met positively. The local politicians admitted that they still did not have a comprehensive program and implementation to solve this problem of their constituents.

The IPM team conducted an inception meeting with leaders of the three pilot project areas where details of the consortium project and how it will be implemented were explained.

The IPM then negotiated for the mentorship of Dr. Ines Gonzales of the Northern Luzon Root Crops Training Center (NLRCTC) under the Benguet State University (BSU). Her expertise proved to be invaluable. She gave insights that led to the pivot of having a smaller plot for small-scale testing of Trichoderma-treated soil and clean planting materials (uninfected soil sourced elsewhere).

After a series of planning with TUKLAS, community leaders, and allies from the government, and mentor, the IPM conducted the following activities:

  • Training on the impacts of Fusarium Wilt and Trichoderma
    production, and production of clean planting materials
  • Field demonstration and testing by planting roots on clean planting
    materials at demo farms
  • Construction of greenhouse/ nursery for reproduction of
    trichoderma and production of clean planting materials
  • Project management trainings
  • . Community Participatory Evaluation Survey and photo/video
    documentation conducted in Tulludan, Tino
  • Community assessment and feedbacking

During the implementation, regular feedback sessions were done to identify and troubleshoot problems and to gather recommendations from the community for better implementation of the project. The community selected sites for the greenhouses of the three barangays and were active in gathering dry leaves and rotting logs from the surrounding forest to use in their Trichoderma compost.

From the input and recommendation of their mentor, the team shifted from the original plan to treat the soil in the field where the communities were planting camote. Instead, they pushed for the production of Trichoderma-based soil media in seedling production of camote single nodes. This is done to boost the seedlings’ immune system to infestation, along with using Trichoderma-based compost as fertilizer in the fields.

During the field demos, the team, together with the community, planted both the rooted planting material and the vine as recommended by the farmers themselves. The team found out that the vine cuttings have better
survival rate than the rooted planting materials.

PARTICULAR CHALLENGES FACED

Some factors that affected the implementation of the project include the following:

  • Time Constraints- where officers and members cannot find common schedules. The same goes for the team’s mentor as she is also busy as head of their department in BSU.
  • Agricultural calendar in the area – people are busy during land preparation, planting, and harvesting season of their rice and temperate vegetables, leaving less time for innovation testing activities.
  • Intense military operations for a time scared the community members to go out of their houses. This limited their production work and further affected their participation and led to postponement of community activities.
  • Limited capacity of the implementing team on paperwork and reporting.

However, the team notes that these difficulties did not stop them and the community partners in achieving the project milestones.

“With regular monthly project reviews with the Tuklas Northern Luzon staff, we were able to develop the innovation idea from a simple community-led fungi production to a community-based system of production and testing that has not been done in the Cordilleras before,” said Ms. Claudine.

In an interview with community member Nanay Maria Puddanan, she shared that the community was reinvigorated when they found out that there was a possible cure to the decline of camote production. The community preferred to eat the camote variety that was indigenous to Ifugao. They claimed that it aided in their digestive health and had medicinal attributes.

“Why, even our pigs and dogs don’t eat the camote that the DA (Dept. of Agriculture) gave us to replace the infected ones! They know it’s not our camote,” she added.

The innovation idea has been praised by the Benguet State University crops research team. They have endorsed it to other community partners of the academic institution. IPM will help in trainings. Furthermore, many  farmers’ organizations in Kalinga, Mt. Province, and even in La Union, have expressed interest in the approach, citing Trichoderma infestations of other root crop varieties (gabi or taro and ube or purple yam). The indigenous peoples of the Cordillera are noted for disaster resilience. There is no known word for disaster in the Igorot languages. When a word does not have an equivalent in another language, it can only mean that what it attributes does not exist in that culture. Disaster cannot be attributed to if the community does not consider it as such. From indigenous engineering to forest stewardship, the highlands’ inhabitants have a communal unity and resilience that the camote can represent. Together, staple food and community have survived the detrimental effects of colonization, modern environmental degradation, and cultural erosion, along with natural disasters.

“We will defeat this Trichoderma infestation and get to eat our own camote again,” said Kagawad Alejo Dulnuan.

Coming from a race of warriors, there is no doubt that these farmers can.