Marsh villagers defy floods with floating farms

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    Agriculture floats in the Agusan Marsh.

    During the rainy season, rising waters flood the farms. Instead of fighting nature, farmers plant rice and other crops on floating bamboos.

    The floating farms of Agusan del Sur were cited by the Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB) as an innovative method and an example of agriculture adapting to the natural landscape.

    The ACB, established in 2005, is Asean’s response to the challenge of biodiversity loss. It is an intergovernmental organization that facilitates cooperation and coordination among Asean member states on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of natural treasures.

    “Instead of trying to control the marsh, the locals have learned to adapt and build their farms according to the nature of the marsh,” said Theresa Lim, ACB executive director.

    “Biodiversity, the variety of life on earth, provides the resources and supporting functions for farming and tourism. Thus, safeguarding biodiversity is essential to achieve sustainability in farm tourism for present and future generations,” Lim told a conference on sustainable farm tourism and conservation.

    Farm tourism is the business of attracting visitors and tourists to farms, generally for educational and recreational purposes, encouraging economic activity that can provide both the farm and the community additional income.

    Keeping the Agusan Marsh healthy contributes to local tourism and provides additional income to community members who run boat tours, Lim said.

    Preserving the natural landscape and biodiversity improves the sustainability of farm operations and, in turn, farmers’ incomes, she added.

    Lim encouraged farmers to make the most of the natural landscape. “Instead of cutting down trees, plant crops like coffee that thrive under the shade of trees,” she said.

    Forests are important to the health of watersheds, which supply water for the irrigation of farms and serve people’s daily needs, she added.

    Lim pushed multi-cropping, crop rotation and other natural pest management methods instead of using pesticides that threaten pollinator bees.

    Seventy-five percent of the world’s food crops and nearly 90 percent of wild flowering species depend on pollination, she said, citing the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report estimating the value of pollination services at approximately $169 billion per year.

    Lim emphasized the need to strike a balance between fulfilling the needs of business and of tourism and maintaining the natural conditions of the environment.

    Citing the principles of sustainable tourism from the United Nations World Trade Organization, she explained: “Farm tourism should fulfill the social, esthetic and economic needs of the farm owners and the tourists, while maintaining the life support systems, ecological processes and cultural integrity of the area. These systems and processes and their benefits come from biodiversity, so we need to protect biodiversity.”

    Protecting iconic and charismatic species can also be a source of tourism-based livelihood, she said.

    By applying biodiversity considerations like natural pest management, planting the right crops and trees and adapting to the natural environment, Lim is positive there is a future for the farm tourism industry.