Inspiring Us Back

Last year was great for us in terms of our exposure to the worldwide web.  We got inspirational feedbacks, insights and messages of support from all over. According to WordPress, our blogsite was viewed 4,300 times in 2014, viewers coming from 80 countries in all.  Most visitors came from the Philippines of course but the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Singapore, Germany, Bangladesh and other countries were not far behind.  Some of our posts were reblogged in other sites including the World Organic News (their site is currently being updated), Toemail and Idealistic Rebel’s Daily View of Favorites.  We were also featured in some blogs like in Bahay Campina and Travel Dive Connect.

We now have almost 7,000 hits and 28 blog followers.  Our Facebook Community Page has reached almost 600 “Likes.” And these first few weeks of 2015, our blogsite has more than 500 new views already.  Our listing in the Worldwide Permaculture Network is getting a lot of “Likes” as well.

Here are some of the feedbacks we got from our viewers and followers:

“Congrats. I’m amazed about what you did in a short time.  We also have future plans to develop a permaculture farm in our property in Polilio Island (Quezon Province, Philippines).  It’s a very remote site so still need to learn a lot to be self-sustainable.  Thank you for your information and keep writing about it!” -Pascal and Marigien Bos-Manlugon (Belgium)

“Congratulations on your successful SRI trial.  I have worked with the SRI team at Cornell since 1999 and now help the company Lotus Foods in California connect with SRI farmers to market rice in the US.  I just wanted to let you know that red and black rice are the healthiest rice, healthier even than brown rice.  Pigmented rice [varieties] have very high antioxidant levels.  I started a bibliography on research related to red and black rice. It’s my prediction that in the future, people will return to eating healthier rice. -Olivia (California, USA)

Aside from inquiries we received, we also got some messages of support since we started the project:

“I just want to say thank you for creating a sustainable way of life model and sharing it with the world through the internet. More power to you!” -Eric (Quezon City, Philippines)

“This is just a short message to let you know how inspired and enthused we are watching you (via your website) developing your wonderful project.  We intend to emulate your endeavour and just as you were before you got started, we have ZERO skills in building and being self-sufficient.  Please pray for us that we may gather the courage and start living the life of our dreams.” -Enver and Lerma (Ireland/Philippines)

“I just saw your site and read the articles and think you guys are doing great!  Your humanure toilet especially made me smile.  I have my own humanure toilet but acceptance is still low (just me), everyone else is a fecophobe at this point.  Anyways, I wish you guys all the best.” -Rommel (Mindanao, Philippines)

And here are some of the messages from those who visited us and volunteered in the farm last year:

“Thank you so much for sharing your bit of paradise with me.  Thank you for the generosity of your time in speaking of your experience but also listening and giving guidance as I contemplate on how to follow in your footsteps.” -Maria (New York City, USA/Batangas, Philippines)

“Visiting your haven of wonders made me think and realize a lot of things. Thank you for your selfless efforts in sharing your vision with us. My short stay made me feel very healthy and gave me peace of mind and tranquility. I will come back to build with you again. The SRI insights are pushing me to convince my family to adopt the method. I wish you all the best.” – Clyde (Hungduan, Ifugao Province, Philippines)

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Clyde and Maria

“I came to visit with a certain expectation of what to see.  I can say that my expectations have been surpassed!  What you are doing here is not just amazing, it’s inspirational.” -Alex (United Kingdom)

“Thank you for welcoming us into your home.  I’ve learned so much about sustainable living.  I’m inspired by your passion and dedication.  I’ve never felt so connected to the earth as I did when we planted rice and cleaned ourselves off in the river.  I’m going to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my life back in the US.” -Ai (San Francisco, California, USA)

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Ai

“I’m very impressed by your visions, dedication and tenacity in not only pursuing your dreams but creating one that is fluid, flexible and that will grow with you literally over time.  Your bravery in leaving behind a former lifestyle is not to be underestimated, and your inspiration to prove that the Philippiines can truly be a sovereign, self-sustaining land for our people is revolutionary in a daily, concrete and tangible way.  As a city girl, comfortable with cars, concrete, traffic and consumer goods, caring for the earth as it cares for us is not something I practice, but now hope to integrate into my urban existence somehow when I return to the US.” -Kristen (San Francisco, California, USA)

“The stories and experiences you’ve shared about The Pitak Project opened my eyes and made me imagine a place like this of my own, somewhere I can live simply and peacefully.  I hope someday, every farmer would replicate the system that you do here, I’m sure no one will get hungry.” -Mariz (Benguet, Philippines)

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Mariz and Kristen

“May The Pitak Project enlighten a lot of people into realizing that self-sustainability is just rght under our feet.” -Cha (Quezon City, Philippines)

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Cha

“You have a significant adobe brick upon the foundation of my house of dreams! I find words to be somewhat inadequate to enunciate and define the golden moments you have shared with me.  The whole experience at the farm, including those preceding the meeting, has bound me to thee.  May our organic advocacy be further strengthened over time, and this shall never be the last visit.” -Jesi (Negros Occidental, Philippines)

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Jesi

Because of our exposure, we were also invited in some speaking engagements to talk about our project in different provinces of the country, including Occidental Mindoro, Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Batanes, La Union, Ilocos Norte and Baguio City.

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Kalikasan (Environment) Youth Leaders’ Congress in Baguio City, organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1 and Cordillera Administrative Region. Photo courtesy of Cristina Arzadon.

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Climate Change Advocacy Campaign Media Forum in Currimao, Ilocos Norte organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1. Photo courtesy of Joanne Namnama Parrocha Dilim.

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Basic Environment and Tourism Course in Sorsogon, Bicol Province organized by the Blue Water Consultancy.

We are grateful for all the support we are getting. It feels good that we inspire people from all over despite our limitations and struggles. This in return inspires us to strive better in what we do to build a better world. How shall we live? We hope The Pitak Project gives a real and viable answer.#

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What we’ve been up to (Part 2): Extra Rice Please

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Since we started our project, we were challenged by how we would produce our staple food: rice.  We didn’t have experience. We didn’t know where to start.  We were challenged to produce more yields using organic inputs in a small piece of land to make us self-sustaining.  To make it easy for us, we could have just done the conventional flooded rice planting production and just ask our neighbours to teach us.

But we didn’t want to just do the conventional way, which is wasteful in irrigation water, expensive and destructive because of the use of chemical inputs. So we did a research about traditional and alternative rice planting practices.  We found a system that focuses on higher yields using planting techniques that are totally different from what Filipino farmers are used to.  It’s called the System of Rice Intensification or SRI developed in the 1980s by Henri de Lanlanie, a French priest farmer who lived in Madagascar.  It was then developed further and promoted to other countries by Prof. Norman Uphoff of Cornell University.  Since then, this system has been tried and tested by many farmers all over the world, including the Philippines, resulting to higher yields and better rice quality with reduced water requirements and production costs in seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.

The key elements of the SRI include transplanting single and younger seedlings (12-day old) that are 25-30 cm apart, intermittent water application (2-3 days flooded and 5-7 days dry), and the use of organic inputs.  This way, the system is less expensive because it uses less seeds and water.  And it uses organic inputs that a farmer can make.  In the conventional rice planting practice, older rice seedlings are transplanted (24-day old seedlings) closely together using 3-5 seedlings per hill.  It is also a common practice to continuously flood the fields and thus require lots of irrigation water.

When we started the project in 2012, we were concerned about the health of the rice fields.  To rejuvenate the soil, we planted legumes such as peanuts and mung beans.  Legumes have nitrogen-rich foliage and nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root systems, which make the soil richer.   We did the chop and drop technique, using the leaves of the legumes as green manure.

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From June to November of last year, we focused our work with our first organic rice planting.  As beginners, we did a trial plot of about 500 square meters for our first SRI application and planted the rest of the fields of about 1,000 sqm using the conventional practice for comparison.  But we also applied organic fertilizers with the conventional plot.  We prepared the fields the usual way by plowing with the help of our neighbour and his carabao (water buffalo).  We added compost and vermicast mixture that we produced.  We flooded the fields and did further tilling to loosen the soil. We sprayed Indigenous Micro-organisms (IMO) that we prepared weeks before to help in the decomposition of the weeds.

For our first planting, we originally planned to use a traditional red rice variety but the quality of the seeds we got was not good.  Instead, we planted an inbred variety of white.   Compared to hybrids, inbreds are pureline and the succeeding generations produced by this variety still have the same genetic makeup.

We prepared the seeds by soaking them in a bucket of water with salt.  We discarded those seeds that floated.  We rinsed the good seeds with fresh water and soaked them again overnight.  After draining the water, we placed them in a wet sack and kept under some rice straw for at least 3 days, until they sprouted.  We then transferred the rice sprouts in a prepared bed and let them grow for almost 2 weeks.

When the seedlings already had 2 to 3 leaves, we started making grids on the SRI trial plots using an implement that we made.  This way, it would be easy for us to plant the seedlings with the right distance from each other.  We transplanted one seedling per hill.  For the conventional plots, we transplanted about 3-4 seedlings per hill close to each other.

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We irrigated the fields after transplanting all the seedlings for the first week.  For the trial plots, we followed the SRI method of alternately flooding and drying.  But because it was the rainy season, the recommended schedule of intermittent irrigation was not strictly followed.

During the first month, we focused on weeding the fields especially in the SRI plots.  Weeds grew faster because the seedlings were planted far apart and because of the longer drying schedule.  During the early stage, we made use of a rotary weeder we bought from an SRI practitioner from Tarlac province.  When the rice plants were a bit older and taller, we did manual weeding.  We regularly sprayed the fields with organic concoctions that we produced:  Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO), Fermented Plant Juices (FPJ), Fish Amino Acids (FAA), Oriental Herb Nutrients (OHN) and Vermi Tea (vermi cast extract from culturing African Night Crawlers). Except for the Vermi Tea, the rest are fermented natural farming inputs, which helps regenarate the soil and adds strength to the soil and plants.

After about four months, we finally harvested.  We were amazed by the results of our harvest even though it was just our very first time to plant rice.  The SRI plants compared to the conventional ones were much taller and had more stalks or stems, panicles, grains and bigger root systems.  These attributes are called the SRI effect.

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The SRI plant on the left is taller with more stalks, panicles and grains.

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The bigger root system of the SRI plant is due to the intermittent irrigation. During the drying period, the roots tend to grow longer and deeper into the ground trying to capture moisture. This also makes the plant sturdy.

Aside from the visual comparison, we did a sampling from both SRI and non-SRI plots.  We randomly picked 10 rice plants from each plot.  We then counted the stalks in each plant.  We picked the shortest stalk in each plant and counted the grains.  The non-SRI had an average of 6 stalks each with about 31 grains per stalk.  On the other hand, the SRI samples had an average of 10 stalks with about 102 grains per stalk. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the comparison in weight (in kilos) because we didn’t have a weighing scale.

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Manual thresher courtesy of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC)

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The thresher separates the grains from the stalks.

The Psychological Resistance

It’s good we didn’t have the experience in planting rice because we also didn’t have psychological resistance against alternative practices.  But because what we were doing was completely different from the usual practice, we got some extreme reactions especially from our neighbours.  We felt the psychological resistance from them.  Most of them laughed at us while scratching their heads and telling us we really didn’t know what we were doing.  Some tried to help us out by telling us that we were doing it wrong and it should be like this and that. But a handful got curious and talked to us to learn more about the system especially when they saw the SRI effect.

Not bad at all for first timers

For this year’s planting season, we decided to apply the SRI principles for our entire rice field.  We started last July just in time for the rainy season.  We planted five traditional rice varieties: balatinaw from the Mountain Province, Cordillera, kintoman from Benguet, Cordillera, the Vizcaya aromatic white rice from Nueva Vizcaya Province, black rice, and glutinous white rice.  We wanted to know what traditional varieties could be grown in our site.  Although balatinaw and kintoman are both highland red rice, the friend we got them from said these varieties are drought and heat resistant. We later found out that balatinaw is also produced in the lowland Ilocos Region where we are located.  These traditional varieties take longer growing period compared to conventional hybrid varieties.

We are still trying to get other traditional varieties that are more appropriate for our site.  We are particularly looking for brown rice varieties, which according to our research have more health benefits.

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We are now on our third month for this planting season. The Vizcaya white rice, glutinous rice, kintoman and the black rice are already blooming.  The balatinaw variety has just started to grow panicles.

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The SRI is a viable system for producing more yield while helping regenerate the soil.  This system can definitely be applied by Filipino farmers to address issues of food security.  A farmer in India was able to produce 448 sacks of rice grain in one hectare land using this system.  Here in the Philippines, harvests using the conventional practice range from 80 to 150 sacks of rice grain a hectare.  With Filipino ingenuity, who knows, we can break that record and we’ll have lots of extra rice for everybody especially the toiling masses.#