Monday, March 16, 2015

Japanese Technology Boosts Organic Farming in Benguet

The mokusaku plant.
Image courtesy of Japan Agricultural Exchange Council
BENGUET, Philippines – Sotero Capsuyan, a resident of Buguias town, has been engaged in farming for the past 39 years, toiling on at least a hectare of land and planting Chinese cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and lettuce.
In his earlier years of farming, Capsuyan said farm inputs did not cost much. But when the leaf miner pest on potatoes broke out in the late 1990s, everything changed and farming became harder and expensive.
Then, in 2011, Capsuyan came to know of mokusaku in a seminar sponsored by the provincial government of Benguet in cooperation with the Japan Agricultural Exchange Council (JAEC).
Mokusaku or wood vinegar is a Japanese technology developed by Masaki Yokomori, senior technical adviser JAEC, in his dream to develop and maintain fruitful vegetable production in the "Salad Bowl of the Philippines."
Anchored on Benguet’s organic agriculture program, Japanese Yokomori introduced mokusako as a technical approach to combat the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals.
This technology helps prevent the soil from drying, and also prevents the unnecessary loss of fertilizer nutrients, while also serving as repellent, herbicide, and fungicide.
Mokusako was first introduced in the municipality of Tublay in 2011 after the Philippines passed its Organic Agriculture Act of 2010. Tublay made history by being the first municipal government in the country to pass an ordinance institutionalizing organic agriculture which was later recognized by the provincial board of Benguet.
The town produces cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli and rice, among others.
Building a mokusaku plant. Image courtesy of JAEC
Yokomori explained that the wood vinegar is pyroligneous acid, a liquid substance obtained when organic materials such as wood, coconut shell, bamboo, and other plants are placed in a heating chamber.
Jeffrey Sotero, the municipal agricultural officer of Tublay, explained: “When these materials are heated their juices, oils and liquid contents evaporate as steam or vapor which passes through a tube, where it will be allowed to cool. When the vapor is cooled, it will turn into liquid via a condensation process. The chamber is heated by burning firewood at the lower portion of the chamber and then the liquid (wood vinegar) flows from a tube into a container ready for packing, storage or ready for use."
The mokusaku heating chamber is made up of volcanic rocks from Tarlac instead of the galvanized iron sheets usually being used for the heat to be contained more.
Environment friendly
Yokomori gave assurances the plant is environment-friendly and the smoke emitted from the plant can still be processed into mokusaku by adding another extension tube to the outlet of smoke. This requires the plant to be fully established.
He estimated that for every 200 kilos of wood, there will be 70 liters of mokusaku harvested in one heating. Fresh wood from various trees, even bamboo, is also fed into the heating chamber made up of volcanic rocks.
“The farmers here see the positive effect of using mokusaku, aside from it being cheaper compared to commercial pesticides or insecticides; it is also environment-friendly, good for the soil,” Sotero said.
Capsuyan applied mokusaku on carrots as an insecticide in a 16-liter capacity knapsack sprayer during the vegetative stage. He was able to harvest 4 tons of carrots from 400 grams of seed, compared to his past harvests of only two tons.
“My yield increased since I started using mokusaku. I usually produce 6 tons of carrots but this doubled with a mokusaku-enriched soil,” he said.
Other uses
Aside from being used as a pesticide/insecticide and soil conditioner, the mokusaku is also used in livestock production such as poultry, piggery and fishery. The mokusaku is mixed with charcoal and feeds of the animal which is good for the animals' digestion.
Image courtesy JAEC
Further, Yokomori said that Salmonella on eggyolks can also be avoided using this mixture, citing research in Japan that has proven the wood vinegar’s effect on chicken eggs.
In Japan, mokusaku companies have been put up. They distill mokusaku till it's ready for drinking, and refine mokusaku for use against allergies and other skin infections.
Viable industry
Earlier in February, JICA concluded its 3-year agriculture cooperation project with the farmers in Benguet through the mokusaku technology, while citing the benefits of a thriving agriculture sector in the Philippines’ overall economy.
“Agriculture has an important share in the Philippine economy, in terms of GDP, and jobs generation. We hope that the farmers, and local government units (LGUs) in Benguet will continue to sustain the gains from the project not just to benefit the rural economy of Benguet, but also the country’s overall economy,” said JICA Philippines senior representative Kunihiro Nakasone.
The Philippine Statistics Authority in 2013 noted that the agriculture sector accounts for 10% of the Philippine gross domestic product and employs 38.12 million people.
Benguet supplies 80% of the vegetable needs of Metro Manila, with 50% of the province’s workforce engaged in vegetable and cut-flower farming.
Aside from Tublay, mokusaku is now being used in the towns of Kabayan, Tuba, La Trinidad, Kibungan, and the Bokod farming communities of Benguet.
Written by: Jessa Mardy Polonio

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