Floating gardens as alternative farming systems for flood-prone areas

Ian Ocampo Flora

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — Climate change is a reality and so are its effects not just on the environment, but also the agriculture sector, making it one of the greatest challenges faced by farmers today.

The effects on the variability of climate conditions during the cropping seasons have become hurdles for farmers. Not all surprising since the Global Climate Risk Index of 2015 listed the Philippines “as the number one most affected country by climate change.”

Climate variability was evidenced by the 19 typhoons that visited the country in 2011 and yearly, some 20 tropical cyclones enter Philippine waters with some eight or nine likely making landfall. And with each landfall comes the problem of flooding, not just in urban areas, but also in the rural agricultural countryside.

So serious is the challenge posed by climate change that Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the country’s leading research arm on rice and agriculture, had been conducting research for adaptive climate change farming and measures to reduce the impact of agriculture farming practices on the environment.

In 2013, RG Corales and a group of researchers from Philrice, made studies on the development and adaptation of floating gardens as alternative production systems in the swamp and flood-prone communities. The study looked into the possible materials to use and the crops that are suitable for the project. The study aimed to look into a technology that is both cost efficient and easy to use.

“Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), plastic bottles, and bamboo poles were the most cost-efficient materials for floating gardens. Plastic bottles were used also for aquaponics floating gardens,” the study said.

Crops like Crops pechay (Brassica rapa), mustard (Brassica juncea), upland kangkong (Ipomea reptans), bush sitao (Vigna unguiculata), tomato (Lycopers) were found to be suitable for the floating garden cultivation.

The technology uses water hyacinths, bamboo and plastic bottles for the creation of plot beds. These plot beds float above the water and are topped with soil and organic fertilizer.

The crops are then grown on top of the plot beds. During the monsoon rains, the gardens merely float above the water and on the dry months, water could be accessed from the remaining floodwater.

The four by one meter-long bamboo rafts can sustain a wide variety of crops including rice. The system is a perfect alternative for both flood-prone and drought-prone areas in the country.

“The garden tested under a monsoon produced 592 grams per square meter of pechay, 842 grams per sq m of kangkong, and 642 grams per sq m of mustard under a monsoon. But the yields improved under tests made during the dry spell, producing 1.70 grams per sq m of pechay and 1.63 grams per sq m of kangkong,” according to a report published on the said study.

Local implementation

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 in the Province of Pampanga, villagers need not imagine — because they live amidst this possibility using the floating garden farming technology.

In 2013, Barangay Del Pilar launched the first-ever floating garden in Pampanga using the technology of floating rafts for garden and vegetable cultivation.

Much of the methods they used employed technology learned from PhilRice. The village was then able to put up least 200 floating gardens at a 2.3-hectare property of the barangay that is constantly flooded by water that remain until the summer months.

The floating gardens were an innovative farming solution that uses water hyacinth, which is collected to construct a raft and then covered with top soil and organic fertilizer. The gardens were able to withstand flooding and can be planted with palay, vegetables and herbs.

The floating garden sat on a 2.3-hectare property that includes a 330-square meter herbal garden. The property, which was donated to the barangay, was managed by volunteers who also raised chickens and ducks that were also given to residents for free.

However, the continuation of the program now remains uncertain after a change in the local political leadership of the village.

Not just for flood areas, also for fish ponds

Fishpond owners too can grow crops while waiting for their fish yields from their ponds. The floating garden technology from Philrice encourages the use of floating gardens on commercial fish ponds.

Fishpond water is considered good for floating garden cultivation as the water contains organic minerals needed by plants. The underside of the gardens can also serve as breeding and resting areas for the fish.

The underside of the floating gardens is a perfect refuge area during warm conditions and may even prevent fish kills.

Communities in flooded areas, as well as those near marshlands and water reservoirs are encouraged to utilize the technology. With the worsening adverse weather condition brought by climate change, floating gardens provide an easy and economic alternative to cope with the effects.Ian Ocampo Flora