Prof. Dr. Gurbir Singh Bhullar of Bern University of Applied Sciences leads an international consortium implementing the research entitled “Going Bananas: Restoring Livelihoods of Conflict Affected Farmers in Cotabato” with the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) as a key partner. Started in 2019, the project aims to promote agriculture-based livelihoods and combat malnutrition through sustainable and ecological practices. As a Professor of Sustainable Agroecosystems, Dr. Bhullar acknowledges the impact of deforestation and conventional cultivation on soil degradation, water depletion, and erosion.
Through this initiative, Dr. Bhullar and his team have meticulously collected data on the effects of farming practices on soil and water resources across diverse land profiles, including varying slopes and placements relative to watersheds. This data has laid the scientific basis for precise strategies to reforest slopes with banana inter-cropped with other native plants and trees, to harvest water, and to curb erosion.
The project employed participatory approaches for capacity building. With Dr. Bhullar, USM provided technical expertise and research support under the leadership of Dr. Adeflor G. Garcia and now Mr. Rezin G. Cabantug. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and Aidenvironment provided funds and the Carmen-based company Treelife facilitated access to planting material and land for cultivation. Farmers of Carmen formed the Carmen Organic Slope Farmers Association (COSFA) and served as the pilot site for the project.
Consortium partners gathered at the Commercial Building of USM to be part of the Stakeholders’ Forum entitled, “Challenges and Opportunities for Restoration of Agro-Ecosystem and Livelihoods in Southern Mindanao,” last August 18, 2023. Jerry John Taray of Treelife provided an overview of the activities and accomplishments of the Going Bananas project. Laura Ammerlaan of RVO announced additional funding support aimed at accelerating the project’s objectives and establishing a model farm in the coming years. Miriam de Graaf of Aidenvironment elaborated on their role as a consultancy NGO, emphasizing the importance of studying water run-off and harvesting to ensure the sustainability of agricultural production. Lastly, Dr. Bhullar shared research findings on the adverse consequences of unsustainable farming practices on soil and water resources, along with potential solutions to mitigate such effects through sustainable agricultural systems. The Consortium partners agreed that the project’s focus is on assisting the most vulnerable, particularly small-holder farmers in post-conflict areas, representing some of the most food insecure regions in the Philippines.
The project’s successful inception phase underscores its huge potential for scalability. With the COSFA serving as “lighthouses” or beacons of success, the benefits of going into sustainable practices become more tangible and support the development of aligned policies. The Consortium produced a Policy cum Media Brief to push for governmental support for the transition to agroforestry. With funding secured until 2024, the project the project has partnered with the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Region XII- New Coconut Seed Production Center. This partnership seeks to promote coconuts as an option for crop diversification. The renewed collaboration was formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding signing by PCA Region XII, the Municipal Government of Carmen, North Cotabato, the Going Bananas Consortium Partners, and COSFA.