By Julio Yap Jr.

With the La Niña phenomenon poised to negatively affect the country this year, according to projections, there is a heightened need to develop technologies that will ensure the adaptability and economic stability of rice-based farming communities.

As a response to the challenges presented by climate change, experts from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) have evaluated the Sorjan cropping system to maximize farm productivity and ensure food security and the regular income of farming families in the Philippines.

Sorjan, which was developed by Indonesian farmers, is a system that constructs an alternate of deep sinks and raised beds. Its features can adapt to both dry and wet seasons. “This is a good
climate change adaptation technology [for] both flood- and drought-prone rice areas,” said Rizal G. Corales, lead PhilRice’s Intensified Rice-Based AgriBioSystems (IRBAS) Program.

The sink for rice and gabi production ranges from three to five meters wide and 30cm deep, and a deeper sink of about one-meter wide and one to 1.5-meter deep can be constructed around the area for fish production.

In the flood-prone or swampy areas, the sink impounds more water and can tame the flow of water. On the other hand, the raised beds and bunds constructed in making the sink allow farmers to plant dry land crops such as vegetables and cash crops.

Corales explained that the sink of the Sorjan system can serve as a rainwater harvesting or impounding mechanism for farmers in drought-prone areas.“The sink with the impounded water can be used for rice production and other crops like gabi or kangkong, and for fish production. The water stored in the sink can later be used for irrigation.”

PhilRice experts noted that the ideal dimensions of the raised bed is around three meters wide and 30 centimeters (cm) above water level.The bund around the area, on the other hand, is about 70-100 cm wide and 30 cm high, while the sink for rice and gabi production ranges from three to five meters wide and 30cm deep, and a deeper sink of about one meter wide and 1-1.5 meters deep can be constructed around the area for fish production.

With the technology, PhilRice highly encourages the integration of rice, vegetables, and fish. Corales said that, depending on the season the vegetables that can be grown with the Sorjan system include eggplant, pepper, tomatoes, upland kangkong, bush beans, cowpea, pechay, mustard, kale, lettuce, spinach, okra, corn, and herbs. The fish component may include catfish, gourami, or tilapia.The bunds can be planted with okra and bush or pole beans.

The Sorjan system also offers flexibility. Farmers may opt to plant vine vegetables like winged bean, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ridge gourd, or squash on trellises as an overhead feature right on top of the sink. As a diversified and integrated farming system, it ensures food security, as the farming family applying it will have varied sources of food.There’s rice for carbohydrates, fish for protein, and vegetables with high nutritional value.

The system ensures a more stable income for the family because of the regular cash flow from the diversified and high-value crops. “Literature cited that the Sorjan cropping system can generate an income up to 10 times higher than the income from rice with the same piece of land, which we are trying to prove,” Corales shared.

As rice production takes about four to five months, many rice farmers have little to no income while waiting for harvest—something Corales and his team acknowledge. This reinforces Sorjan’s potential to help farmers generate income from other crops while they wait for rice harvesting time.“With Sorjan, production can support the family’s daily food requirements and expenses. Thus, [farmers can put their income from] rice [aside] as savings or as capital for other income generating endeavors,” Corales said.

To maximize farm productivity and reduce production costs, non-marketable products such as vegetable discards or rejects, weeds, and other crop residues and biomass can be used as feeds for livestock, a substrate for mushroom, or for vermicomposting.

The system is continuously being developed at the Institute to identify the right combination of crops, and what crops can best adapt to this system. Nevertheless, the IRBAS team encourages local farmers to try Sorjan in their respective farms with an area as small as 1,000 square meters.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2016 issue.