Plant recommendations in steep, very poor soil in the Philippines

I am a missionary on Occidental Mindoro, Philippines working with indigenous tribes. I have 6 schools and we have been very successful with Chaya. Now, I have a new school in a very rough, steep terrain with very leached, rocky soil. We experience heavy rains in rainy season and a very dry 4 to 6 months each year. Does anyone have suggestions for plants that will help alleviate the “hunger season?” Thanks, Jim


@Keith_Mikkelson do you have any suggestions for Jim?

I feel like chaya would still be successful as it is pretty drought-tolerant.
Are there local dry pulses already consumed readily?

HI Stacy, Thanks for responding to my plea. Yes, Chaya is top of my priority. Yes, those natives, who still have tillable land, do plant mung beans and consume them instantly. The majority of our natives have lost their land to the “lowlanders” and therefore they are in the rough, hilly, treeless terrain.
We will be planting some Jack Fruit trees and trying a few other bushes and trees to try to expand their food supply. I will try also Loquat in a few lower areas. Please feel free to make any other suggestions. Please note that my main objective is education, as I have 340 students in 5 remote villages. However, my students are frequently without any food in their houses and therefore suffer and learning languishes. God bless, Jim

Hi Jim my main question is, does your vision include complete ecosystem service regeneration ? Food production is obviously one need and I see many suggestions already here, and soil building is integral to that, so soil building plants and strategies need to be considered equally important. You may also be needing tough, fast-growing, ground-covering, pioneer-type plants. I suspect many candidaes will already be found growing as “weeds” on the degraded sites. They may include nitrogen-fixing plants, but increase in biomass production of anything will help. Re-biodiversification is also a parallel need, so allowing a spectrum of plants to re-establish is easiest, but planting them is the next level of intervention. There are many approaches and methods for soil and biodiversity (re-)building across the biological and mechanical spectrums. Good luck!

Here is the ECHOcommunity collection on Farming on a Slope, including some mention of the Philippines…

We always welcome those who have experience or additional resources to share with the network.

Hi ECHO Friends SSnyder, Chris , Robert and Stacy,

I really appreciate your kind responses and suggestions. I am dealing with totally illiterate tribes steeped in animism, and centuries of discrimination. We conduct elementary schools in remote villages, but bring our high school students into a boarding campus, where we do have a garden. Frequently, the elementary students come to school hungry.
I definitely will plant Chaya and I have found a limited supply of wild Kadyos seeds. Here on this end of Occidental Mindoro, I have not found that they are consumed, but we will plant.
SALT is definitely on the table, but it seems to be very labor intensive on rocky 40 degree slopes. It seems that it would be similar to the Rice Terraces of Northern Luzon, Philippines. Perhaps someone who actually has created a SALT project can please inform me.
For faster results, would anyone recommend " Raised Garden Beds"? On a limited basis, that is something I could get the students involved in to give them the training of planning ahead, caring for and reaping the rewards.
I saw a mention of " Bio-diversity". I am ignorant, but willing to learn.
Thank all again for reaching out to help!
God bless, Jim

People don’t eat it here, we stopped growing it…

Hi Brother Mikkelson, Why do the people not eat it? Taste, adequate other food, difficulty of growing, etc? Thanks, Jim

You would likely need the least labor intensive form of SaLT. Alley cropping actually came from the Philippines originally. It is likely the least labor intensive form of terracing and holding the soil. To “sweeten the deal” you will want to include fruit and chaya as an overstory with grasses and perennial herbaceous and tree legume trees as understory which together will hold the soil. The grass you can cut back as mulch or organic matter and also make divisions to spread it to expand the terraces. I would recommend that you do not compost but instead use it all as mulch and use the legume tree cuttings and leaves along with any other material in your planting holes. Human urine is very important as an additive to these planting holes and then all left over (you should gather large quantities) to the legume trees and grasses on the upper side which will convert it to organic matter. If there is a cultural stigma to using urine then just add the urine to the planting hole with the organic matter one or two months in advance onto the top of the organic matter. You can bury branch prunings to form ridges in between parallel to the terraces for extra erosion control and to slow down water and put the smaller prunings in the planting holes. You can also place prunings in back of the hedgerow to help capture soil. You can extend further into the dry season by growing crops under some partial shade and the best shade is the east side of a tree where you get morning sun and afternoon shade. You prune or shape your trees to admit the correct amount of light. Chaya mainly only gives you vitamins and some proteins but not particularly high in carbs so you will need some carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, yams which can be planted in holes which wlll capture water and errosion and move the soil downhill to the terrace line. Trees should be planted deep into deep holes as well but at the beginning of the rainy season. I sometimes put some light grass on the trees and other crops if they are not too large when planted for shade which helps in survivability. Over time you will develop some soil behind the terrace or hedgerow edge and then if you put a ditch in where the new soil is accumulated and you destroy the soil structure of ditch by using that for your walking area and are particularly rough on it (tromping) just after raining it will puddle the water there and you will have a little pond-like effect and more water will infiltrate over time and maybe even serve for some irrigation. You can plant drought tolerant plants such as small tomatoes and eggplant of the more wild types, ground cherry, okra, butternut squash, Tatume squash (said to be the most drought tolerant) and then you have for extending further into the dry season as relay crops tepary beans, fonio or other millets, cowpeas. Fruit could be pomegranate which is drought tolerant and you can check to see if drought tolerant nuts are adapted there and have a market. Ground nuts are possible which are very drought tolerant as a regular crop or relay. What elevation are you at? I am attaching some materials for your use. I have some files that might be useful. to request. One is an alley cropping paper written over 30 years ago and then one on urine use, one on best management practices and one on new agroforestry techniques for high value cropping, and one on living fences that you can find on ECHO community if you google it. I highly recommend the new agroforestry techniques since they are illustrated and not available on the web and show you how to provide optimal shade for morning sun and afternoon shade and also rainy season sun switching to dry season shade instantaneously without pruning. These are a combination of orchard tree training “hacks”/tricks and ancient long forgotten techniques such as hedge laying with more applicability and you will learn how to provide living trellises which will support vining crops.

The reason for not teaching composting in the traditional method is that you are just putting on an extra labor burden. Between mulching and putting organic material in the planting hole at any stage of decomposition is enough labor and with human urine no compost turning is needed. It really is a “tough sell” if you are expecting adoption diffusion. It is going to be hard enough getting people to plant the hedgerows and so any shortcuts are great such as just putting partly or non-composted material in the planting hole. It is lighter to move around that way and the urine oversupplies the nitrogen needed for the plants and microbes breaking down the OM.

Dear Brother Dan and the ECHO community,

I greatly appreciate your selfless attempts to help me help our natives. I think it is time to explain a little about me and our missionary efforts here in Occidental Mindoro, Philippines. For the past 25 years, I have worked with 100 percent illiterate natives, who have been discriminated against for centuries. They are deeply conditioned with spiritism and due to an influx of “Lowlanders” have almost no arable land . They have become indentured servants to the “lowlanders.” We have 5 elementary schools and 1 senior high school for these natives, with 340 students.The elementary schools are in scattered remote villages and the boarding high school is here at our headquarters. At the high school we have a garden which supplies 90% of our food needs. Though I have been a gardener most of my life, I feel like a real novice as in your kind suggestions you use words like: overstory, understory, tree legume trees, ground nuts (Peanuts ?),Tatume squash, Teary beans, adoption diffusion, etc. I must confess total ignorance with these terms. I am willing to research, Any suggestions to where to start? Are the seeds for the plants you mentioned available from ECHO?

In the newest village, I just have persuaded the families to build an outdoor bathroom as a requirement to be able to have their children enter school.
I do not believe I will have a big challenge having them collect the urine for planting. We are 2 months away from the start of rainy season. What size holes do you recommend they dig and fill with grasses in preparation for planting at the beginning of rainy season?

Your patience and willingness to help is greatly appreciated!

God bless, Jim Abdoulie Touray working with Agency for Village Support in the Gambia in wet land conversation

No interest in boiling/cooking because native choices abound! I eat much wild purselane and no one is interested! Adoption / infusion is tough in a ever growing TicToc attention span…Here’s a draft of an example in my foraging field guide on wild vegetables, i might add Chaya:
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