Lava is President of Philippines for Natural Farming, Inc. ( Email email@example.com). This piece was published in the March 12, 2012 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.
Ever since humans first domesticated some plants and animals some 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, food was produced using only Nature’s processes. Our ancestors’ irrigation, crop rotation, fertilization, and pest control were all based on natural processes.
This changed about 70 years ago when two substances produced in enormous quantities for the war effort moved from being war materiel to agricultural inputs. Ammonium nitrate, used for making explosives, became a cheap source of Nitrogen for plants, and DDT, which was used to control mosquitoes and other insects around the troops, came into widespread use as a pesticide.
The Green Revolution started in Mexico in the 1940’s through the efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation with the help of agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug. In the 1940s, US foundations and policymakers concerned about population growth and hunger in Mexico, sent Borlaug and other agricultural experts south to see if they could help Mexican farmers increase food production.
They succeeded in creating an attractive development model: Take some hybrid seeds, apply chemical fertilizers, add irrigation, herbicides, and pesticides, get more food. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was established by the Philippine Government and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in 1960 and in two decades of the Green Revolution, Philippine rice production more than doubled from 3.7 million tons/year to 7.7 million tons/year, allowing the country to export rice for the first time in the century. Fast forward to 2010 when we held the distinction of being the world’s largest rice importer.
A host of factors, including limited arable land, an expanding population, and poor infrastructure have been cited as the causes of our rice imports. We also have a law, R.A. 6716, that mandates the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to construct water catchment facilities (for irrigation) in every barangay. Is that being done?
The steady increase in costs of fossil fuel-based manufactured agricultural inputs also presses the small Filipino farmer to borrow more and more money to purchase these farm inputs. This is aggravated by the farmer’s need to use more inputs just to produce the same harvest. As crude oil becomes harder to find and extract, these inputs will become increasingly expensive, with corresponding results on food prices, among others.
In 2008, the CEO of Shell, Jeroen van der Veer, said, “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.” A 2009 report by Australia’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), opined, “The outlook under a base case scenario is for a long decline in oil production to begin in 2017, which will stretch to the end of the century and beyond.”
Then we have the impacts of climate change on our crops, causing widespread crop damage and sinking the small farmer deeper into debt. No wonder our farmers are leaving the land and moving to our cities.
On climate change, the UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) is on the record as saying, “Using a methodology that considers the entire commodity chain, it estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport.”
The UK-based Institute of Science in Society has said that, “The total mitigating potential of organic sustainable food systems is 29.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 16.5 percent of energy use, the largest components coming from carbon sequestration and reduced transport from re-localizing food systems.”
But can organic agriculture feed us? In a report submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter said, “Jules Pretty et al. compared the impacts of 286 recent sustainable agriculture projects in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (3 per cent of the cultivated area in developing countries). They found that such interventions increased productivity on 12.6 million farms, with an average crop increase of 79 per cent, while improving the supply of critical environmental services.”
Eating organically grown food is healthy. From Dr. Virginia Worthington: “An independent review of the evidence found that organic crops had significantly higher levels of all 21 nutrients analyzed compared with conventional produce including vitamin C (27% more), magnesium (29% more), iron (21% more) and phosphorous (14% more). Organic spinach, lettuce, cabbage, and potatoes showed particularly high levels of minerals.”
On the other hand, studies have shown that women with breast cancer are five to nine times more likely to have pesticide residues in their blood than those who do not, and those with occupational exposure to pesticides have higher rates of cancer.
A Department of Health (DOH) Administrative Order No. 88-A s.1984, shows a long list of allowed chemical food additives. The US Center for Science in the Public Interest likewise has a long list of questionable and unsafe additives. Is anyone reviewing the safety of the additives we eat on the DOH list?
Chemical farming also produces a lengthy list of environmental problems like the loss of biodiversity, water pollution, desertification, accelerated soil erosion rates, and the alteration of the biology of seas, waterways, and lakes. If we go on with business-as-usual what will we leave for future generations?
It’s a no-brainer. Let’s go organic NOW, it’s better for us and our planet.