Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sustainable agriculture more important than ever

During the 1980s I spent four years at the New Alchemy Institute where I was able to experience first-hand the power of sustainable agricultural systems based on organic agriculture. A combination of raised beds, companion planting, mulching and plant rotations produced impressive yields by anyone's standards. The annual vegetable needs of thirteen people were met from a tenth of an acre of land (assuming various means of storage) without the use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Our colleagues at Rodale, the The Land Institute and other independent research organizations produced similar results validating non-chemical approaches to food production.

Commenting on the first post- Earth Day oil embargo in 1973 Bucky Fuller observed that there was no crisis of energy, only one of ignorance. Our ignorance stemmed from a general lack of awareness (or acknowledgment) of our options -- especially conservation and renewable energy technologies. Let's hope we don't lapse into a similar crisis of ignorance with respect to food. None of us can afford that.

One thing's for sure: the twin forces of climate change and urban development combined with questionable energy policies and land use strategies are placing tremendous pressures on food systems around the world. (GW)

Organic rice offers long-term solution to rice crisis

Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 5, 2008

MANILA, Philippines—At a farm in Midsayap, North Cotabato, Jessie Jimena is tending to this season’s harvest. He expects a bountiful yield.

Jimena is a seasoned practitioner of organic agriculture, particularly a strict regimen of agricultural practices dubbed as Biodynamic Agriculture by its proponent, the Don Bosco Foundation for Sustainable Development Inc. (DBFSDI).

Jimena’s abundant yield is being replicated in many other farms assisted by DBFSDI. “The farmer-partners of Don Bosco Foundation now enjoy increased productivity of their rice land,” boasts Maria Helenita Ruizo-Gamela, DBFSDI president.

This was not always the case.

Years of application of Green Revolution technology, which is heavily dependent on chemical inputs, “increased soil pH level, annihilated beneficial microorganisms which produce natural enzymes and antibiotics for disease resistance, decreased soil aeration, eroded soil, and diminished organic matter, micro and macro-nutrients, among other harmful effects, rendering the soil resource base imbalanced, if not downright dead,” recounts Ruizo-Gamela.

DBFSDI turned the situation around with its committed advocacy and teaching of organic farming practices.

“The farmers’ dead soil was rejuvenated by a range of methods, none of which used a single drop of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Soil pH is slowly decreasing, water holding capacity has improved, Cation Exchange Capacity increased along with organic matter, micro and macronutrients.

“A healthy soil base is creating agro-ecosystem health and balance above the soil. Our rice crops are more resilient and resistant to drought and require less water,” she says.

Ruizo-Gamela reports that the organic rice of DBFSDI is yielding more than hybrid varieties. “Our highest yield was 125 bags from one hectare of irrigated rice at an average weight of 65 kilograms, or more than eight tons from one hectare.” The average yield of hybrid rice is six to 6.5 tons per hectare, according to a 2002 report by the Bureau of Agricultural Research.

Despite the documented success of organic farming, Ruizo-Gamela laments that government has been slow to support such efforts, preferring instead to fund the propagation of hybrid rice. The apparent rice shortage besetting the country seems to prove the myopia and error of the government’s strategy.

In response to the country’s rice situation, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Arthur Yap asked Filipinos to reduce rice wastage.

“The solution is not without merit, but it is short-term and stands as a dwarf against a gigantic problem,” remarked Jerry Pacturan, executive director of the Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP), a supporter of organic agriculture with a partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to develop the industries of organic rice and sugar.

“PDAP’s efforts on organic rice through its partners like the Don Bosco Foundation offer a more strategic, long-term, and holistic approach to the country’s rice situation,” Pacturan added.

Ruizo-Gamela cites as factors leading to the rice shortage the increasing population of rice eaters, decreasing land area devoted to rice production, and decreasing productivity of croplands devoted to rice.

“If these are the culprits for the rice shortage, then the reduction of rice wastage is a superficial solution,” she opines.

According to Ruizo-Gamela, a long-term solution requires addressing the three major reasons mentioned. “Much success can be achieved in a short time by addressing the productivity of rice lands, and this is where organic farming comes in,” she explains.

“We need to rehabilitate the soil resource base and this can be done only through sustainable organic agriculture,” she proffers.

Ruizo-Gamela hopes that DBFSDI’s success with organic rice will convince government to rethink its policies. “Organic agriculture should be supported with research and development on methods and technologies, rice seeds adaptability, pest and disease resistance, resilience, and systems yield potential. In the same way that hybrid and genetically engineered seeds are supported by the government through subsidies, organic agriculture, especially rice production, should enjoy the same if not more support from the State.”

“Sustainable organic and biodynamic agriculture may be our last chance, not only for the country but for our planet,” she concludes.

FARMERS MARCH TO AGRI DEPT. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) marches to the National Food Authority (NFA)-NCR Warehouse in Visayas Avenue on Friday in response to the Department of Agriculture's National Food Summit also today. Farmers are demanding removal of the rice cartel, stabilization of rice prices, and approval of House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill. Video taken by INQUIRER.net multimedia editorial assistant Abigail Kwok


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