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Where Has All Our Food Gone?

Insights on Organic Agriculture, People’s Participation and Mitigating Vulnerabilities to Disaster

Joshua B. Guinto, MSc MAKS

In Search of a New Context of Organic Agriculture

Practitioners can now celebrate its earlier advocacies that organic agriculture is sustainable. With the changing climate, organic farms have proven to be more resilient towards erratic weather patterns. Diversity, as among its core features allows farmers to generate sustained income from several farm enterprises. Compared to a monocrop farm, a highly diverse farm would always have alternative enterprises whenever one crop fails. Having a far richer soil and stable genetic materials, organic farms can survive in climates of abnormally hot or wet conditions.

Organic Agriculture and Vulnerabilities to Disasters. Organic agriculture promises wellness. My impression is that after the jubilation, practitioners have to face the challenge of enabling the poor families overcome malnutrition, reduce vulnerabilities to natural calamities and attain social justice. During every event of calamities, families flee to the evacuation center for shelter. The most popular forms of food aid are rice, noodles and sardines. And during those days, they subsist on whatever food aid the donors have to give. Long after the calamity has struck, the same families would still endure the lack of food and experience poor nutrition. Local government units, after assessment of the initial damage, have the power to declare a state of calamity of their area of jurisdiction. And so calamity funds would be unfrozen and food aid would be purchased.

Women and children are even more threatened. Women who are more likely to be concerned with the family’s daily sustenance have less participation about how the farms are designed. My impression is that it would always be the men who decide the crops and farm animals to produce, again who might be acting upon the prevailing market prices.

How far has organic agriculture responded to this growing crisis? And all the while, where has all our food gone? Or have our harvest from organic farms simply ended up to the warehouses of those who can afford the higher market price? What other mechanisms can be triggered other than the prevailing market price?

I offer new sets of perspectives in evaluating the context by which organic farm enterprises are formed. I would like to discover and trigger mechanisms such as health and nutrition and food security in seasons of natural hazards. I would also like to activate mechanisms of access to unexplored local resources as inputs to production. I would also like to stimulate the participation of the vulnerable sectors in the society in the design or organic farms and the design of the trading systems. With more participation, I believe that organic farms can better promote equity right at the level of the farming community. Finally I offer several disciplines as tools for the design and creation of organic farms

Healthy Soil and People’s Participation. We are what we eat. A healthy soil would produce healthy crops and animals. Poor families suffering from malnutrition may be able to correct their nutrient deficiencies with the same compost that they create. I believe that compost can be custom-made to suit a particular health need of a particular family or a group of people. It therefore speaks about the participation of several practitioners to create a suitable farm design. For this concern, health workers, particularly nutritionists and soil scientists should come together in the diagnosis of the nutritional needs and the soil health of the community. With good understanding, families could create their own formulation.

This approach could go much farther than creating compost from the simple and easy mix of rice straws, carabao manure and soil microorganisms. In the province of Camarines Norte, there is abundant but neglected resources for organic farming beginning from fish entrails to diatomaceous earth. Between 2002 and 2004, I have been working to produce highly nutritious composts with the belief that it should come as a complete collection of macro and micro elements in a well balanced formulation and to a farther extent a customized formulation.

With this belief and with my limited capacity, I was making compost from every available ingredient within the province. And there is a lot. Camarines Norte has a highly diverse set of ecosystem from the upland forests to the coastlines. There are mines of diatomaceous earth at the upland communities of Basud, fruits and vegetables animal entrails at the public market and slaughter houses, chicken feathers at the cockpit arenas, shells and sea grasses at the coastlines.

Taken diligently, rehabilitating poor soils would lead to broader people’s participation. Each natural resource has a set of ownership and access, thus could promote highly active participation from every community. To illustrate, whenever I need and can, I would haul sea grasses at Bagasbas Beach. During the fall off season, the sea grasses lying on the beach are so abundant that I could only haul less than ten percent of what is available. With this, the families at the coastal communities could easily create livelihood enterprise by simply mixing the seagrasses with carbonized rice hull and store them in a safe dry depot and anticipate trading them off. The sea grasses will have to be mixed with carbonized rice hull to prevent it from coagulating and spoiling.

New Trade Routes. This also defines new trade routes of new materials. Farmers living near the rice mills may produce carbonized rice hulls in exchange for the seagrass from the beach. Going further, villages at the upland communities of Camarines Norte have a problem of clay soils and the deficiencies of minerals. This may be corrected with a trading arrangement between clay (and in the case of San Pascual-Caayunan areas, diatomaceous earth), carbonized rice hulls and seaweeds. Going even further, cleaners at the public market may also have their piece of participation. There is so much fish entrails at the wet section of the public market which are excellent composting material. With the right compost pre-mix and hauling system, this rich resource would boost the nutrient content of the compost. The list of possibilities can go on towards coconut husks, chicken feathers, human hair, animal entrails at the abattoir, and so forth.

Organic farming will then be a whole movement of traders of inputs to production who are, at the same time, the market for the organic products and who are at the same time the people who are vulnerable to malnutrition because of poverty. Imagine the seagrass processors who would willingly trade for organic rice and vegetables in exchange for the seagrass-CRH mix; or trade the seagrass mix with clay to they may be able to make clay pots for their cook stoves and for their container gardens.

Some Disciplines as Tools

With the preceding scenarios, there are critical tools and instruments needed to come into play. I am offering several disciplines to which I am a student, namely, permaculture, appropriate technology and technography.

Permaculture is a design concept of creating sustainable habitats beginning from the house to the wildlife. The exciting features of this discipline is enabling a practitioner create designs that enables every element support one another and thereby preserving the energies in the system and multiplying them through time. More than production for the external market but a design system for

Appropriate Technology. My reference to appropriate technology is the design of tools and instruments that would aid food production. I would like to work with water systems such as hydraulic ram pumps, rain water harvesting. There are also novel designs of driers, dehydrators, stoves and food processors such as threshers and mills which would enable communities preserve their food as flours, dried grains, pellets, flakes and keep them in sealed containers or in silos. With the enough food saved in the community, the families will be able to engage on two fronts. First is being able to nourish themselves in lean seasons and during disasters. Second, they will be able to engage in better trading arrangements as soon as the lean months are over with their harvests now with higher added value.

Technology. Organic agriculture should be seen not only in agro-technological terms but as a domain within a bigger context of a particular unit in society. It should be seen as people with different sets of ever changing conflicting interests and stakes. It is a domain where human welfare can change and social justice can be attained. Technography wants to understand the human being behind every technology, one that is within a bigger context in the society and who is driven by the forces of commerce, culture and politics. It helps us see how and why organic farms are designed and how it may serve a particular agenda.

These would be my contribution to PRRM. These are my collection of insights and practical skills during the past engagements in development work. On top of these all, still, I am a very willing student and maintain the zeal to learn from practitioners of PRRM and their farmer-cooperators. I look forward to an episode of an active sharing of knowledge and skills, of discoveries where has all our food gone and finally, of inspirations of being reconnected to the earth and the people.

*Mr. Jed Guinto is Consultant of Alternative Sustainable Technologies of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM).

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