DETOXIFYING THE GREEN REVOLUTION
PCDForum Column #34, Release Date May 1, 1992
by Nicanor Perlas
Everyone knows that to feed its growing population the world must rely on the chemical intensive agricultural technologies of the Green Revolution. Everyone, that is, except the growing number of farmers who are outperforming their chemical dependent neighbors using methods that work with, rather than against, natural ecological forces. Their commercial scale success is beginning to win over even resistent skeptics.
The staging center for the original green revolution was the Philippine based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Its hybrid rice varieties produced record yields in response to intensive inputs of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation. International institutions such as the World Bank mobilized massive funding to encourage wide-spread monoculture of these varieties.
IRRI produced its first "miracle" rice variety in the 1960s. By 1973 the majority of Philippine farmers were already using the new seeds, but their harvests of 1.7 tons per hectare were well below IRRI yields because fertilizer and other inputs were not up to recommended levels. Suffering a serious rice deficit, the Philippine government launched Masagana 99, a program intended to raise rice yields to 99 cavans per hectare (nearly 5 tons) by significantly increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Lorenzo Jose, a small rice farmer in Pampanga Province, became one of the government's early green revolution heroes by producing a yield of over 8 tons of paddy rice per hectare on his 1.6 hectare plot. Yet less than ten years latter, Mr. Jose found his soil so depleted that he had to apply four times more chemical fertilizer to maintain his earlier yields. His soil had also became hard, sticky and difficult to plow. To control infestations of increasingly chemical resistent insects he had to continually increase insecticide applications. Wild fishes and snails, important protein sources, began to disappear. Returns no longer covered costs and his debts mounted. He was more prone to illness. His skin was itchy and wounds healed slowly.
Farmers from the Abra River Irrigators' Association, who had "green revolution" experiences similar to Mr. Jose's, went with representatives of a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Abra River Irrigation Project, to ask the government's Department of Agriculture (DA) for help in shifting to organic farming methods. Meeting a hostile reception they turned to the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives (CADI), an NGO promoting ecological agriculture, and Ikapati Farms and Company, CADI's for-profit affiliate that operates several farms throughout the Philippines. Ikapati demonstrates the commercial viability of bio-dynamic farming using high yielding seeds combined with natural pest control and preparations and practices that enhance the fertility of the soil, maintain nitrogen levels, promote the balanced breakdown of composts, and stimulate the activity of photosynthesis and other beneficial physiological reactions.
Working with Ikapati and CADI, the Abra farmers chose the methods they wanted to try and worked out plans for commercial scale trials on their farms. DA technicians stopped by regularly during the trials to ridicule the farmers until the rice plants began to grow green, vigorous and aromatic, yielding bountiful quantities of golden grain. Though the farmers used not a drop of pesticide, their fields were kept virtually free of harmful pests by beneficial insects, such as wolf spiders.
In the first year of large-scale experimentation, one farmer who used the full spectrum of Ikapati technology harvested 6.5 tons per hectare, three times the provincial average. One third of participants had yields that exceeded the Masagana 99 target and well over twice the provincial average. Nearly all had yields in excess of the average for chemical farmers. The enhanced flavor and aroma of the bio-dynamically grown rice brought premium prices, while input costs per ton were substantially lower, resulting in net profits in some instances more than two and a half times those of typical chemical farmers.
The farmers' final triumph came the day that DA technicians erected a big placard in front of one of their fields proudly announcing "Bio-Dynamic Rice" in luminous DA colors and the DA initiated a program to promote the methods in other regions.
These farmers demonstrated that it is possible to shift immediately from chemical to bio-dynamic methods on a commercial scale while increasing yields and profits. Contrary to prevailing myth, it is the continued reliance on chemical-intensive agriculture that threatens the food security of a growing world population. Fortunately, small farmers and NGOs around the world are now leading the way toward detoxifying the green revolution.
Nicanor Perlas is president of the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives (110 Scout Rallos, Quezon City, Philippines), general manager of Ikapati Farms and Company and a contributing editor of the People-Centered Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on a case study Perlas co-authored with Mos Viado and Mary Josephine Cagurangan.