Monday, July 30, 2012

Roundtable Discussion on Renewable Energy

While in Davao I was invited by Prof. Tess Olives to sit in the discussion between Mindanao renewable energy NGOs and local government. The discussion was sponsored by Ateneo Davao and organized by Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. To begin, the premise of the whole discussion was the new FIT and corresponding idea of SoFIT. I am not familiar with these new ordinances so will not discuss it, instead I have some thoughts on renewable energy in general and the the role of Mindanao.

Renewable energy is attractive to environmentalists because of the renewable nature of its sources - wind, ocean, hydro, solar, geothermal, and biofuels, but achieving environmental sustainability will depend on the goals set by the implementers and not solely on the use of its resources. Continuing with the present power industry's paradigm will not lead to sustainability even if the source of power is renewable. The most disturbing idea I heard is using hydro-power to power Mindanao. Apparently, Mindanao is rich in water resources and the complaint was that a national plan was underway to subsidise wind power which would leave Mindanao paying for a technology that didn't apply to their provinces, since wind is not strong enough in the region as it is for Luzon and the Visayas. A subsidy for renewable energy in general would be more beneficial so each region can use the resource most available in their particular areas. I would have to agree with this, not only for it's sound logic, but also for the diversity of technologies this would create. But harnessing water from Mindanao's rivers, which could only mean building mega-dams, would be environmentally disastrous and thus unsustainable. So why is it even being discussed? Obviously, each group had their own agendas in the discussion, not all were savvy in the world of environmental sustainability, and even those that were my not have the same sentiments.

In my opinion, if we are talking about environmental sustainability and climate change then the discussion must include, first and foremost, a plan to drastically reduce energy consumption and design policies around energy efficiency. This would necessarily begin with, or in conjunction with, urban planning. Creating policies solely on producing renewable energy technology to replace the present polluting technologies will eventually lead to the same fate we are trying to avoid. And we don't get a second chance this time. Changing the toys but not the game will do nothing to slow down climate change or help the country move towards sustainable development, if indeed this is the goal. In fact the goals of government and corporations may be simply to replace the present technology because in fact the resources these technologies depend on is fast running out. So on to the next available resource. But can we run out of air, water, and sunlight? It's not that simple. The question should be, would renewable energy projects create meaningful change in the issue of Climate Change? If the goal is environmental sustainability then one must consider the entire process of production and implementation to achieve goals of sustainability. Looking at only one part of the process and ignoring the rest will not lead us any closer to our goals. Let's take wind energy as an example, harnessing wind power to supply energy to businesses and households sounds environmentally benign, but if we take the construction of modern windmills into consideration we then see that it is no longer environmentally-friendly. Modern windmills are made of steel, which needs to be mined...you see where I'm going. A credit/debit accounting of the whole process is needed to show that the technology will lead to goals of sustainability. The NGOs present know the whys and hows of creating a sustainable energy future, but will government and corporations, who are new to the game, listen?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Natural Farming Training Seminar

A truly wonderful 4-day training on how to grow crops, fruit trees, and livestock without any chemical pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and hormones. More than that it teaches you how to enjoy farming,be self-reliant,respect life, and lead a healthy happy life. When I started this blog about 10 years ago this was the vision I had when I hired a consultant to turn my 2000 sqm property in Antipolo into an organic farm. Unfortunately, this person was unscrupulous and I had to give up the dream. I tried to do it on my own but my only resources were books on Permaculture and Organic Farming, all from a northern perspective. It was very difficult to apply to a tropical climate and looking for alternatives was even more daunting and time consuming. One would have to be educated in botany, entomology, soil science, ecology, etc, etc. Or at the very least have a degree in agriculture. I decided instead to pursue environmental studies and environmental conservation is the work I do now. In the process I have come back to farming in one of my foundation's projects. Conventional agriculture is one of the greatest foes of wildlife habitat and causes massive environmental degradation. It is also not very lucrative for the farm worker who stays poor and lives on a hand-to-mouth existence. Something has to be done to change this. Afterall, where would we be without farmers, or the environment for that matter? The farmer's status in society has gone way down since the Green Revolution. It's no longer a job anyone aspires to, but is undertaken out of necessity. Farm owners, on the other hand, are lucrative and wealthy. It has become a business like any other that has taken the processes of nature and the wellbeing of people out of the equation. Conventional farm owners, to put it simply, have only one thing in mind and that is to make a profit, which unfailingly leads to cutting corners. Thus, nutrition and flavor of the produce was placed on the wayside as well as kindness to living things, self-reliance, and pride in one's work. There is no virtue in conventional agriculture.

One thing to keep in mind, Natural Farming is not for the lazy. The 4-day training was intense. In the end I came out armed with the philosophical and practical knowledge I need to start farming the proper way. I went with two of my staff. Mario was with me from the beginning in Antipolo, a farmer from Negros who will come with me to Antique. Noriel works for me in CAPE Foundation, Inc. and will eventually be training other farmers. Natural Farming is different from organic farming in that it uses the Korean method of applying the principles of nature in controlling the outcome of one's produce. The use of indigenous microorganisms in making fertilizers and inducing growth is the main component of Korean Natural Farming, a method of farming developed in the 1960's by Cho Han-kyu. Today, this method of farming has centers in Japan, China,Thailand, Malaysia (center of NF in SEA), Philippines, Vietnam, and Mongolia. Now just imagine that this farming method has been in existence before the present widespread conventional agriculture that was initiated and touted as the Green Revolution by the USA. In fact, traditional farming in many parts of the world has been lost and replaced by the pervasive monoculture farming method which relies on buying farming inputs and depending on technology provided by these corporations. To earn a decent profit from it would need to be done on a large scale. The bigger the farm, the better. Because of the sheer size of conventional farms, having machinery is necessary, which means being reliant on fossil fuels. As a matter-of-fact, conventional farming is completely relient on fossil fuels. You can imagine how much capital you'd need to start a conventional farm. You would think that this would be a lucrative business because of its pervasiveness and the simple fact that you have a ready market. Yet, do you know of a rich farmer in the US or anywhere in the world? I haven't heard of a farmer making the Forbes 500. Yet, the corporations that sell farming inputs, farm machinery and farm produce litter the Fortune 500 list. In the Philippines, government seats are filled with agricultural landowners.

An alternative, or rather, going back to traditional methods of farming and ridding ourselves of the type of farming that is destructive to nature and our wellbeing is necessary if we are to achieve food security and environmental sustainability.

Mutants On Your Plate by Alan C. Robles
An article that explains the nature of GMO and its effects on health and the environment.

Why Are Filipino Hungry? by Ernesto N. Ordo├▒ez
A comprehensive look at the causes of hunger in the Philippines.

Inappropriate Antibiotic Use in the Philippines
A paper on the multiple effects of inappropriate use of antibiotics. The section of antibiotic use in agriculture and aquaculture is relevant to this post.


Antibiotic Sourced from Mushroom to Boost Livestock
An interesting paper on using Clitopilus passeckerianus in fermented juices.

How Sustainable is Organic Agriculture in the Philippines?

Philippine Organic Agriculture Information Network