GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

It was a fine day in a village inside a banana plantation when the serenity of the cold morning was broken by the hovering sound of a plane. Am I in a World War II movie? That was my first impression. A few moments passed, then I realized that it was just a plane for aerial spraying.

Despite the popular call to put an end to aerial spraying, multi-national companies continue to practice such bad agricultural activity in the name of profit. It is beyond debate that chemical based pesticides have an adverse effect to human health and also to the beneficial microorganisms within the area. I do not wish to enumerate cases of contamination and death from chemical-pesticide toxicity, nor to direct the discussion to empiricism.

The debate on aerial spraying is not just a question of health safety, but it is also a matter of principle in agriculture. In a broader sense, it is a question of sustainability.

There is a clear dichotomy when it comes to the issue of aerial spraying. For the MNCs and its various mouthpieces, they declare that aerial spraying is said to be the best cost-efficient way to manage diseases in vast agricultural lands or plantations. In order to appear legitimate, one-sided researches were published drawing make believe conclusions that it is safe, it is efficient, citing first world plantations as a standard and so on.

However, environmental advocates and cause oriented groups, ranging from toxicology experts, researches, farmers, to the common tao, say otherwise. As for me, I detest aerial spraying for many reasons.

Now let us be straight, the assertion that aerial spraying as a best practice to apply pesticides in banana plantations  can only be true if the sole parameter is the elementary formula that is area covered over time. But, in reality things aren’t like these.

A 2011 study from Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) Inc. to assess the costs and benefits if there will be a shift from aerial spray to manual in banana production provides that aerial spray as a method of pesticide application is not necessarily the efficient way. In smaller banana farms, manual spraying is said to be more efficient. Meanwhile, in larger plantations aerial spray would be relatively cost-effective that translates to be cheaper by 15 cents however, they noted that there are some “unaccounted costs” like the environmental hazards posed by aerial spray. In the context of sustainability, those unaccounted costs would likely to be of greater importance.

Assuming, but not conceding, to the economic importance of banana plantations when it comes to employment, manual spray can offer more job opportunities than aerial spray.

Another argument is that in many countries like the United States of America, aerial spray is widely used in plantations. This might hold true for first world countries. However, in third world countries where villages are being converted to plantations, with a very poor program of zoning and land utilization, it is inevitable that most of the households are within or between plantations. Using aerial spray in third world countries is utterly inhumane, because it’s tantamount to spraying toxic chemicals to our people.

I will not offer lengthy debate to those corporations that supports aerial spray. Instead, I will offer a challenge to the CEOs of these banana plantations and multi-national chemical companies to live in plantation communities in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley along with their families, their sons, daughters, their pregnant sisters.

Mono-cropping, chemical-based pesticides and plantations are the most backward form of agricultural development. It is an illusion, if not delusional, to claim that the increasing demand in food and agriculture can be addressed by expansion of plantations.

The 2013 trade review published by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) cited the failure of chemical-based agriculture. United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier de Schutter recommended the strengthening of agro-ecological and sustainable farming systems to address the food crisis.

comments powered by Disqus