Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stop Global Warming, Support Global Worming

I haven’t met a single Filipino that doesn’t believe in global warming. I haven’t met a single Filipino that doesn’t believe that human activity is directly responsible for aspects of this climate change. This is not a phenomenon limited to highly educated areas of the Philippines where folks have an intellectual grasp on the concept. In fact, this knowledge is most prominent in rural, agricultural communities.

How can it be that such communities have a handle on this difficult concept while so many of my highly educated countrymen are still struggling to embrace its reality? The answer is simple. Here is where you find the people whose lands and lives are being directly and adversely affected by environmental changes. While in the states, it is quite possible to remain insulated from the consequences of our actions and lifestyles. These farmers know their land intimately and can chronicle its changes, sometimes over generations. They will be the first to detail the negative effects of environmental changes on their lands and their lives.

This knowledge and hardship is prominently absent from the Western narrative. Winters are a little colder than when we were kids? No problem, just bump up the thermostat. Less rain in rural areas, no problem, just buy your produce from massive grocery chains. Hit by increasing natural disaster? No problem, there’s insurance and government programs for that.

Take a moment to consider the same, seemingly small inconveniences on the lives of agricultural people. The difference of a few degrees can have a larger impact on the yield of crops. This has a direct affect on a person’s ability to feed themselves and their families. Less water than before? Many people don’t have access to community water systems and rely on natural water sources. These sources are far more sensitive to the difference of a couple inches per year. In one community here in Kalinga, the lack of rain reduced the water table to a record low. It was so low that the recently installed pump system was unable to function and the whole community lost access to running, potable water in their homes. Once again, it is the economically unprivileged people who are forced to carry the burden of the world’s rapid development while enjoying far fewer of the benefits.

One social progression, that I will not go so far as to label a benefit, for Filipino agriculture is a rapidly growing interest in, and government support of, natural farming systems.

Let’s begin by taking a look at one simple practice, vermicomposting. Vermi refers to worms, in this particular case to African Night Crawlers. When these worms consume animal and plant waste, they release larger amounts of Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus into the soil. In case, you don’t know, these are naturally occurring in soil and are key nutrients to plant life. Chemically manufactured versions of these compounds are ingredients in most major fertilizers. Vermicompost, unlike commercial fertilizer, breaks down these elements so that plants can actually metabolize them. This means a smaller amount is more effective and since it isn’t just dumping massive amounts, you avoid nasty fallout such as Nitrogen burn. The worms also excrete mucus that prevents these beneficial elements in the soil from being washed away during irrigation or rainfall. This means that the healthy elements of the soil before fertilization won’t be lost either. Further, since vermicomposting is done with a combination of animal dung and plant matter, the mixture is rich in indigenous microorganisms that make the soil fertile. These organisms are killed by the application of commercial fertilizer. This leaves soil that can’t feed plant. This means commercial fertilizers must be applied every cropping to feed the plants. The idea behind vermicomposting is to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant.

The E-CARE Foundation in EDNL is currently establishing a commercial scale vermicomposting business in Santa Clara, Gonzaga, Cagayan. As vermicomposting requires additional work, the hope is to provide easy access to organic fertilizers to encourage natural farming practices. This is the next step after several years of advocating the production of vermicompost at the household level.

 The compost’s benefit is well demonstrated in conjunction with S.R.I (systems of rice intensification) a natural farming practice for the growing of the Philippine’s staple crop. The people of Gonzaga are currently engaged in corn farming. This requires an incredibly high input of expensive chemical fertilizers. E-Care is partnering with community members to encourage organic corn farming using vermicompost. This corn could then be turned into organic hog feed and drive the production of organic meat in the area.

These experiments in natural farming systems are commendable and require a good deal of risk for the farmer. There are many factors in crop yield and the right balance may take many croppings to discover. In addition, in areas of high chemical fertilizer use, it can take several croppings for the soil to recover. These factors have an immediate and unmitigated impact on the farmer. In spite of this, many farmers have seen the trend of negative environmental impact and are willing to take the short-term risk for the long-term benefits. Is it fair that they should carry this burden? Perhaps not, but I for one am extremely grateful for the hard work and conviction of all organic farmers. But a special “Thanks” goes out to all Filipino organic practitioners who are taking real risks without promise of immediate payoff so that current and future generations can benefit from their knowledge, experience, and positive environmental impact.
National Office staff inspect Santa Clara vermi bins made from concrete blocks and shaded by palm fronds. On top are Banana trunks for food.

Men chopping Banana trunks to feed the vermi to increase potassium content. The worms are fed manure and greens for three weeks to a month and then the compost can be harvested.

Carabao in a partner community. These guys provide manure for the vermi bins. Manure from grass eating animals such as carabao, cows, and goats yield the best results though chicken and pig are also common.
Cows at Santa Clara vermi site. E-Care hopes to promote cattle raising as a livelihood project in the area to provide income and manure for the vermi bins.
Inspecting possible sites for household vermi bins. Bins must be shaded to prevent worms from overheating and concreted on the bottom to prevent worms burrowing and escaping the bin in search of food.

Worms hatch every three weeks and are harvested and sold to prevent overpopulation of bins and create additional income at around 20 USD per kilo. Pictured above is around 6 kilos.

Vermi cooler keeps the worms at the proper temperature and reduces shock when traveling.
In large scale operations, the finished compost is passed through screens to separate worms that are then returned to the bins. The same process is done by hand in smaller operations.
E-Care staff's S.R.I. organic rice farm in Isabela that uses vermicomposting. This field is on it's third cropping as an organic farm.
Women mix together organic rice bran and fermented nutrients to produce organic hog feed at an E-Care training.
One prize hog. This bad boy is organically raised by a partner community in Isabela.
Fr. Edward and Project Officer Jocel commune with the worms at this very large scale vermi operation. Both are working to promote vermiculture in their communities.

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