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DA’s corn advocacy step to disaster

By Pet Melliza

(With pictures below)

Blurb: Farmers are still buried in debt as the profits from the destructive farming practice flowed into the pockets of capitalists, compradors, and dealers of agri-chem products

While warnings from the Mines and Geo-Science Bureau are up on the possibility of landslides in Iloilo, our very nice people at the Department of Agriculture (DA) are busy preaching the gospel of corn production that has turned farms into disasters-waiting-to-happen.

In fact, mudslides did occur in San Joaquin, Miag-ao, Igbaras and Leon towns, all in Iloilo, in the wake of the heavy and continuous rains in August with at least two persons dead. Authorities trace landslides, like earthquakes, on tectonic plate movement, and as well, on environmental degradation like deforestation that exposes the surface to erosion.

The DA’s program fits into the second factor as its agents pan the countryside preaching the gospel of corn production, with farmers in northern Iloilo comprising the biggest bulk of their converts. Corn farms blanket vast lands and are visible from the national road from Barotac Viejo to Estancia and Carles towns.

While we wish to clap our hands and sing hallellujahs to the miracle of blooming corn fields and hug DA corn technicians as consequence, we have second thoughts as we could readily see that the corn farms before us are disasters waiting to happen.

Seven years ago, the hills and slopes of such towns as Barotac Viejo, and farther north, Ajuy, Sara, Batad, Estancia, Balasan and Carles were blanketed with vegetation – fruit and timber trees, bamboo clumps and grasses. Today, much of that is gone. Farmers who converted to the faith preached by the DA, razed their bamboo clumps, forests and orchards using the modern day version of Agent Orange (Power 4-2-D-4 herbicide). Entire slopes, entire hills are shorn of vegetation and turned into corn farms. Agent Orange was the chemical used by American forces to defolate Vietnam’s jungles in the Vietnam War.

Iloilo’s corn output quadrupled the past five years which means, northern Iloilo farmers by now are supposed to enjoy the bonanza. However, they are still buried in debt as the profits from the destructive farming practice flowed into the pockets of capitalists, compradors, and dealers of agri-chem products.

Without their natural vegetation the land’s fertility decreases over time and after the average five years, the soil yields nothing unless one applies heavy dosage of chemical inputs. The old vegetation conserves water and its organic matter and roots bind the soil and protect it from erosion. Without that, as consequence of the miraculous crusade of turning forested hills into cornlands, the soil becomes loose and dry during summer and vulnerable to slides during rains.

In 1996 I wrote a column quoting Larry Locara (who later went into writing opinion pieces himself) that earned the ire of a representative of a giant beverage company. The man was touring Iloilo and visiting public officials convincing them that promoting coffee as a crop would profit farmers and the Iloilo provincial government. His scheme advocates “block farming” which, as the word suggests, planting coffee trees block by block.

Locara was quoted in my piece to have dismissed block farming as “mono-cropping in disguise”. He recalled that decades earlier, Ilonggo farmers made a major blunder in clearing their farms of growing crops including coffee, to give way to sugar cane. It was mono-cropping and proved disastrous as the local sugar industry crashed from the vagaries of the world market. By eliminating permanent crops like jackfruits, mangoes, bamboo and coconuts farmers who converted into sugarcane violated the ancient adage advising us to avoid putting all our eggs in a single basket. That’s what happening now as result of the DA advocacy for corn.

“If I have fruit bearing jackfruits and coconuts, must I cut them down so I can produce more coffee? Definitely not”, explained Locara. Iloilo was lucky, only a handful converted to the proselytization of the beverage company.

Multinationals producing corn sees, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and pesticides aggressively promote corn farming and are lucky to have the DA stacked with personnel thinking in the same wave length to the point provoking us to suspect that these government technicians parrot the lines of of the likes of Monsanto precisely because of the privileges, if not cash, accorded them by those giants.

“Corn congresses” from the provincial to the nationals level purportedly convened by the government are actually a trade exhibits of sort funded by giant producers and distributors of seeds and farm inputs and corn-based processed food.*

Once a a burgeoning belt of secondary growth forests. Slopes at the background are shorn of vegetation by Agent Orange so to give way to corn

The scenery may be beautiful but don’t get deceived.

Behind the coconut trunk is another scene of devastation. Another slope shorn of vegetation for the sake of corn. Already, silt are mounting on streams and small irrigation systems after the hills are rid of vegetation. This dry season, the land will be scorched dry again. Natural water harvesters that trees and bushes are, having been eliminated, the surface of the slopes dry up fast.

The quick-buck fix and the Department of Agriculture’s knack to work as sales agent for the likes of Monsanto USA have proven to be lethal combination in turning once lush hillsides of northern Iloilo into disasters-waiting-to happen.

The panoramic view of the landscape might be good for the cash register of a few but may spell disaster in the long haul if the trend of shearing slopes and mountain sides of vegetation continued


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