By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper
Rains drenched Iloilo last March 30, 2012, ironically, the period we considered as the onset of the dry and hot season.
Rice farmers might welcome the rains but other sectors in agriculture, even non-farmers, might have different reaction. The mango farmers of southern and central Iloilo and Guimaras, and producers of melons and dry-season vegetables, it need not be said, are unhappy seeing their crops perish and their mango blooms or maturing fruits spoiled from too much water.
In San Dionisio town in northern Iloilo, slopes slid down in five barangays, proving my earlier critique that the town’s agricultural program was a “disaster-waiting-to-happen”. The five barangays had one common denominator: all had been visited by the bagpiper and all followed it (bagpiper) step by step, first, shearing entire hills and slopes of vegetation with the use of the milder version of Agent Orange, the chemical sprayed by the US military in Vietnam to defoliate its jungles, and second, plant hybrid corn on the clearings.
The bagpiper succeeded in luring farmers in wiping out their bamboo clumps, jackfruits, madre de cacao, mahogany, mangoes, ipil-ipil, and what-not, and replacing them with input-hungry hybrid corn.
The “bagpiper” if we recalled the tale of our ancients, once saved a village from pestilence of rats by simply playing his bagpipe that belted out the sound that attracted hordes of rats that followed him to the river bank where they jumped to their deaths in the roaring currents of a river. The story did not end that way, though, because, angered by the community, he blew his instrument again that churned music, this time attracting all the kids who followed him and disappeared like rats.
The micro-ecology of San Dionisio town was exposed to environmental risks because of the bagpipers taking the form of the Department of Agriculture’s men and women aggressively campaigning for, better still, because of the bagpipers’s loyalty to, transnational giants like Monsanto which sell corn seeds and chemical inputs.
Agriculture officials have become, witting or otherwise, sales agents for transnational companies and in the process, undermine the purpose for which their office has been created: ensuring food security.
Only a handful benefit from the bumper corn harvests. The bonanza eludes the very producers, the farmers who find themselves buried deeper in debts from middlemen who, as buyers of corn, also dictate the prices.
The salesmen of transnational companies disguised as our very own agriculture officials taught them the wisdom of putting all their eggs in a single basket instead of diversifying their sources of income. Had they planted corn only to a portion of their farms and left existing vegetations to flourish, they still had other resources to turn in case their corn crops fail. They still had their timber and fruit-bearing trees, they still had their bamboo clumps, coconuts, bananas and ipil-ipil to tide them over.
The long term – and this is the bigger loss – of farmers lurk right in their very homes. The destruction of old vegetations exposes slopes, animals and humans to mudslides, among others. Defoliation exposes the earth to erosion, depletes the topsoil which, combined with continuous corn cropping and use of chemicals, reduces the land’s capacity to replenish its lost nutrients. Every year, the farmer had to apply more chemical fertilizer to maintain the same volume of harvest.
A source who fed yours truly the bad news of five barangays along the slopes of San Dionisio town having landslides in the March 30 downpour, narrated that livestock production had gone down due to contaminated environment, particularly, the town’s sources of irrigation and domestic water.
Chemical sprays seep down on streams and wells. This early, the river no longer had the bounties of fish, shrimps and crabs that the townsfolk used to enjoy 10 years ago. The dam “may not last for the next five years” if the rate of siltation continued, he said.
The agriculture policy being pursued not just in San Dionisio but in the entire northern Iloilo is unsustainable; it just gives people fish, a one day-bonanza, to prepare their path to the life of dependence, begging even.
It’s not too late yet though. The destruction can still be reversed by stopping the Monsanto-inspired scorched-earth strategy and returning to the wisdom of our ancients practicing earth-friendly farm systems.