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TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN PUERTO RICO

From: Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
Date: 27 Aug 2001
Time: 15:09:49
Remote Name: 66.110.6.179

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Puerto Rico-September 5, 1999

~Many Puerto Ricans, educated and uneducated alike, view agriculture as an activity that belongs in the past, as a part of their culture and history whose only rightful place is the museum.

Organic agriculture fares even worse in local public opinion. Many think it is no more than the whim of impractical environmentalists, as an endeavor that will never amount to more than a hobby.

In fact, many residents of this United States colony in the Caribbean don't know that there's such a thing as agriculture without synthetic chemicals.

But Puerto Rico is going through a 'silent revolution'of sorts, barely noticed by the major news media,carried out by farmers dedicated to promoting a chemical-free, environmentally sustainable agriculture.

"Organic agriculture is entirely feasible in Puerto Rico. It is as feasible here as it is in any other place in the world", said local organic farmer Jorge Gaskins in an interview.

For three decades, Gaskins has participated in community development and cooperative agriculture projects in Puerto Rico. From 1979 to 1985 he worked with the Federation for Agricultural Development(FEDA), a farmers and workers' cooperative.

FEDA owed its birth to the initiative of Catholic bishop Rafael Grovas, who was inspired by Spain's Mondragon model of Cooperativism.

FEDA successfully grew and marketed passion fruit, known in Puerto Rico as parcha, and other products,but it did not survive due to a combination of extremely adverse factors. Among these, infiltration and disruption by undercover agents of the local police, which viewed FEDA as a communist plot.

Also,the fact that the Colombian government was subsidising the export of passion fruit to the Puerto Rican market.

However, neither this setback, nor hurricane Georges which destroyed his farm last year, have shaken Gaskins' faith in the feasibility of agriculture in Puerto Rico, especially organic agriculture.

"What is not feasible is conventional agriculture, which requires more and more energy and chemicals every time", said Gaskins. "Toxic agrochemical pesticides increase the resistance of pests, and that increases the farmer's dependence on these chemicals."

He explained that "the agriculture that is feasible is the one that works for the conservation of natural resources, that is accountable to farm workers, that respects the consumer and that seeks harmony among the means of production."

After years of hands-on experience, Gaskins has found Puerto Rico's geographic conditions to be extraordinarily favourable to agriculture, contrary to what many here believe.

"I have never tasted anywhere else fruits of the quality that one sees here, in wild or domesticated state. There are so many microclimates and types of soil that we have what we need to export agricultural products of first quality, especially fruit, to all parts of the world."

But, why is it then that agriculture has been almost abandoned in Puerto Rico? "The first and most important reason lies in our minds", answered Gaskins.

"We have a lot of people, including college-educated people, who think agriculture is dead, that it is a second-rate career."

He explained that the so-called government incentives for farming are actually disincentives. A developer in Puerto Rico can buy a piece of land, put a few cows to graze on it and declare himself a farmer.

"Once the government classifies that parcel of land as farmland, it is exempt from taxes. The so-called 'farmer' then acquires the permits necessary to turn his piece of land into suburbs and/or shopping malls."

Can the local government play a positive role in the development of agriculture? "We can't expect anything from the government, because it doesn't have the foggiest notion of how to promote agriculture", said Gaskins.

He gave as an example the fact that the government discourages growing coffee under the shade of trees,and encourages instead growing it under the sun."That's an abomination, from the environmental standpoint".

Gaskins denounces that there has never been a real participation of agricultural producers in the formulation of public policy. "As long as there's no participation, there will be a real chasm between those who pretend to create and lead an agricultural program, and the farmers who are expected to carry it out."

"The globalised system of distribution of the twenty-first century is competing against Puerto Rico's system of distribution, which belongs to the nineteenth century. Our agricultural system takes advantage of the farmer at every turn."

"This is no way to compete. It's not even the way to develop loyalty among Puerto Rican consumers in order to get them to buy local products."

Gaskins is far from being alone in his efforts. At the University of Puerto Rico campus in the mountain town of Utuado, a group of students is practising organic agriculture in order to show that it can work.

On a plot of land measuring about 0.2 hectares, the students are using natural pest control techniques,creating fertiliser out of animal manure and compost out of garden waste.

"If you plant only one product and a pest comes, you're doomed," said Jorge Perez, one of the students. "But if you plant your food crops with a combination of aromatic and medicinal plants, which work as repellents and as habitat for natural predators, then you have a chemical-free defense against pests."

Reports indicate that in 1940 pests were responsible for the loss of 35 to 40 percent of all agricultural production worldwide. From 1970 to 1996, pesticide use went up 3,300 percent. But in 1996, pests destroyed 37 percent of production.

In spite of all the obstacles, Gaskins, Pérez and many others like him devote their energies to proving that agriculture can work in Puerto Rico, that it can be economically viable and environmentally sound.

"In Puerto Rico, producing is a revolutionary act. Those who don't produce are not confronting the economic system. They accept it as it is and are thus doomed to dependence", said Gaskins.

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Biotecnología, la nueva alternativa.

From: Gustavo Adolfo Gallo Machado.
Date: 09 Apr 2003
Time: 20:26:55
Remote Name: 66.129.167.51

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Biotecnología, la nueva alternativa / El Colombiano,Series: <http://www.elcolombiano.com/proyectos/serieselcolombiano/textos/basuras/alternativa.htm> Por medio de bacterias, residuos sólidos se convierten en abono. Combeima y Agrocolombiana, las dos que salen a la luz pública. Comunidades son escépticas frente a los resultados. Ala trichoderma, al bacillus subtilis y al estreptococus, con otro grupo de voraces bacterias, se les encargó la tarea de engullirse las 2.500 toneladas de basura que produce el Valle del Aburrá al día, una cantidad de desechos tan grande que, si se compactara, se haría un bloque de cincuenta y cinco metros de largo por cuatro de alto. El incansable apetito de los microorganismos, cuyo único pago de honorarios consiste en mantener el estómago lleno, es la nueva esperanza que tiene la ciudad para solucionar el manejo de los residuos sólidos. Se llama biotecnología y es un proceso natural que se acelera gracias a la inyección de aire y otros elementos para que los desechos orgánicos se descompongan gracias a la acción de las bacterias. El resultado: un bioabono que, aseguran quienes la impulsan, sirve para la agricultura. El invento no es la panacea ni lo ´último en guarachas´ pero lo cierto del caso es que ya no habrá más enterramiento de las basuras, tal y como sucedía en la Curva de Rodas. El asunto es sencillo: los residuos se separan de plásticos, elementos reciclables y materiales orgánicos. Los dos primeros vuelven a la cadena productiva mientras que los desechos, mediante la acción de los microorganismos, el aire y condiciones especiales de humedad y calor, en menos de dos meses se transforman en abono. De dónde salió Hace tres meses que en Medellín empezó a hablarse de biotecnología. Combeima y Agrocolombiana salieron a la palestra pública mostrando las bondades de los procesos como la ausencia de olores, lixiviados y gallinazos, además del aprovechamiento y comercialización de todos los desechos. La prueba piloto la tuvo Combeima en Rodas, desde el pasado 1° de septiembre. Orlando Rondón, representante de Combeima, explica que su experiencia arrancó en 1993, en el Municipio de Cajamarca (Tolima), donde tras varios años de contaminación del Río Anaime, fueron contratados para resolver el problema. "Lo que se ha visto en Curva de Rodas es la contingencia de la biotecnología. Nuestro proceso no dice que hay que tomar todos los desechos y tirarlos a los reactores. Primero, como se hace en Cajamarca, se trata de reciclar en la fuente, luego separar los orgánicos e inorgánicos, donde los orgánicos pasan al proceso de bioabono, que es una materia orgánica estabilizada (no fertilizante). En un proceso de 45 días, máximo de 60, se obtiene la materia orgánica estabilizada y puede aplicarse a la agricultura", asegura. A su turno, Julio Villota, presidente de la biotecnología Agrocolombiana, muestra con orgullo el certificado de un laboratorio de Estados Unidos que dice que el abono que se obtiene es de máxima calidad. "También tenemos un certificado del ICA que garantiza que el abono se puede vender en Colombia. No es un proceso de compostaje, sino que utilizamos unas bacterias que son producto de la investigación de 23 años del doctor Luis Orlando Castro, quien estudió 1.684 especies de la naturaleza y de ellas escogió las mejores ocho. Las modificó y se dividieron en tres familias: termophilos estrictos, que producen calor; mesophilos, que se encargan de biodegradar los desechos y los nitrificantes, que absorben el nitrógeno del aire y lo asimilan a la tierra. Los resultados son óptimos y por eso enseñamos los certificados internacionales", insiste. Ambas tecnologías trabajan a menor escala en varias poblaciones. Entre tanto, las comunidades del Valle del Aburrá guardan cierta reserva porque en sus mentes está el poco vistoso escenario de Rodas. Sin embargo, para que la acción de las biotecnologías tenga un resultado óptimo, dice el doctor en biotecnología microbiana del Instituto Nacional Agropecuario de París, e investigador de la Universidad de Antioquia, Carlos Figueroa, es necesario separar los desechos desde la fuente. "Si los desechos se van juntos con vidrios, plásticos y otros elementos, no habrá resultados positivos". Mientras tanto, la trichoderma y su pandilla de bacterias esperan una oportunidad. Opinión especial La basura se constituye en empresa Omar Hoyos Agudelo Director del Área Metropolitana "Como autoridad ambiental, en el Área Metropolitana estamos en la tarea de auscultar para tratar el tema de los residuos con el fin de que su impacto ambiental se mínimo. Por eso en pocos meses entregaremos el Plan Maestro para el Valle del Aburrá. Si separamos en la fuente, en los hogares, en las industrias y reciclamos, lograríamos hacer una buena labor. Las biotecnologías que hemos conocido son varias: Agrocolombiana y Combeima. Estamos aprendiendo y nos atrevemos a experimentar siendo cuidadosos. Lo que hemos podido verificar es que estas tecnologías reducen los olores, acaban con los vectores e insectos y no dejan lixiviados. De esta forma y gracias al aprovechamiento, las basuras se constituyen en empresa".