Why Organic?

What shade of green are you?

I guess if you are reading out this blog you are already some shade of green. Still, I am a big fan of preaching to the converted. Yes, one must get out there and talk to the unconverted, because climate change is the one challenge we shall have to meet as a species, or go under as a species. But it is just as important to inspire activists, and remember what we are doing this for.  Activists need all the positive energy they can get, as well as the odd solar heated organic buchu bath (which I truly recommend as a restorer for tired comrades). So, if I occasionally talk about why I am doing what I am doing, please don’t take it as a sign that I think you don’t know!

In my first blog I said I do organic for the love of it. It is not just about my personal wellbeing, but about how my production and consumption affect our human ecology. The consequences can be devastating. In India, it is said that hundreds of small farmers have committed suicide after becoming so deeply indebted over purchases of GMO seed and agribusiness inputs that they saw no hope of ever paying it back.[i] A few bad harvests sent them over the edge. How must that make me feel wearing Indian cotton that is not organic? On the other hand, a group of small farmers in Madya Pradesh have seen both land and people recover through conversion to natural farming:

“The fields we devoted to no-till experiments had become almost barren due to soil ‘exhaustion’. Four years later they were healthy and productive. In fact, all our land improved; and this could easily be judged from the lush, green health of the crops; the type of natural vegetation co-existing with it; the return of earth-worms; and the spongy texture of the topsoil due to accumulation of humus. [ii]

Restoring carbon to the soil: our recycled tyre wormfarm

For me, cutting carbon emissions begins with organic agriculture. It is the first thing we need to do. The famous Rodale Institute trials, conducted over three decades, demonstrated conclusively that organic practices increase the levels of carbon in the soil for the first twenty eight years, after which the humus in the soil tends to stabilize at optimum levels.[iii] This experiment was conducted on prime farmland, but a study in Asia pointed out that the effect was even more marked on soils not previously considered ‘arable”.[iv] Organic farming on arid and semi-arid lands actually increased productivity while using less water as compared to chemical farming. This because increasing levels of soil carbon helps the soil to absorb more water and to release this water more slowly during dry periods. In effect, farming organically helps to increase the amounts of water available to plants. I have seen this myself on my smallholding (previously a chicken farm because it was considered hopelessly unsuitable for crops), where every year we use less water despite the fact that the trees and shrubs are growing bigger. It is the result of many years of plying the soil with manure and returning every compostable scrap back to the land.

If you add up the two effects together, that is the effect of cutting emissions from fossil fuel-driven agriculture and the effect of storing carbon in the soil, the people in the know say that we could cut carbon emissions by over thirty percent.[v] That is a small price to pay for not putting poisons in and on our bodies.

I like win-win solutions. In the US and Europe, that fact that organic farming requires about a third more labour is normally considered problematic. I live in a country where the unemployment rate is about 25 %, and if you take into account the amount of people who have given up looking for work, it is about 40%. Here, employing labour is a good thing. Some people object to farm work as hard and degrading, forgetting that people the world over do it for free and even pay vast sums of money to be able to do it. These people are called ‘gardeners’.

At heart it is a question of values. American organic farmer Wendell Berry argues that the notion that farm work is degrading is based in a highly alienated set of values.  He says:

“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health. And what our society does best is to disguise from us how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health – and create profitable diseases and dependencies – by failing to see the direct connection between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. In gardening, for instance, one works with the body to feed the body. The work, if it is knowledgeable, makes for excellent food. And it makes one hungry. The work thus makes eating both nourishing and joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak. This is health, wholeness, a source of delight. And such a solution, unlike the typical industrial solution, does not cause new problems. The ‘drudgery’ of growing one’s own food, then, is not drudgery at all. (If we make the growing of food a drudgery, which is what ‘agribusiness’ does make of it, then we also make a drudgery of eating and living.)”[vi]

Healing is about restoring broken connections

I think, living in the global South, it is not necessary to repeat the mistakes of the global North. Having a job is better than not having a job. Eating clean food is better than eating food with poisons in them. Oh yes, and using organic soaps and oils helps to create a world where restoring connections is not only thinkable, but extremely possible.

 

 

 


[iii]  P. Hepperly and T. LaSalle Regenerative Organic Farming: A Solution to Global Warming, Rodale Institute, 2008

[iv]  D. Giovannucci Organic Farming as a Tool for Productivity

and Poverty Reduction in Asia , Prepared for the International Fund for Agricultural Development /NACF

Conference Seoul, 13-16 March 2007

[v] International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements The Contribution of Organic Agriculture to Climate Change Mitigation , 2009. Available at http://www.ifoam.org/growing_organic/1_arguments_for_oa/environmental_benefits/pdfs/IFOAM-CC-Mitigation-Web.pdf

[vi] . W. Berry “The Body and the Earth” in   N. Wirzba (ed.) The Art Of The Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry , Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2002, pp. 133

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