Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bioethics in Land Use and Management

The ethics of land use binds man to his obligation to nature. - Aldo Leopold
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday
“It is harder to understand the behavior of human beings than to understand that of atom.”                   - Albert Einstein 
1. After applying insecticide against leafhoppers of mango, an orchard grower in Zambales indiscriminately threw into a nearby stream the sediments that settled at the bottom of the sprayer tank. Three days after, scores of fishes floated downstream. A carabao was also reported to have been affected, prompting the owner to slaughter it before its possible death. The poison: a phosphate compound several times more potent than the dreaded DDT. 

2. Mang Juan’s farm, located in Gapan (Nueva Ecija), is typically like those of his neighbors. It is planted to rice twice a year with the aid of irrigation. When this farmer decided to plant a variety of rice that matures in 90 days instead of the usual 120-day variety which his neighbors plant, he deprived a number of fields of the vital water. The situation was worsened when he decided to plant three crops of rice in a year.

3. Cabbage is grown extensively on terraces in Atok, Benguet. Farmers must cooperate in many aspects of production and marketing. For example, planting time is towards the end of the year. Pest and disease control must be synchronized, so with the time of harvesting in order to adopt a standard price policy. For one reason or another, a farmer abandoned his cabbage farm it to pests and diseases. Unsuspectingly diamond-back moth, a major cabbage pest bred on his farm, and in three quick generations, pest population spread throughout the valley resulting in crop failure in many farms.

4. With modern techniques, sloping land can be made productive and its productivity can be sustained. Among the cardinal rules of hillside farming is the planting of permanent crops such as orchard trees. Contour plowing and strip cropping are also advisable to prevent rapid runoff during rainy season. Mang Isidro, a settler occupying a 20-degree sloping farm, failed to adopt these practices. In after three croppings, he abandoned the farm. Erosion depleted the thin soil cover and destroyed the farms below his farm.

5. One of the major coconut oil companies in Manila contracted farmers in Samar who produce copra. Coconut oil is a main ingredient in soap manufacturing, and it is still the main vegetable oil used domestically and for export. The contract did well at first, until the farmers started to deliver inferior grades. Worse thing that happened was when rock and sand were concealed in the sacks of copra to increase weight. The company immediately terminated the marketing agreement.


Typical pineapple farm 

6. Large mines in Benguet and Mountain Province dispose off their waste called tailings into natural waterways. Mine tailings reach as far as Tagudin, Ilocos Sur and cover vast ricelands in La Union, before flowing into the sea through the Agno and Amborayan rivers. Direct damage to crops is heavy. So with river and marine life, depriving fisherfolk of their livelihood. Mine tailings have irreversible ecological effects because of their toxic chemical content, among them cyanide and mercury.

7. Tobacco farmers are uncertain of the price of their crop this season. Like in the past many years, they are allegedly at the mercy of a powerful group that virtually controls the industry through cartel. In Ilocos Norte, tomatoes by the truckloads were dumped on the highway to dramatize their plight of farmers. The processing plant was not buying their crop at the agreed price and volume. Vegetable growers in Boguias, Benguet get advance cash from Divisoria traders payable in kind at harvest. These traders manipulate the prices for their crops. Farm price of cabbage alone may plunge to P0.50 per kilo at peak harvest.

8. Government importation policy under the “principles of deregulation, privatization and free enterprise” did not provide adequate protection to local corn growers, specifically in Mindanao, when private companies brought into the country volumes of cheap corn from the US and Thailand. It was reported that imported corn is cheaper than locally grown corn, which is of course an advantage to big poultry and hog raisers so that they would rather import corn, to the detriment of the local corn industry. Farmers question the rationale of annual importation of rice when the country has the potential capability to produce enough rice. (The Philippines imports 10 percent of its annual rice requirement, equivalent to one million metric tons.) Likewise, the import liberalization program is a disincentive to production, not only in agriculture but in industry as well.

9. From these examples the subject of this article is about values. These cases, and many more, can be observed in many places. By analyzing them we may offer solutions, or if there is none for the moment, provide certain insights that might help us in finding alternatives.

“The genuine meeting of minds may result if both parties in interest will concede to the other side the honor of believing, at least as an initial assumption, that its point of view is not merely vicious or silly”.  - George H. Sabine

Misuse and abuse of agricultural chemicals 

The Zambales incident is not an isolated one. The moral issue lies not only in the farmer but also other sectors involved the manufacture, distribution and use of not only insecticides, but the many farm chemicals used on the farm today. The unscrupulously use of farm chemicals has these deleterious consequences.

Edible frogs, fishes and snails have disappeared in many ricefields. Many birds and lizards have similarly disappeared due to cumulative toxicity from these chemicals. Soils repeatedly applied with commercial nitrogen fertilizers have become exceedingly acidic. Zinc deficiency is another consequence.


By substituting organic fertilizers with commercial ones soils tend to cake and crack easily. Organic fertilizer which serves as soil binder.
Lakes and ponds that continuously received runoff water from fertilized and sprayed farms have lose much of their productivity. Pollution reduces oxygen in water and favors algae bloom that ultimately results to “fish kill”. 

Excessive use of pesticides favors mutation. Resistance is built among the surviving pest and disease organisms so that there is need to increase dosage and rate of application. 

The lack of protection policy for local products is exacerbated by preference to cheap imported materials, resulting to dollar drain and indirect subsidy to foreign manufacturers. 

There is an increasing incidence of chemical-associated deaths from cancer, respiratory diseases, and other ailments. Residual toxicity is also believed to reduce life span. It predisposes people to secondary causes of death.
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“Decay starts from somewhere, often indiscernible, or deeply shaded by the sophistication of the system.” - AVR 
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Uncoordinated Farming 

This case illustrates conflict of interests among farmers. Uncoordinated farming is a situation where there is poor, if not lack of planning. It also shows highly individual attitudes. How do we visualize the setup as described in the case? Let us visualize the irrigation system emanating from a watershed and ramifying over the service area by a canal network.

In an irrigation cooperative, all farmer members must follow a unified planting schedule. For rice there are two main planting seasons, thus, there are two sets of water releases: June to October and December to March to coincide with the regular and dry season, respectively.

Why did the Gapan farmer deviate from the plan and dissociate from that of the association? Let us consider the following:

1. Palagad or summer rice crop requires a lot of water. Inefficient irrigation system can not guarantee enough water for the farms located downstream during summer, whereas they are prone to flooding during the monsoon months since they are situated at the lowest part of the field.

2. Vegetable growing is profitable, especially in Metro Manila. To get the most, vegetables growing must be “off-season.” By planting earlier and by using short maturing rice varieties, the farmer can plant vegetables soon after the rice harvest.

Deviation from the master plan is inimical to the attainment of objectives of an association. Individual resourcefulness by all means should not result in any detrimental effect to other members. On the contrary, it could be an important initiative to improve the current system. The advantages the farmer realized from his innovation may be common to many. A sectional area having the same prevailing conditions may develop a revised program, a specific cropping system that gives maximum returns on investment to all farmers within that given area. Thus, we see that an association should have the capacity to:

Adjust unanimously original plan to tap potential opportunities of production. Distinguish peculiarities that lead to the development of a sub-area that may have its own program and set of regulations. 

Adopt indigenous practices developed from prevailing local conditions in relation to agronomic, social and market factors.
Pursue strong leadership to transform a useful innovation for general good, instead of creating dissension and alienation among members.

We realize that there are farmers’ associations sharing irrigation facilities that have failed for a number of reasons and it would be a good lesson to enumerate those which are common.
  • Wasteful use of irrigation water. 
  • Stealing water from irrigation canals. 
  • Unscheduled releasing of water, thus adversely affecting nearby farms that do not need the water at the moment. 
  • Deliberate tapping of water from the newly fertilized adjacent field, in effect, “stealing” the dissolved fertilizer. 
  • Deliberate prevention of water flow, thus depriving others of the vital water supply. 
  • Throwing toxic chemicals, especially pesticides into the irrigation canal. 
  • Using irrigation canals for carabao wallows, in effect destroying their structure. 
  • Putting up fish pens and cages on the waterway, which does not only impede normal flow, and deprive others of the fish. 
  • Cutting of trees on the watershed and illegal pasture and kaingin farming on the watershed. 
  • Refusal or neglect to pay irrigation and association fees and obligations. 
  • Abandonment of farm leads to pest buildup 
When a farmer neglects his farm and gets little from his efforts, it may be casually dismissed as “Well, that is his choice. Who suffers anyway?” But if negligence leads to loss in others’ crop, as it is the case of the Atok farmer, it is another story. There ought to be a law to protect those who are victims of such negligence (or irresponsibility).
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The ethics of land use binds man to his obligation to nature.” - Aldo Leopold
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Let us enumerate the premise of the case of the farmer who abandoned his cabbage farm in Atok, a fertile pocket valley in Mt. Province. The semi-temperate climate is ideal to commercial gardening of temperate crops, chiefly crucifers that include cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce.

The terraced farms are tilled by small farmers with the help of their respective households. The farmers are unorganized, except for selected groups and members of a marketing association.
Prices of vegetables vary and fluctuate greatly so that farmers respond to good price without warning, even if their crops are newly sprayed, or have not reached full maturity.

The cited case helps us visualize a situation where a neglected farm becomes the breeding ground of the diamond- back moth and the leaf miner, which are major pests of cabbage and other crucifers.

While this case may not merit a court case, its ethical repercussion cannot be easily dismissed in a closely-knit tribal community. But times have changed. Now “invaded” by outsiders who invest in farming in the area, many customs and traditions have been lost.

Other consequences in the neglect of duties and responsibilities of farming may be glimpsed from the following observations:
  • Delayed harvesting results in shattering of grains which means less yield and germination of volunteer rice making weeding complicated. 
  • Delay in processing such as drying of palay, causes considerable reduction of crop value. Postharvest loss could be as heavy as actual crop loss on the farm. 
  • Total abandonment of a farm has the worst effect because it develops into a place that harbors weeds, unwanted seeds, pathogens, insects, and other pest like rodents. 
We can add to the list virtually without end. We conclude that many of the so-called mistakes are, in one way or the other, negligence in disguise.

Let us look into this seemingly harmless farming system in its three stages.

Land clearing 
– “Slash and burn” follows cutting down of trees. Thus, the kaingero succeeds the logger and completes the destruction of the forest cover.

Cash cropping – Upland culture of seasonal crops like rice, corn, some legumes and vegetables intended for family consumption. This is kaingin or swidden farming, a kind of subsistence farming.
Spent kaingin areas are abandoned after losing soil fertility, in favor of newly opened ones.

The End of Agricultural Frontiers

With increasing pressure of population, new lands are placed under cultivation. But the frontiers are limited and are often too expensive to convert them into agriculture. Today’s technology offers opportunities to tap uplands and even hillsides. Farming these unstable areas requires greater skill than in lowland farms as far as ecological considerations are concerned. The pre-qualification of an upland or hillside farmer must therefore, be stricter.

First, higher capitalization requirement is needed for land development.

Second, a farming system involves proper combination of permanent, perennial and short- growing crops.

Third, crop diversity means integrated processing and marketing.

Fourth, there is a need for infrastructure development (e.g. farm-to-market roads, water impounding, terracing, etc.). This requires government support and operating capital.

 Capitalist farmers on the other hand may consider high and quick return on investment (ROI) more than enhancing sustainable productivity. As an alternative, farmers may be organized into a cooperative, and the sooner this is implemented the better are the chances of having productive results. Any further delay in the development of logged over areas, slope pastures and abandoned hillsides may eventually deteriorate to irreversible wastelands.

The fourth model is ideal. It can be packaged into an integrated development project. The holistic approach base on geographic profile has the following features: 
  • Maintenance/improvement of ecological balance. 
  • Equitable development to all sectors. 
  • Maximized resources utilization. 
  • Integrated of programs/project, including waste utilization and resources recycling. 
  • Setting of short, medium and long term objectives. 
The small farmer becomes a contributing unit to the whole system – not an individual producer who looks only for his own good and need. The capitalist will have to play an important role that is not only measured by economic parameters. Government, in cooperation with non-government organizations and the private sector will provide the overall umbrella that facilitates growth and development.

Production-Marketing Contracts

The essence of a contract is mutual trust. The paper merely formalizes this value. What happened to the Samar copra producers, as earlier mentioned, is a violation of that trust. So with the following cases: 

  • Mango growers/traders arrange the bigger pieces on top and the smell ones at the center or bottom. This is true with potatoes, onion, eggplant, cabbage, tomato and many others farm products. 
  • Short weighing is rampant. Lanzones sold in retail in short by as much as 25 percent. So with rice. It is not 50 kilos per bag but only 49 or even 47 kilos. Meat, fish and many market items are sold below weight. We imagine short selling of gasoline, which is supposed to be controlled by precise measurement and strict supervision. 
  • Inferior quality. Most commercially sold vinegar is diluted glacial acetic acid, an industrial chemical that is not intended for food. Patis (fish sauce), coffee, cocoa, flour, etc. are often adulterated. 
  • False labels and advertisement. We are sometimes deceived by aesthetic presentation of product on the label and on TV. Only half of the truth is said, if at all. 
Why do farmers cheat? So with big manufacturers? Again, we speak of values. The system allows cheating - or it provides a wide range of flexibility or opportunities that leads to cheating.

Marketing contracts should bind buyers in giving incentives to producers. Aside from this, central processing plants, assembly points, transport facilities, on-farm supervision and instructions, should be provided by buyers under certain mutual agreements. Risks should be considered a normal part of the contract, but previsions to safeguard both parties should be discussed and agreed upon.

Tragedy of the Commons
We use this term coined by Garrett Hardin. Free-for-all leads to tragedy. These are examples that illustrate Hardin’s theory.

1. Overfishing of Laguna Lake

2. Logging concessions that led to deforestation

3. Pollution of the Pasig river

4. Mine tailing disposed into the river down to the sea

5. Unabated gathering of firewood in a public woodland

6. Trawl fishing in Manila Bay displacing the small fisherfolks
Commercial farms

“Free” use of common resources, Garrett Hardin explained, leads to mass poverty. To wit:

“The logical outcome of each atomistic user maximizing only his own private benefit from a free common, under conditions of population exceeding its carrying capacity, is the inevitable reduction of each and everybody’s benefit.” ·

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