AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE
by Sadhu Govardhan
On June 17th, 2011, I was invited by a group
called “Mentes Puertorriquenos en Accion” to give a conference in San Juan,
at the Fideicomiso headquarters in San Juan.
audience consisted of Puerto Rican economy students at various prestigious
response of the audience was so overwhelmingly positive that I thought to
post a partial transcript of my presentation there for the readers of my
panel discussion requested me to focus on Sustainable Development & Use
of Natural Resources in Sustainable Businesses.
title: "Challenges and Opportunities of Organic Agriculture in Puerto
Rico and its Importance to the Local Economy"
following were the guideline questions by the students and a partial
transcript of my responses:
always heard that enterprises are harmful to PR due that they destroy the
environment and exploit their employees. Is it possible to have an enterprise
without destroying the environment?
by Sadhu Govardhan:
let me commend you for your interest in thinking outside the box and your
care about ethics.
question raised here is an excellent one. Modern society has created a
monster by setting up an educational system that measures it’s success by
the amount of money earned, no matter the factual devastating effects on
the planet. Our planet is not destroyed by primitive or uneducated people,
but by highly educated ones. Thus modern knowledge has become the most
unethical force of our times.
you correctly mention, practically all enterprises, especially corporate
enterprises in Puerto Rico have contributed to major ecological crimes. I
have made a brief summary of these crimes in my book “Oro Verde – Securing the Future of our Food”.
the answer to the second part of your question would be “no”, there would
be absolutely no hope for the planet. Fortunately, the answer to your
question is “yes” – enterprises can thrive without harming the environment.
In order to understand how that is possible, we first have to re-educate
ourselves and move away from linear thinking into cyclic or sustainable
thinking, that is based on the understanding of producing only what is
beneficial and that does not entertain the concept of waste or
we analyze how modern operations are run, we will find that all of them are
in fact ecological criminals to various degrees. This reality is shocking and
it appears as if there is a huge and seemingly unconquerable gap between
reality and ideals. But as the saying goes: where there is a will, there is
always a way.
order to answer the question more directly, I would like to first list the
most important human needs: healthy food, housing, clothing, natural
medicines, ecological education, valuable social contributions, and
happiness. But this is an entirely different outlook on life than our
current materialistic society. So, the pioneer work of creating enterprises
that are truly beneficial to the planet would be revolutionary. Since they
would also require a different type of society, they would need to begin to
build a foundation for a better future. This means, that currently an
environmentally conscious enterprise could only make the “best out of a bad
bargain” and in most cases would still be forced to make unwanted
compromises. The only exceptions of our times are individuals or societies
that live outside mainstream society. An example would be indigenous people
or spiritual groups like the Amish, who create their own world within
summary, yes, it is possible to create an ecologically sound enterprise,
but it would have to focus on the primary human needs. The only field of occupation
that can accomplish to fulfill these needs without compromise is
agriculture. In order to succeed on a larger scale, we would need an
agrarian based society.
tend to say that agriculture in not profitable. Is it possible for
agriculture to represent an important sector in PR’s economy?
person who thinks holistically or sustainably, doesn’t think in terms of
profits but in terms of overall well-being, which includes humans, animals,
and earth in general.
other words, we have a clash of paradigms here: the addiction of making
money vs. saving a self-destructing society and replacing it with a
is the most natural economy for a tropical island like Puerto Rico. If we
would commit ourselves to producing foods, medicines, construction
materials, clothing, etc. in a sustainable way, we would all experience the
highest quality of life. Quality of life is not measured by profits, but by
the overall happiness and health of society.
proposed solution may be too abstract or idealistic for most people but
yes, an ecologically conscious farmer can have enough income to maintain
their self or a family. On a larger scale, PR’s complete agricultural
potential is by far not tapped into, and even from a materialistic
perspective, the potential profits could easily be raised a hundred times
without causing more agricultural destruction, as has been done in the
opportunities exist to best use natural resources to help our economy?
this is an excellent question.
are our natural resources? The answer depends on what we want to include.
Puerto Rico is a tropical island and as such, a natural attraction for many
people around the globe. So, agricultural progress could easily be combined
with educational agro-tourism. Imagine for a second that we have an
outstanding eco-village here in PR, that produces hundreds of different
tropical vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices; that produces alternative
energy; that has well designed bamboo structures; that produces tons of top
soil building organic matter; that educates about simple ways of fulfilling
all basic needs of society; Don’t you think that this would attract
millions of people from around the planet? (There are 3 million tourists
visiting PR annually). Even, for those who have a materialistic concept of
economy, there would be millions of Dollars generated by such a project.
Even in our current society, this money (which is ultimately nothing but
paper made from slaughtered trees) could still be turned into something
good by investing it into sustainability.
again, we have to correct our understanding of economy. We don’t need a
materialistic economy but one that is truly sustainable and beneficial for
agricultural products can compete in the market?
of them can compete in the market. Nature is the source of all material
I wrote “Oro Verde – Securing the
Future of our Food” I introduced the concept of the “holistic farmer”.
In essence, a holistic farmer is one who understands the land he works, his
own nature and the needs of the society surrounding him, and who acts
accordingly. So, it is a matter of finding out what your land gives you,
what your own inclinations and talents or strengths are, and what the
community around you needs that you can produce for them.
most essential agricultural products are:
1) Anything that builds or improves soils
4) Construction material
6) Health products
7) Alternative energy
is possible to accomplish self-sustainability (Food security) in PR? Why
this is important for the economy?
but it is very difficult, and here are the reasons:
1) It is very challenging to grow grains in tropical regions.
2) Puerto Rico has only a small percentage of the tropical
vegetable and culinary herb & spice crops we would require to have a
3) Although I have introduced over 150 completely new fruit species
to Puerto Rico, it takes time (5-10 years) for fruit trees to produce.
4) There is still major lack of tropical food crops and
sustainable farming practice.
fruits & nuts, vegetables, grains, herbs, spices, pure milk products
would complete a healthy diet. The easiest source of high quality milk for
a small scale farmer is goat’s milk, which can be turned into some of the
healthiest existing milk products like kefir, yogurt, sour milk, butter
be food self-sufficient raises the level of food quality enormously. Our
average food travels about 1500 miles before it gets unto our plate. Most
conventional foods are contaminated, toxic, depleted and/or genetically
modified. So, naturally, you would save enormously on spending money on these
kinds of foods and also on medical bills throughout life.
can I do –from a personal or entrepreneur perspective- to support this
I am impressed by the sincerity of these questions. All of us should always
ask how we could make a difference in this world.
first answer would be: educate yourself from an entirely sustainable
perspective. Start to think sustainably, and the rest will fall into place.
Without sustainable education and thinking it is impossible to understand
the direction we have to take in order to save this planet and an
increasingly unhealthy society.
remember again the principle of the holistic farmer: First, understand your
own nature well. Are you by nature an educator? And administrator? A
business man? A farmer? Someone who just likes physical work? An artist? An
entertainer? To answer this question is particularly important because we
have to be true to our nature in order to be happy and productive. Then
find out how you can dovetail your nature with society’s needs.
make things more practical, I give you my own example. I love to educate, I
love to manage, and I love to grow plants. So, what did I do? I studied
thousands of tropical crops, I grew as many as I could, I wrote about
agricultural philosophy and my experiences, and I try to be as food
self-sufficient as I can. Was I able to make much money with that? No. But
I am satisfied with what I have done, and the fruits of my labor will
benefit countless people in the future.
see this issue as a journey of consciousness. Cultivate vision,
imagination, aesthetics and social or spiritual sensitivity. That way you
will always continue to grow and your environment will always benefit from
Sadhu Govardhan, 2011