by Sadhu Govardhan (2007), published in
The topic of food security has recently
garnered much needed global popularity; there are many ways to
analyze this topic, but three fundamental questions are imperative
for all of us to consider:
Rico’s food supply secure?
What endangers our
What ensures our
Puerto Rico’s food supply secure?
The answer is an
present, Puerto Rico’s yearly agricultural gross income (app. $800
million) represents less than 1% of its total GDP (Gross Domestic
Product), and is thus one of the lowest agricultural outputs
than 10% of the total amount of food locally consumed is produced in
the island. There is no doubt - a food dependency over 90% is
alarming. In addition to the quantity of food imported, we also face
another problem: the quality of the food imported is relatively poor
(it lacks nutrients, is denatured, and is polluted by chemical
residues) and in many cases dangerous for our health. Few realize
that more than 3,000 artificial substances are legal to be added to
food produced in the U.S., many of which are proven to be dangerous
to human health.
As recently stated by
the Asociacion de Agricultores de P.R., our food supply would be
exhausted in as little as ten days (fresh food) to four weeks
(canned food) if imports were to stop. I think it is safe to say
that the ensuing chaos of this scenario would be extreme. Of course,
we all live as if this will never happen. We cannot deny, however,
that there is a current rise in gasoline prices which is very likely
to increase further. Prices of imported foods are directly related
to gasoline prices; statistics show that an average pound of produce
travels more than 1,500 miles from farm to plate. If these gasoline
cost trends continue, a severe food import crisis could become
reality. The most effective solution to prevent such a situation is
to produce all food locally.
What endangers our food security?
There are many factors
that endanger our daily food supply; external supply dependency is a
major one, but it is not the sole danger to our food security.
Additional reasons for
a bleak agricultural future and lack of food security in PR are:
* a steady decline of
workable agricultural land
* a large amount of cultivated land is treated
with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. They all of
have three things in common: they destroy beneficial soil life,
pollute our water and endanger the health of beneficial insects and
* a major
decline in farm workers and - most alarmingly – the failure of our
agricultural leaders to attract a new generation of farmers. Today,
we have only 18,000 farms left (many of which have minimal or no
food production), with approximately 32,000 people working in
agriculture. If the current trend continues, local agriculture could
eventually even be in danger of extinction.
disturbing but generally overlooked fact is that we have no local
grain production. From a purely historical perspective, any country
with little or no grain production has had to undergo major
socio-economic and even existential crises.
Besides not having any
grain production, our vegetable and fruit production is very
limited. Against all logic and reason, even fruits and vegetables
that could easily be grown locally are still imported. Although
useable agricultural land is steadily on the decline, much of this
land is used for non-food crops.
The current strategy of accepting the
importation of low quality foods has led to the invasion of fast
food chains around the island. This is reflected blatantly in
medical statistics, especially in the sharp increase of obesity,
cancer, high cholesterol and diabetes in the general population.
Unknown to most
consumers, about 65% of the food consumed in Puerto Rico contains
genetically modified substances. While there is still a heated
world-wide debate over the security of this type of altered food,
there is no dispute over the negative impact of genetically
The already visible ecological consequences of genetically engineered crops
* the spread of genetically engineered genes to
* increased toxicity
moving through the food chain
* the creation of new viruses
and “super weeds”
disruption of nature’s system of pest control and behavior changes
and destruction of beneficial insects and micro-organisms.
Thus, the work of the
currently booming biotech industry is responsible for:
* genetic vulnerability and
* a drastic loss
of biological diversity
* perpetuation of a
monoculture historically proven to be disastrous
* over-production of a very limited number of
* transfer of transgenic resistance to
glufosinate from food crops to
increased use of devastating herbicides
rapid evolution of crop resistance to pest control
* gene transfer and recombination which lead to
the creation of new pathogenic organisms
Yet, biotech companies which are primarily
driven by profits and not by scientific research or the desire to
provide the population with healthy food are invited with open arms
to Puerto Rico. Quietly, behind the backs of the population, more
and more test sites are appearing in the island. USDA documents show
that by the end of 2004, a total of 1,330 crops field releases of
transgenic crops had already been granted, for a total of 3,483
field test sites. With the exception of Hawaii, no state of the U.S.
has so many experiments per square mile.
ensures our food security?
Fortunately, there are historically proven
solutions to securing the future of our food. Once we accept the
basic principles behind true agricultural progress and success, our
food security is guaranteed.
Progressive farming methods like “eco farming”,
“permaculture” or “holistic farming” are currently gaining grounds.
They describe a holistic view that incorporates ethical treatment of
humans and animals, ecology, anthropology, sociology and sustainable
agronomy. Their principles are based on long-term success, and not
short-sighted profits based on exploitation of land and people. Without considering
each and every of these factors, agriculture can not possibly prosper.
The principles behind
these integrated sciences are simple: they are geared towards an ethical
way of growing healthy food and establishing a local production that
is fully sustainable and vastly diversified. There is no better guarantee
for food security than locally produced food and crop diversification.
The movement from monoculture to polyculture is the first practical step
towards the principle of food self-sufficiency.
agriculture, as opposed to conventional agriculture, conserves
natural resources like water, soil and biodiversity and is at the
same time economically viable. In order to bring food closer to the
consumer, this paradigm emphasizes small-scale and medium-scale
farms which are either family based or community based. This
supports a very personal and direct contact between the farmer and
come many benefits:
* our children will again be exposed to the art
of growing healthy food
* the average
health-consciousness of the population will rise again
* produce will be more affordable for the
consumer but simultaneously more profitable for the farmer
* hundreds of new
food and spice crops would brighten up our cuisine
* thousands of local
seed banks would guarantee an unlimited supply of valuable heirloom
* the genetic diversity of our food
crops would be secured
* …and most
importantly, Puerto Rico would be self-sufficient in terms of food
production. In an attempt to introduce new tropical food crops, I
have described 120 new food crops with high appeal and commercial
potential in my book “Oro Verde – Securing the Future of our
important concept to study and implement is urban agriculture. This
type of gardening has a tradition that goes back thousands of years,
and has just been revived in recent decades. Asian, Latin American
and African cities are proving how successful urban agriculture can
be. For example, Hanoi, Vietnam, produces 80% of its fresh
vegetables. In Shanghai, China, 60% of the vegetables and more than
90% of the milk originate in the city. In Bangkok, Thailand, most
leafy vegetables are grown in the city. In Cuba, an estimated 90%
of the fresh produce eaten in Havana is grown in
and around the city.
these proven methods and factual examples, it is not utopian to
firmly believe that we could boost our agricultural production by at
least ten times, which would be enough for Puerto Rico to be food
If we continue to live in denial of the
consequences of our current mode of food dependence, we will face a
very difficult future. It is each and everyone’s choice now to
participate in a better future for Puerto Rico’s agriculture. If we
look at all the facts and statistics, we have to admit that they are
a wake up call that could hardly be louder. To turn things around
for a better future requires that at least those who are concerned
about Puerto Rico’s agriculture begin to work together. This
co-operation has to be sincere and without ulterior motives. Some of
the required fundamental changes will include re-educating our
current agricultural educators. Many of them are brilliant minds,
but the majority of them have been misled by the false promises of
politicians and chemical industries. It may hurt many egos, but if
we look at the current derailed state of agriculture, this
re-education is beneficial for all.
The world around us is full of examples of
positive and sometimes even amazing agricultural progress. There is no need to
re-invent any wheel, all that needs to be done is to study
and adapt successful models.
Some of the geographically closest and most
inspiring recent agricultural success stories come from Latin
America, where NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have helped
tens of thousands of small-scale farmers to become economically
potent while maintaining ecological integrity.
agriculture becomes free of corporate control and political influence, it will
be pure and truly beneficial. Farmers and customers need to be closely
linked. That means that the entire food industry (production, procession and distribution) has
to be localized. This will naturally lead to a fundamental change of the status
of a farmer, and the status of the country. A strong
network of politically independent small-scale farmers, dedicated to sustainable
polyculture and healthy food production is an ideal base for
a healthy and stable society. Agrarian autonomy naturally leads to peace,
prosperity and freedom.
We can still do it…but we can not wait any
© Sadhu Govardhan,