A Greenfuse reprise from #18 winter 2002-
For 18 years the jungles and croplands of Columbia have been repeatedly sprayed with herbicides to eradicate coca and opium poppies. Last year alone, 203,000 acres were poisoned, up from 139,000 in the year 2000.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that farmers of all kinds have suffered crop losses, including necessary food crops, while forests, water and people have also been poisoned. U.S. officials claim an increase of spraying is required and acceptable to stop the flow of drugs into this country, while the growing supply continues to serve the habits of U.S. consumers. 75% of the $1.3 billion Colombian aid package approved two years ago included helicopters and training to help Colombian troops fight a civil war against the leftist guerrillas that protect coca fields and labs.
Herbicides used for war is not a new tactic. In Vietnam 86 million liters of herbicide was used both to defoliate jungles, exposing hidden combatants, and to destroy the food crops that sustained the population. 14% of the forests and over 50% of downstream Mangrove habitats were destroyed An estimated 400,000 people were killed or injured, by poisoning, in addition to the 500,000 birth defects caused.
Chemical pesticides in general are a product of war. Organophosphates originated as nerve gas for warfare. Following the World War II, manufactures touted these new compounds as miracle products for crop production. The industry grew from virtually zero in the 40’s to a market worth $31 million as of 1998. There are currently 100,000 pesticides in regular commercial use worldwide, with 2.5 million tons applied to croplands each year. It is little wonder that every person on the planet has absorbed 250 synthetic chemicals, many of which are persistent toxins.
Agricultural that requires chemical use, are supported by the majority of industry, government, and academia as the only way to produce consistent cropping. But like the twisted logic of the failed drug war, this ignores the facts: Agriculture based on chemical use is not sustainable, and does great harm to living beings and the environment necessary for any sustainability.
Though healthier for the planet and consumer, commercial organic crops are still a compromise. Most commercial producers rely on unsustainable fossil fuels to work their fields, transport incredible quantities of imported soil amendments, and bring their crop to market.
True sustainability demands a different scale of action; a human scale, seasonal diets, local production, diverse planting, and most importantly, responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
As a child I wrote to the president. My plan was to be logically persuasive: “How can the good people of this country deliberately kill and maim the people of another- for any reason?” I know I wrote that letter, because 25 years later my mother found it, unfinished and unsent. What had seemed a straightforward philosophical argument to my young mind, once laboriously banged out on the typewriter, suddenly felt useless and impotent. I realized nothing I could say would ever stop the napalm, bombs, and Agent Orange, or the tremendous waste and depravity of war. Overwhelmed with helplessness, embarrassed by my feeble attempt to reach the president with my simple truth, and mired down by thought of the pages it would take to justify my opinion, I gave up.
I never told the government it was wrong, but I knew it was. I still know it is, and I have been thinking of hope.
Assaulted by the news of greed and self interest that seems to motivate most government and corporate actions, I once again feel hopelessness. Searching for hope, I realize that the human actions that demean, despoil, and desecrate are in the end unsustainable actions. In the winter of my discontent, I recall the spring. Searching for meaningful actions I realize the ongoing desire for sustainability in my life is about hope, hope and faith.
My garden, like every seed ever planted, is based on hope, and the clean, clear truth that; living healthy soil, the right seasonal timing, and a diverse balanced population of flora and fauna will insure that a natural seed, with it’s ancient encoded genetic material will do its best to grow and thrive. When we lose faith poisons seem necessary. When we doubt, when we fear, and when production systems we use demand too much. When production out of balance with actual need, reasonable expectations, or natural capacity, sustainability is easily bargained away.
More than just not using toxins, sustainability means giving back as much or more as we take. Demanding material equity and social justice may be the antidote for greed. At its core sustainability demands simple actions; Do not harm, do not destroy, do not waste. I can do that, planting on faith, reclaiming what living is, reclaiming hope.