Tag Archives: mindset

Coping with climate change, peak oil: community resilience needs a change in mindset

Community resilience needs a change in mindset

[This piece appeared in the journal Community and Habitat 2008 No. 13 of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.]

This issue of PRRM’s Community and Habitat journal is focused on the intertwined issues of climate change, energy and food.

Recent events have further highlighted the linkages between these concerns. As oil prices increase, driven up by the decelerating global production levels, a frantic search for alternative fuels is happening now. The search is constrained by the impact of fossil fuels on climate, which in recent years has finally entered the public radar screen. It is now generally accepted that we cannot continue the current levels of fossil fuel consumption without endangering our very survival on this planet. Among the carbon-neutral technologies which have received attention are agrofuels (which is a more accurate term than biofuels because the term pinpoint the true source of such fuels). Today more than a fourth of the U.S. corn production now goes to alcohol production. Given the expected attractive prices for agro-fuels, agricultural lands are being shifted to agro-fuel crops like corn, sugar, sorghum, and exotics such as jatropha. One doesn’t have to be an agriculture expert to predict the impact of these developments on food production. True enough, food prices are shooting up, food shortages rearing their ugly head, and countries with surplus food crops are beginning to scale down their exports.

Locally, the most telling effect of these developments is that the Philippines, which ironically hosts the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is now the world’s biggest importer of rice.

We have collected a number of pieces that look at the different aspects of these intertwined issues. Although we have emphasized adaptation measures, we are not ignoring the analytical search for root causes and vicious cycles, which is ultimately the first step towards long-term solutions.

It is clear now that we must build new types of communities to cope with these serious threats. Among the various terms used to describe such communities, we have chosen the word “resilience” as one which most closely describes the most important feature a community must have to weather the coming shocks. Resilience is also a scientifically-grounded term often used in ecological studies to characterize ecosystems that can survive serious environmental shocks.

Resilience involves reviving forgotten practices that have served us well in times of crises as well as adopting radically new approaches in thinking and behavior. It will involve a major change in mindset for each of us.

The sooner this happens, the better.

System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

A new method of growing rice is now spreading in many rice-producing countries. It is called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The method was initially developed in Madagascar by a Jesuit agriculturist, Fr. Henri de Laulanie and continues to be refined by thousands of researchers and farmers all over the world.

In the Philippines, the promotion of SRI is being undertaken by SRI-Pilipinas, a consorium of NGOs which I coordinate. We have already conducted one-day trainings in at least 47 provinces in the Philippines. Now, we want to do trainings in every rice-producing municipality in the country. We need at least P25,000 (around $500) per municipality, and hope to gather donations from Filipinos abroad who may want to sponsor a training in their municipality. If you are interested in donating, please contact me privately (rverzola@gn.apc.org).

SRI involves a few simple but major changes in farmers’ methods. Not expensive, but challenging because it involves a major change in mindset.

  • Farmers are used to transplanting 3-week old rice seedlings or older. Under SRI, 8- to 12-day old seedlings are transplanted.
  • Farmers are used to flooding their fields. Under SRI, anything longer than a 3-day flooding is avoided. Wetting the soil, or intermittent flooding and drying, is instead encouraged.
  • Farmers are used to planting distances of 15 cm or closer. Under SRI, planting distances start at 25 cm and may even be greater.
  • Farmers are used to planting a bunch of seedlings per hill. Under SRI, one seedling per hill is encouraged. At most two is allowed.
  • Farmers are used to chemical fertilizers. Under SRI, the use of organic matter is encouraged.
  • Farmers are used to herbicides. Under SRI, a mechanical weeder is used instead, not only to control weeds but also to aerate the soil.

These simple changes in practices result in a very different kind (“phenotype” is the technical term) of rice plant. The plants produce much more tillers — 20 upwards, instead of the usual 5-10 tillers per plant. The tillers produce the grain, and the more tillers, the more grain, the greater the harvest. The loss of yield from wider spacing is more than offset by the bigger gain in yield from the greater number of tillers and the greater number of grains per tiller.

For details, please download this file: System of Rice Intensification: Practices and Results in the Philippines.

The benefits are many. The increase in yield, coupled with reduced cost, means greater income for the farmer. The health benefits should not be underestimated. Agricultural chemicals poison the soil, the food that comes from it, the drinking water and the surrounding fields. The environmental benefits are also considerable. Poisons are minimized and can be avoided altogether, giving common farm organisms (like mudfish, snails, crabs, frogs, etc.) a chance to return to the farm. Less flooding means less anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, which means less methane generation and therefore less greenhouse gases. Methane is actually worse than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effect.

A mindset change among our farmers is bound to generate many positive consequences down the road. To accomplish this, we need a lot of support.