Ah, the wonders of organic farming and living in a rural tropical paradise.

Right now, we are in the middle of rice growing season (which started later than usual because the rains came late). So time to make the fertilizer.

To grow organic rice, it means more preparation of the fields (plowing under and flooding the fields so weeds won’t grow) before planting rice seedlings by hand. But we need fertilizer, which we “make” by mixing carbonized rice husks, good bacteria, chicken manure, and the minerals according to the analysis of the soil.

As a result, when we sit out in our garden, we have piles of rice husks, a large tank with the bacterial mixture, and the stove that makes the husks into charcoal. Hopefully, when we reach part three, adding the chicken manure, we’ll just move it back to the farm, which is downstream/downwind from the local chickenfarm.

One of the changes in the environment about 20 years ago was the start of chickenhouses. Some were for eggs, others to raise chickens for broiling. Alas, the price of imported chickens from Thailand and Vietnam kept the price so low that it’s hard to make a profit, but if you are a tricycle driver in Manila, the good news is that the price of eggs and chicken meat remain low.

There is little written about the “revolution” of agribusiness, and few folks realize it exists until a problem, like the recent salmonella scare in eggs, pops up. Then you get the “ain’t it awful” folks hyperventillating about why we should all join the church of Algore and become vegetarians.

From the NewsObserver (NC)

Rudy became convinced that industrial farming, in addition to feeding animals unnatural diets of corn, hormones and antibiotics, was torturing them, and in the process, poisoning people who ate them.

“Anybody can see it’s wrong,” Rudy said. “The only argument for it is it’s cheap.”

Ah, yes. But cheap means poor people can afford it.

Elite feminist “ethicists” at pricey universities might worry about the poor chickens, but I worry about sick kids. One wonders if this broad had seen scores of children die of kwashiorkor she might change her mind.

Yet what is the alternative?

Her “more humane” program results in high priced chicken, that the poor can’t afford.

The growing “agribusiness” of chicken raising means disease problems of chicken raising is amplified, but the emphasis on cleanliness and doing things correctly keeps this to a minimum.

On the other hand, few in the US seem aware here in Asia, thousands of backyard chickens had to be destroyed to stop birdflu from infecting humans. You see, free range chickens are in contact with migrating birds, so can catch birdflu, but chickens raised by larger “industrial” type farms are kept inside a building where they are kept from contact with migrating birds and their droppings.

In Africa, one of our outreaches to prevent malnutriton was to import hybrid chickens, and teach how to make cages to protect the birds from predators and make the eggs easier to collect.

But to feed a large urban population, it means factory type farms.

The chicken farm here lets the chickens roam free in a large building. Disease? Yes, a problem…so it means keeping things clean. The dirty little secret is that disease goes along with modern life, and by “Modern” I mean the onset of farming and domesticated animals which started about 10 000 years ago.

So if the problem is millions of poor farmers migrating to huge cities, the answer is to devise ways of multiplying your farm and domesticated animal output, whether it be starting irrigation projects in Mesopotamia or changing to potato farming in Ireland and rural France in 1700. Each of these have environmental problems of their own (salinization of fields, the potato famine), but the answer is to use our brains to devise solutions for the new problems, not to go back to collecting roots and berries like our mythical ancestors.

So the “answer” to the “salmonella” outbreak in the US is the same as it was the last time this happened 30 years ago: wash your hands, cook food completely and don’t eat softboiled eggs.

Or maybe we can let the government “zap” eggs and meat with radiation, using gamma rays that kill bacteria but don’t stay behind in food.

There is a place for both agribusiness to provide cheap food for the poor of the world, even though the result is an obesity epidemic in places like China, where only 50 years ago 40 million starved to death, partly due to unrealistic agricultural ideas.

But that doesn’t mean that some of us can’t see a benefit in developing an alternative organic food program. The world is big enough for both of us.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines

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