ABOUT ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
IN PUERTO RICO
by Sadhu Govardhan
I receive a relatively high
volume of gardening and farming related questions on a regular
basis. Once in a while, they touch upon issues that I am very
concerned about. The following questions were sent by a Puerto Rican
student of the Syracuse University in New
My name is NM. I am
currently writing a paper for a class about the organic production
in Puerto Rico and I came across your website and I was wondering if
you could answer a few questions that I have.
Question: How do you think
the accessibility of people who do not have a lot of money
influence the amount of organic foods produced?
Answer: Interestingly, in
today’s world, rich people produce (low quality) food for the poor,
and poor people produce (high quality) food for the rich. The vast
majority of food produced in the U.S. (Puerto Rico imports at least
94% of it’s food from the U.S.) is denatured, homogenized low
quality food, primarily produced by extremely rich corporations. The
highest quality food is currently produced by small scale
alternative farmers and since they have to pay the real cost for
real food, their products are primarily bought by affluent
price is not the only factor to look at. People are trained through the
media to eat cheap, unhealthy food and spend most of their hard earned
money on other things in life. There are relatively poor people who don’t
follow that trend and spend a considerable amount of money on high quality
food. They want to eat well and see their expense as an investment into
their health. So, one’s food expenses depend on income and health
consciousness, or on setting priorities with one’s expenses.
factor to consider is transportation costs.
The more food is produced locally, the lower the cost of food will
be. As an
added benefit the quality of food is generally higher when it is
produced locally using sustainable and ecological practices.
Q: How does a
farmer's understanding of what it means for a product to be organic or
non-organic influence the amount of organic foods produced?
A: In Puerto Rico there is
still no curriculum of agricultural education that deals with
organic, or more importantly, sustainable farming education. So,
naturally, our farmers are still misguided and there is practically
no sustainable, diversified farming in Puerto Rico. Without
education, there is little hope that a higher form of farming can
take off in the island. Currently, less than 0.1% of all locally
produced food is truly organic. Even the very concept of “organic
food” is hardly understood by many of the few farmers who are
claiming to be “organic”.
The term “organic” itself
has been altered over time and has lost its original meaning. Today,
the “organic world” is in the hands of corporations whose only
interest are profits, and not sustainable, decentralized and
None of the more conscious
farmers I know of are using the term “organic” anymore for their
products. They were essentially forced to come up with new terms
like “eco-organic”, “sustainable”, etc. – but any of these terms can
eventually be hijacked again by a government agency and then sold
out to greedy corporations. So, what we need is not just a new and
better term than “organic” but true role model projects that are
self-effulgent enough to inspire and convince the public. One thing
every concerned person should always remember is that even the
smallest step in the right direction can and will eventually go a
long way. That’s why it is so crucial to understand issues well if
one wants to help and make a difference in the
Q: What are ways in
which we can increase awareness of organic production in Puerto Rico?
A: There is hardly any
organic production in Puerto Rico. In general, the state of
agriculture is completely derailed here. With less than 6% of all
food consumed being produced locally, the island has one of the
lowest agricultural productions of any nation worldwide. Less than
0.1% of the small amount of food produced
I wrote articles about this
fact already years ago
Food Security in Puerto
Rico ) and only now is the issue being discussed in
best way to increase awareness is always education. Unfortunately, our
entire educational system is strongly influenced by various industries with
vested interests. Even universities rarely teach knowledge for the sake of
knowledge but have become mouth pieces of industries with purely
Before our teachers can
educate about sustainable diversified farming, which still does not
exist here, they need to get trained themselves. In other words, we
don’t have qualified teachers at present to begin with.
Q: Could encouraging Puerto Ricans to do
more gardening help increase organic production in Puerto Rico?
order to successfully grow food in a sustainable way, the following factors
Knowledge of tropical food crops.
Currently, many of the food
crops grown are not truly tropical. About 99% of all existing
tropical food crops on the planet are virtually unknown to our local
2) Tropical seed
Currently, it is very
difficult to import seeds from tropical regions. There are too many
regulations in this regard that make it practically impossible for
people to acquire optimal germplasm.
Almost all seeds imported are from the U.S. – which
means they are not truly tropical but from temperate climate or
subtropical regions. In order to bring this issue to the public
awareness, I wrote another article last year:
Puerto Rico's Stolen Seed
High quality soil
There is practically no
true topsoil left in Puerto Rico. Successful gardening or farming is
dependent on high quality (= live) soil. In order to create that
soil, composting and the use of high quality manure is required.<
Knowledge of advanced gardening practices
There are many ancient
traditions that teach how to combine crops, when to plant them, and
how to keep the seeds. We don’t have a
single farmer in PR who has an extensive background in this
Discipline in maintaining a
garden / farm
maintain a garden over a lifetime or even throughout generations requires
knowledge, experience and commitment. It is relatively easy to start a
farming project but very challenging to keep it going in a sustainable way.
In general, none of these prerequisites are
easy to meet – we live in a world that is increasingly estranged from
nature but where there is a will, there is always a way!
There is hardly any
continuity with agricultural projects in PR. The government and
educational system have mostly pushed monocultures like coffee,
sugarcane, etc. which are stimulants at best, but not food. There is
not a single diversified vegetable, grain, fruit or herb farm in
operation for generations, or even for a few decades.
Q: Does organic
certification from the USDA really
A: Absolutely not.
I wrote an article about
Certification in Puerto
Rico ”. For decades, there was absolutely
zero interest in organic farming by the government or the
educational system. Now, that “green” is trendy, there is interest,
but instead of supporting farmers, it is all about regulating
organic agriculture while there is no regulation for conventional
agriculture. The USDA process of certification is mainly another
means of government control and the standards of USDA certification
are very low. The process of USDA certification is primarily
designed for people with agro-business minds, and not for those who
truly care about the environment and sustainable farming.
even bigger problem than the ones mentioned, is that the USDA has watered
down the original meaning of the term “organic” (which was not a good term
to begin with because it allows too many loopholes) and sold out that term
to corporations. The largest “organic” producers today, are corporations
like Coca Cola, Dole, M & M Mars, who have absolutely no interest in
true organic farming practices, but produce their crops in pure
monoculture, without following even the most basic principles of diversification
or sustainability. Their sole motive of using the term “organic” is to take
advantage of the good reputation of “organics” and to rake in higher
profits than with conventionally grown produce. In other words, the term
organic has been distorted over time and the original idealistic organic
movement has been systematically destroyed.
are many alternative ways of certification, and all of them are more
affordable and devoid of invasive government intrusion into a farmer’s
life. Any insider knows that the entire certification process is quite
meaningless. More important, by far,
is for the public is to be in close touch with their food providers – there
is no better way of knowing the quality of produce than that.
Some of the loopholes in the legal terminology of the
word “USDA Organic” allow for the use of “organic” pesticides and
herbicides. Many organic pesticides
for example are derived from toxic plants which, in most cases, are not as
harmful to humans or soil life as synthetic pesticides but are not ideal
especially considering the wide array of alternative methods one could use
for any agricultural problem. Also, in packaged foods, USDA certification allows as much as
5% non-organic ingredients in foods that are labeled as “USDA
Q: It would be really helpful if
you could answer these questions and also comment on anything that you
might think would be relevant. Thank you very much, I really
appreciate you answering these questions, NM.
When I wrote my book “Oro Verde – Securing the Future of our Food” in 2007,
we had less than 50 organic farmers on the island, and practically no
organic farming education at all. Today, we have dozens of former
pesticide, chemical fertilizer and herbicide proponents and users who are
now promoting “organic farming”. The main reason why they eagerly support
the USDA certification is because there are hundreds of millions of Dollars
in federal government grants available and they are eager to get as much
money for their newfound love of “organic farming” as possible. Without
supporting the USDA certification, there is very little chance to get any
of these federal grants offered. Most see organic farming merely as a
business and not as what it was originally intended to be: a lifestyle in
harmony with nature and decentralized small scale production for
subsistence and benefitting the immediate local neighborhood.
today’s world, it has become very difficult to even attempt to set up a
sustainable agricultural project because every single agricultural law
passed by our governments favors corporations who work with a handful of
transgenic crops, and disfavors small-scale farmers who want to diversify
and be sustainable.
speaking, sustainable farming in Puerto Rico has very little future, if
any. Every year, thousands of acres of farm land are lost to development.
There are practically no tropical grains grown locally. The fruit and
vegetable market is still dominated by temperate climate produce, and there
are hardly any culinary or medicinal herbs grown for broader use. In fact,
there are several laws in the works to ban as many herbs as possible, as
well as independent farming in general.
only solution to change these unfortunate facts is self-education and a new
generation who can stand up against all the atrocities committed by our
governments, the food industry in general, as well as the educational
system that is bought off by various materialistic industries. That
generation is your generation. Please stand up and fight for a better
hope this answered your questions. Let me know if you have more.