AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE
by Sadhu Govardhan
On June 17th, 2011, I was invited by a group called “Mentes Puertorriquenos en Accion” to give a conference in San Juan, at the Fideicomiso headquarters in San Juan.
The audience consisted of Puerto Rican economy students at various prestigious U.S. Universities.
The response of the audience was so overwhelmingly positive that I thought to post a partial transcript of my presentation there for the readers of my web site.
The panel discussion requested me to focus on Sustainable Development & Use of Natural Resources in Sustainable Businesses.
The title: "Challenges and Opportunities of Organic Agriculture in Puerto Rico and its Importance to the Local Economy"
The following were the guideline questions by the students and a partial transcript of my responses:
I’ve always heard that enterprises are harmful to PR due that they destroy the environment and exploit their employees. Is it possible to have an enterprise without destroying the environment?
Answer by Sadhu Govardhan:
First, let me commend you for your interest in thinking outside the box and your care about ethics.
The question raised here is an excellent one. Modern society has created a monster by setting up an educational system that measures it’s success by the amount of money earned, no matter the factual devastating effects on the planet. Our planet is not destroyed by primitive or uneducated people, but by highly educated ones. Thus modern knowledge has become the most unethical force of our times.
As you correctly mention, practically all enterprises, especially corporate enterprises in Puerto Rico have contributed to major ecological crimes. I have made a brief summary of these crimes in my book “Oro Verde – Securing the Future of our Food”.
If the answer to the second part of your question would be “no”, there would be absolutely no hope for the planet. Fortunately, the answer to your question is “yes” – enterprises can thrive without harming the environment. In order to understand how that is possible, we first have to re-educate ourselves and move away from linear thinking into cyclic or sustainable thinking, that is based on the understanding of producing only what is beneficial and that does not entertain the concept of waste or contamination.
Once we analyze how modern operations are run, we will find that all of them are in fact ecological criminals to various degrees. This reality is shocking and it appears as if there is a huge and seemingly unconquerable gap between reality and ideals. But as the saying goes: where there is a will, there is always a way.
In order to answer the question more directly, I would like to first list the most important human needs: healthy food, housing, clothing, natural medicines, ecological education, valuable social contributions, and happiness. But this is an entirely different outlook on life than our current materialistic society. So, the pioneer work of creating enterprises that are truly beneficial to the planet would be revolutionary. Since they would also require a different type of society, they would need to begin to build a foundation for a better future. This means, that currently an environmentally conscious enterprise could only make the “best out of a bad bargain” and in most cases would still be forced to make unwanted compromises. The only exceptions of our times are individuals or societies that live outside mainstream society. An example would be indigenous people or spiritual groups like the Amish, who create their own world within society.
In summary, yes, it is possible to create an ecologically sound enterprise, but it would have to focus on the primary human needs. The only field of occupation that can accomplish to fulfill these needs without compromise is agriculture. In order to succeed on a larger scale, we would need an agrarian based society.
People tend to say that agriculture in not profitable. Is it possible for agriculture to represent an important sector in PR’s economy?
A person who thinks holistically or sustainably, doesn’t think in terms of profits but in terms of overall well-being, which includes humans, animals, and earth in general.
In other words, we have a clash of paradigms here: the addiction of making money vs. saving a self-destructing society and replacing it with a sustainable one.
Agriculture is the most natural economy for a tropical island like Puerto Rico. If we would commit ourselves to producing foods, medicines, construction materials, clothing, etc. in a sustainable way, we would all experience the highest quality of life. Quality of life is not measured by profits, but by the overall happiness and health of society.
This proposed solution may be too abstract or idealistic for most people but yes, an ecologically conscious farmer can have enough income to maintain their self or a family. On a larger scale, PR’s complete agricultural potential is by far not tapped into, and even from a materialistic perspective, the potential profits could easily be raised a hundred times without causing more agricultural destruction, as has been done in the past.
What opportunities exist to best use natural resources to help our economy?
Again, this is an excellent question.
What are our natural resources? The answer depends on what we want to include. Puerto Rico is a tropical island and as such, a natural attraction for many people around the globe. So, agricultural progress could easily be combined with educational agro-tourism. Imagine for a second that we have an outstanding eco-village here in PR, that produces hundreds of different tropical vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices; that produces alternative energy; that has well designed bamboo structures; that produces tons of top soil building organic matter; that educates about simple ways of fulfilling all basic needs of society; Don’t you think that this would attract millions of people from around the planet? (There are 3 million tourists visiting PR annually). Even, for those who have a materialistic concept of economy, there would be millions of Dollars generated by such a project. Even in our current society, this money (which is ultimately nothing but paper made from slaughtered trees) could still be turned into something good by investing it into sustainability.
But again, we have to correct our understanding of economy. We don’t need a materialistic economy but one that is truly sustainable and beneficial for all.
What agricultural products can compete in the market?
ALL of them can compete in the market. Nature is the source of all material wealth.
When I wrote “Oro Verde – Securing the Future of our Food” I introduced the concept of the “holistic farmer”. In essence, a holistic farmer is one who understands the land he works, his own nature and the needs of the society surrounding him, and who acts accordingly. So, it is a matter of finding out what your land gives you, what your own inclinations and talents or strengths are, and what the community around you needs that you can produce for them.
The most essential agricultural products are:
1) Anything that builds or improves soils
4) Construction material
6) Health products
7) Alternative energy
It is possible to accomplish self-sustainability (Food security) in PR? Why this is important for the economy?
Yes, but it is very difficult, and here are the reasons:
1) It is very challenging to grow grains in tropical regions.
2) Puerto Rico has only a small percentage of the tropical vegetable and culinary herb & spice crops we would require to have a diversified diet;
3) Although I have introduced over 150 completely new fruit species to Puerto Rico, it takes time (5-10 years) for fruit trees to produce.
4) There is still major lack of tropical food crops and sustainable farming practice.
Besides fruits & nuts, vegetables, grains, herbs, spices, pure milk products would complete a healthy diet. The easiest source of high quality milk for a small scale farmer is goat’s milk, which can be turned into some of the healthiest existing milk products like kefir, yogurt, sour milk, butter milk, etc.
To be food self-sufficient raises the level of food quality enormously. Our average food travels about 1500 miles before it gets unto our plate. Most conventional foods are contaminated, toxic, depleted and/or genetically modified. So, naturally, you would save enormously on spending money on these kinds of foods and also on medical bills throughout life.
What can I do –from a personal or entrepreneur perspective- to support this cause?
Again, I am impressed by the sincerity of these questions. All of us should always ask how we could make a difference in this world.
My first answer would be: educate yourself from an entirely sustainable perspective. Start to think sustainably, and the rest will fall into place. Without sustainable education and thinking it is impossible to understand the direction we have to take in order to save this planet and an increasingly unhealthy society.
Next, remember again the principle of the holistic farmer: First, understand your own nature well. Are you by nature an educator? And administrator? A business man? A farmer? Someone who just likes physical work? An artist? An entertainer? To answer this question is particularly important because we have to be true to our nature in order to be happy and productive. Then find out how you can dovetail your nature with society’s needs.
To make things more practical, I give you my own example. I love to educate, I love to manage, and I love to grow plants. So, what did I do? I studied thousands of tropical crops, I grew as many as I could, I wrote about agricultural philosophy and my experiences, and I try to be as food self-sufficient as I can. Was I able to make much money with that? No. But I am satisfied with what I have done, and the fruits of my labor will benefit countless people in the future.
So, see this issue as a journey of consciousness. Cultivate vision, imagination, aesthetics and social or spiritual sensitivity. That way you will always continue to grow and your environment will always benefit from your presence.
© Sadhu Govardhan, 2011