[X] "Agrobiodiversity and Monoculture Homogenization in Agri/Culture" (UP Forum, 2011). [X] "The Fight for Education as Dress Rehearsal" (UP Forum, 2011). [--] "Community Sterilization and the Cataclysm" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Pamana at Pagkalinga ng mga Inang Makabayan" (UP Forum, 2012). [X] "Beyond the Bark: Reexamining our Roots" (UP Forum, 2012). [--] "Enabling Law Disabling 'Small Dictatorships'" (UP Forum, 2013). [--] "Power Switch: Reconsidering Renewable Energy" (UP Forum, 2013). "Fortun, Forensics and the Yolanda Aftermath: Recovery, Storage, System Restore, Repeat" (UP Forum, 2014). "General Education at Globalisasyon: Isip, Salita at Gawa Para Kanino?" (UP Forum, 2014)
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Agrobiodiversity and Monoculture Homogenization in Agri/Culture
Propagated by media conglomerates, mainstream news on beauty pageants, boxing congressmen, pregnant actresses, and the Malacañang occupant’s love life push agricultural issues such as agrobiodiversity to the background. If agrobiodiversity concerns are at all raised via media, data and analyses are more often than not presented without depth and watered down to mere sloganeering.
Unlike Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment’s call to turn “lights off on new coal-fired power plants,” the World Wildlife Fund’s popular earth hour campaign, for instance, trivializes the issue and claims to involve citizens by turning off their lights to fight climate change (one of the causes of agrobiodiversity loss). There is no mention of corporate greed, no particular culprits. Quite similar is the academe’s participation in the preservation of agrobiodiversity. Despite the clamor against genetic modification and chemical farming, corporate funding gets researches going with corporate interests as primary consideration..
Among and despite the required general education (GE) courses on particular sciences, one may graduate from UP—or any university in this predominantly agricultural country—without having studied even the essential concepts of agriculture. Look no further for a culprit, as it could have been quick to evade your scrutiny: we may credit culture, reflecting the interests of those who control the economic base, for such a circus of spectacles that deviates from subject matters more relevant than the president’s new lover. Overlooked are matters that matter-- i.e. agricultural concerns or peasant issues like land reform, trade policies, and the plummeting state of agrobiodiversity.
Threatened State of Agrobiodiversity
According to the UPLB-College of Agriculture (UPLBCA) represented by Prof. Teresita Borromeo, agrobiodiversity is the “variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries.” Being a subset of biodiversity, it “comprises the genetic resources of plants (crop varieties, landraces, wild relatives of crops); animal genetic resources (native and new breeds/strains of livestock and poultry) and microorganisms important to food and agriculture,”
“Agrobiodiversity, being the foundation of sustainable agricultural development and vital resources for food security provides economic, environmental and socio-cultural benefits,” UPLBCA said. Simply put, agrobiodiversity, as defined by the Magsasaka at Siyentista Tungo sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), is “the diversity of the biological resources we have domesticated” for our basic human needs. MASIPAG further said that agrobiodiversity is necessary for offering a multitude of resources, improving our chances of survival and providing more components for farm integration.
UPLBCA added, “A total of 39,100 species of flora and fauna have been identified in the country, of which a high 67% are endemic. There are approximately 15,000 plant species so far identified within its borders. Of the 8,120 species of flowering plants 40% are endemic to the country.” However, these numbers may dwindle or fluctuate and eventually plummet, if measures are not taken.
Besides displacement of the landraces and traditional varieties being the primary problem, “acculturation, globalization of the food systems and marketing, deforestation, population pressure, land conversion, urbanization, pests and diseases, overgrazing, civil strife and natural calamities, and climate change,” also contribute to agrobiodiversity erosion, according to UPLBCA. MASIPAG is more particular, enumerating (1.) conversion of highly diversified farms into haciendas being the beginning of monoculture of export crops; (2) over-exploitation of natural resources;(3) environment poisoning due to chemical farming and use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers;(4) marketing of commercial varieties; and (5) implementation of government policies and monoculture.
Among the victims of agrobiodiversity erosion are species that may not have potential value at the moment, genetic diversity mainly among rice varieties, and even indigenous culture (MASIPAG 2003). According to these pronouncements, the crises facing agrobiodiversity are quite similar with those of cultural diversity—losses in agriculture due to the introduction of modern chemical farming coupled with genetic modification results in the disintegration of indigenous culture and knowledge.
Similarly, powerful corporations that introduce, or rather impose, modern or high- yielding varieties (HYVs) displace local varieties, forcing farmers to purchase commercial seeds that are patented and out of farmers’ control. Modern varieties then, besides threatening the environment and food security, among others, serve as agents of monoculture and monopoly in agriculture. Similarly, the Internet, cable television (TV) and World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (WTO-GATT) provisions contribute to homogenization of culture in the guise of globalization.
Despite the Philippines’ ranking “seventh in the world in terms of species diversity and endemism,” (UPLBCA 2011) the reasization of promises of a better future for a country with rich agrobiodiversity seems unlikely as amid global calls for biodiversity preservation, “the spread of modern seeds and agricultural technologies controlled and operated by agribusiness corporations have led to the erosion of biodiversity.” (MASIPAG 2010).
The UPLBCA has taken measures to preserve agrobiodiversity. It continues to offer courses on agrobiodiversity conservation and management. It also houses at its Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory (NPGRL), the national repository of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), despite having “no comprehensive national PGR program and no stable funding to support initiatives especially in the maintenance of national collection at the NPGRL.” MASIPAG’s scientists on the other hand directly trained and involved farmers in rice breeding, identifying research areas, and devising technologies.
Cogs of a Familiar Machine
In an interview with the UP Forum, Dean Rolando Tolentino of the UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) said that diversity in culture is necessary as different people of varying experiences are resilient to different crises. Children in war-torn Mindanao may easily overcome trauma than kids exclusively schooled in the metro. In the same way, different plant varieties are resistant to different climates—so it all boils down to diversity being essential to survival of people, their crops, their culture, and their community. Pests may plague a farm but with diverse varieties, food may remain secure. Pit diversity in culture and in agriculture, against monoculture and you get the exact opposite: apocalypses of people, their crops, their culture and their community.
Worldwide homogenization in different aspects aggravates the crisis of human monoculture. Agricultural erosion and cultural assimilation are just two of the offshoots of neocolonialism via imperialist war machines of aggression, which may be explicit or implicit. That is, borrowing Althusserian terms, forms of foreign, intrusive control may be through Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA) or Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA). The former functions by violence that may not necessarily be physical (the police, the military, etc.); the latter by willing compliance (the church, the university, etc.) or interpellation, i.e. an ideological control that compels the subject to willingly comply.
Such compliance is the foundation of hegemony—the tacitly agreed upon status quo values and practices that are not simply impositions from above, but from below as well, according to Tolentino. “Hegemony is also a means of containing radical subversion.” With the analogy to agriculture, monoculture homogenization, through imposition of commercial HYVs, deems “centuries of rice production and development” backward and inefficient (MASIPAG 2010). Likewise, indigenous cultures deemed pagan and barbaric are benevolently assimilated, justifying enculturation. RSAs and ISAs are then employed to agriculturally and culturally homogenize, with the former ranging from legislation to military harassment and the latter primarily through education.
Compare UPLBCA’s and MASIPAG’s analysis of the reasons behind agrobiodiversity erosion, and notice that the former (a formal institution) did not explicitly mention corporate interests while the latter (an informal institution) blatantly criticizes agribusinesses imposing monoculture through commercial control, criminalization of farmers by restricting research, among others, at the expense of species that serves as stationary food of the farmers, genetic diversity and indigenous culture.
As Dean Michael Tan of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) said in an interview with the UP Forum, “The definitions of ‘culture’ are in fact very agricultural in nature, in the sense of nurturing and cultivation.” The nurturing then of a child, and the nurturing of the seed shall be diversified and based on the community, indigenous or otherwise, he was born into. Tan added, “Variation in nature is important for survival.” In contrast, the practice of monocropping threatens survival since “with its narrow genetic stock, pest and disease outbreaks are more frequent and crops are less resilient to climate pressures.” (MASIPAG 2010).
However, some institutions calling for preservation of biodiversity may be another liberal strain to those calling for multiculturalism, i.e. the pluralist acceptance of cultural diversity in society (Tolentino 2011), that E. San Juan Jr pertains to as he quotes Slavoj Zizek in his paper The Paradox of Multiculturalism: “With the intensifying commodification of ethnic particularisms, the multicultural spectacle now operates as the authentic ‘cultural logic of multinational or global capitalism.’”
Pluralism then passes itself as democratic, yet, it often concludes and reaffirms hegemonic institutions. In the same manner, justifying the status quo are the pretentions of New Criticism in literature, objectivity in journalism and agrobiodiversity in agriculture with the claim of science being value-free or unbiased. Tolentino said that multiculturalism is devoid of class analysis. Likewise, San Juan’s reservation of the said paradigm is its “occlusion of unequal power/property relations.” Tolentino further said that the myth of the melting pot is too utopian as no matter how the mixture of all cultures in the margins can never be the national culture, the national culture remains in Manila, defined by the educated and the moneyed.
Pulling legislative strings of RSAs and ISAs, dominant institutions in both the agricultural and the cultural industries force stakeholders into submission. The Plant Variety Protection Act of 2002 (PVP), according to MASIPAG, grants ‘breeders’ (formal corporations and institutions) privileges to their discovered or developed varieties while farmers are deprived of their right to varieties they helped to develop. Moreover, HYVs or commercial varieties, available from agribusinesses, require chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce high yields. Notice that even the IMF-World Bank requires policies that ‘encourage’ budget cuts on social services, compelling educational institutions to rely on privatization and commercialization. In effect, this transforms universities from institutions of higher learning to corporate research facilities that shall then be driven by the profit motive—consistent with the government’s commitment to debt servicing.
Monopoly, monoculture and monocropping economically, culturally and agriculturally intervene and displace the locals, the indigenous and the tillers. Tan’s example that can be taken literally or figuratively is right in the University’s backyard: “(in Palma Hall) We recently discovered the Gmelina trees, planted as part of our ‘greening’ efforts, have been growing so quickly with its long roots that it is now difficult for other plants to survive. Our famous kalatsutsi are becoming stunted. Carabao grass is disappearing, because the Gmelina trees, with its long and rapidly-growing roots, are taking up all the water. The roots are also moving into our sidewalks causing cracks and uneven terrain. We could have introduced more biodiversity using other plants that fit with each other.”
The manufacture and/or imposition of agricultural technologies and cultural paraphernalia increment casualties and melt everything into homogenization in the guise of technological advancement. San Juan said, “Clearly, the paradigm of modernization and developmentalism predicated on the superiority of Western political and economic institutions determined then, and continues to influence, the instrumentalizing technologies and policy implications offered by those who claim to be authorities on the cultural diversity of the Philippines.” In this instance, both in the agricultural and cultural sense,
Homogenization, thanks to cultural imperialism via globalization, drives people’s desire towards global middle class products or services such as iPods and iMacs (Tolentino 2011), as farmers are interpellated into accepting “modern” farming technologies, i.e. commercial pesticide-/fertilizer-dependent chemical farming, rather than traditional farming methods deemed to be doomed to antiquation—or in agricultural terms, ex situ (off-site) and in vitro (within glass) conservations, rather than in situ (on site), with the former utilized by formal institutions and the latter by informal institutions.
Notice the semblance to the ivory tower of the literary canon overlooking literatures from the margins, or, “emergent literature,” as Elmer Ordenez puts it, may be more appropriate. Similarly, the culture of Manila business process outsourcing, as Tolentino illustrated, discriminates against call center applicants from the provinces imposing that the non-Manileños lose their accent and implying that they shrug off their cultural identity . According to Tolentino, such snobbery creates a glass ceiling intimidating non-hegemonic ethnicities. In agriculture, this can be seen in the imposition of HYVs. Tolentino added that for a multicultural society to be healthy, there has to be unity in diversity, tolerance and support. Tan values variety as well, saying “The same principle applies to human communities, where a ‘monoculture’ means narrow views of the world, and an insistence that there is only one way to look at and interpret the world.”
The agreement to disagreement can never be achieved with monoculture homogenization shoving its dominance down everybody’s throats. Thus, everybody is left with no choice but to heterogeneously defy and vigilantly hold on to our identities and roles in society. We can’t take such a challenge sitting down, as we cannot afford to lose tillers due to the injustices legalized by the government and the superiority of the formal or modern farming techniques instituted by the ruling elite. The former, an RSA, functions through implementation of agriculture-related policies such as the PVP; while the latter, an ISA, functions with subtlety through society’s intimidating the farmers’ indigenous knowledge and culture by considering their ways passé. Thus, people empowerment through organized social movements is necessary in resisting monocropping, monoculture and the other facades of monopoly capitalism.