Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Heat wave and global warming

I have read in the news that at least 38 people have already died in southern Europe this year because of the heat wave, maybe similar to, if not worse than, the 2003 heatwave. Among the countries severely affected are Greece, Italy, Romania, Albania and Serbia, especially the southern parts and provinces of these countries.

Last May, I have also read how the French people celebrated a seemingly “early summer” as they had cloudless skies for several days, when it should be springtime then and still a bit cold. At about the same dates, it was raining almost daily here in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces. I have thought that if there are lots of sun in Europe and perhaps the Atlantic side of the globe, there should be lots of rain elsewhere as the evaporated water have to fall as rain somewhere. So I have thought that it was the start of the regular rainy season for the country and other countries in tropical Asia. I was wrong.

June is about to end in 3 days, and the regular rainy season is not yet here. Yes there are lots of rainclouds everyday, especially in the afternoon, but there are only scattered showers, no heavy downpour yet. Climate change is showing to be worse than I have expected, at least for the first half of the year in this country.

Back to Europe. When I arrived in south Sweden, in the city of Lund in September 2003 to attend an international training on “sustainable agriculture”, our Swedish host there, Marie, told us that it was one of the finest summer they ever experienced in Sweden. Although she recognized that it was terrible in south and central Europe. Well, north Europe like the Scandinavian countries are lucky in seasons of severe heat and droughts. Nonetheless, a lot of indicators of global warming, like fast pace of melting ice in the north pole, are observed in these Scandinavian countries, especially in Greenland (part of Denmark).

I doubt that governments around the world can really arrest or slow down the bad effects of global warming. Many governments are characterized by wastes and profligacy, a characteristic that is least effective in the fight against global warming. People in their individual capacities, once aware of the bad environment ahead of them, will be more effective in slowing down the negative effects of global warming.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Climate change and dry June

Evidences of global warming and climate change continue to pile up around the world. The more "alarmist" the claims of global warming, the more harsh the measures to be imposed on people and societies. In fact, I will not be surprised if some alarmist guys will just propose doubling the petroleum taxes that motorists and the public have to pay to governments, and governments and the UN and other multilateral bodies will use the additional revenues to "clean" the world.

Here in the Philippines, Metro Manila in particular, we often have cloudy days, especially in the afternoon. But rains hardly come; even at this time of late June. Some showers or brief rains, and that's it. No monsoon rains or heavy downpour yet. When I visited our farm a week ago, the running water in the creek seemed fewer and smaller compared to those in the middle of last month. Sometimes I wish the downpour would come now, so that the clogged waterways in Metro Manila will be flushed. But I also don't want the downpour to come yet, until we have put more terraces in the hilly parts of our farm, to control or minimize the erosion of rich top soil made by earthworms and newly-decayed dried leaves and branches.

What I find discomforting though, is the humidty these days. It's cloudy, but it's hot. The past 2 weeks, I took bath about 4-5x a day. This week, I take 4 baths a day. Our electricity bill this month and the past 2 months have been increasing, as we have to use 2 electric fans in the sala during daytime.

Looking down and afar from the 25th floor of my sister's office here in Manila, I can see the width and expansion of Metro Manila. The mega-city is simply expanding and expanding. What used to be forest land a hundred years ago became rice land and other agri land 50 years later. Now those agri lands are gone. Houses, buildings, roads and parking spaces have taken over. So, what people used to complain as "deforestation" (meaning conversion of land from forest to non-forest uses, especially agricultural use), we can now call "deagriculturalization". What could be next, "dehousingzation" where lands are converted from housing to theme parks or memorial parks?

This afternoon, a thick and dark rain clouds are high up there in the sky. They've been there for the past 3 hours I think, but they don't fall. Yesterday and the other day, I think it was the same sight and phenomenon. In less than 2 weeks, it will be July, and the downpour are not yet in. Of course I hate to see flash floods in Metro Manila's roads; much less when I myself will be caught in high street flood waters. I've experienced it once, about 4 years ago, it was really scary and I swore I don't ever want to experience it again!

I hope there will be strong rains early next week, at least in our farm. I want the thick deposit of green algae and decayed leaves and branches in the stream near my treehouse be wiped and cleaned by a quick flash flood. Once they're gone, the stream and stones in river bed becomes clean. Then I can bring again my 9 months old daughter to the creek, and we'll frolick in the clean running water once again. I've brought her there more than a month ago, she liked it. :-)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Little Greenland

Over the weekend, I visited our farm in Bugallon, Pangasinan. This is about 200 kilometers north of Manila. On my way, I noticed that a big portion of the mountains in Mangatarem-Aguilar towns, also of Pangasinan (about km posts 170-180), have become “little Greenland”. That is, instead of dark green view (meaning thick forest), they’re now light green, indicating the mountains are now almost 100% grassland, with cogon as the dominant vegetation. This is one very clear example of deforestation – conversion or transformation of forest land into non-forest use, usually for agriculture or plainly abused and neglected.

This “little Greenland”, occupying probably several hundred hectares, actually change its color through months. At this time, June to October or November, they’re green in color – meaning these are newly sprouting cogons and grasses. By December to February or March, they become brown – meaning the grasses are now old and mature. You may call this scene as “little brownland”. Some people harvest the old grasses mainly for roofing. The cows don’t like to eat old grass anymore, so people who pasture their animals deliberately burn these grasses so that new grasses will grow. And so the grasses become black – meaning they got burned, either accidentally or deliberately. And so you may call this view “little blackland”.

The cycle of green-brown-black-green… can continue for many years. The large-scale cutting and clearing of forest trees, then burning them to give way for agriculture and/or pasture land for cattle, brought this cycle. Endemic forest species usually regenerate by themselves, without people planting them. Seeds blown by the wind or scattered by birds help these endemic forest species to grow by themselves. Problem comes when people would cut whatever new growth of trees, mainly for firewood or charcoal or for some household wood needs.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government’s main bureaucracy to “manage and protect” forest land, is either undermanned and lazy, or corrupt and lazy. DENR people can always claim that with more than 15 million hectares of “public forest land” to manage, they do not have enough manpower to guard and protect said area. Well if they do not have enough manpower (especially dedicated manpower) to do its mandate, then the safe way to unburden itself is to accept that they can’t do it, better lease or privatize ownership of many of those “public forest land”. The point is to have someone accountable to make sure that each hectare of land is managed for forest or agricultural or commercial use, and not relegated to a severely degraded land producing neither forest or agricultural products and services.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Upland mangos sweeter than lowland mangos?

Mangos are ready for harvest usually after 120 days from the 1st day of spraying flower inducer using potassium nitrate (KNO3).

Our experience, and corroborated by other mango growers and sprayers, is that if your mango trees are in the lowlands, you need 120 days before harvest But if your mango trees are in the midlands to uplands, we can harvest 115 days, sometimes 112 days. Why? The fruits mature faster and start falling to the ground before 120 days, resulting in a potentially big crop loss.

I notice, and again corroborated by other people, that upland mangos are sweeter than lowland mangos. I have personally tasted mango fruits on the same barangay or village. One in the lowlands, after 120 days harvest; the other in the midlands (ours), 114 days. Result? Ours in the midlands are a lot sweeter than those in the former. Even other people who have tasted the same set of mangos said the same thing.

Still don't know the exact explanation why this is so...

Climate Change and Agriculture

While many literatures are exploring how agriculture should cope with climate change and global warming, it can be said too, that agriculture and large scale food production greatly contributed to climate change. There are nearly 7 billion people in the world now, and several billions more heads of cows, carabaos/water buffalos, pigs, chickens, other animals for human consumption. In the Philippines for instance, to have 4.2 million hectares of rice land, then another 1+ million hectares of corn and sugar land, we had to cut down forest land by the same area and convert them into rice land and corn land. We also had to cut down several million hectares more of forest land for vegetable production, pineapple and banana plantation, mango and other fruits plantation, animal grazing land, for human settlements, industrial and commercial lands, military reservation, etc. One can repeat the same estimation in any country – the large-scale conversion of forest land into agri land, residential land, commercial and industrial land, public infrastructure, and so on.

But we cannot stop food production, or we cannot stop building houses, schools and shops, roads and power plants. At the end of the day, we really have to live with climate change; the most we can do is to reduce the deterioration of climate change, but never really stop it.

While it is acceptable to say that conventional agricultural practices are more unsustainable compared to organic or ecological agriculture, demand for the former will just remain to be big. People would rather die 20 or 30 years from now for eating inorganically- produced foods, than die next month or next year for lack of money to buy expensive (due to limited supply) organic products.

One remote possibility someday, is that mankind will be forced to re-convert agricultural land back to forest land, hundreds of millions of hectares of them. And mankind will have to eat agri food from very small agri land, using greenhouse structures and genetically- engineered crops that use zero pesticides, zero chemical fertilizers, and produced on a mass-scale.