Voices 51

November 1998

Farming for the future

Global warming. Deforestation. Desertification. Ozone depletion. The words are sprinkled throughout newspapers and newscasts around the world. Our planet is in peril.

Our challenge is to find new ways to address these problems – and you can be a part of the solution. By reaching back to our oldest values of community and responsibility, we can rebuild respect for the land and the resources we share.

You communicate regularly with the rural communities in your region. Are you doing anything yet to involve farmers in the struggle to save the earth?

Our grandchildren will inherit a world with less than one-fifth of its original forests intact, most of the available freshwater spoken for, most of the wetlands destroyed or degraded, and much of the arable land under plough. The soil and water will be contaminated by toxic waste. Countless species will be wiped out. So will be the treasures of knowledge that are disappearing as people lose their lands or abandon their traditions.

The response of the international community has been mostly ineffective. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro resulted in promises to heal our planet – but in countries with fragile economies, environmental concerns are often pushed aside to favour industries that offer jobs and foreign currencies.

If we have learned anything along the road from Rio, it is that, while government involvement may be necessary, it is not sufficient. The cure for our planet must come from communities. Change will occur when new groups of people come to understand how environmental degradation robs our children’s children of their future.

As a communicator, you can be an agent for that change.

As a broadcaster who communicates regularly with farmers, you have an opportunity to make them aware of problems and potential solutions. You can encourage sustainable farming in the communities you reach by radio. It is only by promoting sustainable food systems that we can prevent a catastrophe in which hundreds of millions of people could starve to death.

For the past 30 or 40 years, farmers have been using chemical fertilizer and pesticides to increase food supplies. Now, we find that insects develop resistance to pesticides. Reliance on chemical fertilizer rather than manure or compost makes soil more likely to erode. Poor irrigation techniques result in the build-up of salts in the soil, which eventually make the land infertile.

Land that can be farmed is in shorter supply, as urbanization turns greenbelts into parking lots, housing and shopping malls. Deforestation, overgrazing and poor land management contribute to desertification. Simply put, we are losing our precious soil resources.

Our planet’s providers – your audience – need new tactics. Sustainable agriculture – farming for the future, often using traditional techniques – will enable them to grow enough food without exhausting the land. These time-tested approaches include rotating different crops, planting legumes like clover and velvet bean to replenish a field’s nitrogen supply (rather than relying on artificial fertilizer), and building up soil with manure and compost, which recycle organic material. These methods not only preserve the soil, but also prevent pollution that occurs when chemical fertilizers are washed from fields into rivers and streams.

Millions of small farmers all over the world are joining the sustainable agriculture movement. They are rejecting the use of chemical pesticides which (often unregulated) threaten their welfare and health. Cooperatives in India and villagers in Guatemala are achieving both lower costs and higher production.

What works for them can work elsewhere. Give farmers a fighting chance by helping them to farm for the future.

New treaty to reduce risks from hazardous chemicals and pesticides

Countries from all over the world adopted a treaty to reduce environmental and health risks posed by hazardous chemicals and pesticides in September. The treaty will protect millions of farmers, workers and consumers in developing countries and reduce threats to the environment by setting up trade controls for these chemicals.

Negotiations were organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Many pesticides that have been banned or severely restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries,” said FAO Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf. “The treaty is an important step forward in helping governments to decide if they want to use and import those hazardous substances or not. The new Convention will contribute our efforts to intensify agriculture in developing countries in a sustainable manner.”

Haroldo Dilagosto wins Atkins award

This year’s winner of the George Atkins Communications Award, established in 1991 to recognize outstanding achievements of Network members, was announced at the Network’s Annual General Meeting in Canada on October 5.

Haroldo H. Dilagosto from Argentina received the award for his excellence in broadcasting for agricultural and rural development. He is a broadcaster, teacher and technician at Domingo F. Sarmiento FM Radio-School and has been a Network member since 1993.

Mr. Dilagosto and his colleagues work with children to create their own programmes of study and on-air activities. They use Network scripts for subject study, for practical radio training, and to raise awareness about health, nutrition and environmental issues.

The rural communities in the Smith locality of Argentina also benefit from Mr. Dilagosto’s skills as a mechanic. With his students, who together formed a micro-enterprise called Metalsiete, he makes agricultural tools and accessories for small-scale farmers. The school will exhibit the students’ farming and mechanical achievements at Expo-Garden, for which Mr. Dilagosto is General Advisor.

Other Network members have also benefitted from Mr. Dilagosto’s contributions. His ideas and examples have been published in our packages. They include “A manual seeder” and “Tips about tools, seeds and transplants.”

Congratulations, Haroldo, for work very well done!

The George Atkins Communications Award is named for Dr. George S. Atkins, Founding Director of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network and a farm broadcaster at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for many years. Dr. Atkins retired from the Network in 1991 but remains involved in our work as a volunteer Director and active supporter.