Ecological Agriculture Is the Best Option

ORFILIO PELÁEZ

For Humberto Ríos Labrada, PhD in Agricultural Sciences, the prosperous times of the intensive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and tractors in the food production process have already disappeared.

The model based on that old scheme is impossible to maintain not only in the current conditions of world economic crisis, but also in the future, because beyond the inevitable rise of the energy it requires, the fore mentioned pesticides damage the environment, and the crops obtained are less healthy.

“It is necessary then to consider, in the so called organic or ecological agriculture, a permanent option to cultivate the land and stop thinking that it is just a temporary alternative, only applicable during epochs of acute shortage of resources,” said Ríos Labrada.

Experience shows that it is possible to obtain high performances in the harvests employing organic fertilizers and other sustainable resources, with the minimum of chemical substances, and without wasting energy, he added.

Researcher and Producer

In April, Humberto Ríos Labrada was one of the six people presented with the Goldman 2010 Award in the United States, the highest international distinction to recognize the outstanding work of people to protect the environment at the community level. Ecologists consider it the Green Nobel Prize.

Still without knowing if he will ever receive the 150,000 dollars (due to the US laws, Ríos Labrada would need a licence from the Department of the Treasury), Humberto does not worry about it. Being among the winners represents, to him, an additional motive to defend, strongly and firmly, the development of a real safe agriculture, in harmony with the environment.

Humberto Ríos Labrada was born in Havana, specifically in Vedado, in October 1962. He says that since he was small he has been very much linked to the rural environment as his father was from the municipality of Contramaestre in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, and his family own a farm there, where he lived unforgettable moments.

“Maybe my grand father on my mother’s side was the one who instilled the love for the land in me, as he had studied the Cuban forests in detail and knew how to transmit that love towards plants to me.”

When Ríos Labrada finished high school, he enrolled in the specialty of Agronomy in the Higher Pedagogical Institute, where he graduated in 1984. Then, he worked as a teacher until the 1993-1994 school year.

Motivated by the urgency of increasing the food production during the special period that Cuba suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, Ríos Labrada took a PhD degree in the development of varieties of pumpkins with a higher content of vitamin A.

As he himself says, that experience was a cornerstone in his professional and personal life. He collected a number of seeds and took them to the research center to initiate the experiments.

“Unfortunately, at that time there were no fertilizers there, nor even machinery. I was told that the project was interesting, but I did not have any resources to start them. Thus, I grabbed my collection and went to the 28 de Septiembre Cooperative of Agricultural and Livestock Production (CPA), in Batabanó and asked them for help.”

He admits that without fully agreeing, it allowed the farmers to make a selection of the pumpkin seeds they would sow, according to the type of soil, humidity, and other local environmental signs. Regarding the agricultural inputs used, organic components prevailed.

“The results were excellent and we managed to grow the pumpkin varieties rich in vitamin A that we wanted.

Then, I learned the lesson: agricultural and livestock sciences cannot do without the contribution of the natural wisdom of the farmer. The researchers must listen to the producers’ criteria, for they are the real leaders in the battle to get the most out of the land, and must be the first ones to prove the technologies and spread them later.”

For over fifteen years, Rios Labrada is an icon of the designing of agricultural productive systems with low consumables and minimum use of energy, and of the phyto-improvement of seeds by means of giving room for participation to those who sow and then pick up the harvest.

In 2006, Rios Labrada founded the Program of Local Agricultural and Livestock Innovation, which currently comprises some 500 farmers from nine provinces. The idea is to diversify the number of crops in a certain area and, this way, widen the feeding options for the population.

If the crops are produced following a rota system, and they are also alternated, we have the possibility of obtaining more food variety on the same portion of land, with no need to use pesticides, or chemical fertilizers since the land recovers its natural balance this way.

Likewise, it also favours the reduction of the emission of green house effect gasses, said Rios Labrada— who also write songs which he uses to promote his ecological concepts.

Despite its detractors, organic agriculture is proving its value, gaining more space, and turning into a viable and lasting alternative, that will make us become less dependent on imports.

Daily Granma

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