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WHAT’S IN A MEAL: Sustainable Agriculture in an age of Global Warming

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Last Updated (Tuesday, 30 March 2021 17:42)

On April 22nd the world will celebrate Earth Day! YMCA globally is an organization that represents the youth. And if the youth have anything to say on the matter, it is that the World is moving too slowly in conserving Earth, the only Earth that we have to call home. Greta Thunberg said, “I don't want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic”. Indeed, she isn’t wrong. Science is predicting a cataclysmic end to humanity and the world as we know it and global policy just isn’t taking it seriously enough. April 22nd should not be “Earth Day”, everyday MUST be “Earth Day” if in the future of existence, we want people to be present to celebrate it.

While climate change is a new concept in the world of science, humanity has been changing the world, changing the environment, and changing climate from the early days of civilization, even before. Newer studies show that even the Sahara Desert, the largest expanse of barren desert in the world, was not authored by nature alone, but had humans to nudge along its ultimate descent into non-life.

Of course, this early alternation of the course of nature was not in the “industrial scale” that followed the aptly named “industrial revolution”, but vitiate agriculture and overgrazing that transformed lush plains into vast wasteland. Even today, cattle farming is the highest contributor to the global release of methane gas. In 2020, the Scientific Advice Mechanism of the European Union established that the food system as a whole contributes more than 37% of the global green-house gas emission and this figure is on a steady rise. Furthermore, modern use of insecticides, pesticides and soil fertilizer is poisoning not only our farms the world-over, but us and our children. Each day we feed into our body hundreds of non-degrading chemicals that cause a host of diseases. In addition to all our designed modern ways of killing mother-nature, nutrient loss and desertification continue to pose an ever-current threat, just as it did 10 millennia ago in the Sahara plains. This prolonged homicide of mother-nature is only compounded by the evils vetted on our fellow human beings. Exploitation, modern slavery, poverty, sickness and death are all a part and parcel of the global food-network and little if anything is done because after all food is a necessity and which man is willing to starve on a matter of principle.

 

Sri Lanka is a small centrally located island in the Indian ocean. History records it once being termed the storehouse of the East, but those days are long gone. A study in 2009 by the Department of statistics found that 21.6% of children in the country were underweight and 18.4% suffered from nutrition related stunting. The percentage of children with minimum dietary diversity was at 72.9% overall with a low of 46.6% in the improvised estate sector. The war-ridden Northern and Eastern provinces were not accounted for in this study, but that would have driven these numbers far lower given the commonplace presence of malnutrition and even starvation. It is also noteworthy, that following a rehauling of the agricultural sector in the 70’s, historic farming techniques were abandoned in favour of modern ones, which resulted in the widespread use of agrochemicals in the food manufacturing process across the board. Despite Sri Lanka being a global-success story in the phasing out of tier-01 harmful pesticides by 2012, use of chemical fertilizer, artificial nutrients, and other agrochemicals remain widespread.

In this backdrop, in the vast acreage of the YTC in the North of the country, the National Council of the YMCA’s of Sri Lanka inaugurated the “Farm of Hope” in 2020. At this juncture it was only a dream in the mind of National General Secretary Mr. Theonis Brownson who did more than just dream, but worked to make that dream manifest. President Mr. Nirmal de Fonseka, despite being a volunteer, was very much involved from the onset and labored tirelessly, employing his expertise, time and network to empower the development of the farm. What began as a small poultry farm employing no more than 3 persons, today is well on the path to becoming a fully self-sustained integrated farm that lives up to its name “Farm of Hope”. Integrated farming has been around in Sri Lanka for a few decades, although it is primarily in the form of integrated fish-poultry farming that takes place primarily in alcoves surrounding rural metropolises. The Farm of Hope was envisioned as a provider of stable-employment to people in the vicinity, many of whom are war widows hailing from single income households. They live well below the poverty line and stable employment in these rural plains is not just intangible, it is unknown. With support from both YUSA, in the form of Messrs. Evan Page and Tom Valentine, who adopted the Farm of Hope as a pet-project and worked tirelessly to raise funds to empower the program and NCY Korea, with the support of NGS Kim and Miss. Daeun Yang who spearheaded obtaining a KOIKA Fund Grant for empowering the YMCA Sri Lanka to expand employment at the Farm of Hope, what was a dream, soon manifested itself into a reality. Worthy of special mention from among the benefactors of YUSA are Messrs. D. Anderson, C. Collins, D. Connel, A. Devereaux, T. Dodge, C. Loring, E Page, and T. Valentine together with Mmes. A. Devereaux, B. Loring, and M. Page. Today the YMCA Farm of Hope is a thriving example of what agriculture ought to be. Minimal damage to mother nature, and integrated systems for fertilization that provides decent sustainable employment to a community. With an employment that touched peak at 20 persons in January 2021, integrated farming with mixed poultry (eggs and meat), quail, ducks, rabbit, goats, cattle, and agricultural farming of paddy on 15 acres that just this season yielded a harvest of over 23,000 KG, the farm of hope is only halfway through on it journey.

The Farm of Hope is not only an example of constructing actionable change that ought to be made in the field of agriculture, if we as a human race is to survive, it is a shining beacon of what the global network of YMCA can accomplish. Friendship, the ideals of service, and wholistic self can transverse the boundaries of race, creed, nationality and even geography to make a change when the world needs it most. This is just an example of the drastic actions that ought to be taken across the food production industries and the role YMCA’s can play in implementing them. Afterall no man wants the food he eats to be the reason our children and grandchildren will never be born!

“Adults keep saying: "We owe it to the young people to give them hope." But I don't want your hope. I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” ― Greta Thunberg

 

By Fabian D. K. Schokman
Executive Secretary - Youth & Sustainable Development
National Council of the YMCA's of Sri Lanka