Hi! I’m Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, and I’m part of a network of small scale, chemical-free, sustainable farmers based in Puerto Rico. Our collective’s farm was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, but because we have rigorous ecological practices we bounced back quickly. Our farmer-led organization also runs a textile and dye farm in an effort to expand sustainable living beyond just food production. My community is against the presence of agrochemical corporations like Monsanto in Puerto Rico.

Now, similar companies are seeping into the mountains where I live because the climate here is conducive to growing certain seeds. AJ+ featured my farmer friend in the latest episode of "Direct From With Dena Takruri," touching on how Monsanto's operation in Puerto Rico is affecting locals. Ask me anything!

For more stories like this, check out Direct From.

Proof: https://twitter.com/ajplus/status/1141123300610805762

EDIT: Thanks for all the questions, Reddit! Signing off now.

Comments: 221 • Responses: 10  • Date: 

KingNopeRope114 karma

The studies I have read indicate little to no variation in overall nutrition and no indications of harm to humans.

The bigger issue is the lack of diversity in the mono-culluture fields, which isn't unique to GMO products.

Totally get the fight against industrial farming, which GMO products are a part of, but the actual product isn't the issue.

Where I live your not competitive unless you have 20 plus modern combines running 24/7 during harvest. The output of these farms per acre is absolutely staggering, but they are ecological dead zones. You have a crop like rye for 50 km in every direction and literally nothing grows or lives but that crop.

Thoughts?

ajplus-125 karma

There is no scientific consensus about GMO products. But we also need to know that most of the GMO production is not going into food at all. The percentage of food that we eat that is GMO is actually really low. The problem is the monocultures, and the amount of toxic chemicals that is put into them. And we can’t downplay the lack of diversity, especially in this day and age.

To the second part of your question, this is the reality that a lot of people live in. I understand needing to maintain a competitive edge, but I question the need to be competitive versus thinking about future generations and what our kids will eat. Being able to walk outdoors.

We need to build more strategies that work on short-term issues, but we also need to think about long-term solutions. And regenerative agriculture does have that capacity. Maybe it lowers your monetary income at the beginning, but you will be paid in tenfold in food that you grew yourself, in clean resources and a healthy environment to live it. And for me that is a fair payoff. For me, it is really based on each person’s priority. Sadly, the priority seems to be the short-term economic benefit, especially for these corporations.

pdxchris48 karma

Would we be able to produce enough food without GMO technology? Doesn’t the higher yield from GMO help make agriculture have a smaller footprint, not only literally in size of the fields (you live on an island), but also less water and resources to create food?

ajplus-4 karma

Thank you for this question because I can continue to answer the other one! I think that’s one of those myths that we were asked about before. Even the UN is pushing for agroecology and small farming. Even though we use 30% of the resources, we produce 60% of the food on a worldwide scale. Again, most of the GMO production is not being eaten by humans. It’s being put into ethanol, animal feed, high fructose corn syrup, and it’s being put into fabric (a lot of it is in GMO cotton)

We need to understand that the GMO conversation is not uniquely a food conversation, and we cannot talk about GMOs and only talk about food. And if we’re talking about “footprint,” this turns into a long-term issue. This has repercussions down the line. Do we want to put our resources into something that does not feed us? Or something that not only feeds us, but cleans the air, captures carbon, fixes nitrogen and helps the land?

lyssian39 karma

What do you consider "chemical-free"?

ajplus-61 karma

When we say chemical free we’re talking about synthetic chemicals. When you go down to academia, everything is a chemical. But we mean synthetic, man-made chemicals. We don’t use commercial fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. Nothing at all. Literally nothing. We make our own compost. We make our own sprays. We use machetes, the hose.

KingNopeRope48 karma

Asbestos is natural, and really effective at what it does.

Are you using products with a history of being safe scientifically?

What your doing absolutely can be done properly, but some of the "organic" farming practices are significantly more dangerous then commercial products.

This is my big beef with organic farming, not saying your part of this.

ajplus-13 karma

I don’t want to say that organic is dangerous, but I do believe that organic is not enough. We are not organic farmers. We don't have organic USDA certification. I was actually an NOP inspector, so I could (if I wanted to) serve as an inspector under that. But I was appalled at the things that are allowed in certified organic production. That’s not to say that all organic farmers use all of these products. I know a lot of organic farmers from the U.S. that have beautiful farms. We are not talking about organic farming; we are talking about regenerative farming.

We use a bacteria - it’s not a man made, synthetic chemical. And maybe we’ll buy neem oil once in a while. But we do not believe in the substitution of a synthetic product for a botanical product. We believe in establishing a biodiverse system, saving our own seed, making our own compost, recycling waste, mulching… We believe in microorganisms.

perpetuatinstupidity20 karma

Are you experimenting with vertical and hydroponics?

ajplus17 karma

No. Technically, we do vertical because we grow on trellises and fences, but not hydroponics.

Oak98720 karma

Given the year round great climate and precipitation in PR, why aren't there more farms?

ajplus19 karma

In more modern times, farming was seen as something that “dumb” people do. There’s a local word “jibaro” (meaning rural farmer or peasant), and for decades, farming was something that jibaros did, that indentured servants did. So once people realized that farming is not a respectable trade here in Puerto Rico, people were pushing their children to become lawyers and doctors and engineers (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But literally, we were pushed away from the land. At the same time, we had Operation Bootstrap, a federally-funded program to get people out of the countryside and into industrial factories. And really, farming was for the lower class, for people that didn’t have anything else to do. So that’s how it was lost.

SadArchon18 karma

Have you tried starting up any local seed saving or production of open pollinated seeds that may not have potential for cross contamination?

ajplus11 karma

Most regenerative farmers here in Puerto Rico and wherever regenerative farming is practiced, we actually save our own seeds. Most of us have our own open pollinated seeds, but when it comes to GMOs, there are limitations on specific varieties. But most of us have a slew of uncontaminated (i.e. varieties that the big biotech companies aren’t working on) so there’s no risk for cross contamination.

But it’s only a matter of time because we’ve already heard of Monsanto working on 20 different vegetables here in Puerto Pico. So again, it may only be a matter of time.

There is a local seed breeder called Desde Mi Huerto, and they run an organic seed production.

mcsharp18 karma

There is so much misinformation about both organic agriculture and gmos it makes these sorts of discussions so difficult. What are a few things that many people seem to be misinformed about that you would like them to know?

ajplus-16 karma

I think it’s important to be clear that there’s no scientific consensus because there have been studies that go both ways. I think it’s also very difficult to find independent studies that are not funded by the biotech corporations. But I do think it’s important to know about GMO crops and their consumption, that there is no scientific consensus. But it is clear that the model of farming that GMOs need, they depend on this mode of industrialized farming. There’s no way around it. We know that it’s detrimental to our future. It’s not just about what we’re eating, it’s about the people who work there, the people who live in those areas, the food that it gets turned into, and even the other stuff that it gets turned into (like feeding it to livestock).
It’s a chain of issues that GMOs support. It’s not an isolated issue. No one can argue with the amount of toxic chemicals that are being used in these plantations. No one can argue with the monopoly that’s being accrued off the land in the hands of these megacorporations. No one can argue that the families in Argentina and Africa are actually suffering the consequences of these mega plantations of GMOs.

EStVincentMillay14 karma

Can you tell us anything interesting about the history of agriculture and exploitation on the island?

ajplus3 karma

Honestly, our entire history in the last 500 years is a very interesting story … I mean, agriculture in Puerto Rico hasn't even started to recover from 500 years of colonization. Our native Indians used to feed themselves 100%, they didn’t need anything from anyone. There are studies from the University of Mayaguez, that say our Indians grew a large number of crops, more than 100 different plants that they grew on purpose, not just for wild foraging purposes. When the Spanish arrived, that number dropped by half. When we were again invaded and taken over by the U.S., that number diminished again. So the history of farming in Puerto Rico is also the history of colonization. The thing that happened was the export revolution, where 95% of the island was deforested, to be focused on sugar cane and coffee.

People were taught to plant what they didn’t eat, and they still ate what they weren’t planting anymore. And that’s when food importation begins. And then you have decades and generations pass of people depending on food imports and the knowledge of growing your own food is lost. And that’s how we get to where we are now, where 90% or more of our food is imported. Most people have no idea where their food is coming from.

2_Smokin_Barrels7 karma

Is there anything you grow that you can't use the seeds from to create another crop? Like apples or some peppers. What do you do in that case? Graft, clone, etc?

ajplus8 karma

Assuming the question is if we plant hybrids, yes we do. We order the seeds from the U.S., but it is not even close to 25% of our production. But these are really specific items, like broccoli or a pepper variety, nothing that we actually have to depend on. Most of our seeds are open pollinated. Most we grow either from seed, or when you take a piece of the plant and plant it and it will grow roots (“Esqueje” in spanish). The simplest way of cloning.
We also work with perennials. So when we talk about an agroecology farm or a sustainable system, we need to depend on things that don’t need to be reseeded at all. A little bit of everything is what I’m getting at.