There’s a wrap-around advertisement from Monsanto on the cover of the October edition of Successful Farming magazine. The text of it reads:
What’s next in weed control technology? Roundup Ready 2 XTend Soybeans. An advanced soybean product with tolerance to dicamba and glyphosate. Xtend your control.
(in small print at the bottom) Pending regulatory approvals. Not available for sale or commercial planting.
I’ve blogged often about how the use of Roundup (glyphosate) on genetically modified crops has led to the emergence of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds.” Nature is amazingly resilient like that.
This hasn’t hurt Monsanto’s profits, however. Now they can sell more glyphosate than ever, as farmers who have become dependent upon it now have to apply it in heavier and more frequent applications. And of course it creates a market for new products, like “Roundup Ready 2 XTend Soybeans,” genetically engineered to be resistant to dicamba as well as…
Water is a renewable resource. But there is a danger that we might not have enough supply by the 21st century because of over-extraction and possible contamination of aquifers. If we mismanage the natural systems that provide us with fresh water, we will be making water unsustainable in the long run.
You might find me ridiculous when I say we might run out of water by the 21st century. What I’m referring here, though, is clean potable water.
Yes, it is true that the earth is literally a world of water. We use it in so many ways. It is more than just a drink. We use it for agriculture, for industry, and for energy.
Also, water is a renewable resource in the sense that it is powered by the sun, which vaporizes water from the oceans and other different bodies. Through gravity, the vaporized water cycles and falls back to earth as precipitation. Some of these water come as rain or snow.
However, worldwide precipitation is not the same in all parts of the world. Some regions are water-rich in the sense that they get enormous fluxes, or flows, of water; while some places are water-poor, where they get low fluxes. There are also places where there is a significant stock of water.
There’s also another huge resource of water – underground, or in what we call aquifers. We tap into this source of fresh water for use in agriculture, energy, industry, or for human consumption. The water we extract from aquifers gives us a sense of how much water we can sustainably use each year.
We know that the stock of water underneath the ground takes a very long time to accumulate. In some areas, aquifers are even thousands of years old. If we just use fluxes for our different needs, we would not encounter major sustainability problems, since the water we take out would be replenished each year. However, sustainability issues can come in when we take out too much water from these sources faster than it gets replenished.
Agriculture is the single major user of water worldwide. Water loss during agricultural processes is so much more of a problem than water loss in the home. But I’m not saying, either, that it’s all right for us to not conserve water domestically. What I mean is that domestic use of water is just a small part of total use, and it is often highly treated, making it a special case of water.
Large countries, like China and India, are known to have been over-extracting fresh water for their intensive agriculture, as well as for consumption of their huge populace. Other countries and regions, too, have reached a dangerously low water tables and are experiencing water stress.
This concerns the water in the natural system, or that which is part of a hydrologic cycle. Water stress refers to the amount of water required to make a product.
The illustration below shows the amount of irrigation water, or embedded water, used to produce common consumer products. A cup of coffee, for example, requires about 200 liters of water to produce. How does it happen?
Well, computation starts from the growing of the coffee plant itself. To cultivate coffee, you’ll need a lot of precipitation and irrigation before the beans were ground up, and brewed. So that’s how we come up with the 200 liters to make a cup of your favorite drink.
Now, the processing and production of coffee is done and brought to supermarket shelves. You bought a pack of that coffee and prepare it at home. Then you add about 250 milliliters of water to dissolve your coffee. Obviously, you didn’t use as much water on it as the agricultural processes did. This is what I mean by domestic use of water is so much less than what is used for agriculture. The same holds true in the production of the other products listed in the illustration, as well as in the manufacture of a car, or an aluminum can.
Another threat to water is pollution. Water pollution contributes much in the scarcity of clean water in the world today, making it unsustainable. Scientists even predict that we might be facing severe shortage of fresh water by the 21st century if we don’t properly manage what we have at present.
Water can be polluted in so many ways. Both industrial and agricultural processes can pollute the water sources. When an aquifer is polluted with heavy metals or organic compounds that cause cancer, that resource can no longer be used.
So, if we truly value the natural world, we must minimize the total amount of water that we extract, so that the natural systems will constantly have enough to provide us with.
You don’t have to be an activist marching on the streets shouting for radical change, but you can make a subtle statement with the clothes you wear. By choosing organic clothing, you can show your love for Mother Earth, as well as promote your own healthy lifestyle.
To be a fashionista is one thing, to be conscious about wearing what can be safe to the environment is another. Although, you can be a fashionista with organic clothing, as eco-fashion is now an increasing trend.
When we say organic clothing, we refer to the materials produced from fibers that are raised in or grown naturally in compliance with organic agricultural standards. These materials are not treated with synthetic chemicals. Instead, farmers who grow them use only natural methods to manage soil quality, diseases, pests, and other farming problems.
Among the most popular organic fabrics produced and available in selected outlets include organic cotton, organic linen, jute, silk, ramie or wool, tencel, hemp, bamboo, pineapple, banana, leather, and organic recycled fibers.
Admittedly, though, clothes made from any of these fabrics may cost higher than those made from synthetic or conventional materials. But, beyond the cost are tremendous benefits both for your skin and for the environment.
Hypoallergenic. Organic fibers are hypoallergenic and do not contain pollutants, chemical-based dyes, resins, or formaldehyde, irritants that can trigger dermatological conditions and other allergic reactions to users.
Bamboo clothing, for example, is naturally antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-static, UV protective, flexible, and softer than silk when spun into yarn. It also absorbs sweat very quickly, keeping the wearer feeling dry and comfortable.
Bamboo-made clothes are oftentimes called ‘clothes that caress’ because of its softness and skin-friendly quality.
Toxin-free. Organic clothing are free of toxins because they are grown using only natural fertilizers, compost and soil amendments, and natural methods of controlling pests.
Safe to human and animal health. Since organic farming does not use toxic and chemical-based herbicides and pesticides, it is safe to farmers, farm workers, employees, as well as to the larger community around the farm. Animals are also free from the effects of harmful chemicals.
Environmentally friendly. Not only is it safe to human and animal health, but organic farming also enriches the soil to its full potential, and rehabilitates those portions that have been damaged by too much chemical content. The nitrogen compounds from fertilizers, for example, enter the atmosphere and contribute much to global warming. Excess nitrates percolate through the soil and contaminate both surface and groundwater sources.
On the other hand, organic farming takes around 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre per year from the atmosphere. And, this means a lot!
Organic cotton farming alone produces considerably less carbon dioxide emissions, and uses up to 60% less water than conventional farming methods. Likewise, all natural fabrics are biodegradable, making it easy on the environment.
Durable. You would be pleasantly surprised to know that organic clothes are durable.
Hemp, which is perhaps the most durable of all natural fibers, is more porous than cotton and can last for years.
Meanwhile, tests show that an organic cotton or bamboo-made clothes can last over a hundred machine washes before its fibers begin to break apart.
Because of its durability, you are assured that organic clothes are more economical in the long run.
Superior quality. The pineapple or piña fabric, for example, which is often used in wedding dresses, gowns, and other formal attire may look simple but it exudes a natural elegance. It has a natural shimmer that it no longer requires synthetic finishing treatment. Many fashion designers even use it to clothe celebrities and personalities.
Organic cotton, on the other hand, has a natural wax that keeps it smooth.
Hemp is also antimicrobial, mold-resistant, UV and UVB rays protective, and keeps its user dry.
In other words, organic fabrics are far more superior in quality than its synthetic counterparts.
Organic clothing has gradually entered into the mainstream fashion; although, many department stores worldwide are yet to carry this line. But with the increasing people’s awareness about climate change, global warming, and sustainability, it would not take very long for people to adapt to this kind of lifestyle.
Aside from clothing, natural fabrics also make good material for bed sheets, table linens, handkerchiefs, bags, mats, fans, and other useful materials and novelties.
Just like in any other products, organic clothing has also its own disadvantages. Although, these can be remedied with proper care.
Since organic linen is not treated with anti-wrinkle chemicals, it has the tendency to break with constant creasing, especially along the collar and hem parts of the garment.
As mentioned earlier, organic clothing are more expensive than its conventionally-manufactured counterpart. That is, if you don’t consider its long time benefits.
Not every country imposes specific standards or laws regarding organic clothing. That’s why it can be possible that manufacturers can mark its items as organic even if it contain non-organic chemicals.
While the Philippines has successfully put its piña fabric, the clothing made of pineapple leaves, into the mainstream of the fashion industry, let’s move further forward and identify another possible source of our basic need – that is, clothing, hoping to revive the tradition and lifestyle that our forefathers used to have. I’m not talking about getting back to the primitive era here. Rather, I mean that it’s about time to adapt a lifestyle that is friendly to our personal health as well as to the environment that we live in; although, it’s prudent to preserve tradition and culture.
Let’s explore, then, the rich textile tradition of the people of the Okinawan Islands.
The independent kingdom of ‘Ryukyu’, which covers the Okinawan islands (before it was relinquished to Japan), had been known for its rich textile weaving industry, using plant fibers. Among the plant-based textiles they made was the bashôfu, or the banana fiber cloth.
In the 13th century, the Okinawans weaved kimonos and other traditional clothes from a specific variety of the banana plant, called ito bashô in Japanese. The word fu means fabric or cloth; thus, the term bashôfu.
Extraction of the banana fiber was done manually and the process was quite tedious, requiring skills and a lot of patience. Because of this, weavers found it difficult to mass-produce the cloth. Also, the presence of readily available and low cost fabrics, such as cotton, silk, and other synthetic cloths hampered them to put banana-made clothes into the mainstream of commerce. And, of course, the ongoing World War II was a major factor in the decline of the banana-weaving industry.
Fortunately, though, weaving and use of bashôfu was revived, and even accelerated after the war and when Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. Since then, bashôfu has been receiving considerable attention as Japan’s important intangible cultural properties.
Types of banana
There are three major types of banana plants, namely: the food source (the plantain and sweet banana); the decorative plants, and; the starch and fibers sources. The popular abaca fiber, also known as Manila hemp, comes from the third type of banana.
Extraction processes of banana fiber
Banana fiber properties
Banana is a natural bast fibre, having its own physical and chemical properties of fine quality. It has been proven to have these unique qualities:
it resembles the fiber from ramie and bamboo, but it is finer than the two
banana fiber can be spun in almost all methods of spinning, such as, bast fiber spinning, open-end spinning, semi-worsted spinning, or ring spinning. In other words, its spinnability is better than other fibers.
it can be as soft as organza silk when refined using traditional techniques
lustrous and lightweight
very high tensile strength
low in elongation
has a high moisture absorption capacity
repels grease and water
remains extremely flexible
it dries quickly
comes from a renewable resource
Why we should patronize banana clothing
Banana is grown in 129 countries around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, India, Hawaii, and some Pacific islands. It is the fourth most important global food crops, serving our different needs such as fruit and food sources, and food wrapping (leaves).
Banana plants are sustainable. It takes only about 12 to 16 months to yield. But, once the fruits are harvested, banana stems seem to have no more use but to be dumped in landfills. And there are billion tons of stems that are wasted annually in banana plantations. Good thing that our ancestors found a way to utilize these otherwise waste materials. They saw that these junk banana stems can actually provide us with a sustainable source of fabric that helps us reduce our dependence on synthetic fibers.
Of course, we know that production of synthetic fibers requires chemical-based fertilizer, pesticides, extra energy, and other non-biodegradable elements that are harmful to both the environment and people.
By advocating banana-made products, especially clothing, we are promoting organic and sustainable lifestyle as well as helping the banana-weaving industry to flourish. And of course, we are reducing wastes at the landfills.
Other products from banana fiber
Aside from clothing, banana fiber also makes a good material for:
Soy sauce is one of the most important condiments that Filipinos cannot live without. It’s the primary ingredient to the ever popular adobo dish. And I bet you even have a favorite commercial brand that you can readily get from the supermarket or the nearest sari-sari store. But, how about trying to make your own version of soy sauce? From coconut water, I mean.
There are significant bases why a coconut tree is called ‘the tree of life’. From its roots to the utmost tip of its leaves, you will surely find some good uses of a coconut. It provides several health benefits to mankind, as well as hefty economic returns to those who cultivate it.
But, perhaps not many people are yet aware of the full potentials of coconut. Take for example the coconut water. Even if most of us know of the amazing health benefits of this refreshing drink, it was only recently discovered that coconut water can also make a tasty and delightful condiment that can even be turned into an income-generating resource. In fact, many coconut farmers today still discard this fluid when they do copra production.
Recent studies have found that coconut water can make very good substitute for the soybean-based sauce. It is very easy to prepare, too. You just collect a liter of coconut water and sift the tiny particles away. Boil the coconut water in a pan for an hour or until the liquid thickens and turned dark. Then, remove it from the fire. Once cool, you may transfer your coconut soy sauce to a bottle container for proper storage.
That’s all it takes to make a healthy home-made condiment!
Aside from being healthy, coconut soy sauce, or coco toyo, does not necessarily have to contain preservatives; and it can last for around six months. It also does not require any additive to enhance its flavor because its natural taste is delicious enough.
Not only that! You may even want to market it. It does not require huge capital to start a coco toyo business. Besides, it is now high time that we should turn to healthy eating habits and lifestyle.
Here is how to make “coco toyo”. [Acknowledgement to Ms. Karren M. Verona, Executive Producer of Agri Tayo Dito TV program on ABS-CBN, who supplied this procedure]
2 liters coconut water (Be sure that it is fresh and from any foreign particles)
Put the coconut water into a pre-heated pan.
Stir it constantly for about 10 minutes.
Cover the pan and let boil. Leave for 20 – 25 minutes.
Stir the coconut water again. This time the water must have already changed color from clear to light brown.
Wait until the water becomes caramelized (or black). Let cool, and store it in a clean bottle or other container.