Caring for our common home with KATC

By Paul A. Desmarais SJ

Organic maize at KATC is not plagued by the fall armyworm.

Organic maize at KATC is not plagued by the fall armyworm.
(Photo: M.Lopez-Villegas/CJI)

What is the link between Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) and the Society of Jesus’s Universal Apostolic Preference (UAP) “caring for our common home”?

All of KATC’s activities – training, extension services, research, commercial production and advocacy – are based on the principles and practices of organic agriculture and agroecology (AE). AE is a broad term that includes organic agriculture but is also concerned with societal values and culture. It is therefore very much part of all four Jesuit UAPs (see cover), but in this article, I will limit myself to KATC’s promotion of the UAP “caring for our common home.”

Jesus responds to the young man who asked him what is the greatest commandment by saying that love of God and love of one’s neighbour are the two great commandments. We have for a long time understood Jesus’s response only in terms of our personal relationships with God and other human beings. But God’s creation, the Earth, is a part of God and is part of God’s gift to us. If we say that we love God then we should respect God’s creation. If we poison God’s creation then we certainly do not respect God or others, human and non-human, that God created.

We are called to love and serve others. As a farmer, for me this translates into producing food for my brothers and sisters. But how do I produce food? Do I try to achieve the highest yields regardless of how I do this?

Since the Second World War, agriculture worldwide has adopted ways of producing food that are inimical to an appreciative stance of God’s beautiful gift of God’s self in creation. We have poisoned the soil, water, air and food, all in the name of feeding the masses. We apply more and more chemicals to grow plants, kill insects and control weeds. Many of these chemicals are poisons.

At KATC we grow our crops and vegetables following organic principles. With vegetables we can achieve similar yields to commercial enterprises that use chemicals. With major crops we have yet to achieve yields similar to the large commercial farms. However, small-scale farmers do double to quadruple their yields by following organic practices. And since 70% of the food in the world is produced by small-scale farmers, there is every reason to believe that farming organically can feed the world’s population.

The tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta) is a mite that attacks tomato plants with devastating results. Farmers around KATC that use chemicals are having a very difficult time controlling this pest. Even with many chemical applications, they can’t control it. At KATC we do not spray any chemicals and yet leafminers are not a problem. Researchers have identified five predatory insects in the KATC tomato plots that control the mite. So there are often natural ways of controlling harmful pests.

It is a similar story with the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) which attacks maize plants. Many people want to blanket spray the countryside with chemicals to control it. But again, we have found that organic producers are not troubled by this pest, perhaps because organic farms have so much more biodiversity, with smells that confuse the armyworm.

This fourth UAP is very much in line with what Pope Francis expressed in Laudato Si’: “Humanity is one people living in a common home… Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan… of finding effective ways of dealing with grave environmental and social problems … (including) planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture” (LS, 164).