Sunday, June 29, 2014

How To Change The World #1: Philippine Commons and Moving Towards a Cooperative Future

Question: Describe at least two examples of how individuals or private corporations have tried to take something to which a community had free access and restrict this access on the basis of private ownership or price. What can you do to bring something back into the commons?

Answer:  One example, at least from my country, the Philippines, involves the sale of patented seeds used for agriculture. According to a report from, 270,000 small-holding farmers are being forced to grow GM (genetically modified) corn and are ending up in debt with the cost of corn seeds going up 282% since its introductory price. In the Philippines, the seed suppliers also happen to be the lenders, making the arrangement highly convenient for the seed supplier and more and more to the detriment of the small farmer. Seeds are a form of commons to which small family farmers should have fair access. Sadly, however, these seeds have become the private property of some companies through intellectual property/ patenting and thus, are sold back to the farmers at a higher price than they would have paid for unpatented seeds.

 Another example of how private ownership and market has affected a commons is our very own Boracay in the Philippines. Please read this article for more background: Once a pristine beach with clear water and naturally sandy white beaches, property on this island was bought up quickly and it has become a perfect example of a “tragedy of the commons.” With each resort only thinking about its own profits, each resort exploited common natural resources available such as the open beach, dumping refuse into it. Now, the whole island, including all the resorts, suffers from the common problem of polluted and infected water (there have been cases of tourists suffering from ameobiasis due to the contaminated water). I have personally seen a pipe coming from the resorts expelling waste into the shore. I did not hazard swimming in the sea after seeing that.

What I’ve done for the former is I’ve subscribed to where I become a stakeholder of organic and sustainable agriculture by subscribing (ordering in advance) the organic vegetables being grown by small family farmers in Tarlac, thereby assuring them of profit for the work they do. This is called shared agriculture and reflects a more cooperative view of human nature (as described by Yochai Benkler in his book, The Leviathan and The Penguin). This way, I am not supporting unsustainable industrial farming (including patented seeds and similar technology) and I have become part of a community that cooperates for a common social good. Hopefully, this becomes not just isolated cases of citizen action but a movement towards support for small family farmers and organic, sustainable farming.

For the latter, I am committed to promoting and practicing low impact, responsible ecotourism. Also, instead of traveling to other countries, I’d like to make it a point to visit the islands of my country and contribute to local communities without taking away from the local ecology. Thus, smaller carbon footprint and support for small, artisanal industries in local environments.

Note: I am currently taking up a course boldly called How To Change The World offered by Wesleyan University (offered for free through and taught by Wesleyan University President, Michael S. Roth. It tackles major issues facing humanity and it is based on discussions brought up during the 2013 Social Good Summit in NY. I am putting up all my assignments on my blog as well.

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