Jan 19, 2006

Going Against Nature?

One of the barometers I use to gauge a design's appropriateness is how much effort is required to keep the landscape looking and performing its best. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know all the details about this situation described by the L.A. Times/Associated Press--and that commercial agriculture is completely different from ornamental horticulture--but if you can't keep an ecosystem alive without massive amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, is it really an ecosystem... or just a bunch of plants on life support?

"Iraqis Struggle With Tree Care"

"Abid Ali Ubaid and three of his sons tend citrus, dates, vegetables and livestock. The tall date palms, some 200 years old, are not producing well. Disease is killing off the orange trees. The harvest has dropped by two-thirds, from about 300 pounds a year to 100.

Abid Ali Ubaid digs up a dying orange tree on land he rents in Baghdad’s affluent Karada district. The family says it made virtually no profit last year. Photo: Saad Khalaf

“'Last year we made 1 cent profit,' said Basim Ubaid, 24, one of Abid Ali’s sons.

"The trees’ decline has many causes, Basim said in January. Government handouts of fertilizer and pesticides have stopped. The municipal water supply dried up. The irrigation water they now pump directly from the Tigris is polluted. Restrictions on flying over Baghdad have limited aerial pesticide spraying.

"On a positive note, American troops are leaving the trees alone. Despite attacks mounted from date groves, soldiers and Marines are not adding chain saws to their arsenal of weapons.

"'If you went in and destroyed palm groves, you’d be doing the same thing as Saddam Hussein,' Capt. Michael Adams told the Associated Press.

"Adams was involved in a project that used aircraft to spray pesticides back in 2004.

"Abid Ali, 50, sprays 630 trees by hand now. To get to the top, he wears a handmade sling of stiff cable and leans back against it like a telephone lineman.

"Ubaid’s son Basim, who dropped out of school in the fifth grade, sees no hope for his family unless the government restores utilities and assistance to farmers.

“'Pests are out of control,' he said. 'We can’t manage them. The minister of agriculture will have to give us fertilizer or he can take care of it himself.'”

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