Mercy Corps Northwest’s new American Agriculture Project and Grow Portland forged a transformative partnership to address global conflicts on the local level.
The innovative collaboration supports refugee and immigrant resettlement through local, sustainable agriculture. The program is a digestible solution to traumatic, international conflict. Their approach embodies, and emboldens, the common adage ‘think globally, act locally’. The program is creating space for participants to transplant their uprooted lives, adapt to a new climate and develop market-based skills.
We caught up with Mercy Corps Lead Grower Lauren Morse at the SE Nepalese Gardens to learn more.
Morse explained that Mercy Corps has been invaluable to the expanding population of immigrants, refugees and beginning American growers in Portland since 2006. The 2010 formation of the Portland Growers Alliance with Grow Portland was created to address the challenge of establishing market outlets for the gardeners. “It makes a more sustainable livelihood for everyone involved in the program,” Morse explained.
The alliance is addressing participant’s needs through access to land, equipment, supplies, financial support, trainings, business planning and marketing support. The growers practice organic, ecological agriculture in both Portland and Damascus. You can find the Portland Growers Alliance produce at Portland Farmer’s Market, Lents International Farmer’s Market, Thompson Farm Stand, various restaurants and through their Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Most participants are former subsistence farmers who are now learning to cultivate for local tastes with limited land. Participants originate from locations as diverse as Bhutan, Somali, Russia and Burma. Morse explained to Real Time Farms how cultural and language differences have created a dynamic work environment. “All of these different, little idiosyncrasies make this project crazy. Overall it is amazing what we are doing: producing so much good food and getting it into local outlets,” explained Morse.
I was provoked by my conscience to embark on an odyssey through Africa and India.
My world vision remarkably manifested, despite my lack of funds, through either the divine will of the universe or predatory lending schemes. Either way, I fled the confines of the USA on a journey through Egypt, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa and India over the course of three years. I continue to reconnect to the compelling lessons I absorbed en route through my work in Conflict Resolution.
Africa empowered me. India educated me.
It was the hottest day of the year when Tracy Francis, of Hybrid Theater Works, and I arrived in Cairo. A gust of heat hit me as I looked out over the desert city. “It is hot huh?” Tracy’s boisterous uncle asked me. “Not too hot,” I giggled nervously while finding it difficult even to breath.
We pilled into the car and headed off on our journey. “See those lines on the road?” My best friend warned me as we hit the highway, “they are merely a suggestion.” Indeed, Cairo taught me to be resourceful and think outside the box!
Tracy’s flamboyant, Egyptian family welcomed us to the big, filthy city. I would soon come to love Cairo for few, but passionate reasons. I left a bit heartbroken after a too short, summer semester at the American University in Cairo.
When I arrived in Ghana I felt a thousand times more comfortable despite the open sewers. Women are more an outspoken part of society in Southern Ghana and people are intensely friendly. Volunteering in the jungle (literally) on Lake Volta to create a learning garden, and traveling through the (frighteningly) expanding Sahara was intensely liberating.
I was challenged and inspired throughout the experience of adapting to the absolutely opposite world of West Africa. I acquired a new set of values while absorbing Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina and Mali’s rich and varied cultures. Africa’s women transformed me with their generosity, kindness and resilience. West Africa is a world where relationships, family, ancient traditions and art forms are the measure of success. I learned to appreciate West African rich culture, vibrant traditions and resilience.
Time dissolved. I was blessed with new eyes.
After six months I was again wrenched away and deposited in Cape Town.“Your pizza will be ready in three and a half minutes.” What! Ironically, I was bombarded with my first dose of culture shock in Africa’s most westernized city. Shifting into Cape Town’s post-apartheid state was painful. Yet, I found my love of journalism while teaching for the Media School in a local township during my spring semester at the University of Cape Town.
Africa inspired me to work for Jubilee Oregon in fighting for International Debt Relief for the world’s poorest countries to free them from the burden of economic slavery. Through my graduate program in Conflict Resolution I studied participatory approaches to development while interning with Navdanya, which is the largest fair-trade, organic network in India and founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva. My journey has motivated me to create space for marginalized people to participate in global dialogues and meaningful relationship building.
Standing up for social change requires the joining of hands in a collaborative enterprise.
The potential for peace blooms when we share a transformative vision, and actively build social justice in our communities, in tandem. The transformative vision I seek to share is embodied in World Pulse’s uprising of women around the world. These women join hands to project their voices above the apathetic cacophony of defeat.
Women like Achieng Beatrice Nas and her resilient peers in the Voices of Our Future Network have overcome unfathomable circumstances to act as leaders in the struggle for social justice and equality. Their journeys prompt us to inquire: how can we empower, and be empowered, to harmonize our voices and stand up for social change?
The annual Stand Up campaign takes place over three days to provide a forum for civil society to demand global leaders uphold their international commitments to the MDGs and End Poverty by 2015. The eight MDGs include the following commitments: end poverty and extreme hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability and to build a global partnership.
My collaborative vision for the Stand Up campaign manifested in the form of a participatory art festival.
I designed the event to engaged Portland State University‘s campus by tapping into Portland’s prolific reservoir of local artists. The unique event mobilized over three hundred people to participate as performing and visual artists, speakers, volunteers and spectators. I was proud to see Congressman David Wu as our opening speaker affirming his commitments to upholding the MDGs. Organizations such as Mercy Corps, Jubilee Oregon, Portland Area Global Aids Coalition and Bread for the World participated avidly in creating the event and spoke about the MDGs during the festival.
My transformative experience creating space for an alliance of peace builders proved that collaboration is the key to generating a global uprising. We can unite and fortify the ties that uplift social justice by building a dialogic alliance, that values diversity and people’s creative potential. Let us collectively amplifying our demands and participate in the global decision-making process.
Fore more information about the Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty and for the MDGs please visit:
“However one defines it, dialogue is a democratic method aimed at resolving problems through mutual understanding and concessions, rather than through the unilateral imposition of one sides views and interests. For its part, democracy as a system of government is a framework for organized and continuous dialogue.”
The GMO free movement in Europe has mobilized diverse stakeholders to participate in regulating the biotechnology industry.
Yet, important stakeholders are marginalized globally by power imbalances in the international political dialogue over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Indigenous peoples and American Civil society has largely been excluded from participating in the global decision-making process on biotechnology.
European citizens have mobilized on a large scale since 1996 by insisting major food retailers maintain a GM-free policy, demanding respect for the precautionary principle in approving new GM crops and monitoring nations and companies for compliance with the moratorium.
Stakeholders have contributed to the democratic process by holding media-focused symbolic protests against genetic patents, lobbying all levels of government in support of a GM ban and challenging the scientific claims of private industry and government agencies.
European GMO free campaigns have dramatically influenced the biotechnology industry.
Societal demands have influenced governments in Europe to open up the decision-making process to the public. However, the mechanisms of greater participation have not been widely clarified and so participation is fragmentary.
Evaluations of participatory exercises have demonstrated that the actual impact on the decision-making process has been uneven. However, Germany is portrayed as an exemplary model of civic inclusion on biotechnology issues because of clearly defined participatory mechanisms and early engagement on GMOs.
Democratic legitimacy is enhanced when diverse constituencies are included in decentralized deliberations over biotechnology issues.
Many researchers identify a need for the development of social technologies for public participation in discussion, debate and policymaking to counteract marginalization.
Hindmarsh & Du Plessis emphasize the significance of pluralist, inclusive, transparent and accountable decision making in biocivic trends. Through comparative case studies they explore the tensions, needs and opportunities for greater biocivic participation in democratic decision-making. The researchers insist on inclusive public participation at all stages of policy, research, development, release, monitoring and mitigation of GMOs.
Future trajectories of new technologies may be more effectively mapped in terms of potential benefits and harms through early, or ‘upstream’, civil society participation in scientific discourse.
Hayden and Du Plessis (2007) predict innovations in “upstream”, or early public dialogue, will help avoid the pitfalls of the biotechnology industry for future developments. The researchers ask for studies to be conducted on which dialogue processes are most effective that involve a wider group of stakeholders and conceptualize new strategies of engagement.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaguely considers GMOs to be “substantially equivalent” without allowing labeling or providing a clear legislative definition for an evaluative mechanism.
Yet many active civil society groups in the United States, such as those in the National Organic Coalition, have raised concerns regarding the environmental, health and political risks of untested and unlabeled GE foods and crops.
The FDA’s unilateral decision making denies citizens a chance to engage in the democratic process.
As much as 45 percent of U.S. corn and 85 percent of soybeans are genetically engineered (The Center for Food Safety, 2010). Additionally, an estimated 70-75 percent of supermarket foods contain GE ingredients in the United States.
The direct impact of political mobilization on public opinion and corporations vary. However, it is the ability of citizens to influence legislation and policy that has widespread implications.
Navdanya’s main work is in the Himalaya. We hadn’t realized that by the time the conference would take place marginal issues would suddenly become the center of the political storm of debates around climate change.
I have personally avoided using the term climate change because it lulls people into imagining that there is a linear predictable path of change that we are going to witness: and that is not true.
We have drought in the same place and in the same year, and then an intense flooding and rainfall: 2009 is such a good example. A total failure of monsoonal rain, and then after, such heavy downpours that the semi-arid tracks of India (that don’t get enough water) were under floods. Three hundred people died.
If there is one thing about climate change it is uncertainty and instability. I call it Climate Chaos. What we are witnessing is chaotic climate.
… in my view the best carbon sinks on this planet are the carbon sink of the green mantel: our plants, our forests, our trees our agriculture and also the soil to which we return some of this biomass.
When we talk of climate change we are not talking bout a single discipline we are talking about multiple disciplines.
The power of the intergovernmental panel on climate change was that it was 2,500 scientists from very, very diverse disciplines who pooled their disciplinary knowledge together into an interdisciplinary framework and started getting a sense of what was happening.
In 1988 the UN woke up to this new environmental problem. And the two big environmental problems that were brought to the earth summit in Rio 1992 were a Framework Convention on Climate Change and a Convention on Biological Diversity. Totally independent of business and industry. Those two issues were recognized as the most significant problems on a planetary scale that needed a global response.
A lot of people don’t realize that synthetic chemical fertilizers are a major contributor to climate change as is factory farming, as is unnecessary long-distance transport in food.
A Danish study a few years ago showed that for one kilogram of food moving around the world, 10 kilograms of carbon dioxide is being emitted into the atmosphere. I explore these issues in my recent book called Soil Not Oil.
… It is the soil which is the most important base for our survival, yet it has been treated just as a container for a few toxins. And if we don’t have to understand, if we don’t have to know the millions of soil organisms that produce fertility for you, you can continue to pollute it, destroy it, deseertify it.
About 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, which includes: carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and methane are coming collectively from an industrialized, globalized agriculture. This can be solved immediately.
There has been a way in which reducing emission has been made to look like a punishment and everyone is reluctant to do it.
Everyone talks as if somehow by reducing emission we are going to have a worse level of living. And this false correlation between fossil fuels and a quality of life is part of the reluctance to do something about the pollution that is leading to the instability of the planet and its ability to regulate its climate patterns.
In Hindi we have decided to use the term: “rito assuntuna” to talk about what is going on.
It’s a complex problem with complexity of impacts and any form of reductionism is, I believe, irresponsible in our times, we have to take the multi faceted dimension into account.
Not only are individual disciplines only a partial window into reality, and that partial window becomes inadequate in a rapidly changing reality, disciplines also leave out knowledge that I personally believe that is absolutely vital for any aspect of nature that directly starts to effect peoples lives.
When it comes to local ecosystems, when it comes to understanding the impact of destruction on local ecosystems, and when it comes to finding solutions and alternatives to that destructive activity nobody is a better expert than local communities.
They are knowledge subjects, they are experts in their own right because their expertise is multi-disciplinary. It comes from experience and there is no knowledge more reliable then experiential knowledge.
There is no knowledge more reliable then knowledge in which you have to suffer the consequences.
When you can sit in a room far away and just write policies, where you never have to suffer the consequences, you don’t have any tests to figure out, are you holding knowledge that is authentic or are you holding superficial knowledge.
And that is why if you notice today’s conference, as well as our work on climate change in the Himalaya, has combined two strands: the first strand is participatory research with local communities. Taking local knowledge as a very serious input in understanding impact, monitoring impact and designing adaptation strategies. The second is interdisciplinary work by the most dedicated scientists in particular streams.
The third pole, the Himalaya may have less snow and ice than the Arctic and Antarctic, the first and second poles, but it impacts nearly half of humanity directly in terms of the water resources that flow from the Himalayan rivers. So it impacts directly the Himalayan communities, but indirectly those who depend on the water systems as well as the climate systems because the Himalaya has a large role in creating the climate for our area.
… I don’t think you can be a good scientist anymore if you are not an ecological scientist, if you are a methodistic scientist, a reductionist scientist, you just don’t know enough about systems about nature.
And if you noticed I did not mention two people who were to have been here with us: Mr. Shyam Saran who is the chief negotiator for India and the lead envoy of the Prime Minister on climate negotiations and Dr. Jairam Ramesh our environmental minister. Both of them are in an emergency meeting in Copenhagen.
Now Copenhagen was supposed to have been mid-December, there was not supposed to be a meeting at this point. Both of them were supposed to be with us and were very excited to be with us. At the last negotiation, before the formal negotiations of Copenhagen, at the meeting in Barcelona where it was becoming clear that the rich countries were not willing to maintain their obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which in 1997 led to the Kyoto Protocol.
And what is Copenhagen about.
Copenhagen is about the follow after 2012 to the commitments of the annex 1 countries in terms of their commitments for reducing emissions. Now when the negotiations were done in Rio, the historic polluters were the industrialized countries. In 1995 the world trade organization started to relocate polluting industry to the south.
I call it the outsourcing of pollution.
And of course things have gone crazy since then because the companies might be British the companies might be American, the companies might be German but they manufacture now from India and China. With a whole new context in terms of how this global pollution is taking place.
Copenhagen was supposed to merely work the replacement of Kyoto 1 with a Kyoto 2, you might remember the US had never really signed the Kyoto Protocol. President Obama’s election campaign had been partly commitment that he would sign the Kyoto Protocol. Unfortunately that has not happened.
And instead there is an attempt to dismantle the only legally binding instrument we have in the world today to deal with climate change. And we need a legally binding instrument because 200-year-old pollution is impacting the Himalaya today. Pollution emitted from the US can come all the way to Asia; Asian emissions can go all the way to Africa.
The Atmosphere is one interrelated commons and the climate is part of that commons.
We cannot say we will only do this work at the national level. I was very saddened to read that the main US negotiator for the Bangkok meeting said that, “We don’t need a twenty year old treaty – its too old.” By that argument we would have to throw out the human rights treaty. Lasting values and lasting problems cannot be treated as something we can just throw away: it takes ten years to reach an agreement.
Copenhagen was not about a new treaty. Copenhagen was about abiding by the old treaty with renewed commitments knowing two things: first that the five percent reduction that was built into Kyoto one is just not enough. The scientists are all talking about 350 parts per million as the highest level of pollution that can be reached if we have to keep temperature increase within the 2 degree limit. And as you know there is a 350 campaign all over the world.
We have already crossed 385 parts per million.
So we are talking about the need for very drastic reduction. And the consensus among independent scientists is 90% reduction. Ninety percent reduction looks like a huge amount.
If you recognize that in agriculture alone we could achieve a 40-50% reduction. We can solve 50$ of the problem by creating a better food system that creates healthier food, better livelihood security for farmers and more democracy in the food system. And you could do the same by going into transport, urban planning and cities; you could do the same in sector after sector so it is not such a huge problem.
The two other issues: while the environmental minister and chancellor are sitting in Copenhagen the newspapers today and yesterday talk about ‘World Leaders Decide No Agreement in Copenhagen’. And where is this meeting taking place: Singapore, and who is meeting there: the APEC countries. The APEC countries are just the APEC Countries, The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. They have decided, without the negotiating platform, we are not going to have any legally binding commitments or lasting political declarations.
The emergency meeting in Copenhagen is being bypassed by something else in Singapore. That I believe is one of the most serious issues facing us right now: the issue of democracy.
The challenges we face are life and death issues and we cannot be complacent about that.
If you have traveled the country with the drought this year, or if you have been in southern India as the floods hit you, or in the Himalaya like all our teams of scientist as well as the grassroots communities you know that water resources are in a deep crisis.
If water is disappearing in the Himalaya you can be sure it is not going to reach the lowlands. The Himalayas are the source of all our water: beginning with tiny glaciers, tiny springs. And if those springs are disappearing and those small glaciers are disappearing, you cannot hang by one or two large glaciers and say they are going to be here forever.
I feel morally compelled to make a comment on the release of the recent report from the ministry of the environment on the issue of the glaciers. We have made an extra effort to make sure that the younger generations are here because it is your future we are talking about, it is your participation that is vital to shape the democratic movement about security of our future and the security of the planet.
Now there are three aspects of the ministry report that as a scientist I find highly unscientific.
The first is that while all the data used is showing a retreat of glaciers, the conclusion is that there is no retreat. Now as a scientist you cannot have data that says retreat and conclude no retreat. It is an unjustified jump of a conclusion.
Everyone recognizes the rate of retreat of each glacier is varied over time.
That is part of the nonlinearity, one year will be warm one year will be cold, one year will have a drought or one season will have too much rain. Neither the drought nor the rain is the linear prediction it is the uncertainty that is the prediction.
We know the rate of retreat varies across glaciers because glaciers are located in different ways, they get their precipitation in different ways. Some get more some get less, some get more sun, some get less sun, some are in the shadows. Mr. Norphal’s work is all based on the recognition that certain slopes of the mountain have less melt and therefore you can create the artificial glaciers that he is able to create.
Dr. Gangoo’s figures show a 10 meter retreat since 1995 and a shrinkage and a disappearance of many of our tributaries. Dr. Ganjoo more than any one else reiterates this: that the glacier is a living, organic system so we have to look at the health of the whole thing.
You can’t say: oh it’s just the leg that atrophied, you know its just one hand that got cut. The whole system is an organic system and the health of that organic system is under threat both because of reduced precipitation and unstable ecological parameters related to an unstable climate.
Our young children need a better scientific education.
One statement is we don’t have to worry about the Himalayan glaciers because unlike the arctic, which is at sea level, the Himalayan Glaciers are at 400 meters. And the report actually says if we go by the topographic theory that maintains that because the temperature decreases with the altitude, mountain uplift causes glaciers. Himalaya should always retrain glaciers in one form or the other.
Now if that was the case you wouldn’t have had an arctic pole and an Antarctic pole at sea level. There would be no snow formation. If only topography matters: latitude also matters.
That is why you have the two poles. And if high latitude was security for glaciers you wouldn’t have seen the snows of Kilimanjaro disappear, you wouldn’t see the Alps facing the kind of avalanches they are facing and you wouldn’t forsee, as our witnesses from the grassroots show, that local glaciers that support their lifeline are disappearing.
So, it is not an issue of: mountains are high, therefore they are safe. In fact the army data is showing that the temperature rise at the higher altitude is in fact even more: its 4 degrees – from the air force data in Leh.
The third argument being used is: we don’t have to worry about the Ganga at all because most of the Ganga water is replenished by the monsoon, which is true. But it is in that lean season, when we don’t have the monsoon, where we would not have access to water from snow melt that keeps the river alive and keeps it a perennial river. The statement in the report is: our data indicates the Ganges flows results primarily from monsoon rainfall, and until the monsoon fails completely, there will be a Ganges river very similar to the present river.
The Ganges river, even without climate chaos, is facing severe threat.
We are in a city next to the Yumuna. In ten years the Yumuna has died because of diversion, pollution, etc. The monsoons themselves are not that reliable anymore, as this year’s drought has shown us. But the river Ganga would not be a river Ganga as a seasonal stream. The perenniality comes from the snows of the mountains. I would basically say two things in my conclusion in my remarks.
We have to avoid the kind of panic that can be said by uninformed exaggeration and extrapolation.
On the other side we cannot use false arguments to create a complacency that nothing is happening therefore we have to do nothing and we can sit secure that the Himalaya will never melt and the Ganga will continue to flow.
The insecurities are there in everyone’s lives to feel and the cost is extremely high. We have to act today.
Two principles of environmental action are: the polluter pays and the principle of precaution. That if you cannot be sure, if there is a debate for example on the retreat levels of glaciers, act on the side of precaution. If you don’t, by the time you figure it out a hundred years later, it will be too late.
This is an issue of civic concern. We treat this as an issue of democracy, we treat this as an issue of people’s science as much as a scientist’s science.
We have made an extra effort as I said to bring the younger people into this debate because you must shape it; we invite you to join us in protecting the Himalaya that sustains us. The Himalaya makes our mighty rivers perennial and not seasonal, brings us water in the hot summer months when there is no monsoon, and when we have the lean flow.
Complexity is no excuse to not understanding. Our minds are able to deal with complexity. All we have to do is enlarge our intellectual capacities enough to grapple with it.
We know things are not stable. Things are seriously wrong. How wrong they are? I think no one can tell us better then the communities of the Himalaya.
Thank you all for being here and I hope you have a stimulating day, but after today – lots and lots of creative action. We can act at our level, we have a right to make our governments act in the interest of environmental conservation. And it is our duty as democratic citizens to make our governments act. As global citizens we also have a very big challenge to somehow make things work at the global level,. Thank you again.
IPR regimes are a common topic of debate, in a large body of literature, spanning several fields including: ecology,
IPR regimes operate through a vast network consisting of various treaties, rules, institutions, interests and relationships. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and developed countries are the main advocates of IPR regimes.
The United States (US) has been a key proponent and leader in promoting intellectual property protection in agriculture (Shiva, 2005).
Primarily, IPRs over PGR restrict indigenous farmers access to seeds and criminalize the traditional practice of seed saving. IPR regimes promote the commercialization of PGR for food and agriculture. IPR regimes seek to govern over PGR by promoting the rights of the biotechnology industry and transgenic seed corporations to expand private sector IPRs.
TRIPs require member states in the WTO to conform their IPR legislation, regulations and procedures to universalize life form patenting of PGR or be subjected to sanctions (Godbole-Chaudhuri, Srikantaiah & Van Fleet, 2008). Patents on PGR have proliferated exponentially since the establishment of the TRIPS regime.
Life patents over PGR have had different socio-cultural, ecological and economic impacts including: criminalization of the traditionally pivotal practice of seed, the restriction of farmer’s access to seed, the emergence of the phenomenon known as biopiracy and the increased erosion of biodiversity and IK.
How can you manage your home before you know your home?
Visionary peace pilgrim Satish Kumar routinely poses this intriguing question in his venerated teachings.
To generate insight into humanity’s relationship with nature the director of Schumacher College and editor of Resurgence magazine points to epistemology.
The word ecology comes from the Greek root ‘oikos’ meaning ‘home’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘to know’. Thus, ecology means ‘to know your home’.
Contrastingly, we see economics means ‘to manage your home’ by building on this understanding of ‘oikos’ and elaborating with ‘nomos’ as ‘to manage’. Thus arrives the question: how can you manage your home before you know your home?
Ecology and economics have come to be seen as entirely separate disciplines, but the two are intrinsically linked.
To manage without knowledge is foolish.
We must bridge the gap between ‘logos’ and ‘nomos’ through a new paradigm that values a relationship with nature and humanity as more than raw materials for mass, industrial manufacturing to create a disposable society. ‘Logos’ is to learn from this earth and observe her cycles; ‘nomos’ is to organize our lives in such a way that we allow these cycles to thrive and celebrate them with our own lives and livelihoods.
Bija Vidyapeeth at Navdanya, School for Earth Citizenship, cultivates creative insights beyond reductionist thinking.
Learners who value meaningful experiences and practical, hands-on study come to Navdanya in search of local solutions to global market exploitation. The movement for Earth Democracy is carried into the mainstream through their personal transformation, practical skills and advocacy. With experiential learning students come to understand the significance of participatory research, dynamic multiplicity and interdisciplinary thinking indicative of holistic science.
The open learning center gives guidance to environmental activists, encourages independent study and provides space for reciprocal knowledge sharing.
Self-motivated students and interns are committed to establishing a community that values sustainability and relationship building between the diverse walks of life that populate this earth. This relationship elevates the farmers voice so that their vast reservoirs of knowledge for how to live sustainably with the earth might irrigate our dying planet with a stream of elevated consciousness – ‘logos’.
Navdanya’s message, carried in its vast body of functional work, offers an alternative model to the now-imperiled market. The alternative forum encourages dialogue by creating space for mediation in the interest of egalitarian relations. Students are offered the rare opportunity to share in the work of the largest, fair-trade organic network in India.
Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy lives on in Navdanya’s grassroots movements.
The Mahatma’s life and message to the world is founded on the honest integrity of local, sustainable, self-sufficient communities and the power of that integrity to overcome imperial models of development. Gandhian economics and philosophy are imbuing a new generation, in an era of globalization, with a model for sustainable living.
Bija Vidyapeeth is illuminating a path for a process of self-discovery with no destination.
The seed, in this new movement, is a symbol of empowerment just as the spinning wheel was Gandhi’s symbol of timeless freedom.
Navdanya’s network of seed keepers protect India’s biodiversity and indigenous knowledge from the injustice evident in corporate monopolies on the global food supply. The relevance of Gandhi’s four pillars — Swadeshi, Satyagraha, Sarvodaya and Swaraj — are extrapolated during the annual two week course ‘Gandhi and Globalization’. The course is lead by Satish Kumar, Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Vandana Shiva and other visionary leaders.
Balancing a socially just livelihood – ‘nomos’ and ‘logos’ — requires that students balance theory with practical application. The ‘ivory tower’, as academia is often called, quickly crumbles when theory is applied to practice with a comprehensive and constructive methodology.
Everything should be Beautiful Useful and Durable (BUD) declares the deep ecology sage Satish Kumar.
This wise framework orientates ones decision-making power in the dizzying onslaught of degrading consumer culture. The BUD framework embodies elegant simplicity that will stand the test of time and tides of destruction.
The prevalent model of development, promoted by institutions like the World Trade Organization, has intruded into the dominant education system. Students in economics are well studied in mathematics and numbers, but this falls short when it comes to lives and livelihoods. This model ignores the experiences of the social majority of earth’s inhabitants. The majority can flourish outside of the industrial-capitalist framework when they rely on their local ingenuity for survival.
Clever marketing, with a vast budget, insidiously shifts mind-sets and generates an avalanche … rapidly tumbling towards monocultures of the mind.
The Market dominates nature’s economy.
Academia’s exclusionary curriculum discredits and marginalizes the lifestyles of subsistence economies by claiming they are ‘uneducated’ and ‘backwards’. The dominant model in economic education widely propagates free market fundamentalism as the only option for development. This model has proven flawed as evident in the current ecological and economic crisis.
The false economy is spread to the detriment of humanity.
Global economic legislator and chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan testified to the US Congress on the financial crisis. He confessed,
“I found a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak… That is precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well3.”
Yet, the flawed system prevails to the dismay of many; intruding into forests and rivers, ravines and mountain tops.
With a sanctioned and standardized curriculum students are indoctrinated into maintaining the rapidly eroding status quo.
Bija Vidyapeeth offers the freedom of alternatives in validating and supporting decentralized, self-organized communities based on non-exploitative relationships. Food and food production are the foundations of society, the central unit for families and communities.
Quality of life is deeply enhanced if we understand the processes and practice of growing healthy, sustainable food supplies for our food-sovereignty, in a symbiotic relationship with nature. At the Earth University students begin to appreciate nature as teacher with subtle lessons for every subject. Navdanya’s expert farmers and scientists manifest these lessons for an emergent social harmony.
You are welcome to come and enjoy the beauty and joy of Navdanya’s open learning center at the foot of the mighty, melting Himalaya where the possibilities are limitless.
Seven things for the world to know about Bija Vidyapeeth
‘Go and learn from the indigenous people for they are the last reservoirs of knowledge for how to live sustainably with the earth’ – unknown
Inspiration: Nature, Navdanya and our relationships inspire us at Bija Vidyapeeth. Inspired to learn, love, laugh and grow as we engage with the earth. Inspired by visionary leaders such as Dr. Vandana Shiva, Satish Kumar and Sunderlal Bahuguna. We are likewise motivated by one another.
Community: Bija Vidyapeeth grants us the space to share our lives and build meaningful relationships. A sense of belonging and purpose is gifted to each participant, as their work is necessary and valued on the farm. A helping hand is always welcome in the inclusive, familiar space provided by nature. We live in a community WITH nature, not opposed to it. Our community of volunteers is brimming with energy and resources ready to be shared. Our community is as fertile as the fields as we constantly exchange ideas. Our community is the foundation of our transformative experience.
Diversity: As the seasons change life unfolds before you at Bija Vidyapeeth. You become immersed in this diligent and peaceful transition: preparing, planting and harvesting a wholesome bounty. We witness the rich diversity nature revels in and let it transform us. The seed bank stimulates nature’s abundance. Preservation of biodiversity is the foundation for Navdanya: and the experimental farm. And so we learn through saving nature’s abundance, epitomized by the seed, to reform ‘monocultures of the mind’.
Freedom: The luxury of choice is abundant at Navdanya: here you are free! While finding your niche in nature you may holistically garden, farm, cook, meditate, make art, research, administrate or just be! We practice developing a self-sufficient, simple living we will replicate in our futures in the name of freedom. Social movement for biodiversity and indigenous knowledge preservation transforms the external world as we are awakened to new possibilities for a sustainable, just future. We follow the wisdom of Dr. Shiva when she proclaims that the revolution will take place in the kitchen and gardens.
Transformation: Here we prepare for our next bold move. Bija will awaken you to a new sense of self and determination. A change may be intimately felt if you rotate the crops during your visit. What a joy to synch with nature and be blessed with earth’s vibrant rhythm! A radical transformation is ripe for the plucking when visionaries graciously share their gifts of wisdom. You might be blessed to spend time in the presence of Satish Kumar, and hear his story of an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage, or Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche.
Hope: At Navdanya we cultivate hope for a sustainable, peaceful future where humanity might once again live harmoniously with nature. Hoping that we might transpose Navdanya’s message into our local communities. Change is possible as Dr. Shiva and her allies demonstrate with each bold step taken towards counteracting repressive forces. We are likewise imbued with hope through our new relationships. The feeling that your prospects for a happy future are mutually expanded feels divine. At Navdanya your may realize the hope in building relationships and self-sufficiency.
Gratitude: The Navdanya farm enraptures you in gratitude that such a place exists. The joy and wisdom of traditional farming is shared with us here. Being engaged with natural agriculture and local experts imbues us with a deep sense of proportion. We are humbled as we stumble to taste centuries of knowledge. We are grateful for the freedom to sing, and share stories, resources, references and revolutionary sentiments while tending the fields.
The voices of indigenous people resonate with a vast reservoir of knowledge for how to live sustainably with the earth. Listening to these voices is necessary to restore ecological balance and irrigate a desolate democratic landscape.
The following interview with indigenous journalist, activist and seed keeper Vasavi Kiro tells the story of the Save the Forest Trust with the ‘Torang’ tribal rights and cultural center. The center is based in Kotari Village, Ranchi district in Jarkhand state.
Why is it important to save biodiversity and medicinal plants?
Biodiversity and medicinal plants are very useful and very important for human beings, particularly for women’s health. Now we have collected about two hundred species and medicinal plants. In Jharkhand state there are two thousand species: edible leaves, roots, plants, fruits, flowers, etc that we are collecting, preserving and promoting.
What is the Forest Trust?
I am the secretary of this organization with Dr. Ram Dayal Munda who is the vice chancellor of Ranchi University in the capital of Jharkhand. He is a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He is a world leader of indigenous groups.
Why did you get involved with the Forest Trust and how has it grown over time?
When I was in journalism and writing about tribal people and societies I became aware of the problems of: land alienation, degradation, displacement, ecological balance and climate change. Seven or eight years back I found that so many life saving medicinal plants are going to be extinct. In rural areas, remote areas, tribal people use medicinal plants for their treatment as a practice in day-to-day life for every kind of disease. They use medicinal plants in every village where there is a folk physician.
We started the ‘Save The Forest’ movement in 2001 in our state. Very recently we have started our seed bank. Dr. Vandana Shiva visited and inaugurated the seed bank. We have put the seeds in mud pots. In our tribal villages there are so many types of Paddy varieties. We have twenty kinds of traditional seeds. Not only related to rice, but with pulses, millet, flower and medicinal seeds.
We have twenty activists in one block of our movement. They are collecting seeds and putting them in my center in Kotari. In this place we are collecting seeds 40 kilometers away form our headquarters. It is a prominent place for Multi-National Corporations: the mining industry and industrial department. They want to get land and make huge investments for power plants and coal mining. This creates a very dangerous environment for these species and ecology.
What are the consequences of industrial development in Jharkhand?
In the 60s after Indian independence the first Prime Minister started the development process. With the model of the Tennessee Valley Authority he laid the first stone in the valley. Thousands of tribals were displaced and now they are struggling for their rehabilitation.
There is no rehab policy, only in draft form. In parliament the Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy has been introduced but not discussed. Nobody is interested. Our Jharkhand state government has made so many ‘memorandums of understanding’. Mysteriously, the government did not reveal the MOU between government and the capitalists. We know from various sources that ArcelorMittal, the largest steel giant in the world, wants 25,000 hectares of land to establish a steel plant in Ranchi and Khunti districts.
What issues are of primary concern for the Forest Trust?
We are focusing on the forest issue only. We are doing campaigning awareness programs. We are organizing village-to-village meetings, small meetings, rallies, seminars, and small workshops to tell people the forest is important for the people: not only for the tribal, but also for the planet.
How do the villagers experience the awareness programs?
Tribal and indigenous people’s lives are very much related with nature. Tribals have a symbiotic relationship with nature and the forest. It is easy for them to talk on the forest issue, they become thrilled. We had a tremendous kind of response. Never did they believe that these educated people cannot understand the forest. Educated people are not interested in the forest. We are educated, civilized people. We told them we are the most civilized people because we are promoting the environment for the people, for the planet for the tribal, for the women and for the children.
We collected 35 leaves, and these are the edible leaves. Due to these traditional fruits they are surviving. We ask them in our awareness meeting: what is meant by forest? Forest means: rich biodiversity, many varieties of trees, flower and plants. It should be a natural forest. Nature has given a gift.
What is the role of women in the movement?
We are situated in the dense forest. Women have their spiritual, social, economic, mental, psychological, medicinal connections all in the forest.
In India there is a funding agency that support us. It focuses on women and children to organize them and make them aware of ecological issues like biodiversity and traditional seeds. They want to empower women. In our Adivasi society the tradition is that women carry the culture and the whole family and whole human activity. If the woman is educated then the whole family can be educated- this kind of thinking is in our society. Women have indigenous knowledge and preserve so many things in her hut and her mind when she starts work on any issue, like this life saving medicinal plant.
Women in our society, in large numbers, go to the forest every day. This is their daily routine. Women in the forest have very good relationships. Where there is no forest women have so many health problems.
Why is it important to have dialogue between Adivasi and the government and corporate sector?
In the 21st century, we are living in a high-tech era, and people want to live with dignity. The tribal people and women want to believe in a dignified life. The way is to convince corporate sectors and to communicate our plans, our ideas, our views. For this we have to make a dialogue process. We want to sit and talk.
The corporate sector makes choices with selected people from civil society – they never talk to the effected people. They never talk to the suffering women, they never want to talk to the people who are involved in the movement: educating, struggling. We are running this kind of seed bank. They do not want to contact us, they do not want to dialogue with us.
ArcelorMittal, the largest steel giant in the world, came to Jharkhand area with his private plane from London and landed in our state. Mittal talked to the chief minister. The ‘Corporate Social Responsibility Unit’ organized a meeting with selected NGOs from civil society – but they never called the Tribals. They talked to the town people who do not know anything about the traditional way, the seed bank and traditional indigenous knowledge. They are serving in the university and they are running small NGOs based in the town areas.
We want to go into the dialogue process. We want to give our message of what we are thinking, and what we are thinking for the welfare of our country and the ecological balance. Because of the degradation of forest there is climate change. The NGOs are not concerned with the forest. Adivasi and indigenous people were not participating in the discussion.
We want to convince them that huge land, 25,000 hectares of land, is not necessary. There is no need to take too much land for this work. There is a barren land; you do not need forest land. You can take the barren land and establish your steel factory.
Dialogue will be in the welfare of the state and the human.