what has influenced our work & approach?Since its founding in 2009, Guba has been inspired by & dedicated to improving people’s lives in Lobamba Lomdzala & Swaziland. By managing our initiatives wisely, in partnership with our communities, we can alleviate poverty & help create a world in which everyone can share in the benefits of sustained & inclusive growth in harmony with our environment.
Our approach works on the assumption that our communities are not going to develop along the same lines as the western world. Not just because the dominant western development model has resulted in an industrialisation & mass consumption that is both environmentally unsustainable & promotes social inequality. But also because Swaziland has a unique heritage & culture that cannot simply be placed to one side when designing its future.
Permaculture has provided everyone at Guba with an intuitive framework for designing a sustainable future around the three ethics: care for people, care for the Earth & fair share. All the tools & information we need to design & plan sustainable communities are available now. We utilise & share a growing range of tools that fit within this framework & influence our approach.
Our influences have been categorised according to the permaculture ethics as a means of further unpacking this approach.
The term permaculture combines the words permanent & culture & that is the first clue to what it’s all about. The philosophy behind permaculture was developed about thirty years ago in Australia by Bill Mollison (1928 – 2016) & David Holmgren. During his many years as a wildlife biologist Bill Mollison had witnessed first hand the destruction that humans are causing in natural systems, but he also had a chance to observe how these natural ecosystems work & what keeps them in balance. Permaculture design is a result of these observations. Bill Mollison, & his then student David Holmgren, first published their ideas in 1978 in a book called Permaculture One, introducing a “design system for creating sustainable human environments”, based on close observation of natural systems. In a later book, Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison writes:
“The aim is to create systems that are ecologically-sound & economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, & are therefore sustainable in the long term. Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants & animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes & structures to produce a life-supporting system for city & country, using the smallest practical area.”Now that’s a mouthful. What does it mean? What is Permaculture?
What Bill Mollison describes in his books is a totally integrated design system that’s modelled on nature. If you design your garden or farm like a natural system you can save yourself a lot of work, save energy, & eliminate waste. Think about it, nobody digs & sows, plants & weeds, or sprays bugs in a forest. Still, all those chores are taken care of somehow. The forest grows & feeds its inhabitants using a closed system without need for intervention. Learn from nature. Nature has already developed a solution to every problem that you could possibly encounter in your garden.
Nature is also the ultimate recycler. Everything cycles round & round: It is a closed system. There is no such thing as ‘waste’. Everything is a resource. And most importantly, it’s sustainable. It’s something that works in the long run, not something that is based on inputs that will eventually run out, not something that creates waste & problems that will eventually upset the system.
Design is the key word. It’s all about how you place the design elements together. Look at how things work together in nature, & then try & mimic that design in your garden. You can find plenty of specific examples for this under Permaculture Design Principles, & once you grasped how it works it’s easy to apply on a small scale.
The beauty of it is that permaculture principles work everywhere, in every climate & on every scale. They can be applied to whole villages or housing estates (though it takes a deeper understanding & more planning to do that), or to a tiny backyard or balcony (which can be done very easily). If you think ahead & design your permaculture garden right, it won’t take much effort, it will mostly look after itself, & it will also be incredibly productive, beautiful & attractive to wildlife.
At Guba, we use the above principles of permaculture to guide decisions in all aspects of life: from financial decision making & the bigger questions in life, to how to run our organisation. Decisions made using the permaculture principles are always faithful to the three permaculture ethics: care for people, care for the Earth & creating fair share for both.
Ethics are culturally evolved mechanisms that regulate self-interest, giving us a better understanding of good & bad outcomes. Permaculture ethics are distilled from research into community ethics, learning from past & present. These are combined with the best teachings of modern times in order to realise the transition to a sustainable future.
Care of the EarthThe Earth is the very thing that sustains us, it provides us with all the essentials that keeps us alive – air, water, food, shelter – & it is the only source of these essentials, we can’t get them from anywhere else! We depend on the Earth & all the living systems on the planet (which, incidentally, are all interconnected in a complicated, interdependent web of life) for our survival.
Taking care of the Earth’s systems that keep us alive could logically be seen as doing what is right to ensure one’s own survival – not polluting the air we breathe, not poisoning the water we drink, & not destroying the land which provides our sustenance.
Care of the Earth includes all living & non-living things, such as animals, plants, land, water & air. It includes all of them because, as science shows us through ecology & biology, all of them are interconnected & interdependent. When one is affected, all are affected.
Caring for the Earth means caring for the soil, which is a living ecosystem, on which plant life depends, & therefore, our source of food. It means caring for our forests, which are the lungs of the planet, ensuring a supply of clean air. Forests are also inextricably linked into the process of rain formation & the water cycle, & therefore play a key role in ensuring our supply of fresh water. It means caring for our rivers, which are the veins of our planet, circulating the water which all life depends on.
Care of PeopleFundamental to permaculture is the concept of Permanent Culture. A socially sustainable culture will have a common understanding of ethical behaviour. Social responsibility is woven into everyday actions; our lives filled with interactions that feed us, nourish our sense of self worth & encourage honesty. We are social creatures & it is not possible to do everything on our own. We need nurturing relationships for our mental well-being.
When we recognize our need for interdependence we are willing to support each other. It doesn’t mean that we all have to be best friends; permaculture teaches us that we can respect, co-operate, co-exist with our differences rather than competing or trying to extinguish diversity.
At the core of People Care is an understanding of the power of community. If we can change our lives as individuals and make incremental differences: think what we can do as a community!
All living things are interdependent on each other, including people. In reality as the saying goes, “no man is an island”, humans by their very nature are communal & social animals, & just like the rest nature, of which they are a part of, are cooperative in nature.
Care of People is about promoting self-reliance & responsibility towards the greater community . It is importance to point out that we are talking about self-reliance & not self-sufficiency here. Self-sufficiency is a myth, & a potentially detimental one too! As Bill Mollison once stated,
“I might grow food, but I don’t want to have to make my own shoes, I can trade food I’ve grown with someone who makes shoes…”That’s the essence of community! It’s about sharing & supporting each other.
So what is promoting self-reliance about? It is about taking responsibility for more than one’s own future, & looking to help one’s community by sharing knowledge & experience, to skill people up so that they can provide for some of their basic needs. The essence of this is captured by the expression,
“Give a man a fish, & he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish & he’ll eat for ever.”It is about a collaborative effort to bring change to one’s own life & that of others.
When people collaborate to support each other, & to meet their needs, both physical & non-physical, this creates a bond which builds a stable, supportive, & emotionally healthy community which prospers.
Care of People importantly has to begin with the person closest to us, our self! It’s hard to care for others when we can’t care for ourselves, & there’s no point in caring for others while neglecting oneself. If we are interested in helping others, then it is in our best interests that we are in an optimum state to be helpful to others. Beyond our selves, Care for People then extends to the next closest circle of people in our lives, our families, then our neighbours, our local community & then the greater community, & ultimately, all of humanity.
Fair ShareThis is also described as the principle of return of surplus to Earth & people. As a permaculture organisation, the concept of fair share is at the core of what we do. It is very important to us to help build strong, resilient communities, & to make knowledge available to those who want to learn, regardless of their personal circumstance. We give as much as we are able.
Another principle at the core of what we do is co-operation instead of competition. So wherever possible we collaborate & co-operate with organisations & enterprises engaged in complimentary stuff. It’s the best strategy for creating regenerative solutions for everyone. We’ve found that there’s nothing stronger than a collaborative force, whatever the challenge.
No matter how you look at it, the world’s resources are finite, so logically it follows that there is a finite & measurable share of resources available to each person on the planet to support them.
If all the resources produced were a metaphorical ‘pie’, & each person has their ‘slice of the pie’, what happens when someone wants more than their fair share, when someone wants more than one ‘slice of the pie’? Simply put, someone else goes without.
Western society is driven by the unsustainable economic ideology of Consumer Capitalism, which incessantly chants the mantra of “continuous growth”, which in effect, implies continuously increasing consumption. This is a rather flawed concept, the idea of continuous growth in a finite system, for this clearly defies the laws of physics, & also the laws of common sense. It is a truly delusional principle of a flawed ideology, for it has no basis in ecology or any other science. If anyone for even the briefest moment stops to think of how you could possibly have continuous growth, & for that matter, continuously increasing consumption, on a planet of fixed size with finite (& diminishing) resources, then the nonsensical nature of this concept is clearly evident.
All our basic needs are met by the Earth herself, & our next higher needs are met through community with each other.We have become disconnected from nature, & forgotten how to tend to our own needs through the resources provided to us freely by nature.
When we share our surplus produce, when we share our skills, knowledge & experience, these actions builds bonds between people which all works to foster a sense of stable collaborative community.
So what’s the point of Fair Share? If we take only our fair share, then there is enough for everybody, & there will continue to be in the future too.image source: www.http://theresilienceinitiative.org/?attachment_id=1181
- we work with small groups
- we work locally
- we focus on homestead level impact
- we have a purpose built living classroom
- our organisational structure & philosophy
- nothing is for 'free'
Smaller groups allow facilitators to use teaching techniques that encourage trainees to teach each other, learn by doing, & identify solutions. These methods are not only proven to help with knowledge retention but also provide great foundations for trainees to share their knowledge with others within their homesteads & wider communities.
Enables facilitators to provide one-on-one support by visiting each trainee at their homestead during the long-term training services we offer, which mitigates common challenges – “jealousy”, gender issues, land access, etc. – all of which are noted & relevant problem-solving skills are then fed back into the following training module alongside solutions to any practical issues that arose. In this way, our training opportunities strive to be responsive & flexible to the challenges & needs of our trainees. It is important to us that the application of the concepts & methods being taught remain grounded in real life.
Reduces time & transport costs when providing one-on-one support & monitoring. By focusing on defined communities, Guba’s positive socio-economic impact is easier to measure.
The cumulative impact of encouraging people to invest more in themselves, in their homesteads & in their communities should ultimately result in a strengthened local economy, a result that would be less tangible if our work was spread over a larger area & population.
Trainees identify the main decision makers on their homesteads who may have the power to influence the impact of their work, & together we strive to gain their buy-in into the process & objectives of the training.
At homestead level, trainees have more control over decision-making as the power dynamics are less complex. Issues are more contained, as opposed to having to work with homestead dynamics + group dynamics + community dynamics.
Our dynamic hands-on training enables better information retention & promotes communication skills that support trainees to share & implement what they have learnt.
Guba mitigates risks by researching & testing ideas & potential solutions to the challenges identified by community members before sharing best practices through the provision of skills training.
Individual skills development within the staff team is aligned with Guba’s organisational objectives & community needs. Areas of specialisation are encouraged instead of having fixed job descriptions, resulting in a more flexible workforce.
The Guba team all live, & mostly come from within the communities in which we work. This closeness to the challenges identified by community members helps us have a deeper understanding of the wider context, which can be an invaluable resource & can positively influence the solutions we identify.
Working at homestead level, having a selection process for our training opportunities & advertising that training opportunities do not include free inputs but focus on skills development helps mitigate aid dependency.
Our community members work with Guba to identify challenges & adapt their skills to find appropriate solutions that work toward the permaculture ethics of caring for people, caring for the Earth & creating a fair share or surplus.
Our training selection process & course marketing addresses issues of aid dependency as our marketing information & selection process makes it clear to potential trainees that there are no inputs provided & selection is designed around the efforts of the potential trainees.
Training opportunities are not simply targeting the most vulnerable households but target the most willing & able no matter their socio-economic means, resulting in a high graduate & sustained success rate, which encourages graduates to be great role models within their communities. All training opportunities are designed to minimise the advantage of higher economic status, intentionally making them appealing and successful for people from the most modest of economic circumstances.
The competitive selection processes for the long-term Guba courses gives them credibility & value as not everyone will qualify & only successful graduates receive a homestead sign & certificate of completion.
The Nation’s resilience is further compromised by the fact that approximately 1 in 3 of the population are under 14 years old & over 50% of our young people are unemployed. In 2010, an estimated 104,026 children were classified as being orphaned or vulnerable (OVC). The high HIV/Aids prevalence amongst the most productive working age groups, responsibility for the care of many children falls upon grandparents, especially our grandmothers.
Lobamba Lomdzala is our inkhundla (constituency) & is located in the Manzini District of Swaziland. Its population as of the the latest census (2007) was 18,797. The inkhundla includes Luyengo, Malkerns & Mahlanya. All of the Guba team live in this inkhundla. This is central to our ability to connect with our communities, for community members to connect with us & for us to be well positioned to listen & hear their needs.
Improving quality of lifeOur primary agenda is to assist people to become more resilient through the design & development of productive, sustainable systems – from homestead to community. This agenda is as much a priority with the Guba team as it is with our community members. Without a strong team, our services would not be as flexible to the needs of our communities. If we can improve our own quality of life, then we are better positioned to learn from what works & what doesn’t work to support our communities.
Permaculture offers us a sustainable design for living – shelter, energy, food, water, community & income – within a balanced, healthy environment. Through the tools that permaculture & sustainability offer, we will be better able to increase quality of life.
Part of this process is helping people to redefine how they perceive wealth. This is a journey away from flexing the consumer muscle toward flexing the citizen muscle. To increase quality of life, we need good health, a sense of security, a vibrant community life, opportunities to support local business, to cooperate & share.
Permaculture adopts techniques & principles from existing systems, & combines them with innovations that nurture an ethical approach in which all life can thrive in abundance.
Building on these foundations, our training opportunities enable community members to reskill & substitute the pursuit of wealth for the pursuit of wellbeing, to develop community wealth rather than to focus solely on individual wealth.
Below is an extract from Development in Swaziland: Myths & Realities by Bob Forrester & Vito Laterza with advice following their observations & interaction with the development sector in Swaziland.
The dominant principles and assumptions behind mainstream development knowledge, imported from the global North, are often at odds with the principles and workings of this grounded African humanism. They also tend to ignore the complex history of political, social and economic relations that have produced the current situation of underdevelopment and poverty in Swaziland and other African countries. We can now make a few recommendations for development practitioners, policymakers and citizens who want to engage with the challenges of development in Swaziland.
Making development local
As obvious as it sounds, the main theme that cuts across this discussion is the need to make development local and effective for people in Swaziland. There is no doubt that development organisations should make an effort to localise their staff and management as much as they can. The upper levels of management and decision-making of many development organisations are still disproportionately occupied by whites and foreigners of different nationalities and ethnic and racial groups.
While this mirrors similar trends in the private sector to some extent, it is also an inevitable side-effect of a field that is largely controlled by foreign donors, and one where a large proportion of skilled and managerial staff continues to be recruited in international networks in the global North. It is important that black Swazis are given as much space as possible in this process. There are already a wide number of talented people from local communities involved in development and with the right emphasis and support, they can drive localisation further. If development practitioners are to act as role models for the people they work with, then there is a need for their management structures to be demographically representative of the larger population.
This does not mean that foreigners or people from minority demographic groups should not continue their meaningful participation in these matters. But the balance of power needs to shift until it becomes normal for managerial posts to be occupied by black Swazis, making it easier for foreigners and people from other groups to interact meaningfully without the burden of being constantly questioned as agents of external forces that are not in line with local interests.
The issue cannot be narrowly confined to demographic factors. The external nature of development knowledge affects all development practitioners formally trained and educated in institutions that continue to teach this kind of knowledge. There is a deeper need to transform the mind-set of development knowledge and practice and to look at solutions that emerge from the local context, driven by people on the ground. We need to abandon the assumption that anything from the outside, especially if it is from the North, is better than anything coming from Swaziland.
This is a much more difficult process than driving localisation through a narrow quota approach. It can only be carried out in alliance with like-minded people, organisations and networks across other parts of Africa and the global South which are also struggling with similar issues. Ultimately it is an example where an emergent international network of locally-embedded people and institutions can make headway to subvert and change the realities of development interventions largely imposed by top-down institutions controlled by few. A good example is the World Social Forum, an annual meeting where people and organisations from across the world discuss and develop alternative models of development in line with the needs and aspirations of the global South.
In terms of knowledge production, there are a vast number of local researchers who are producing different kinds of relevant knowledge who should be recognised for their passion, rigour and indefatigable work. Some are local intellectuals living, like most Swazis, outside the comforts of middle class life, others are university professors in Swaziland, South Africa and overseas. Many others are involved in development work in different parts of Swaziland. They are already making an impact and it is key that their knowledge is taken as a major driver of new development thinking and different ways of conceiving and devising interventions. Our own research and the summary of findings presented here would not have been possible without their vital contribution.
Until development practice and interventions stop being perceived by many Swazis as external and ‘foreign’ to their interests and aspirations, the long-term impact of development projects on the social and economic landscape is likely to be limited. A consideration of historical developments is crucial in this regard. Since the early days of colonialism, Swazis have developed what anthropologist Laurel Rose calls ‘the politics of harmony’: Swazi rulers persuaded commoners that all Swazis should display harmonious behaviour, and thus cooperative and conciliatory behaviour, if they, as Swazis, wanted to avoid further intervention in their affairs.
This conciliatory and harmonious behaviour continues to distinguish the interactions with development projects of many Swazi rural dwellers and traditional authorities up to the present. But as Rose poignantly shows in her study of disputes on customary land tenure, it is far from a real show of commitment. In public meetings with development practitioners, authorities and community members will in most cases express agreement with development interventions. But in practice they will consciously refuse to buy into the proposed interventions to keep at bay what they see as fundamentally ‘foreign’ forces – and thus retain autonomy and control over their land. This is a well known strategy to avoid overt confrontations, and has very little to do with the widespread notion among development practitioners and policymakers that there are cultural traits that inhibit people from succeeding.
These subtle politics are very difficult to unveil – and they are a very effective tool protecting people from undue intrusion in their affairs. The only alternative is to change the development frameworks and the assumptions, and thus the way in which local partnerships are carried out. To dispel fears and the quick activation of ‘harmony’ strategies, development practitioners need to build trust: this takes time and effort – and a substantial change in symbolic and managerial behaviour.
The need for flexibility and a holistic approach to development
Flexibility is at the basis of the Swazi social system, this is how people have been able to retain a relative degree of autonomy from the harsh external constraints imposed upon them. People have to make do with what they have. They work in uncertain and precarious conditions and they cannot easily rely on linear planning asa successful economic strategy. Working with few material resources, people already know that plan A is rarely going to work. They know that an overly structured approach is actually detrimental to achieving their goals. A key ability consists in knowing how to improvise in critical situations and how to harness the complex mix of conditions and situations to one’s own advantage. This is in itself a major skill that those who live in highly structured and bureaucratised environments usually lack.
Human relations are crucial in the life lived on the boundaries between formal and informal, between rural and urban, between custom and the hyper-modernity of capitalism. Establishing clear boundaries between homesteads and nuclear families does not benefit people who have little in terms of material resources. Boundaries between different individuals, different families and different owners are blurred in complex mixes of social and communal, sustained by an ethic of mutual care and collective responsibility. Flexibility and ambiguity over ownership, division of labour and other economic productive tasks are not the result of low levels of formal education, as some development narratives want us to believe. They instead constitute a conscious collective strategy to escape the attempt by big capital and international institutions to constrain people in the straightjacket of the ‘poor’.
If development activities continue to rely primarily on bureaucratic planning embedded in a system that prioritises individual rights and private property, local communities will tend to resist them. One needs to acknowledge that most formal development interventions have strict requirements from donors to follow bureaucratic procedures of accountability. However development practitioners should be able to devise interventions that accommodate both the requirements of funders – and the complex and shifting socio-economic reality of the people who are the target of the interventions. Without a radical rethinking in this direction, most development actions are likely to have a limited success in terms of the real goals they aim to achieve – while often they succeed in bureaucratic terms, by the standards of reporting set by funders.
It follows that interventions need to take into account the complex set of different social and economic factors at play in the lives of the communities targeted. No matter how specific an intervention is (i.e. bringing clean water or building a school), people who live in these communities have long been thinking and acting across a wide variety of domains which are conventionally separated by dominant northern knowledge frameworks. Precisely because the system underpinned by these northern categories has not worked for them, people have mobilised social, psychological and economic resources across a wide spectrum of institutions. These include extended families, informal savings associations, religious organisations, but also more formal institutions like trade unions and civil society support groups. People’s lives occur at the intersection of these different spheres and development knowledge and practice need to consider these as integral to their interventions.
Going beyond abstract ideals of democracy: a context-specific approach to human rights and equality
One major challenge for development interventions is applying basic principles of democratic participation and social equality within their own operations. The problem is not with the principles of democracy and human rights per se – but with the way much development discourse and practice tends to uncritically adopt these principles as part of an abstract ideal to be imported from the more ‘enlightened’ liberal democracies of the North into the local context. Anthropological research has clearly shown that interventions in the name of freedom, democracy and human rights across Africa have often created highly unequal outcomes, perpetuating the problems they aimed to solve. This literature cautions against the advocacy of abstract ideals of democracy without looking at practical ways to make effective and incremental change in line with local interests. While we should not abandon the principles, we need to think about their implementation in a different way.
One example is the emphasis on the widespread incidence of gender inequality in Swaziland. While there are worrying patterns that need to be taken into account -especially when it comes to abuse and violence on women and children – the expert accounts rarely take a comparative attitude. And when they do, they rarely include the incidence of similar patterns and statistics in the global North. Structural factors imposed by the global inequality of the current world order are also too often glossed over. The focus tends to remain on cultural influences and local conditions, which are then blamed for such inequalities. Another problem with such accounts is that the frames applied to analyse the social situation and identify gender inequalities are influenced by assumptions about equality and gender relations that rarely hold in societies across the world.
While sources of gender inequality are rightly pointed out, the importance that local views give to women is often forgotten. Women have substantial power in the homestead and urban domestic economy, through control of agricultural and other informal activities for instance. In the past the levers of administrative power in a polyginous homestead resided in the mother of the male head, somewhat mirroring the dual gender balance of the monarchic system, where the Queen Mother is, at least in principle, the counterbalance to the power of the King. In general, these complex histories of gender relations are ignored in favour of simplistic models exported from abroad that would easily explain and map the situation providing a quick analysis for developing interventions.
Similar observations could be made about the much talked need for democratic procedures in community organisations and development projects. A focus on ‘culture’ once again tends to stereotype Swazis as being inherently prone to submit to established hierarchies and having little wish to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. The reality is very different. While customary practices favour a notion of respect – inhlonipho in SiSwati – that socialises people into making overt shows of respect and acceptance of authority figures like chiefs and princes, this is very far from a blind compliance to any capricious order from above. Often, even in organisations outside the formal realm of custom, people with status and charisma talk the most and communicate decisions in formal meetings. However these decisions are very rarely taken without participation from members of an organisation. Most decisions are effective only if they have a widespread consensus. This is usually established informally beforehand outside formal meetings, for instance when neighbours in a rural area casually meet or in work breaks where farming cooperatives are concerned.
Rather than applying blanket notions of democratic participation and equality, development practitioners should be attuned to these subtle mechanisms. Swazis highly value the freedom to express their opinions and are not happy to uncritically accept decisions imposed upon them without consultation, or that go against their own individual and collective interests. Ideals of equality, respect, mutual care and participation are all present in different ways in the local context, they are not something that needs to be imported.
Beyond narrow conceptions of ‘civil society’: redefining development to include local institutions and emergent world society
Mainstream development narratives frequently mention ‘civil society’ as a crucial engine for development. However, civil society tends to be narrowly defined to fit the ideal model of northern liberal democracies. Civil society is commonly understood to include NGOs, trade unions, churches and human rights advocacy organisations, among others. But we rarely hear of the inclusion of other equally vital local institutions and sites of associational life like informal saving funds, traditional courts or the age regiments. We need to widen the scope to come up with a much broader view of society to include important local institutions that underpin the everyday life of people and their economic and social relations.
Lobola (bride price), for instance, continues to play an important role in Swaziland and the rest of southern Africa as a form of alliance between the extended families of the bride and groom. It fosters mutual exchange of labour and goods through alternative routes to cash accumulation in the formal sector.
Kinship groups and kinship idioms extended to neighbours and other rural dwellers enable a whole host of ties of solidarity and social bonding that can be conducive to social and economic development. Rather than defining a community as ‘poor’ in accordance with outside bureaucratic abstract standards, we should focus on the inherent resilience of local institutions and social formations in spite of the difficult conditions imposed by large-scale markets and inadequate public services. Society, rather than big markets or the state, is the primary locus where development thinking and interventions should occur. Society should not be defined in isolationist self-sufficient terms either: social formations negotiate at all times with big companies and states, and they need to mobilise essential large-scale infrastructures to provide for the needs of its members. For instance, M-Pesa, the mobile banking system started by Vodacom in Kenya and now in Swaziland, is a private market initiative that has brought great benefits to a wide number of people who would not otherwise have easy ways to transfer small amounts of money across wide distances quickly and at a minimal cost.
In all these cases, we need to start from what people already do on the ground and the kind of economic and social relations they are involved with. Only once we have learnt enough about them, can we then develop solutions to improve their livelihoods in partnership with local communities. Solutions that take into account real society in everyday life, rather than abstract models of how societies should work, are likely to be more successful, and ultimately more participatory, than top-down solutions subscribing to principles that are external to the society in question.
Abstract models of the kind propagated by mainstream development narratives tend to miss the fact that local institutions and people are embedded in wider regional and global networks. Many Swazis come in and out of South Africa daily, contributing to a constant exchange of ideas, goods, money and other forms of capital. It is the same for all the foreigners who live in Swaziland and travel regularly outside the country, be it to Mozambique or as far as UK or the US. People are constantly in touch with wider realities beyond national borders through the increasing spread of social media. Even when people use local idioms to express their needs, they do so with this bigger world in mind, comparing themselves to other people around the region, thinking about what might or might not work in Swaziland and why.
There is ultimately no ‘local’ society isolated from the global, rather they are two sides of the same multi-faceted world we all live in. The rapid spread of digital communication is making people think much more widely about their problems and possible solutions on a global scale. Keith Hart, a leading economic anthropologist and development scholar, refers to this formation as an ‘emergent world society’. Development thinking and practice should occur at this interface, where the local meets the global, and where productive spaces for this world society have been meaningfully built by people on the ground. For this space to be truly emancipatory and non-racial, people living in local communities need to drive decisions and interventions that deeply affect their lives and aspirations, in alliance with like-minded people and organisations from across the world.
Bob Forrester is a cultural heritage specialist and photographer working in Swaziland. He focuses on archaeology, history and museums. He directed the complete reconstruction of the Swaziland National Museum and created the Bulembu Museum. He has photographed and written about Swaziland extensively.
Vito Laterza is a postdoctoral Fellow in the Human Economy Programme at the University of Pretoria. He received his PhD in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge, based on long-term fieldwork in a Christian company town in Swaziland. He is an anthropologist and organisational scientist interested in political, economic and socio-cultural issues in Africa, from a global geopolitical perspective. He has published widely in academic journals and book collections, and he is acolumnist for Al Jazeera English.
The consequences of poverty & unemployment combined with chronic illness has undermined the social fabric of our communities. Although Swaziland has a strong history of farming & pastoralism & entrepreneurship, 24% of the population rely on food aid to survive, alcohol & substance abuse is on the rise along with domestic violence, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancies & illegal abortions.
Despite a vast amount of aid money & talk around poverty reduction, progress is hard to see at community level. Much of the development influencing our communities is driven by aid agencies whose power framework originates from other countries & international institutions. This top-down approach tends to apply solutions that are not necessarily context specific to the communities receiving their ‘support’. For example, a common top-down approach is to promote rapid industrialisation & cash cropping, which historically has left our communities in poverty. When Swaziland was a Protectorate, colonial governments needed to break down primary reliance on subsistence farming in order to exploit Swazis as cheap labour. Historically, systems meant to oppress Swazi’s have been appropriated to benefit people on a more informal basis. In all these cases, we need to start from what people already do on the ground and the kind of economic and social relations they are involved with. Only once we have learnt enough about them, can we then develop solutions to improve their livelihoods in partnership with local communities.
“Solutions that take into account real society in everyday life, rather than abstract models of how societies should work, are likely to be more successful, and ultimately more participatory, than top-down solutions subscribing to principles that are external to the society in question.” ~ Development in Swaziland: Myths & Realities by Bob Forrester & Vito LaterzaGuba has grown in response to the needs of our neighbours, friends & families – from our communities. We work in partnership with our community members to develop solutions to the challenges we face, together, to grow resilience on an individual, communal, & economic basis. This is why we are a grassroots organisation.
“For development to be truly emancipatory, people living in local communities need to drive decisions & interventions that deeply affect their lives & aspirations, in alliance with like-minded people & organisations from across the world.” ~ Development in Swaziland: Myths & Realities by Bob Forrester & Vito Laterza
In order to facilitate sustained positive development we believe change must start within Guba itself. We are constantly working to reduce the hierarchical structure within our own organisation as we believe this better places us to identify solutions within our communities in a non-hierarchical manner & manifest the change we want to see. And, because our team understand the cultural dynamics, our interactions are more responsive to the cross-section of local interests within our communities.
Our approach works on the assumption that our communities are not going to develop along the same lines as the western world. The western development strategy has resulted in industrialisation & mass consumption that is both environmentally unsustainable & promotes social inequality. We are a permaculture organisation, which means we are guided by the ethics of caring for the Earth, caring for people & promoting fair share – a model of progress that chooses to promote environmentally sustainable & socially just communities.
Peak oil & climate change have rapidly moved up in people’s awareness in recent years but often, particularly in relation to peak oil, solutions tend to be thin on the ground. Since its initial emergence in Kinsale in 2005, the Transition idea has spread virally across the UK & increasingly further afield, serving as a catalyst for community-led responses to these twin challenges.
All living systems are networks of smaller components, & the web of life as a whole is a multi-layered structure of living systems nestling within other living systems – networks within networks.Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life
The seven principles of Transition
1. Positive Visioning
Transition Initiatives are based on a dedication to the creation of tangible, clearly expressed and practical visions of the community in question beyond its present-day dependence on fossil fuels. Our primary focus is not campaigning against things, but rather on positive, empowering possibilities and opportunities. The generation of new stories and myths are central to this visioning work.
2. Help People Access Good Information and Trust Them to Make Good Decisions
Transition initiatives dedicate themselves, through all aspects of their work, to raising awareness of peak oil and climate change and related issues such as critiquing economic growth. In doing so they recognise the responsibility to present this information in ways which are playful, articulate, accessible and engaging, and which enable people to feel enthused and empowered rather than powerless.
Transition initiatives focus on telling people the closest version of the truth that we know in times when the information available is deeply contradictory.
The messages are non-directive, respecting each person’s ability to make a response that is appropriate to their situation.
3. Inclusion and Openness
Successful Transition Initiatives need an unprecedented coming together of the broad diversity of society. They dedicate themselves to ensuring that their decision-making processes and their working groups embody principles of openness and inclusion.
This principle also refers to the principle of each initiative reaching the community in its entirety, and endeavouring, from an early stage, to engage their local business community, the diversity of community groups and local authorities. It makes explicit the principle that there is, in the challenge of energy descent, no room for ‘them and us’ thinking.
4. Enable Sharing and Networking
Transition Initiatives dedicate themselves to sharing their successes, failures, insights and connections at the various scales across the Transition network, so as to more widely build up a collective body of experience.
5. Build Resilience
This stresses the fundamental importance of building resilience, that is, the capacity of our businesses, communities and settlements to deal as well as possible with shock. Transition initiatives commit to building resilience across a wide range of areas (food, economics, energy etc) and also on a range of scales (from the local to the national) as seems appropriate – and to setting them within an overall context of the need to do all we can to ensure general environmental resilience.
6. Inner and Outer Transition
The challenges we face are not just caused by a mistake in our technologies but as a direct result of our world view and belief system. The impact of the information about the state of our planet can generate fear and grief – which may underlie the state of denial that many people are caught in. Psychological models can help us understand what is really happening and avoid unconscious processes sabotaging change, for example, addictions models and models for behavioural change. This principle also honours the fact that Transition thrives because it enables and supports people to do what they are passionate about, what they feel called to do.
7. Subsidiarity: self-organisation and decision making at the appropriate level
This final principle enshrines the idea that the intention of the Transition model is not to centralise or control decision making, but rather to work with everyone so that it is practiced at the most appropriate, practical and empowering level, and in such a way that it models the ability of natural systems to self organise.
Resilience & Localisation
“…at the heart of resilience thinking is a very simple notion – things change – & to ignore or resist this change is to increase our vulnerability & forego emerging opportunities. In so doing, we limit our options.”People talk about resilience on a range of levels, from personal experiences of adaptability to new circumstances to ecosystems & societies. So what would a resilient community look like?
Three factors determine the degree of a communities resilience. The first revolves around the extent to which communities can direct & shape decisions that affect them. Increased local democracy & engagement are key. The second is the ability of communities to learn & adapt. Being a resilient community means having the necessary sills, which may well not be skills taught in schools today. New skills & flexibility in education are key. The third is the need for resilient communities to be planned. This intentional aspect, of building resilience being a collective design project, is central to Transition.
Making a community more resilient should lead to a healthier & happier community while reducing its vulnerability to risk & uncertainty. In practice, a more adaptable community trains its young people in a wide range of skills, more decisions are taken at the local level, the community owns & manages more of its own assets & has access to some of the land adjoining it.
Becoming more resilient embraces opportunities by turning challenges on their head.Localisation is central to building resilience. It is not necessarily something you choose, it is simply inevitable in the face of climate change & as we move pass the oil peak. With increasing oil prices & decreasing accessibility to oil, our physical world will change & become more localized.
Looking through the lens of the demise of oil, the future holds many challenges for us oil dependents. However, through the lens of resilience, such changes could offer opportunities for us at a local level, our level.
What is holocracy? Holocracy is a flatter organisational structure designed to be flexible to real world conditions.
Behind holocracy is the idea that work should be organised around tasks, rather than around the functions within a company. The best way to get tasks done is to trust teams to organise in the way that suits them best. Tasks are delegated to “circles” of people, which are free to self-govern – as long as they get the work done & fulfil the requirements of the upper circle that delegated it to them.
The idea is to structure the organisation around the work that needs to be done rather than the people who do it.
Holocracy was developed inside an obscure Pennsylvania software startup founded by a man named Brian Robertson, but it’s slowly spreading elsewhere. The holocracy name is now a registered trademark, & Robertson has gone to create an consultant shop, HolocracyOne, that helps other companies adopt the system. In addition to Zappos, Robertson & crew have introduced holocracy to Medium, the startup created by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, & Conscious Capitalism, a nonprofit founded by the CEO of Whole Foods.
As an organisation flattens out, different jobs & areas of responsibility such as human resources or engineering organize themselves in “circles.” These core units of the holocratic system are meant to be the key to its flexibility. They’re ostensibly self-organizing: They can define & redefine purposes as needed. Because jobs are defined by work rather than title, the hope is that the best person to do a particular task will step up to do it.
Following some of the theories behind holocracy, we have been able to rapidly evolve the structure of Guba to react to the real world needs of our communities. The holocratic system doesn’t eliminate hierarchy completely. But instead of traveling in one direction — up — accountability travels many different paths across & through Guba.
Notes inspired by The Resilient Gardener
“These days, we tend to design our gardens & our gardening for good times, times when everything is going well. That isn’t what we need. Reality is, there is almost always something going wrong. We need resilient gardens. And one that better enhances our own resilience, in all kinds of times, good & bad.”Carol Deppe hits the nail on the head in her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production & Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. It is our challenge to build resilience in the face of changing economic, social & climatic times. Between 20-25% of the population of Swaziland are food insecure & dependent on food assistance for survival. For these reasons, our training is about positioning ourselves & working with nature, & with the natural & social forces & currents around us. It is also about learning tools to position ourselves with knowledge.
As Deppe puts it:
“Our challenge as gardeners is to fully accept our role as a source of resilience for our communities in hard times, & to adventure & experiment in good times so as to develop the kinds of knowledge & skills that would most matter. We may never have to experience hard times. But if we build the appropriate knowledge base & pass it on to others, & encourage them to do likewise, it is likely that, sooner or later, that knowledge will matter.”It’s important to position ourselves & our societies so as to enhance our resilience in good times & bad, & that requires some advance planning, learning & exploration. We also need to enjoy life &, as Deppe says:
“To live fully. For that, it’s important to live primarily in the present.”
We need the kinds of knowledge & skills that allow us to be valuable & contributing participants in “honorable interdependence” in both good times & bad. We need to be interdependently self-sufficient.
“You don’t have to do everything – you don’t have to be “independent” – otherwise you would need a lot of land to grow everything. But you aren’t naturally “independent” & don’t have to be.”
You are part of a community. You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something. You make a start. Then you do what you can, what you want to, what you most enjoy. Every homestead & garden is different – unique. Like you. Every garden design will reflect you – your needs, circumstances, abilities, time commitment.
Gardening is an essential survival skill. Deppe says that:
“Knowing how to garden promotes personal happiness & survival – survival physically, emotionally & spiritually.”
When you do it, it’s hard to disagree.
“A community in which many people know these things is a healthy & resilient community – a community that is maximally positioned to thrive in good times & bad.”
Talking with the elders of any community will soon bring you to the conclusion that we need to be ready to deal with weather that is more erratic, with changing patterns, & that shows greater extremes. When it comes to dealing with erratic weather it is important to utilise crops, varieties & growing methods that have broader adaptation. We need to diversify our approach. Diversifying is one of the major ways we deal with uncertainty.
For example, rotations involving legumes, forage, pasture, & grazing animals do a better job of enhancing soil fertility than leaving a field fallow, & produce a crop of meat, milk or eggs as well as manure where you need it. Growing more vegetables, especially more storable root vegetables, improves the human & animal diet in & out of season.
However, diversify based at least partly upon labour demands. If you have an important crop that takes a lot of work in September, for instance, ideally you would choose additional crops that have their primary demands at other times.
“Resilient gardeners need to be diversified in such a way that the labour needs can be met by yourself or local labour. A combination of low maintenance planning, design & crops that spreads the need for labour out over a year is one tactic.”There is more to interdependent resilience, as Deppe goes on to explain:
“Growing food is only part of food resilience. Other critical components include buying patterns where relevant, storing patterns &, most especially, staples. Learning to grow staple crops is one thing, but it is a bigger challenge to learn to use them & reincorporate them into your diet. Many people have become used to highly processed & prepared food. To grow & use staples is as much an exploration & education & reeducation in the kitchen as in the garden.”
For this reason, our training on staple crops & vegetables focuses as much on using them as growing them. Self-sufficiency & system resilience lies at the heart of increasing quality of life. Although our approach promotes agricultural productivity it does not intensify dependency on external inputs & global markets or open the door to genetically modified crop varieties & increased indebtedness. Instead, we advocate sustainable growth orientated toward self-sufficiency & based on minimal external input systems, inter-cropping traditional varieties & local seed systems.
Considered by many as the most important invention of the 20th century, Haber-Bosch harnessed, for the first time, the abundance of nitrogen in the atmosphere, from which ammonia could be created on an industrial scale. Once oxidized, the ammonia became the nitrates used for the production of nitrate fertilizer. Human population soared through the Green Revolution of the last half of the 20th century.
The world today would look very different without the Haber-Bosch process. Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba drives the point home saying, “without Haber-Bosch, 40 percent of humanity wouldn’t be here.” Add to that the enormous use of chemical pesticides and high-yield agriculture is born.
In 1900 there were an estimated 29 million farmers in the United States, in 2008, 751,000*. The century in between saw a transformation in agriculture that helped feed a flourishing human population. But we now face the consequences of high-yield, low-resilience agriculture hitting the limits of sustainability.
In an essay called Tackling the Oldest Environmental Problem (pdf) published in The Post Carbon Reader, Land Institute founder and president Wes Jackson addresses those consequences.
“I think we must recognize what the United Nations Millennium Ecosystems Assessment said,” Jackson writes, “that on a global basis, agriculture is the largest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem function of any single human activity.”
Fossil fuel agriculture – from barn to diesel tank and the loss of diversity
Before the mid-twentieth century, “the barn was the fuel tank of the farm,” says Jackson, “dispersing sunlight in the form of hay”. Below the hay was the straw that collected the natural nitrates from the animals used to fertilize the fields. Within the barn was the the energy and “nutrient-management scheme” for the farm. Through the late forties, the barn looked much as it had for centuries.
But by 1948 that began to change. Sunlight was now increasingly stored in the energy-dense diesel tank, “nutrients” in the anhydrous ammonia tank. The face and form of farming was quickly changing, driven by fossil fuel and industrial-scale nitrogen-fixing. The character of the new farm is reflected by Ezra Taft Benson, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1953 to 1961, who told small farmers to “get big, or get out.”
Jackson argues that with the concentration of energy in larger farms came a loss of what he calls “cultural capacity”:
“I think there’s a general law: High energy destroys information, of a cultural as well as a biological variety. There is a loss of cultural capacity. And from 1750, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the graphical curve for the use of high-energy fossil carbon is increasingly steep. A ten-year-old today has been alive for a quarter of all oil ever burned. The twenty-two-year-old has been through 54 percent of all the oil ever burned.”
That gives one pause. Since my birth in the Eisenhower administration, I have been witness to and participant in the most energy ever consumed in the entire history of humanity. All in 52 years.
The Fall and the beginning of agriculture
But the “Fall,” says Jackson, came long before Haber-Bosch and the Green Revolution. All the way back 10,000 years or more to the Zagros Mountains of western Iran, with the successful planting of the first annual wheat crop. With that beginning came an engineered ecosystem contrary to how nature “does landscape”. A dominance of annuals planted in monoculture led to civilization – and our break with nature.
The difference between annual wheat and perennial wheat lay in the root, unseen and “forgotten”. Perennials dig deeper into the soil, “holding the ecological capital as tenaciously as possible.” Annuals, with their shorter roots, “leak,” leading to soil erosion and wasted “capital”.
Water runoff from even a no-till farm has three times the nitrogen deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Annuals do not manage resources well.
We’ve been able to get away with it for many millennium, all the way up to barely a century ago. Now we are faced with steadily degrading topsoil and dead zones offshore from agricultural runoff.
Modern agriculture relies on an unsustainable arrangement of energy and nutrient management.
The cost of energy density – hitting the wall
As Jackson puts it, even if you could double your supply of oil it “won’t buy you much time.” And the capacity for efficiency and renewable energy to sustain human demands will eventually become saturated, a limit beyond which more demand can’t be sustained. And there is no “technological substitute for soil and water,” without which little else matters anyway.
Based on Jackson’s law of high-energy destroying information, we are faced with a crisis of knowledge. As the inhabitants of the New World moved across the landscape, plowing prairies and cutting forests, we “didn’t know what we were doing, because we never knew what we were undoing.”
But we do know. Through the work of ecologists and evolutionary biologists, says Jackson, there is actually an abundance of information on how landscapes work, knowledge that the high-energy, high-yield economy has left us unable to access for the service of sustainable agriculture.
A new, perennial agricultural revolution
Our hunter gatherer days are long behind us – a distant past to which there is obviously no return. But Jackson argues that with the advent of agriculture, humanity grew “out of phase” with the natural world. Is our fall from Grace irredeemable? No, if we remember that we actually do know the right way forward.
Through his work at the Land Institute, Jackson advocates the perennialization of major crops. Jackson and his team at the Land Institute have 600 acres of land on which they can experiment, working with hybrids and perennial strains of wheat, some on untilled prairie. “Something closer to the original relationship,” says Jackson. In collaboration with Wendall Berry and Fred Kirschenmann of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Jackson proposed to Congress in 2009 a “fifty year farm bill.” The principal thrust of the bill is to perennialize the American farmscape, with hopes it will take root not only here in America, but around the world.
“The idea is use the current five-year bills as mileposts toward this goal,” writes Jackson. “Our fifty-year farm bill would protect soil from erosion, cut wasteful use of water, cut fossil-fuel dependence, eliminate toxic chemicals, manage nitrogen, reduce dead zones, and restore an agrarian way of life. It would do this largely by shifting the makeup of U.S. agriculture from being 80 percent annuals, as it is today, to 80 percent perennials in fifty years.”
Jackson and his colleagues believe that such a bill would be a revolution in agriculture and human sustainability no less important than any that has gone before. A Green Revolution for the 21st century.
by TOM SCHUENEMAN on MARCH 9, 2011
*Source – Number of farmers :
Tom Schueneman is a regular contributor to Planetsave, and the founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com. He is an advocate of the new energy economy, including helping people learn how to build their own solar panels.
Image credits: Stock.XCHNG, Engineer’s Guide
Source: Planetsave (http://s.tt/12tLI)
Increasingly people are coming to understand that management needs to be holistic. This means management needs to embrace social, environmental & economic complexity & cannot be reductionist, or directed to limited objectives or aims without producing unintended consequences. Currently everything we “make” using some form of technology is generally successful & increasingly so if we measure success only by achievement of the objective.
However, globally we are experiencing cumulative unintended consequences to society, environment and economies – some beneficial some damaging. Everything we “manage” from the global economy to agriculture, natural resources, forests, oceans, fisheries, etc. are seen, if we look at them honestly, to be running into problems culminating in agriculture producing far more eroding soil than food, global desertification, biodiversity loss & climate change.
Holistic Management involves using a “holistic framework” developed by Allan Savory who worked with many scientists, wildlife biologists, ecologists & pastoralists over half a century.
Using the holistic framework people manage culture/social aspects, the environment & economy together not as isolated aspects as we have traditionally done. This results in management decisions that are socially, environmentally & economically sound for them in their situation both short & long term. This can be done from a family in a city not dealing with land, to a national or international level in any management situation, policy or development project & of course by people on the land managing crops, livestock, forests, etc.
When managing any situation holistically all objectives of management (policy or development projects) are aligned with what is called a “holistic context” defined by the people in that specific situation. The people’s holistic context defines how those people want their lives to be, based on their culture & values, what they need to produce from their resource base to live such lives & what the environment supporting them needs to function like centuries from now for their descendants to be still living such lives. This holistic context is needed for management objectives, goals, policies, etc because all objectives & goals need a clear context to be fully achievable & not lead to unintended consequences.
In conventional management & government policies actions always have an objective as they should, however why management runs into problems so commonly is because the context for our actions or goals is that we “need” or “desire” something or we are “addressing a problem.” While such contexts serve us well with everything that we “make” using technology in some form, these are not realistic contexts for objectives & goals in management situations. The reason for this is because management always involves complexity – social, environmental & economic. Given a holistic context in any situation we find that our objectives & goals become much more likely to be achieved without unintended consequences.
When using the holistic framework, especially when dealing with nature, we automatically assume our actions are wrong & in that manner determine what to monitor to detect as rapidly as possible anything going adrift to correct it. This leads to holistic management being proactive, producing the desired results rather than reactive or adaptive management as management has tended to be for centuries. Such proactive management is proving encouragingly successful wherever practiced.
It is profoundly simple but not easy. Not easy purely because it is a new way of thinking for us, & changing our paradigms does not come easily. Where the management of land involves livestock needed to sustain people, or where there is no other possibility than using livestock to reverse land degradation, restore river flow, springs or underground water or loss of wildlife habitat the same holistic framework and process is used with holistic planned grazing as the planning process to address that complexity involved. A decision-making framework which results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable & socially sound management of the world’s grasslands
Allan Savory is the Founder & President of Savory Institute
Below is some notes made from the first few pages of his book, The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory & Practice of Green Philosophy, 1985.
PrefaceNatural farming is based on a nature free of human meddling & Intervention. It strives to restore nature from the destruction wrought by human knowledge & action.
Ever since I began proposing a way of farming in step with nature, I have sought to demonstrate the validity of five major principles: no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding, & no pruning.
The trees & grasses release seeds that fall to the ground, there to germinate & grow into new plants. The seeds sown by nature are not so weak as to grow only in plowed fields. Plants have always grown by direct seeding, without tillage. The soil in the fields is worked by small animals & roots, & enriched by green manure plants.
Although a thousand diseases attack plants in the fields & forests, nature strikes a balance; there never was any need for pesticides. Man grew confused when he identified these diseases as insect damage; he created with his own hands the need for labour & toil.
Man tries also to control weeds, but nature does not arbitrarily call one plant a weed & try to eradicate it. Nor does a fruit tree always grow more vigorously & bear more fruit when pruned. A tree grows best in its natural habit; the branches do not tangle, sunlight falls on every leaf, & the tree bears fully each year, not only in alternate years.
While standing in an American desert, I suddenly realised that rain does not fall from the heavens; it issues forth from the ground. Deserts do not form because there is not rain; rather, rain ceases to fall because the vegetation has disappeared. Building a dam in the desert is an attempt to treat the symptoms of the disease, but is not a strategy for increasing rainfall. First we have to learn how to restore the ancient forests.
But we do not have time to launch a scientific study to determine why the deserts are spreading in the first place. Ever were we to try, we would find that no matter how far back into the past we go in search of causes, these causes are preceded by other causes in an endless chain of interwoven events & factors that is beyond man’s powers of comprehension. Suppose that man were able in this way to learn which plant had been the first to die off in a land turned to desert. He would still not know enough to decide whether to begin by planting the first type of vegetation to disappear or the last to survive. The reason in simple: in nature, there is no cause & effect.
My greatest fear today is that of nature being made the plaything of the human intellect. There is also the danger that man will attempt to protect nature through the medium of human knowledge, without noticing that nature can be restored only by abandoning our preoccupation with knowledge & action that has driven it to the wall.
All begins by relinquishing human knowledge.
Human effort is unnecessary because nature, not man, grows the rice & wheat.
If you stop & think about it, every time someone says “this is useful”, “that has value”, or “one ought to do such-&-such”, it is because man has created the preconditions that give this what-ever-it-is its value. We create situations in which, without something we never needed in the first place, we are lost. And to get ourselves out of such a predicament, we make what appear to be new discoveries, which we then herald as progress.
Flood a field with water, stir it up with a plow, & the ground will set as hard as plaster. If the soil dies & hardens, then it must be plowed each year to soften it. All we are doing is creating the conditions that make a plow useful, then rejoicing at the utility of our tool. No plant on the face of the earth is so weak as to germinate only in plowed soil. Man has no need to plow & turn the earth, for microorganisms & small animals act as nature’s tillers.
Properly speaking, nature is neither living nor dead. Nor is it small or large, weak or strong, feeble or thriving. It is those who believe only in science who call an insect either a pest or a predator & cry out that nature is a violent world of relativity & contradictions in which the strong feed on the weak. Notions of right & wrong, good & bad are alien to nature. These are only distinctions invented by man. Nature maintained a great harmony without such notions, & brought forth the grasses & trees without the ‘helping’ hand of man.
The living & holistic biosystem that is nature cannot be dissected or resolved into its parts. Once broken down, it dies. Or rather, those who break off a piece of nature lay hold of something that is dead, & unaware that what they are examining is no longer what they think it to be, claim to understand nature. We must become aware of the insignificance of human knowledge & activity, & begin by grasping their uselessness & futility.
Follow the Workings of Nature
We often speak of ‘producing food’, but farmers do not produce the food of life. Only nature has the power to produce something from nothing. Farmers merely assist nature.
Modern agriculture is just another processing industry that uses oil energy in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, & machinery to manufacture synthetic foo products which are poor imitations of natural food. The farmer today has become a hired hand of industrialised society. He tries without success to make money at farming with synthetic chemicals, a feat that would tax even the powers of the Thousand-Handed Goddess of Mercy. It is no surprise then that he is spinning around like a top.
Natural farming, the true & original form of agriculture, is the methodless method of nature. Although appearing fragile & vulnerable, it is potent for it brings victory unfought; it is boundless & yielding, & leaves the soil, the plants & the insects to themselves.
Scientists believe that, by adding technical know-how to natural farming, which already reaps over 22 bushels of rice per quarter acre, they will develop an even better method of cultivation & higher yields. Although such reasoning appears to make sense, one cannot ignore the basic contradiction it entails. Until the day that people understand what is meant by “doing nothing” – the ultimate goal of natural farming, they will not relinquish their faith in the omnipotence of science.
When we compare natural farming & scientific farming graphically, we can right away appreciate the differences between the two methods. The objective of natural farming is non-action & a return to nature; [it is based on nature & as such, always comes back to nature]. On the other hand, scientific farming breaks away from nature with the expansion of human wants & desires; it is centripetal & divergent [conflicting]. Because this outward expansion cannot be stopped, scientific farming is doomed to extinction. The addition of new technology only makes it more complex & diversified, generating ever-increasing expense & labour. In contrast, not only is natural farming simple, it is also economical & labour-saving.
Why is is that, even when the advantages are so clear & irrefutable, man is unable to walk away from scientific agriculture? People think, no doubt, that ‘doing nothing’ is defeatist, that it hurts production & productivity. Far from it. In fact, if we base our figures on the efficiency of energy used in production, natural farming turns out to be the most productive method of farming there is.
The claim is often made that mechanization has increased the efficiency of work, but farmers must use the extra hours away from their fields to earn outside income to help pay for their equipment. All they have done is exchange their work in the fields for a job in some company; they have traded the joy of working outdoors in the open fields for dreary hours of labour shut up inside a factory.
High-yield technologies are no more than glorified attempts to stave off reductions in productivity.
Nor is science a match for nature in terms of the quality of the food it helps create.
The way we currently produce our food is damaging to us because it depletes the wealth of the soil without reinvesting fertility. There is therefore a need to create gardens, woodlands & farms in a way that promotes soil health. Without living soil, we literally would have nothing.
Forests are often some of the most productive & biodiverse habitats on our planet. Traditional people the world over have observed their forests & designed sustainable agricultures based on them. These are gardens based on the principles of the native forest ecosystem, but consciously using edible & other useful plants.
Natural ecosystems are good models for us to learn from but many of the plants they contain are not necessarily edible. What we can learn to discover & grow are a wide variety of easily grown perennial & self-seeding annuals, which provide delicious & healthy food, or are useful in other ways.
Forest gardening is both a productive & low maintenance form of horticulture & also a way of gardening that promotes interlinked systems of design. Plants work in guilds & support each other as well as compete.
A forest garden is designed & planted to mimic the structure of our natural woodland where all the vertical as well as horizontal niches are filled with plants – trees, shrubs & mainly perennial climbers, herbs, roots & ground cover – but these gardens all differ according to soil type, topography & personal preferences.
Species are selected to create a stable, functioning environment that fulfil the needs of the gardeners by producing fruits, berries, vegetables, herbs, seeds & other useful plant material. Each plant performs many multiple roles within the system – promoting growth of other plants, inhibiting weeds, shelter, mulch, pest control, bird food, cross-pollination, attracting beneficial insects & of course providing food, medicine & utility plants for community use.
What they share is the aspiration to be:
- Biologically sustainable – to not need lots of external inputs
- Robust – to be able to withstand climate change in the shape of unusual weather extremes
- Productive – in terms of edible foods, medicinal herbs, fibres, spices, fodder, fuel wood, poles, basketry materials, mulches, games, sap for wines & other products
- Ideally they should also be low maintenance after the initial work of designing & planting them.
Forest gardens do not need to be large. The idea of stacking plants & filling vertical niches can be applied to a small urban lot as well as a larger rural yard. They provide a haven for a large & diverse population of invertebrates & vertebrates: animals, reptiles, birds & insects. All this biodiversity means that the balance of pest/predators is healthy, reducing the need for fertilisers & herbicides.
In summary, food forests are:
- Consciously designed using permaculture principles which mimic natural systems
- Multi-layered – trees & shrubs grow surrounded by a herbaceous layer, root crops & vines
- Perennial – plants grow every year without replanting
- Highly productive
- Suitable for backyards & farms, both urban & rural
- Once established, can be designed to be low-maintenance.
The research we undertake at Guba explores the use of food plants in a forest garden context, from plants native to Swaziland & southern Africa & from suitable temperate to sub-tropical areas around the world. We are committed to sharing our experiments, successes & challenges in growing herbs, vegetables, edible shrubs, flowers & trees at our 2.2 Hectare farm in mid-veld Swaziland. The Guba farm demonstrates the many functions of such plants with a strong emphasis on perennial species & minimum inputs.
The following lists serve to contrast the biological processes that underlie the differences between genetic engineering & traditional breeding technologies.
Traditional Breeding (i.e. its biological basis, sexual reproduction):
- Evolved over eons (along with “checkpoint” mechanisms to eliminate mistakes)
- Occurs between closely related organisms
- Genetic exchange occurs in reproductive cells,
- & occurs between related chromosomes,
- through homologous recombination
- Amount of DNA & spacing between genes remain the same.
(Traditional) Genetic Engineering (particularly of crop plants):
- Is human-made, recently (& subject to human & other errors)
- Involves any gene from any organism (alive or dead) or synthesized in a lab
- Occurs in somatic cells
- Insertion into chromosomes occurs “randomly”
- Causes insertional mutation of recipient’s genes at rates of 27-63%
- Gene spacing & amount of genomic DNA are altered
- Involves “selectable marker” genes (e.g. kanamycin-resistance gene).
Because genetically engineered cells – in & of themselves – are of no use to agriculture, they must then be coaxed into becoming whole, fertile plants through another biological process called regeneration. And another form of mutation, called somaclonal variation, can occur during the regeneration process.
In conclusion, there are multiple biologically relevant differences between the processes of traditional breeding & genetic engineering of crop plants; & the “process” of genetic engineering actually comprises multiple, different processes.
Therefore, genetic engineering is very different to traditional breeding. And, until proven otherwise, it should be assumed that the risks associated with these technologies must be different as well.
Source: Biotech Salon
Permaculture fundamentally rejects the industrial growth model of the global North at the core of its ethics, & aspires to design fairer, more equitable systems that take into account the limits of the planet’s resources & the needs of all living beings. Whilst these permaculture ethics are more like moral values or codes of behaviour, they are not enough on their own.
We need the principles of permaculture to provide a set of universally applicable guidelines that can be used in designing sustainable systems. Otherwise, permaculture becomes merely a lifestyle choice within an existing unsustainable system. These principles can be inherent in any perma-culture design, in any climate, & on any scale.
‘Slow’ encompasses several layers of meaning that go beyond simply ‘sustainable’. Slow is the opposite of ‘fast’ — fast food, fast money, fast living — & all of the negative consequences ‘fast’ has had for the environment & for the health of people & societies. “Slow” embodies cooperation, respect, sustainability, gratitude & resilience.
But “Living” is also a key word in our name & our vision.
Combining these words, “Slow Living” is a more reflective approach to answering how we live, work & play as human beings on a living Earth.
When we Live Slow, we give back & become more strongly connected to the Earth, to our communities, to our neighbors & to ourselves. A Slow Life is one that seeks the right balance between spirituality, sensuality, introspection & community. A Slow Life recognizes our role as members of our bioregions & of our Earth, taking a nourishing, rather than extractive approach.
The Slow Living Vision
The Slow Living Vision is of an Earth where humankind, honoring & celebrating the profound connectedness of all people, places & living beings, gives back by co-creating mutually supportive communities, bioregions & economic systems — & where we combine the wisdom of the past with a vision for the future to ensure a balanced, fulfilling way of life for all generations to come.
The Slow Living Vision is already being realized all over the world by an amazing array of people who are working on new pathways. These include not only sustainable agriculture, community building, renewable energy, reforestation, social justice, new economic models & resource conservation, but also deeper explorations into the wisdom of indigenous people, feminine & masculine wisdom, & the roles of the arts, ethics, philosophy, science, spirituality & religion in healing the Earth.
Source: Slow Living Summit
Over the last 100 years, money, driven by capitalist ideology, has become the driving force behind culture & politics on a global scale. The problem is, capitalism & global economics have redefined development as a linear process in which nature is an infinite resource.
We need to redefine our economic culture to one that understands it\’s limitations, works within the boundaries of our finite natural resources & promotes local economies, communities & all living things.
This is the potential of Slow Money: to begin to reorient capital away from endless cycles of consumption & a relentless focus on markets, towards a new economy that is focused on quality & human relationships, on our relationships to one another & to the land. After all, what is at the base of the economy?A very good idea would be a civilisation that did not strip its topsoil, turn it into cheap food & highly processed food products of questionable nutritional value, & put all its faith in markets at the expense of places.
At the base of the economy is soil fertility. If we use money like synthetic fertilizer, we will get artificial growth, which can only last for awhile, but which lacks sustaining relationships with the earth. If we use money like manure, we may have a chance to create an economy built on lasting, healthy relationships. We may create a new breed of investors who refuse to accept unnatural returns.
If we cannot discover ways to invest as if farmers & fertility matter, how long can we expect our false progress to last? In answers to such questions lies our journey to a new economy & a new culture.
~ Carlo Petrini, Founder, Slow Food International, Bra, Italy, August 2008Carlo Petrini, Founder, Slow Food International, Bra, Italy, August 2008
Civilization is a big idea. So is the idea that as soils goes, so goes civilizations. So is the idea that as money goes, so goes soil.
We don’t need any more big ideas. We need small ideas. Beautiful ideas. Beautiful because they lead to a large number of beautiful, small actions, the kind alluded to by Wendell Berry:
“Soil is not usually lost in slabs or heaps of magnificent tonnage. It is lost a little at a time over millions of acres by careless acts of millions of people. It cannot be solved by heroic feats of gigantic technology, but only by millions of small acts & restraints.“Wendell BerryThere is another kind of erosion at work, just as surely, here: erosion of social capital, erosion of community, erosion of an understanding of our place in the scheme of things.
It takes roughly a millennium to build an inch or two of soil; it takes less than forty years, on average, to strip an inch of soil by farming in ways that are more focused on current yield than on sustaining fertility. We are losing roughly 1% of our total arable land per year, worldwide! And yet, awareness of the centrality of soil is nothing new. The ‘homo’ of Homo sapiens is derived from the Latin, humus, for living soil.
Fertilizers offered farmers boosts in yield but had deleterious effects on the health of microorganisms & the processes of growth & decay that are vital to the preservation of humus. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, despite beyond-explosive growth bin our knowledge of everything from atomic energy to galactic motion, our ignorance with respect to life teeming in the soil remains humbling: It is estimated that in a gram of soil, there may be a billion single-celled organisms & millions more multi-celled ones, as well as over four thousand species, most of them no yet named of studies by scientists.
Yet we have slipped during the past half century, as if pulled by the gravitational or centripetal forces of population growth, theological innovation, consumerism, & free markets, into a food system that treats the soil as if it were nothing more than a medium for holding plant roots so that they can be force-fed a chemical diet.
We have become dependent on technology & synthetic inputs, subsidized by what was, until very recently, cheap oil, which facilitated not not only the production of nitrogen fertilizer, but also the management of large-scale, mechanized farms & the energy-intensive system of processing & long-range transportation necessary to bring agricultural products to distant markets. Agriculture accounts for more than 20 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions – all the more shocking when one realizes that recent science indicates that fertile soil is a potent carbon sink, holding the potential to play a significant role in remediating global warming.
The problems of our food & agricultural systems go beyond Peak Oil & Peak Soil, however. Aquifer depletion, biodiversity decline, widespread use of pesticides & other toxics, industrial feedlots that pose health & waste-management problems, nutrition & food stay challenges that attend centralized processing, the decline of rural economies, price volitility in global commodities markets. It is quite a litany, surprising in its breadth & even more surprising in the degree of its invisibility when seen through the lens of the modern economy.
This is the system that has evolved in the wake of global capital markets & the investors who use them, much as industrial farmers use their land – as a medium into which to pour capital in order to harvest maximum yield.
We don’t have the mindset to really invest for the long-term in small-scale solutions that would improve life for billions of people.Such questions & observations lead to the premise for a new kind of financial intermediation, going by the improbable name of ‘slow money’.
~ Dean Kamen, InventorDean Kamen, Inventor
That premise is this: The problems we face with respect to soil fertility, biodiversity, food quality, & local economies are not primarily problems of technology. They are problems of finance. In a financial system organized to optimize the efficient use of capital, we should not be surprised to end up with cheapened food, millions of acres of GMO corn, billions of food miles, dying Main Streets, kinds who think food comes from supermarkets, & obesity epidemics side by side with persistent hunger.
Speed is a big part of the problem. We are extracting generations worth of vitality from our land & our communities. We are acting as if the biological & the agrarian can be indefinitely subjugated to the technological & the industrial without significant consequence. We are, as the colloquial saying puts it, beginning to believe our own bullshit.
The story of Colony Collapse Disorder & the story of drug-resistance staph are also the same story: Both are parables about the precariousness of monocultures. Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when & how, & whether when they do, we\’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice world.
What else but a myth could make the soil seem expendable?
As long as money accelerates around the planet, divorced from where we live, our befuddlement will continue. As long as the way we invest is divorced from how we live & how we consume, our befuddlement will worsen. As long as the way we invest uproots companies, putting them in the hands of broad, shallow pool of absentee shareholders whose primary goal is the endless growth of their financial capital, our befuddlement at the depletion of our social & natural capital will only deepen. We need to reduce dissonance between the management of assets & charitable purpose.
Slow money is not springing full-blown from the head of an economist. Rather, it is springing from myriad small actions taken by farmers, consumers, entrepreneurs, & investors who are asking questions that need to be asked, who are responding to questions that can no longer be answered adequately by the formulas of agricultural economics that lead to $400,000 combines & hog confinement units & low-flying Grumman AgCats spraying Fiprinol.
For more information look up Slow Money. It’s a new, nonprofit intermediary dedicated to catalysing the flow of capital to enterprises that support soil fertility & local food communities.
We invented today’s global financial markets, & we have it within our power to reinvent them, to design what comes after them. What seems preposterous when viewed through the wrong end of the fast-money telescope seems wonderfully within reach when looked through the lens of slow money, allowing us to set about the work of rebuilding healthy relationships among enterprises & communities & bioregions, & between investors & the enterprises in which they invest.
Rediscover the value of the slow, the small, & the local.
resources: Slow Money Wikipedia
Their purpose is to bring about a Great Transition – to transform the economy so that it works for people & the planet.
The UK & most of the worlds economies are increasingly unsustainable, unfair & unstable. It is not even making us any happier – many of the richest countries in the world do not have the highest wellbeing.
From climate change to the financial crisis it is clear the current economic system is not fit for purpose. We need a Great Transition to a new economics that can deliver for people & the planet.
NEFs mission is to kick-start the move to a new economy through big ideas & fresh thinking. They do this through:
- High quality, ground-breaking research that shows what is wrong with the current economy & how it can be better
- Demonstrating the power of their ideas by putting them into action
- Working with other organisations in the UK & across the world, to build a movement for economic change.
NEF is fully independent of any political party. They rely on donations & help from their thousands of supporters to effect social change.
Guba has been influenced by NEFs groundbreaking society, environment & economy research papers. We have been especially interested in their Plugging the Leaks handbook, a guide to a new approach to revitalising local economies. It can be used as a basic introduction to economics, as well as the starting point for a new involvement with your local area.
The Happy Planet Index provides a very appealing measure of progress that focuses on what matters: sustainable well-being for all. It tells us how well nations are doing in terms of supporting their inhabitants to live good lives now, while ensuring that others can do the same in future.
These are just two of a number of compelling research documents you can find on their website.