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Fase Vandana: la filósofa india entrevistada por Soledad Barruti

El 24 de marzo al atardecer, el primer ministro de India, Narendra Modi, le dio a la población de su país solo cuatro horas para establecer un lugar de residencia del que no podrían salir durante los próximos 21 días, salvo para satisfacer necesidades básicas. A las doce de la noche se suspendió el transporte público, se cerraron todos los negocios que no fueran alimentarios o de medicina, y las calles pasaron a ser vigiladas por la policía, que tenía la orden de garantizar el aislamiento de las mil trecientas millones de personas que conforman la séptima economía mundial del capitalismo salvaje.

El 25 de marzo ciudades como Mumbai y Delhi amanecieron así: con los mercados raleados por quienes podían asegurarse el abastecimiento de comestibles, productos de limpieza y farmacia; con los pequeños puestos de frutas, verduras y especias clausurados; y con millones de personas que viven en la calle y dependen del trabajo diario para vivir sin nada que hacer más que buscar cobijo en una ciudad superpoblada y sin habitaciones de más.

Los pobres aguantaron acomodados donde pudieron un día, dos, algunos ni siquiera eso. Tomaron lo que tenían, sus propios cuerpos, los de sus hijos, alguna tela para taparse la boca, y empezaron a caminar para volver a casa: ese destino rural del que habían salido unos 10, 15, 25 años atrás forzados por la idea de un futuro próspero en las capitales. En una semana las rutas y caminos de India se vieron colmadas por millones de personas que, hambreadas y asustadas, improvisaron la caravana migrante más grande de la actualidad, y de ese país desde 1947, cuando se retiró la colonia inglesa.

A la doctora en física, filósofa y ecofeminista Vandana Shiva el bloqueo en India la encontró en un lugar privilegiado: Derhadun, una ciudad al norte, sobre las laderas del Himalaya junto al Tibet, donde nació y vivió su infancia rodeada de bosques, y donde hoy funciona la Universidad de la Tierra y granja agroecológica que creó en 1987, su fundación: Navdanya.

Vandana no se ha movido de ahí desde entonces y, sin embargo, con un entusiasmo avivado como volcán por la contingencia, no ha dejado de desplegar ideas y proyectos para aprovechar el impulso. Porque así lo ve: “Lo que se está viviendo en este país, donde la cuarentena fue más brutal que en ningún otro, es un fenómeno masivo e inesperado de desurbanización. La vuelta a casa de millones de personas que se están reencontrando con sus familias, en lugares donde no falta comida porque hay tierras para producirla, donde la vida para ellos puede volver a tener sentido”, dice y sonríe y se enciende como pocos en esta época de miedo y parálisis. “Yo creo que estamos viviendo una gran oportunidad. Por eso lo que estoy pidiendo a quienes reciben a los migrantes, a quienes los ven retornar, es que lo hagan con los brazos abiertos, dispuestos a enseñarles a cultivar, a ser autosuficientes, a reconectarse con la comunidad”.

Para esta líder revolucionaria y pacifista nada es casual. La degradación física y moral del sistema económico, con el sistema alimentario como máximo exponente de nuestra capacidad de destrucción, nos ha dejado a merced de este virus que antes que como metáfora, funciona como Aleph. Ahí está todo: el resultado del absurdo espejismo antropocéntrico sobre el que hacemos andar la modernidad y la ineludible mutualidad de la vida en red que puede ser de contagios mortales o interconexiones virtuosas. “A mí me resulta inevitable pensar que este es un momento de volver a la raíz, y reorientar nuestro propósito, como individuos y como sociedad”, dice Vandana hablando primero de sí. “A mí el bloqueo me dejó encerrada en mis memorias de infancia y juventud. Cada día me despierto y agradezco a mis padres por estar acá, por haber plantado los árboles que me rodean estos días. Respiro, pienso, escribo, comunico consciente de todo lo que me hizo lo que soy, de cada uno de mis anhelos y luchas”.

¿Creés que algo de esa reconexión pueden estar experimentando las mujeres y hombres que volvieron a sus pueblos en estos días?

Creo que esa es la oportunidad, que experimenten eso. Porque los jóvenes que caminaron 500, 800 kilómetros para volver a sus hogares habían sido convencidos de que no había ninguna razón para producir alimentos, para vivir en el campo. Pero tras 25 años de libre mercado, globalización y desruralización, las ciudades les demostraron de la peor manera que no podían contenerlos ni a ellos ni a nadie. Que sobraban. Estamos hablando de personas que no tienen nada, que viven de lo que pueden hacer con sus cuerpos cada día. Y estamos hablando de la mitad de la población de India…

Sin embargo, los analistas hablan de la economía India como “floreciente”, “pujante”, “una demostración de lo mejor del capitalismo”, “la séptima economía del mundo”…

Es que las personas están por fuera de esos análisis. La naturaleza también. Cuando se habla de economía lo que se tiene en cuenta aquí y en todos lados es solo lo que ocurre en el mercado formal, las ganancias de las grandes compañías. En India somos una economía de mucha gente, que trabaja duro, en muy pequeños negocios. Los vegetales llegan a la puerta de cada casa. O al pequeño almacén, de los que hay muchísimos. Son los lugares que cuando cierran nadie cuenta. Por eso el primer ministro cerró el país sin analizar esas pérdidas. La economía de los pobres no se tiene en cuenta, de las mujeres no se tiene en cuenta, de los campesinos tampoco. A toda esa cantidad de personas caminando de vuelta a casa nadie las contó como pérdidas. A lo sumo les pusieron unos trenes cuando llevaban días de caminata y las imágenes eran una vergüenza nacional.

Esos mismos analistas dirían que esas personas van a volver a las ciudades no bien puedan hacerlo.

No. Yo creo que el coronavirus está revirtiendo lo que hicieron tantos años de colonización e invasión en nuestro país. Y exponiendo cómo funcionan en todo el mundo los modelos como el de Monsanto. Hace muchos años esa empresa publicó su plan: una agricultura sin agricultores, sin naturaleza, sin nada más que su combo de semillas modificadas y agrotóxicos diseminadas por el campo. Algunos le creyeron. Y lo que estamos padeciendo ahora son los resultados de esa invasión: un mundo con la naturaleza rota que permite la dispersión de virus, campos vacíos y hacinamiento en las ciudades.

Y una población cada vez más enferma.  

Eso es muy grave. No solo hay nuevas enfermedades sino que los riesgos de morir por una de ellas, como la Covid-19, aumentan con la diabetes tipo 2, la hipertensión o el cáncer que crea este modelo. Empresas como Bayer-Monsanto, y también Coca Cola, Nestlé, Kellogs son las responsables: compañías que crean productos que no son compatibles con nuestra biología.

¿Qué es lo que impide que la sociedad pueda despertar ante algo tan evidente?

Por un lado, el poder corporativo que nos atrapó en su modo de entender la vida. Este pequeño puñado de corporaciones que consolida su poder en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. En la Alemania Nazi empresas como Bayer generaban gases para matar a las personas que estaban dentro de los campos de concentración. Esas mismas compañías, terminada la guerra, cambiaron el uso de sus productos: empezaron a usarlos como herbicidas, insecticidas, fungicidas, un arsenal químico que se instaló en la agricultura continuando su capacidad de daño y de dominación a través de la violencia y el miedo. Pero además hay otro: este sistema crea adicción. Se habla de Bayer como el productor de las aspirinas. Pero antes de eso fue el productor de la heroína. Una droga altamente adictiva que debe su nombre a que te hacía sentir como un héroe. Este sistema se sostiene con ese espíritu.

Cultura zombi

El 12 de mayo las cámaras de televisión de todo el planeta apuntaban a Francia. Tras semanas de aislamiento y casi 30 mil muertos por coronavirus ese país inauguraba la Fase 1 levantando la clausura de los lugares icónicos a los que pocos creían iba a ser tan fácil volver. Ni la torre Eiffel ni el Louvre, me refiero a tiendas como Zara. El momento en que la persiana de metal subió y las luces led se descubrieron como siempre están, prendidas, los miles de compradores que aguardaban el evento, caminaron encimados en veloz procesión pagana, olvidando al instante la distancia social y el alcohol en gel.

El momento quedó inmortalizado como un nuevo hito del poder magnánimo del consumismo que se lleva puesto, ni digamos la esperanza de un futuro mejor; antes que eso: el instinto mismo de supervivencia. Y lo mismo ocurrió en Brasil, y en Estados Unidos, y parece que ocurrirá en cada lugar que decida volver a la mentada normalidad.

¿Qué te provocan esos fenómenos? 

Creo que es la mejor evidencia de lo que te decía antes, de la adicción que provoca este sistema. Las personas creen que tienen libertad de elección porque les han contado que viven en un sistema regido por el libre mercado. Pero lo cierto es que están atrapadas en un esquema consumista creado por compañías expertas en generar adicción. Las personas son forzadas a desear y comprar lo que no necesitan. Y compran y tiran, y compran y tiran, y compran y tiran, y trabajan solo para eso: comprar y tirar. Esta forma urbana y destructiva de colonialidad es lo que trajo el mundo al estado en el que está hoy y eso encuentra en algunas ciudades una representación perfecta con todo el conjunto: la mentalidad antropocéntrica, mecanicista, monocultural y dominante.

Hace unas semanas entrevisté para este mismo medio al arquitecto y activista brasilero Paulo Tavares, que hablaba de la urgente necesidad de deconstruir la arquitectura y la vida urbana bajo la perspectiva decolonial. Él planteaba que la arquitectura sirvió hasta ahora para erigir una forma de vida urbana que concreta una idea civilizatoria en antagonismo con la naturaleza. Teniendo en cuenta que la vuelta al campo nunca va a ser tan masiva como para abandonar completamente las ciudades, ¿cómo creés vos que podríamos transformar eso en algo más razonable?

Yo crecí en una ciudad en India que aun muestra que eso es posible. En mi ciudad natal había una regla: solo se podía construir en un quinto de la tierra. El resto debía estar ocupado por la naturaleza. Por eso hoy mi casa es un bosque. Podemos ser una civilización que cree caminos bordeando bosques, en vez de avanzar en línea recta talando árboles. Si queremos ciudades en armonía con la naturaleza podríamos empezar por ahí: que los árboles nos den la dirección: permitamos eso. Otro buen ejemplo de una vida urbana posible está en Xochimilco, en plena Ciudad de México: un lugar de huertas que podría alimentar a toda esa población. Eso fue creado por las civilizaciones indígenas que vivían ahí antes de la conquista. Es un método productivo y un modo de vida al que se le opone el Real State que es el modo de construir en este paradigma: especulación inmobiliaria para montar vidas lineales y rápidas. Es lo que hacemos. Vivimos así. Bueno ¿a qué nos llevó? A este parate, a este encierro. Y acá estamos. Algunos repensándolo todo por primera vez, viendo esa locura por la velocidad.

Otra de las cuestiones que se están poniendo en debate en estos días en todo el mundo es el sistema de salud. 

Así como tenemos que conseguir un equilibrio entre la ciudad y el campo, tenemos que redefinir qué es salud y hacer resurgir una conexión con nuestra salud y con nuestro cuerpo. El paradigma de salud occidental asume al cuerpo como un contenedor de órganos y funciones. Cuando alguna de esas partes se descompone se le declara una guerra a esa parte, a esa enfermedad. Así, cada terapia diseñada por el sistema médico occidental es de algún modo un ataque defensivo. Por eso sale una y otra vez la misma metáfora: la guerra. Esa que se está librando ahora contra el coronavirus, y que se libró tantas otras veces contra otras enfermedades. Es una metáfora terrible, porque esa guerra nunca se va a ganar.

Claro, si se ve la enfermedad como un desequilibrio de la vida, un ataque solo va a agravar el problema teniéndonos a nosotros como campo de batalla.

Exacto. Pero la mentalidad bélica y militarista gobierna también la relación con los cuerpos. En India el paradigma de salud es muy complejo: una ciencia para la vida. No es un sistema creador de enfermedades ni bélico. El objetivo está puesto en comprender la organización  y preservar el equilibrio de un sistema complejo: el organismo humano. Si la enfermedad es un desequilibrio, la salud radica en traer ese equilibrio de vuelta. Y eso depende mucho de la alimentación. La comida es un gran estabilizador del sistema, es la cura de todas las enfermedades para nosotros. Y eso por supuesto no está reñido con la evidencia: si nuestra comida está intoxicada, si usamos venenos para producirla ¿cómo vamos a estar saludables? Hace unas semanas lanzamos un manifiesto llamado Food for Health al que invitamos a los mejores médicos de Europa a sumarse, reunimos estudios y comunicamos una vez más que necesitamos cambiar el sistema alimentario para que sane la humanidad y la tierra.

Una de las frases trilladas favoritas del agronegocio y de la agroindustria es que esta forma de reconexión que planteás es un viaje al pasado. 

La construcción científica contrahegemónica tiene una biblioteca muy abundante. Está nutrida de papers, avances y científicos muy calificados. Pero tampoco es una novedad que los poderes buscan deslegitimarla. Y, si no pueden, la prohíben. En India también somos un ejemplo de eso. Cuando los colonos ingleses llegaron y conocieron nuestro sistema médico, el ayurveda, lo prohibieron. Hasta que se empezó a enseñar y a estudiar bajo la forma de impartir el saber de los ingleses: con universidades, currículas, modos de estudio. Entonces en los 90 en Estados Unidos  entendieron cómo funcionaban algunas cosas. La cúrcuma, por ejemplo. Una raíz que en ayurveda se usa para elevar la inmunidad. ¿Y qué hicieron? La patentaron. Pasamos de la prohibición a la apropiación.  Y es algo que sigue al día de hoy cuando la Organización Mundial de la Salud imparte los lineamientos sobre el ayurveda escriben informes en donde sugieren no nombrar a la cúrcuma.

¿Bajo qué pretexto?

Ellos dicen que están buscando la evidencia que pruebe que tomar cúrcuma eleva el sistema inmune. Pero lo hacen midiendo el efecto según su modo de evaluación, que no reproduce las formas de uso que tenemos en India, porque partimos de esta base donde un cuerpo sano y enfermo no quiere decir lo mismo. Entonces nos enredan en una carrera engañosa.

¿Y cómo responden a eso?

Huyendo de ese reduccionismo lineal, mecanicista, cartesiano que fue creado como otro modo de colonización europeo, y que considera a nuestro conocimiento superstición, nos inferioriza, se lo apropia y se queda con nuestros recursos.

Carne de soja

Teniendo en cuenta que este virus, según la evidencia científica disponible más fuerte hasta ahora se origina del abuso que generamos sobre otros animales, me gustaría preguntarte qué pensás sobre el consumo de carnes, de las granjas industriales y del veganismo como una respuesta a eso.

Desde que escuché la idea de las granjas industriales siempre me parecieron mal. Las vi crecer. Y crecen porque crece la producción de soja y maíz transgénico. El agronegocio necesita vender todos estos granos que producen. Nadie se los va a comer si no están esos miles de millones de animales. Estas fábricas de carne son mayormente subsidiadas por eso: porque sirven para que funcione el sistema. Luego creemos que son buenos negocios, pero si no estuvieran apoyados por los gobiernos, ni siquiera como eso funcionarían.

Vos sos vegetariana.

Sí, lo soy. Pero no creo que todo el mundo deba serlo. Hace un tiempo estuve en Groenlandia y cuando pregunté por qué comían carne uno levantó la mano y me contrapreguntó: “¿Te parecería mejor que importáramos tomates de África?”. Creo que tenemos que entender que podemos tener una relación violenta con las plantas –y ahí los transgénicos son un buen ejemplo- y una relación violenta con los animales –las granjas industriales son eso. Pero podés tener una relación no violenta con las plantas –como la que logra la agroecología- y una relación no violenta con los animales –que es la que tienen los pastores de Groenlandia o los indígenas: hay muchas culturas indígenas que no comen animales, pero otras muchas que sí. Las que están en Amazonas por ejemplo, protegiendo y garantizando la biodiversidad como ninguna otra cultura, lo hacen.

Claro, se trata de entender la diversidad cultural y alimentaria, expresada en un contexto determinado, como una selva, el Ártico, un lugar costero, como parte garante de la biodiversidad de ese lugar.

Sí. Tenemos que respetar las formas de vida que hay en el mundo y no podemos pensar que comer animales es igual en todos los casos. Y tampoco podemos pensar que defender una alimentación basada en plantas sea sinónimo de defender un mundo mejor. Hay personas veganas que celebran que exista la Imposible Burger: una hamburguesa artificial creada en un laboratorio mediante plantas salidas de monocultivos tóxicos, o sea tratadas con violencia, que para su producción violentan campesinos, mariposas y abejas, y animales que por supuesto ya no viven en torno a esos cultivos. Esa hamburguesa de soja que parece carne sangrienta es una mentira. Y hay algo que se llama verdad: no se puede pregonar una idea de alimentación no violenta partiendo de esos alimentos, de esa relación mentirosa con la tierra y con el propio cuerpo. A quienes pregonan eso como la salvación les diría que despierten: la alimentación basada en plantas que crecen con toda esa violencia no produce nada mejor. Coman una zanahoria y reconozcan eso como alimento: conozcan de dónde viene, cómo se produje, denle la dignidad que merece a la planta. Dejen de hablar de una alimentación basada en plantas: esa zanahoria tiene un valor enorme en su subjetividad, una historia de interrelaciones maravillosas, que incluye animales, insectos, personas: no es simplemente una planta que da igual. Y hay algo más. En el instante en que alguien dice “basado en plantas” están dando a la industria permiso para usar esa parte de la naturaleza como material para sus experimentos, manipulación y control. Y tal vez esa persona crea que llegó a algo mejor, pero solo porque permanece ciega a todo el horror que decidió no ver. Y así será llevado como otro adicto a la heroína de este sistema hacia otro nivel, más oscuro y difícil del que salir, con un costo altísimo para la tierra en su totalidad y para sí mismo.

Antes que un problema alimentario, de salud, o de vivienda, pareciera ser un problema de información.

Y de conciencia. La conciencia nos invita a actuar, a tomar las decisiones que estén a nuestro nivel. Tenemos que decir más fuerte que no a todo ese modelo agroindustrial de salud, de vida, de alimentación. Y eso incluye hoy cuestiones incómodas como estar en crisis y decir que no a las donaciones que el agronegocio hace para alimentar a los pobres. Tenemos que elevar la vara: la comida de todos, también de los pobres, debe ser saludable, sin transgénicos y sin venenos y sin mentiras. Cuanto más alta la amenaza, más grande debe ser nuestra responsabilidad para enfrentarla.

¿Sos optimista?

Bueno, estoy entrenada en la teoría cuántica. En eso me doctoré cuando terminé la carrera de Física. Entonces cuando veo un problema trato de entenderlo desde sus causa, sus raíces, sus perspectivas. También me coloco a mí misma en algún lugar de ese panorama y pienso, qué puedo hacer yo para que ese asunto sea mejor. Y no importa cuán grande el problema, al final siempre llego a lo mismo: tenés que tener semillas, producir comida y liberar tu mente. Esa es mi responsabilidad. Luego, las soluciones empiezan a acomodarse solas.

¿Cómo creés que afectará a este movimiento todo el sistema represivo que está naciendo a medida que la pandemia avanza?

Yo estoy segura de que estamos llegando a un nuevo nivel dentro del capitalismo. Será un capitalismo de vigilancia y control. Los estados van a hacer dinero de vigilarnos y lo peor es que nosotros con nuestros impuestos vamos a pagar porque nos controlen. Pero en la historia humana cada vez que ha habido opresión, se ha podido recurrir a un arma popular que sigue vigente: la desobediencia. Y en mi país tenemos un ejemplo muy importante en ese sentido: Gandhi. Con su manifestaciones no violentas, sofisticadas al punto de impedir el control de la sal que quería obtener la colonia inglesa, y conducirnos a la independencia. Eso mismo me inspiró a mi para combatir a Monsanto cuando quería patentar todas las semillas: yo llamé a la desobediencia civil a los campesinos y 33 años más tarde seguimos entendiendo que la guarda, intercambio y siembra de semillas es nuestro derecho. Ese es el espíritu que tenemos que despertar en esta época para ir en contra de las corporaciones que ya no van por un país sino que buscan globalmente quedarse con los recursos y controlarlo todo. Nosotros, los que queremos un mundo libre y una tierra sana, somos una red muy grande, mucho más grande que esa.

Imaginemos que sucede, que el encierro sirve para sacar del encierro y la opresión a millones de personas… 

Es que es lo que va a ocurrir, porque el paradigma que celebra un futuro donde las personas viven masivamente en las ciudades, y solo un 2 por ciento se queda en el campo no funciona. No hay tal futuro. Ese plan no ha sido bueno para nadie. Ahora hay que trabajar para que esas personas que quieren volver al campo o que ya volvieron encuentren ahí un modo de vivir, con compasión y consistencia. Hay que regenerar la economía rural. Ese salvataje incluye el de las tierras: tiene que haber tierra para ellos, y medios de producción. Yo estoy haciendo lo que siempre he hecho y lo que creo que hay que hacer más que nunca: conservar semillas y promover la agricultura no tóxica. Salvemos a las comunidades, salvemos la tierra: regeneremos; ese es mi plan. Afortunadamente, como en India el fenómeno de urbanización no tiene tanto tiempo, cuando las personas vuelven encuentran que sus padres y abuelos aun les pueden enseñar a cultivar. Los agricultores que ya venían trabajando de ese modo hoy me dicen: “Porque producimos nuestra comida no tenemos hambre ni estamos en crisis”. Y con ellos estamos dándoles la bienvenida a quienes vuelven. Utilicemos esta crisis para construir un sistema que sea libre de venenos, de petróleo, de semillas modificadas. Comunidades donde cada persona sea valiosa.

Es un buen momento después de todo. 

Sí. Si tienes la conciencia más o menos clara, e incluyes en tus variables la capacidad creativa y regenerativa que tiene la tierra, es un buen momento. Tenemos que volver a trabajar con la naturaleza, eso es todo. Y tenemos que trabajar puliendo nuestros corazones y nuestras mentes para estar preparados para este cambio de paradigma, de vida, que es inevitable. Es un momento que exige lo mejor de todos nosotros. Por eso cada día al levantarse hay que luchar contra la inercia. Mirar hacia adentro y preguntarse: cuál es la injusticia que no estoy dispuesta a aceptar, cuál es la brutalidad que ya no estoy dispuesta a aceptar, cuál es la forma de violencia que ya no contará conmigo. Y después salir a encarnar esas respuestas.

Publicado con permiso de La Vaca

From Emergency to Emergence

The COVID-19 emergency has exposed our societies’ failure to address the needs of billions of people. Simultaneously, we are witnessing a fundamental truth about human nature: There are those among us eager to exploit the suffering of others for personal gain. We can be reassured, however, by how few of them there are. Their actions contrast starkly with the far greater numbers at all levels of society demonstrating their willingness, even eagerness, to cooperate, share, and sacrifice for the well-being of all.

The pandemic has also exposed extreme vulnerabilities in the global market economy, including its long and highly specialized linear supply chains, corporate monopolies shielded from market forces, privatized technologies, and ruthless competition without regard for its impact on people and the Earth.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how our beliefs, values, and institutions shape our relationships. We can create a world that works for everyone or face a future that no longer works for anyone.

Discussions now underway in many community, national, and global forums suggest a significant widening of what is known as the Overton Window: the range of public policies that the mainstream population is prepared to consider at a given time.

While there is an almost universal desire to move rapidly beyond the COVID emergency, the spectrum of what we want post-pandemic is broadening. Many are articulating that they do not want to simply return to business as usual. In the United States, for example, we see the need for:

• A system of health care accessible to everyone regardless of income or documentation;
• Just compensation and job security for those who do our most essential but often least-rewarded work; and
• A guarantee that if your job evaporates, you won’t starve.

At a deeper level, this emergency is reminding us that we are living with another emergency—climate change. The combination of the two emergencies is helping us awaken to the profound implications of the simple truth that we are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth. Our well-being depends on Earth’s well-being. Life is the goal, community is essential, and money is only a tool.

To avoid a climate catastrophe, we must use this opportunity to join in creating an economy that:

• Meets our basic needs while simultaneously healing and securing the health of the human community and Earth’s living systems; and

• Prepares us to respond rapidly and appropriately to the array of significant future emergencies likely to arise with alarming frequency.

From these insights, many additional imperatives follow, including the need to:

• Shift power from profit-maximizing corporations to self-organizing, self-reliant, life-serving communities;

• Achieve an equitable distribution of power and resources among and within these communities; and

• Limit the human use of resources to those applications (such as recycling and regenerative agriculture) that increase the well-being of people and nature while eliminating those (such as war and financial speculation) that consume massive resources to no beneficial end.

The expanding Overton Window may allow us to consider vast new possibilities. Here are two:

1. We may see growing recognition of the distinctive social benefits of shopping in locally owned stores, operated by neighbors who pay local taxes and are in business to make a decent, but modest, living serving their neighbors. This contrasts starkly with the experience of impersonal corporate chains such as Amazon.com and Walmart that are in business solely to maximize the extraction of money from our local communities while leaving as little as possible behind.

2. For those of us able to work at home and meet remotely via the web, the many benefits of doing so may make this form of working and meeting the new norm. We reduce the time devoted to long commutes in heavy traffic or sitting in crowded airports and planes. This change in our behavior carries the potential for a dramatic reduction in the need for cars and airplanes and the pollution that their production and operation create, while increasing opportunities to get to know our family and our neighbors. Better for the health of people, family, community, and Earth.

But would such changes mean lost jobs? Actually, a vast amount of work must be done. Among the needs that will become more important in a post-COVID world are:

• Converting to wind and solar energy.

• Growing nutritious food locally in ways that restore the health of the soil.

• Eliminating waste by recycling everything.

• Assuring everyone access to affordable high-speed internet.

• Caring for and educating our children.

• Preparing for the inevitable emergencies ahead.

• Providing care and housing for the homeless while helping those who can transition back to community life.

• Providing health care for everyone.

The COVID-19 crisis has imposed immense hardship on billions of people. But that hardship is dwarfed by what lies ahead if we continue on our current path. Now we must step up to prevent the collapse of the regenerative systems by which Earth creates and maintains the conditions we need to exist.

This current emergency provides the possibility for a new emergence—the birthing of a truly civil civilization dedicated to the well-being of all people and the living Earth.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

Six Rules for Organizing a Grassroots Regeneration Revolution

Over the past five decades, as a food, natural health and environmental campaigner, anti-war organizer, human rights activist and journalist, I’ve had the inspiring and at times depressing opportunity to work and travel across much of the world.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned through my work is that people respond best to a positive, solutions-oriented message. Gloom-and-doom thinking—the kind that offers no plausible solution—doesn’t generally inspire people to get involved or take action.

That doesn’t mean we should downplay the seriousness of our current situation. We face unprecedented life-or-death threats. We’re up against formidable political, economic and cultural obstacles. We must continue to highlight and criticize, with passion, facts and concrete examples, the bad actors, practices and policies that have brought us to the brink of a global crisis.

That said, I believe that the main obstacle we must overcome, in the U.S. and worldwide, is that many (if not most) people are locked into disempowering situations that are causing them to suffer from a pervasive sense of hopelessness. It’s not that they don’t want to change. But unfortunately, most people don’t really believe things can change.

I disagree. I believe we can shift the global conversation on food, farming, politics, health and climate from one of hopelessness to one of hope. I believe we can empower the grassroots to rise up and take action, both individually and collectively.

In my latest book, “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Food, Farming, Climate and a Green New Deal,” I outline what I call “Rules for Regenerators,” a roadmap for positive change. I go into each rule in-depth in my book, but here are the basics.

Rule 1: Search Out and Emphasize the Positive

In the face of global ecosystem collapse and widespread corporate and political corruption, we need to think in terms of this: The darkest hour is right before dawn. That means not losing sight of the fact that the dawn is coming—so we should focus on, and prepare for it.

Instead of dwelling on the negative, we must seek, highlight and promote positive trends and practices. On the contemporary scene, there are many signs of change and powerful countervailing trends to the degenerative status quo, not only in the U.S., but across the world.

We need to focus on these world-changing trends—not dwell on the gloom and doom.

Rule 2: Link up with People’s Primary Concerns and Connect the Dots

The world is full of different people, living in different situations, with differing perspectives, passions and priorities. That means we can’t take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to problem-solving.

Instead, we must integrate our green justice and regeneration messages with the specific issues and concerns that are most important to grassroots constituencies. Then lay out, in everyday language, a strategy that helps people understand that we can actually solve the problems they care about most, while solving a host of other pressing problems at the same time.

Only by starting from where people are at, and then connecting the dots, can we capture the attention and imagination of a critical mass of the global grassroots and get them started thinking about how they can participate in our new movement and new economy.

Rule 3: Stop Organizing Around Limited Single Issues

Global campaigning and activism is plagued with single-issue thinking that routinely gives rise to divided movements and fractured constituencies.

To bring about true regeneration, or even to pass sweeping new regenerative legislation like the Green New Deal, we must not be divided and fractured, but united, inclusive and holistic in our understanding of the the global crisis we face, and in our approach to problem-solving.

Too often we hear that “My issue is more important than your issue,” or “My constituency or community is more oppressed than yours,” or “My solution is the only solution.”

That type of thinking won’t get us anywhere. Our global Regeneration Movement must be built on the principle that all grassroots issues and all constituencies are important. We have to help each other recognize that the burning issues bearing down on the global body politic—climate change, poverty, unemployment, declining health, political corruption, corporate control, war and more—are the interrelated symptoms of the diseased system of degeneration.

Rule 4: Stop Pretending that Partial Solutions or Reforms Will Bring About System Change

Activists often fall into the trap of malpractice when they project partial solutions or tactics as if they are systemic solutions. One of the most alarming examples of this is the notion that 100-percent renewable energy will, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis.

This theory is both misleadingly hopeful and dangerously flawed. Renewable energy will not get us to net-zero emissions by 2030 or even 2050 unless it is accompanied by a massive drawdown (of 250-plus billion tons) of excess carbon from the atmosphere through regenerative food, farming, land use and commerce.

Both of these things—renewable energy and carbon drawdown—need to be carried out simultaneously over the next 20 years.

Similarly naive, narrow-minded thinking might lead us to believe that campaign finance reform,  or the election of this or that candidate, will solve the national and international crisis of elite domination and political corruption—or that in general, change in one community or country can solve what are essentially national and global problems.

Unless we can lift our heads, connect the dots and fight for unifying systemic changes, any changes that we do make won’t be sufficiently effective.

Rule 5: Act and Organize Locally, but Cultivate a Global Vision and Solidarity

If civilization is to survive, we need to rebuild healthy, organic and relocalized systems of food and farming, and repair and restore our local environments.

To do this will require regenerators to put a priority on local and regional education, action and mobilization, in our personal lives and households, as well as in the marketplace and the political arena.

At the same time, we have to inject or integrate a national and global perspective into our local grassroots work and community building. The battle against severe climate change, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health, poverty, political corruption and societal alienation will be fought and won based on what billions of us—consumers, farmers, landscape managers, public officials, business owners, students and others—do (or don’t do) in our million local communities as part of a global awakening and paradigm shift.

We must think, act and organize locally, while simultaneously cultivating a global vision and global solidarity.

Rule 6: Become a Positive Example of Regeneration

The personal is political. People hear not just the overt message of what we say or write, but also our subliminal message—that is, our presence, behavior and attitude.

Only by striving to embody the principles of regeneration—hope, solidarity, creativity, hard work, joy and optimism—in our everyday lives and practices (i.e. our work, food, clothes, lifestyle and how we treat others and the environment, how we vote, spend our money, invest our savings and spend our time—will we be able to inspire those around us.

In the 1960s, when I came of age as an activist, we had a saying: “There is only one reason for becoming a revolutionary: because it is the best way to live.” I believe this slogan is as relevant now as it was then.

One of the wonderful things about regeneration is that it not only is our duty and our potential salvation, but it can actually become our pleasure as well. As the farmer-poet Wendell Berry once said:

“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”

Ronnie Cummins is co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration International, and the author of “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Food, Farming, Climate and a Green New Deal.” To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Natural Climate Solutions: How 4 Global Companies Leverage Nature to Tackle the Climate Crisis

It’s 2020. We’ve officially entered the defining decade to tackle the climate crisis. As businesses ramp up climate action commitments through science-based targets and net-zero or carbon neutral goals, they are realizing there are untapped opportunities to work with nature instead of against it. Nature-based climate solutions will provide the lever of change to make faster progress toward those goals, and it just might help them go above and beyond.

For companies in land-based industries, natural climate solutions — conservation, restoration and regenerative land management activities that draw carbon out of the atmosphere — are the most relevant and the most untapped reduction opportunities for corporate carbon strategies. I’ve picked four stories from Danone, General Mills, Barry Callebaut and Braskem to share concrete examples of how global companies are harnessing the power of forests, soils and farm lands to accelerate their climate action.

Before we set off, here’s a little backstory. The knowledge that there are benefits from natural climate solutions is not new, yet businesses were struggling to quantify them. We know that you need to measure if you want to manage.

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Our Fossil-Fuel Economy Destroys the Earth and Exploits Humanity – Here’s the Shift We Need to Be Sustainable

Author: Iliana Salazar-Dodge

I am a Mexican immigrant and a senior at Columbia University who’s been organizing around fossil fuel divestment since freshman year. Two years ago, I had a bit of a crisis. I suddenly felt disillusioned with the movement—not with the tactic of divestment, but rather with the fact that national campaigns were solely focused on taking down the fossil fuel behemoth. Don’t get me wrong; it’s extremely satisfying to hear of another divestment win, to see the fossil fuel industry take a hit. But I began to realize that while we need people to fight the bad in this world, we also need people creating the society we do want to live in. I want to be one of those people.

That summer, as a 350.org Fossil Free Fellow, I was introduced to the reinvestment campaign. I learned about a way that we, as students, can build off the successes of the divestment movement to fight for what we want. This campaign is one tactic we can use to facilitate the transition out of our current economy into a regenerative economy. But before we talk about where we want to go, let’s talk about where we are now.

America’s extractive economy

Whether or not we care to admit it, our current economy is extractive—that is, it’s built on the exploitation and extraction of human labor and the earth’s resources. It relies on corporations that force workers to work long hours in unsafe conditions for insufficient wages and benefits. It exists by the continual removal of nutrients from the soil, minerals from the mountains, and fossil fuels from underground. This system isn’t working for us today, and it isn’t going to work for us tomorrow. We know that infinite growth is not possible, but this economy depends on it.

Regenerative economy

In contrast, a regenerative economy satisfies the needs of the present planet without diminishing the prospects of future generations. It builds community wealth by shifting economic power, making workers the owners of their own businesses, community members the decision makers about their resources. It also strengthens the public sector such that it serves the people rather than private interests. A just transition to a regenerative economy restores our relationship to food, Mother Earth and our communities.

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The World In a State of Extreme Transition: Moving from Sustainability to Regenerative Design

Author: Daniel Pinchbeck and Schuyler Brown

Communication is the tool we use to navigate change in this perishable, impermanent world. We talk about what’s happening and what’s coming. We use words to rally and activate citizens; to inform and educate people; to alleviate or aggravate fears, depending on our intentions. Humans use language to make sense of things — even those things that are happening at a scale beyond our grasp. As Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” And so, while it may seem like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic (let’s hope not!), reevaluating the language of climate change can offer a fresh perspective on where we are and where we’re headed.

In our view, the current language around climate change and its solutions is inadequate and even counterproductive. Specifically, we question whether sustainability, the default name for most current efforts towards preservation of life on the planet, keeps us locked into the assumption that whatever we do, we must also sustain the system that is currently in place. Perhaps, this limits us before we even start pursuing these goals in earnest. “Regenerative” — regenerative design, regenerative society, regenerative economics — appeals to us as a more ambitious and dynamic term commensurate with the type of ambitious and dynamic actions that are required for the survival of humanity now.

All successful movements have understood the use and power of language, this one is no different. If it is to succeed, we must be moved by the call-to-action we are being issued. Sustainability, to date, just has not achieved any such effect.

Sustainability, the ability to sustain life to a set of standards, needs to be eclipsed by a new paradigm. As a call-to-action, what sustainability seeks to sustain, above all, is some version of our current way of life, even though the evidence is totally overwhelming that it cannot continue. Living processes, generally, don’t just endure or persevere. Life either flourishes and blooms, evolves and transforms, or it stagnates and dies. The rhetoric of sustainability tends to support the belief that our current form of post-industrial capitalism can be reformed — that it can persist, in something close to its present order.

We propose the new paradigm emerge from the ideals of regenerative culture. We can look at our current institutions and ideologies as a substrate, a foundation, providing the conditions for another level of transformation, just as modern bourgeois society emerged from monarchy. According to chaos theory, the nonlinear dynamics of living organisms allow for the emergence of new orders of complexity, when a system reaches a high level of instability. As the mono-cultural, technocratic approach of post-industrial capitalism crumbles, a new worldview — a new way of being — is crystallizing.

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Regenerative Economies for a Regenerative Civilization

Author: John Fullerton

“There is nothing more difficult to plan, nor more dangerous to manage, than the creation of a new system. For the creator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old system and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli

Einstein once said, “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.” i

I believe this assertion holds both truth and great wisdom. Its macro importance is trivial when the world operates according to a theory that fits the context of the times. Its importance becomes paramount when the world is running on a theory that no longer fits the realities at hand. NOW is such a time.

The so-called “practical people” who dismiss theory as being “academic” (by which they mean unimportant) have missed this critical distinction. We are in trouble now precisely because such “practical people” run the world today. As a result, we are literally flying blind. And the consequential turbulence – the complex and interconnected political, social, economic, financial, and ecological crises swirling around us – is accelerating.

Now I’m a practical person by training, a former Wall Street banker. But I have been obsessed for over a decade now with the many fundamental incongruities and paradoxes that inhabit our modern, highly reductionist, finance-driven, economic ideology (of both the left and the right). The list is long: the exponential function at the heart of finance-driven economic growth on a finite planet; the shareholder-value principle taught at most leading business schools and driving most corporate decision-making; the discount rate that discounts the value of a hospitable planet for our children whom we love more than life; Modern Portfolio Theory that is the basis for most investment allocation decisions, and Value at Risk as the guiding metric of financial risk, despite the well-understood limitations of both and their track records of failure. And the one that got me started down this path: how to reconcile the invisible hand with the Golden Rule.

My obsession with these incongruities led to the creation of Capital Institute. Since our founding in 2010 we have been collaborating on this journey with a determined and growing network of fellow explorers, including the courageous pioneers who have been on the case for decades. Our work has culminated in the theory that informs “Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy,” ii and our forthcoming Regenerative Finance white paper due out later this year. This theory is more rediscovery, synthesis, and extension than it is genuinely original insight. But rest assured, this theory has also been experienced first hand in working models on the ground both through my own direct investment practice and then via our story telling initiative, The Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy.iii Not only theory informing practice, but practice informing theory.

My premise is that the history of economic thought did not end with Keynes and Hayek, or Minsky and Friedman, leaving us nothing to do but shout our ideological beliefs across the public square. I believe this early stage of understanding regenerative economies is the natural next step in the evolution of economic thinking, bringing economics into alignment with our latest scientific understanding of how the universe actually works, building upon the profound advances of ecological economics as developed by Herman Daly and colleagues. The potential and structure of regenerative systems applies to both ecological and humanistic values; it is not simply a “green” idea. We already see expressions of regenerative efforts emerging all around us, although they are often invisible to those observers still trapped in the outdated reductionist paradigm. Until now, this transition has been hampered by the lack of an effective story.

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The investment case for ecological farming

Author: Paul McMahon

Farmland investing today

Farmland has emerged as a new asset class for investors over the past decade because of higher food prices. Historical returns have been good. However, commodity prices have dropped and farmland values are plateauing in many regions. In addition, most investment has gone into high-input, industrialised farming systems that are exposed to hidden risks. In future, investors will need to be smarter and more environmentally-aware to capture the opportunities.

The risks of industrial  agriculture

The profitability and sustainability of industrial agriculture are exposed to five major risks, which are set to intensify in coming decades:

  1. Exposure to high and volatile input costs
  2. Degrading natural assets such as soils and water reserves
  3. Vulnerability to a changing climate, especially extreme weather events
  4. Negative environmental externalities that will be increasingly taxed or regulated
  5. Shifting consumer trends, as people demand clean, green, healthy and tasty food
  6. Ecological farming: an attractive alternative

There is an alternative way to manage land that can minimise these risks, while increasing profitability. Ecological farming seeks to build soil health, minimise external inputs, recycle nutrients and energy, embrace diversity of crops and animals, and produce high value food and commodities. It is not necessarily organic (although it often can be), it can be practised on a commercial scale, and it is firmly science-based.

We have identified a number of proven systems that have investment merit. They include:

  • Holistic planned grazing for cattle and sheep
  • No-till cropping with diverse cover crops
  • Agroforestry systems
  • Low input pasture-based dairy
  • Certified organic farming in certain countries

Seven reasons to go ecological

There are a number of reasons why these types of systems can deliver superior risk-adjusted returns:

  1. Comparable or better yields in most cases
  2. Lower operating costs because of less reliance on external inputs
  3. Enhanced natural capital, with the opportunity to increase asset values by regenerating
    degraded land
  4. Climatic resilience because healthy soils cope better with droughts and floods
  5. Positive environmental externalities and the chance to be paid for them, for example through carbon credits
  6. The ability to sell to higher value markets such as organic or grass-fed
  7. Higher profitability with less volatility
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Meet John D. Liu, the Indiana Jones of Landscape Restoration

[ English | Español ]

He’s known to some as the “Indiana Jones” of landscape degradation and restoration.

John D. Liu, ecosystem restoration researcher, educator and filmmaker, has dedicated his life to sharing real-world examples of once-degraded landscapes newly restored to their original fertile and biodiverse beauty. Liu is director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), ecosystem ambassador for the Commonland Foundation and a visiting research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We recently sat down with Liu, the newest member of the Regeneration International (RI) Steering Committee. In this interview, Liu walks us through large-scale ecosystem restoration projects in China and Rwanda. We learn that when humans work with nature, degraded landscapes can be restored in a matter of years, and economies can be regenerated, putting food security and climate change mitigation within our reach.

In order to survive as a species, Liu explains, humanity must shift from commodifying nature to ‘naturalizing’ our economy.

Interview with John D. Liu, February 4, 2016

RI: What is the significance of the Paris Agreement, reached at the COP21 Climate Summit in December (2015), for the pioneers, such as yourself, of the landscape restoration movement?

Liu: There is now recognition of soil carbon, which was not the case in the past. The best and perhaps only way for humanity to massively affect carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere is to restore natural ecological function of soils through the restoration of biomass, biodiversity and accumulated organic matter.

One of the things that I have been learning about, and that has most impressed me, is the difference between natural systems, which have huge organic layers, and human systems, which are massively degraded and actually have lost their organic material.

In Paris, we’ve started to turn the corner. Instead of just talking about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we’re now seeing [climate change] spoken about as a holistic problem. When you see it holistically, you find out that CO2 and GHG emissions are a symptom of systematic dysfunction on a planetary scale… Human impact on the climate is not simply emissions; it is degradation.

There is a way forward. That is why I am so excited about the early work I did in the Loess Plateau and in Ethiopia, Rwanda and other countries. When you increase organic matter, you increase biomass and you protect biodiversity. You get a completely different result than if you just totally destroy those systems. So I don’t think that the political agreements go far enough, but they are starting to reflect reality, which is better than before.

RI: In Paris, RI encountered skepticism about the potential power of regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration to restore climate stability and feed the world. Can you tell us about your experience with the Loess Plateau restoration project in China and how it impacted your perspective on the potential of restoration?

Liu: There was a moment in the mid-1800s when Thomas Malthus reported that the rate of agricultural increase was happening arithmetically while human population growth was logarithmic. He posited huge famine and this pushed the development of industrial agriculture. But what I’ve seen is that this is based on huge assumptions and those assumptions are basically false. If you think that you can get higher productivity by reducing hydrological function, or the natural fertility in the land or the biodiversity of a biome then you are just sadly mistaken. You can get higher yields of monocultures for a short time but you ultimately destroy the basic fundamental viability of the entire system. So you are creating deserts. This is what happened in the Loess Plateau and this is what happened in every cradle of civilization.

It isn’t inevitable that human beings degrade these systems; we simply have to understand them. It is our understanding, our consciousness of these systems that determines what they look like. What I’ve noticed is that degraded landscapes are coming from human ignorance and greed. If you change that scenario to one of consciousness and generosity, you get a completely different outcome. And that is where we have to go, where we need to go. We are required to understand this. We have to act now as a species on a planetary scale. This has to become common knowledge for every human being on the planet. This has been our mission for the past 20-some years.

RI: Apart from the ecosystem benefits, the Loess Plateau project also helped lift 2.5 million people in four of the poorest provinces in China out of poverty. Is that correct?

Liu: Well, there are different ways to look at it because the Loess Plateau project influenced more than just the project areas. It changed national policy. Some of the negative behaviors, such as slope farming, tree cutting or free ranging of goats and sheep—behaviors that were devastating to biodiversity, biomass and organic material—were banned nationwide because of the work done on the Loess Plateau.

Landscape restoration does not only change ecological function, it changes the socio-economic function and when you get down to it, it changes the intention of human society. So if the intention of human society is to extract, to manufacture, to buy and sell things, then we are still going to have a lot of problems. But when we generate an understanding that the natural ecological functions that create air, water, food and energy are vastly more valuable than anything that has ever been produced or bought and sold, or anything that ever will be produced and bought and sold – this is the point where we turn the corner to a consciousness which is much more sustainable.

RI: It’s almost as if a global paradigm shift is needed to start accounting for nature in the economy. ‘Naturalizing’ the economy as you would say.

Liu: We have to be very careful not to commoditize nature. We need to naturalize the economy. What this means to me is that natural ecological functions are more valuable than ‘stuff.’ When we understand that, then the economy is based on ecological function. And that is exactly what we need in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, and to give every individual on the planet equal human rights. Suddenly we are in another paradigm. It’s similar to the shift from flat earth to round earth paradigm.

We need to realize that there is no ‘us and them.’ There is just us. There is one earth and one humanity. We have to act as a species on a planetary scale because we will all be affected by climate change. We have to come together to decide: What do we know? What do we understand? What do we believe as a species?

RI: Tell us about your work in Rwanda.

Liu: Rwanda is an interesting case study because of the 1994 genocide. This sort of a situation is ground zero. It is a reset. Every family, every person was affected. In 2006, I was invited to Rwanda by the British government and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). What I saw in my travels were bare hillsides, erosion and sediment loads in river systems. I presented my findings to the president, prime minister, parliament, cabinet, ministries of environment and agriculture, universities and press. We put films on TV. I explained each of these natural systems and what you have to do to correct it. And at the same moment in time, everyone in Rwanda was talking about ecological function.

Several weeks later, the government wrote me a letter saying thank you for coming to Rwanda to share your experiences. Then they wrote me a second letter, in which  they said we believe you and we’re rewriting our land use policy laws to reflect that economic development in Rwanda must be based on ecological function.

The measures Rwanda has taken have led to regeneration. They had food security when there was famine in East Africa. They have had increasing use of renewable energies and lessening of dependence on fossil fuels. If human beings can go to hell yet they can somehow come back and work to build a fair, equitable and sustainable society, that is a good thing. We need to watch carefully how Rwanda develops, as a lesson for the world.

RI: Can you tell us about the widespread detrimental impacts that industrial agriculture is having, particularly with regards to loss of biodiversity? Why is biodiversity essential to sustain life as we know it?

Liu: Evolutionary trends favor more biodiversity, more organic matter. The industrial or degenerative agriculture model favors less biodiversity, less biomass, less organic matter. This disrupts photosynthesis, hydrological regulation and moisture, temperature and it artificially elevates evaporation rates. Industrial agriculture sterilizes soil with UV radiation. It is just wrongheaded.

Humans went down the wrong path. But once we begin to understand these evolutionary trends, we understand that we have to get back in alignment with them. That is where regenerative agriculture and landscape restoration come in. We’ve seen the results at large scale and we’ve seen them on a smaller scale. This is the way forward for sequestration of carbon, this is the way forward for fertile healthy soils, this is the way forward for food security this is the way forward for meaningful work for everyone. We understand this. This is the basis of wealth and sustainability for humanity.

RI: If there were one behavior or habit of humans that you could magically change, what would it be?

Liu: It is clear right now that economics is driving today’s problems. There are a lot of assumptions in economics that are simply false. Economics now says that extraction, manufacturing, buying and selling can create wealth. This is bullshit. We are creating poverty by doing this. We are creating degradation of the landscapes. So few people in a tiny minority are accumulating vast material possessions in this system, while billions of people are living in abject poverty at the edges of large degraded ecosystems. Others can no longer even stay in their homes, and millions of people are migrating to escape from the horrible conditions. Well this cannot work. This must change.

What I have noticed is that ecological function is vastly more valuable that extraction, production, consumption, and buying and selling things. What we really need to understand is: “What is money?” If I were going to leave one thing for the people to think about it is this: What is money? What is it? It is basically a storehouse of value, a means of exchange, and a trust mechanism. That means it is an abstract concept; it can be anything that we want it to be. If we say that money comes from ecological function instead from extraction, manufacturing buying and selling, then we have a system in which all human efforts go toward restoring, protecting and preserving ecological function. That is what we need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to ensure food security, to ensure that human civilizations survive. Our monetary system must reflect reality. We could have growth, not from stuff, but growth from more functionality. If we do that and we value that higher than things, we will survive.

***

Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Agents of Hope — the Story of Africa’s Chikukwa Community and TSURO Projects

In Zimbabwe, agriculture is a critical sector for the economy. It accounts for about 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 70 percent of employment. Sadly, this critical sector is failing. Rural and communal populations suffer from malnutrition, and chronic droughts, causing chronic dependency on food aid and hand-outs.

As a person with first hand experience of rural poverty, news of hopeful farming practices is always more than welcome. But the best, most hopeful practices are those that are scalable, and can be deployed anywhere, to bring about positive change.

That’s why the story of the Chikukwa Community project, which has influenced and continues to impact the whole of the Chimanimani District, is such a remarkable story of hope.

This story of hope started in 1991, in the eastern and mountainous region of Zimbabwe, at a small communal land called Chikukwa. This area is also part of the Chimanimani Key Biodiversity Area bordering Mozambique. The once-treasured land in one of the Chikukwa villages, Chitekete, had degraded into a desertified landscape, with a drying spring.

Seeing a dire need, the community sought out a one-week training in permaculture design. With that one step, their journey began!

In my 10 years of work as a development worker, I’ve learned this one truth about successful projects: Solutions do not come from outside, they lie within the community. Once people decide it is time for change, then it is time, and the change that follows is more likely to last.

The success of this one village project spread to beautiful six villages, which led in 1996 to the establishment of a community-based organization (CBO), named the Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT). Initially, this project had a positive impact on about 7,000 people and 110 households. The project now runs a communally owned training centre, the Chikukwa Permaculture Community Centre, a hub for training programs throughout the region.

The Chikukwa Project is designed to exist outside NGO and donor influences. In most cases, programs fizzle out as soon as their funding runs out, because donors and most NGOs really do not have time to build relationships, create ownership and allow communities to determine the pace as they lead the implementation process. However, in participatory and community-driven projects, money and social conflict don’t hinder progress, proving that old saying that “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Projects that take a community-based approach are empowering as they foster self reliance. The Chikukwa Project has led to 80 percent of the community’s households using permaculture techniques that have made these households self-reliant when it comes to food. Not only that, but community members’ surroundings have been revitalized, as they continue to reverse rangelands desertification.

The Chikukwa project is communally driven (photo credit:Wikimedia localcultures.com)

Now, after 25 years of permaculture practice, the Chikukwa Project has inspired the whole of Chimanimani region in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe. It has led to the creation of a new organization-TSURO (Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organization). TSURO is a democratic member-driven grassroots organization with currently 154 subscribed TSURO village groups and a supporting CBO by the name TSURO Trust.

In 2011, CELUCT and TSURO received training in Holistic Land and Livestock Management at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. Holistic Management (Holistic grazing) is a tool used to restore vast spaces of degraded land. CELUCT and TSURO have deployed these practices in five wards (a ward is a cluster of between 6-14 villages each). These wards are situated in the very dry area of Gudyanga, in the western low parts of the district, in the medium altitude of Chayamiti and Shinja and in the eastern high veld 1500 meters above sea level.

By combining the tools of permaculture and Holistic Management, both powerful approaches for rapid change, communities are addressing both immediate household level needs of food, money and stability, and the long-term needs of healthy land, good management systems and plans that will be ongoing in order to sustain a future of a healthy and self-reliant community. What I find most striking in this project is the building in of farmer led advocacy for farmer rights!

For example, in the Chimanimani District alone, land degradation was once viewed as a monster threat to communal dwellers. Through TSURO, the situation is slowly and steadily improving. TSURO works in all 21 wards of the Chimanimani district, where they have been facilitating a wide range of community-based initiatives, including the introduction of holistic management in five wards, and the establishment of more than 100 Farmer Action Learning Groups that focus on farmer-based research and experimentation. Research also includes climate change and watershed management.

The communities are also implementing community-based seed systems that address production, preservation, storage, saving and exchange. They use open pollinated varieties of seed. Chimanimani farmers are increasingly rejecting genetically modified seeds, which have caused problems in some other countries in southern Africa, and instead planting small grains. The district-wide project also implements household permaculture design, small livestock rearing and horticulture. Bee keeping and commercial marketing of rich organic honey as well as community based agro-processing and marketing, provide added economic benefits.

If 48 percent of Africa’s population depends on agriculture, and yet the agriculture sector has been declining continent-wide, then maybe we need to revisit agriculture strategies that no longer work, and implement new strategies that do work. The Chikukwa and TSURO projects are proof that lands can be restored, and the practices that restore them can be scaled up. If local people everywhere assumed full responsibility for solving their problems, we would see more land, economic and social regeneration across the world.

We will be making efforts to follow and document Chikukwa and TSURO stories, to share with the world just what is possible when local farmers—not big outside donors—take charge!

Precious Phiri is the Zimbabwe-based Africa coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.