Monday, June 24, 2019

Soil Solutions for Climate Change - Workshop

Scientist, Permaculture Association Trustee and an award-winning educator Gihan Soliman presents a fascinating workshop entitled Soil Solutions to Climate Change: The Systematic links between Food Production and Climate Change.

The workshop will explore the systematic and historic links between agriculture and the current crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change. Individual and community solutions for growing the future - in abundance, will be explored with a practical guide to soil fertility for food production and conservation of nature. The workshop will tap on some case studies for further illustration and will be concluded by a call for joint action.

Permaculture Scotland Gathering 2019

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Sustainability Model from Latin America; Xochimilco

If there were a scenic beauty contest, Xochimilco would get the first prize!
(Paramahansa Yogananda, 1950)

Identified as one of the five cradles of civilization, Mexico - at the heart of Mesoamerica, is a fascinating place to visit.

Everything in Mexico City (the capital) is colourful and warm. The striking purple colour of the Bougainvillea adorning the streets, shops, and house entrances. The distinctive song of the Longtail Grackle and the 'magical' sight of the hummingbirds visiting delicate flowers without even moving a petal, all put on the charming hospitality of the city. Mexican food is spicy and delicious! It has a distinctive aroma due to the domination of maize in the Mexican diet. Churrus is one of the recommended desserts if you're visiting Mexico. But be careful of the context, Churrus also means 'weed' among locals as I've been told. Traditional Mexican snacks also include the Chapulin (fried grasshoppers) - which I was keen to try.

Buying Chapulin en el Mercado de Coyoacan! 

Mexico is also a country of murals. The Mexican art of murals is stunning! The most fascinating murals I saw were in the Supreme Court of Justice (yes!). Other great murals I saw in the Palace of Fine Arts and the Ministry of Education. If you fall in love with the Mexican mural art, here is a name you should know: Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957)!

1928 Diego Rivera Fresco
Political Vision of the Mexican People;
en la Secretaria de Educacion (Ministry of Education, Mexico City)

Mexico has pyramids; lots of pyramids; tens of pyramid sites across Mexico which I only had time to visit the Teotihuacan's (Pyramid of the Moon) and the Archeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco's to the Southwest of Mexico City. 
At the Pyramids of the Sun, Teotihuacan

The canal in Xochimilco and its Chinampas (aquatic gardens of Mexico) are the remainders of the pre-Hispanic era which made Xochimilco a World Heritage Site. To get to Xochimilco you get to ride on “trajineras” which are colourful boats in around the 10 miles of canals.

Floating islands are a natural phenomenon found in many regions of the world. Man-made floating artificial islands also exist but are less common. Floating islands are called as such because of how they appear to the onlooker and not necessarily because they really float on water. One of the most famous floating islands in the world is the 'Venice of the Middle East' or Ma'dan; also known as the Marsh Arab or the Mesopotamian Edin. Half a million of tribal dwellers living in houses built by reeds and move about using canoes in a “rare aquatic landscape in the desert.” Unfortunately, the political upheaval in the Middle East resulted in displacing the marshes' inhabitants when the wetlands were drained during and after the 1991 uprisings in Iraq. Food became scarce and the little water remaining became reportedly poisonous. Attempts to restore the wetlands resulted in 50% revival of the marshes but the restoration of the whole ecosystem might prove challenging.

The floating islands of Mexico, on the other hand, are an example of resilience and sustainability worthy of admiration and global support. The islands are not for housing and exist only as agricultural batches for growing food. My guide in the trip to the Chinampas (floating gardens of Mexico' was the pioneer of urban agriculture Ricardo Rodriguez. I found Ricardo on his Facebook page RicardoChinampa.

A breathtaking tour along the Xochimilco (Pronounced: sotshimilko). The Mexican tamales wrapped in banana leaves, and the 'taco' together with Mexican herbal tea served in hand-crafted pottery cups were unforgettable. So was the sight of the egrets fluttering its wings across the canal.

On the islands, there are no machinery, no electricity, and no houses. All the work is carried out using simple tools including building greenhouses. Fertilisers come from animals and water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes) which are collected from the canal surface and spread out to dry in the sun then used to nourish the plants; an environmental hazard turned into a blessing! Ancient Mesoamerican farmers are famous for their companion crops. The Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash). Ricardo plants them together but also adds chili to provide a natural deterrent to aphids and other pests. He also experiments saving different varieties of maize.

Flowers are planted to attract pollinators and the water for irrigation comes fresh from the canal. Although no one calls this permaculture in Mexico, the model is technically (and spontaneously) is a permaculture model since it's man-made/designed yet is in harmony with nature and intensifies synergy among its community members. 

One of the chinampas' functions is to provide shelter for wildlife. The most iconic species to Xochimilco is a salamander species believed to be an incarnation of a god by the Aztecs. Due to its ability to regrow certain body parts and its possession of gills, it has been revered for centuries. The name of the animal is the axolotl and is unfortunately highly endangered. The Park is reserved mostly by government agencies and universities and is considered a World Heritage Site.

Challenges of conservation all around the world have become paramount and it's always encouraging to see a silver lining every now and then to keep us going on the right track in spite of all the difficulties. If you're visiting Mexico any time soon, you surely need to put the Chinampas on your itinerary to enjoy and support such impressive efforts!


Thursday, March 7, 2019

School Strikes - Is it a Generational ‘War’ over Climate Change Action?

An anxious generation

School strikes over the lack of climate change actions are shaking the conscience of the world![1] [2] The new generation is obviously terrified by the news of climate change, loss of biodiversity and by lack of action to restore our (their) ecosystems. Some have paternally criticized those strikes for being, easy to manipulate, lacking vision in addition to being a health and safety hazard. School children must be in school, learning, not protesting on the streets, they say. Others realize the emergency that forced those children out of their safety and comfort zone to protest what they perceive as a threat to their future and the future of life on earth as we know it.

One of the young protesters stated ''I'm missing a class to save the planet". But why aren't politicians responding?

Generational war?

Between supporting the strike and condemning it, the outcome is still negative: No Action. The strike issue has been discussed over and over again so were the reason behind the strike or the demands for change.

It's easy to slide into the generation-blame game when it comes to climate change and the future of humanity, but the reality is that the whole world's population - except for very few individuals, are under economic siege and the power is no longer in the hand of politicians! Neoliberalism has stripped the real power of governments off to place it in the hands of 'entrepreneurs' for good.

It's really as simple as that: Who owns the capital is in control!

Industrial-scale food production has correlated with a population boom that our planetary boundaries can no longer sustain without further enslavements to business tycoons. GM crops and monoculture industrial-scale production of 'human fooders' have been messing up our food system, killing our soils and destroying the atmosphere in addition to disintegrating rural communities which are not able to compete with the superficially cheap mass food production. The unwanted 'extra carbon'  in the atmosphere does not only represent fossil fuel emission but is actually carbon (and biodiversity) loss from the soil and oceans as well as synergy loss in our rural communities.

To add insult to injuries, a new 'philanthropic' initiative 'to end starvation in Africa' using GM crops has resulted in pumping millions of dollars into another GMO 'mass feeding' project instead of global partnership and developmental solutions - in total disregard of the environmental, ecological, and cultural factors related of food production and consumption.

The real war is against toxic capitalism and monopoly

Toxic capitalism is a concentration of wealth/power in the hands of few individuals while the rest of the population are just able to survive to serve the purposes of those few; people's worth only what they produce and consume. When the capital concentration was once with governments, people needed national heroes to liberate them from the political dictators but when the concentration of capital - and therefore the power, shifted to a few transnational individuals through Neoliberalism, the battle of liberation is now of the whole humanity to fight regardless of age, colour, and gender.

Neoliberalism is the illegitimate son of Darwinism which hypothesized that cut-throat competition among and within species for survival is the natural mechanism for life complexification. While the human knowledge shifted away from the traditional understanding of Darwinism [1][2] over decades, Social Darwinism ideologies continued mushrooming into an extremely complex ecosystem from which there seems to be no obvious escape. Almost every country in the world today is in debt; some of more than double their GDP.

While governments are trapped in vicious circles of debt to each other and to supranational bodies, and when the international laws allow multinationals to sue governments, what is really in the power of politicians to do when we demand change?

Neoliberalists claim the Malthus was wrong when he predicted that the population growth will exceed our ability to produce food and is only leveled out by disasters. They argue that technology has enabled mass production of food and that further intensification is eminently possible through genetic manipulation. Malthus was definitely wrong as he underestimated the human intelligence and ability to create technological solutions but didn't he have a point by considering nature's boundaries as our limit for expansion given other values that are as important to us as the mere survival?

The current scale of food production is definitely not sustainable from a holistic point of view. It's destroying the soil, wildlife, and the atmosphere and apocalyptically 'enslaves' populations to the provider(s) of 'cheap food' - which proved to be more expensive than life itself.

In their quest for nutrients, plants form associations with other organisms by sending molecular signals through the soil and air so as facilitate nutrients exchange and develop defence mechanisms against diseases and predators. Plants that are genetically manipulated and/or synthetically fertilized might be safe to eat, but as they experience no distress in finding nutrients wouldn't need to communicate with soil organisms for nutrients exchange. The result is the ultimate disintegration of biological cycles developed over billions of years, and the need to use more harmful chemicals to sustain an unsustainable system for only a bit longer[1].

 The ultimate outcome is obviously the long-term loss of soil biodiversity, loss of pollinators, and unhealthy human population growth based on the fake abundance of cheap food. Industrial food production has proved to be the assailant, not the saviour.

Young and old generations alike must step up in the face of industrial agriculture including GMO and revert to 'permaculture'. Permaculture principles and practices are capable of neutralizing the toxicity of Capitalism as we discover the power of 'togetherness' with each other and with nature.
At Paramaethu Cymru Permaculture gathering 2018 - photo credit @Graham Wood

Fossil-fuel carbon emissions and industrial monoculture are two sides of the same coin

Most activists have set a target for carbon emission they demand their governments to reach. However, the carbon cycle is a balance between the level of carbon in the air and the level of carbon in soils and oceans. If we only focus on lowering carbon emission while disregarding carbon storage and sequestration, it will be too late when we turn around to try to save our soils and the atmosphere from the carbon imbalance that is not fossil fuel related. Carbon emission, food production, and healthy soils have to be treated as one item and must be addressed together.

'Feeding the poor' between philanthropy and enslavement

Unless in relief at times of conflict and war, 'feeding the poor' in disregard of all ecological, cultural and social aspects of food production is actually disrespectful and rather colonial. The humanitarian obligation towards the poor and vulnerable must take the form of global partnership and sustainable developmental solutions as the SDGs advise. Otherwise, it's only a game of power!

The power of people!

There is no generational war over climate change action. Except for few who think they're above vulnerability, we're all in the same boat - young and old, overpowered by bad economics once thought to be the best of human knowledge and practice. It still is in the power of the people to stand up for themselves and for the planet until they've lost the last battle for food sovereignty to business tycoons. It's now the time to take control of our food production system as the other face of the carbon-emission-reduction coin to save our magnificent planet, ourselves, and our children.

Two bright children making clay models of mushroom during the Harvest Festival - October 2018

As an educator, I see no alternative to giving space to the children to contribute to the transition for sustainable communities. School projects can extend to invoke design-solutions towards sustainable cities and communities. Permaculture social gatherings provide opportunities for connecting, raising awareness, exchanging skills, and initiating debates while being elevated by spirituality, music, synergy, and harmony with nature.