India’s Foundation for Ecological Security is currently in the process of restoring over half a million acres of common land in small scale farming communities across the country. The video above, from our friends John D. Liu and his team at the EEMPC, will give you an excellent look at the work of the foundation and just some of the stunning results they’ve helped to facilitate. You’ll see satisfying before/after shots of degraded land that’s been restored to fertility, and with it the re-emergence of streams and the raising of the water table. Land that had been barren and rocky — devoid of soil — and into which were drilled progressively deeper bore wells, has now turned lush and benefits once again from surface water to supply the needs of both man and his fellow creatures.
The foundation is a deserving winner of the UN Convention on Combating Desertification’s ‘Land for Life Award’.
I would like, with this video, to put this kind of work into a political/economic context. The modern mantra is to privatise, privatise, privatise, and that all people, working in their own interests (i.e. the "greed is good" philosophy) will create a happy balance of free market trade that works in the interests of all. But, time and time again I see this mantra is a dream based on ideologies that are detached from the natural world, and with it, the real, human world.
A system that prioritises individual interests will not appreciate big-picture consequences, until it’s too late.
To try to illustrate: in permaculture, a designer could look at a large expanse of land, regardless of property boundaries, and come up with a design, with placement of various earthworks and other elements, which as a combined whole is more productive and restorative than would be a dozen, separated individual designs in smaller sub-sets of said expanse of land. In other words, a community on commonly held land, or cooperatively managed land, can make better use of land features such as slope, aspect, water flows, etc. If I, as an individual, for example, on my sub-divided and privately owned section, am positioned on the top of a hill, I cannot benefit from a spring that pops out onto the land of a neighbour below — whilst the people further down the hill might be benefitting from my downhill nutrient flows, and the water infiltration from my swale system that created the spring in the first place… etc. There is thus less incentive for me to incorporate swales, at cost to myself, when I cannot access the springs they create. Why would I retain the forest cover on my hilltop section, when I’m not the one who will get flooded as a result — and so on.
When the benefits of an overall regional design are held in common, then the fuller, leveraged benefits of that design can be dispersed to all. This takes a level of cooperation that most of us in the North have lost, but which we did know in generations past, and which we still see in action in the South, as illustrated in the video above.
John’s previous video on the Loess Plateau is another good example of this. With this huge restoration project, people gained ownership over land, giving them a sense of incentive, whilst also conceding to — with their full consultation and engagement — an overall design. The overall design covered millions of acres, and sped an increase in fertility and resources to restore a low-carbon prosperity that had long been lost after generations of people just ‘doing their own thing’ in atomised fashion.
As was stated in the video at top, when we look only through an individualistic economic lens, the result is extraction and diminished returns. Those gaining the returns live in a shrinking camp of the wealthy and powerful, and those with the most ability to rehabilitate a region become destitute and landless instead. As the globalised, corporate model is stamped out across our landscapes, we see millions migrating from the country into city slums, where they cling to the periphery of an economy outside their control, and which ignores them if they cannot participate (i.e. if they don’t have money they might as well not exist).
It is critical, while we applaud and smile about such restorative work that is being done in India and elsewhere, that we continue the fight in our own regions against the atomised, individualistic philosophies that are yet destroying communities and their habitats the world over. Whilst some men may live as islands, they are not living their potential. All the world’s creatures are integrated into relationships which are symbiotic and even synergistic (i.e. where 1 + 1 can equal 3). Only man and his attempt at turning our environment into a factory floor and consolidating it, and holding ourselves as separate and aloft, are the mad exceptions to that rule.
During WWII a common enemy was met with a large scale community mobilisation that included entire nations. Our common enemy today is also based on eroneous philosophies, and will only be overcome through cooperation and a similarly large-scaled mobilisation. Corporations which continue to seek to exert control over people and communities, atomising them into ‘targetted consumers’, are the common enemy to the holistic way of life that must become the norm if we’re to survive the century, let alone create a viable, peaceful, prosperous future.