Posted by & filed under Economics, General.

The Gates Foundation is spending half a billion dollars a year to ‘feed the world’, most of it aimed at Africa. But as GRAIN discovers, it is imposing a model of high-tech, high-input ‘green revolution’ farming, complete with GMOs, agro-chemicals and a pro-business neoliberal agenda, all in an alliance with corporate agriculture.

A business advisor for TechnoServe discusses farming techniques with a Ugandan
farmer. Technoserve is the NGO receiving the most funds from the Gates Foundation
— a US-based NGO that develops ‘business solutions to poverty’.

Listening to farmers and addressing their specific needs. We talk to farmers about the crops they want to grow and eat, as well as the unique challenges they face. We partner with organizations that understand and are equipped to address these challenges, and we invest in research to identify relevant and affordable solutions that farmers want and will use. — The first guiding principle of the Gates Foundation’s work on agriculture (1)

At some point in June this year, the total amount given as grants to food and agriculture projects by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation surpassed the US$3 billion mark.

It marked quite a milestone. From nowhere on the agricultural scene less than a decade ago, the Gates Foundation has emerged as one of the world’s major donors to agricultural research and development.

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Posted by & filed under Health & Disease, Processing & Food Preservation.

Olives ripe on the tree. Photos: Aisha Abdelhamid

For those fortunate folks living in the northern hemisphere, now is the right time to find fresh organic olives at your local market. For an extra special treat that carries the sunshine of summer into the late days of winter, start your olive brining in the autumn. Doing it yourself is easy, and the advantages are many, not the least of which is the great, naturally tart and meaty flavor of the beloved olive.

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Posted by & filed under Biological Cleaning, Irrigation, Land, Soil Conservation, Storm Water, Swales, Water Conservation, Water Harvesting.

The jungle garden

I am not Bill Mollison or Geoff Lawton, they will both happily report; rather, I am but a humble novice when it comes to permaculture, experimenting my way through ideas, mimicking when I can, improvising when research falls short. And, it was somewhere in between mimicry and improvisation that I came up with what I’m calling overflowing circles and slow-flow swales.

I wanted to catch water, of course. That was the number one objective. In Panama, the rains seem to come in mad fits — bursts of hurricane-like downpours that would rip through the garden and food forest, streaming into the nearby lake and leaving nothing but debris behind. Panama is a country of two seasons, which are referred to as summer (dry, November through April) and winter (wet, May through October). Knowing summer would eventually come made watching all that winter water rush away even harder. What a waste!

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Posted by & filed under Compost, General, Urban Projects.

I am always observing and making decisions on the run, doing a sequence of brief tasks and changing mid stream from what I had previously planned. Multi-tasking is the norm in a self-reliant way of life, so different from the specialisation and repetitive focus that characterises work in the conventional economy. When performing a long sequence of small tasks in a diverse and integrated permaculture system, [one] needs many different tools. – David Holmgren, ‘Permaculture Pocket Knives’ article, April 2012

I have a confession to make. I’m not really very good at growing things. That’s a problem when you start delving into permaculture, which, after all, means ‘permanent agriculture’. And there are so many areas to consider: water and soil, space and seeds, companion and sequential planting, harvesting and storing… None of these are skills I grew up with. My family had a vegetable garden and they composted, but I never paid much attention. You cannot study one area without overlapping into another and while that is an interesting, interconnected process, it also means there is a lot to learn, particularly if you are trying to minimize inputs when growing food. I find that when you are enthusiastic and new at something, it can be irritating to others who have developed skills over many years and feel that you are stepping into their field of expertise. A fair point as permaculturalists seem to have something to say on virtually every topic, including those they may not actually know much about. But hopefully it’s better to be learning, asking for advice from others and making those connections rather than sitting on the sidelines feeling overwhelmed and end up doing nothing.

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Posted by & filed under Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Soil Rehabilitation, Structure.

Fred Kirschenmann has been involved in sustainable agriculture and food issues for most of his life. He currently serves as both a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, and as President of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. He also still provides management oversight of his family’s 2,600 acre organic farm in south central North Dakota. He was recently named as one of the first ten James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards which recognizes visionaries in creating more healthful, more sustainable, and safer food systems. He is the author of a book of essays which track the development of his thought over the past 30 years; Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays by a Farmer Philosopher, published by the University of Kentucky Press.

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Posted by & filed under Consumerism, Economics, Society.

This bill of rights for corporations will blow up the sovereignty of parliaments.

On this day a year ago, I was in despair. A dark cloud was rising over the Atlantic, threatening to blot out some of the freedoms our ancestors lost their lives to secure. The ability of parliaments on both sides of the ocean to legislate on behalf of their people was at risk from an astonishing treaty, that would grant corporations special powers to sue governments. I could not see a way of stopping it.

Almost no one had heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US, except those who were quietly negotiating it. And I suspected that almost no one ever would. Even the name seemed perfectly designed to repel public interest. I wrote about it (1) for one reason: to be able to tell my children that I had not done nothing.

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Posted by & filed under Alternatives to Political Systems, Bio-regional Organisations, Commercial Farm Projects, Community Projects, People Systems, Society, Village Development.

This film examines a cooperative of the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST) in the South of Brazil, which struggled for access to land and then transitioned to ecological agriculture, or agroecology. This MST cooperative is demonstrating the possibility of an alternative model of flourishing rural life, which provides thriving livelihoods for farmers, produces high quality and low cost food for the region, and rehabilitates the earth.

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Posted by & filed under Aid Projects, Biological Cleaning, Building, Community Projects, Compost, Land, Plant Systems, Soil Rehabilitation, Urban Projects, Waste Systems & Recycling, Waste Water, Water Conservation.

Note: If you haven’t already, you can read Part I here.

A Dead Sea Valley family home with their typical front ‘lawn’.
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

The title may lead you to think we are talking about people who manage pasture or have access to wide areas of rangeland. In fact, we are talking about people whose parents and grandparents were nomadic pastoralists that ranged flocks of animals across vast areas of land with the changing of the seasons. Rangelands in the Middle East were traditionally managed by tribal councils. This form of community-managed rangeland, called the Hima system (PDF), was one of the longest standing and most successful forms of rangeland management in known history. However with the arrival of nation states, the tribal systems of regulation were subordinated to state governments, run by bureaucrats living in the cities. Borders were drawn on the map, cutting across traditional patterns of land use and seasonal migration. Land was nationalised and tribal structures disempowered. In the case of Palestine it was worse, because much of the population was physically displaced, first in 1948 then again in 1967. Many of the latter wave of refugees who were pushed into Jordan have never gained citizenship. Of course the Palestinians in Jordan are now in quite a good situation compared to the Palestinians left in Palestine, but they still lack control over the land resource and hence have no chance to manage broad-scale rangelands as their forefathers did.

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Posted by & filed under Consumerism, Deforestation, General, Peak Oil, Society.

Think of the Industrial Revolution as the start of carbonifeous capitalism. — Dr. Ian Stewart

Many a contemporary scientist has commented that they started talking about climate change 20-30 years ago and figured once they educated people, they could go back to their respective fields of research. That never happened. They learned that knowledge does not necessarily lead to action, because humans are not motivated by logic but emotions. So it seems that the key is to make us more deeply aware of what is happening in the world, to motivate us to change for selfish motives as well as a concern for future generations. Learning from the past is a good place to start.

I love history. It allows you to look at the big picture, make connections with past events, and learn about repeating patterns. One of the pleasures of learning is having a ‘light bulb’ moment where you suddenly understand something on a more fundamental level. If you explain it to someone else, it can sound lame and obvious. But personal experience is what makes us grow and change. So today I am indulging in telling you about some of my ‘eureka’ moments even though I am saying nothing new.

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Posted by & filed under Food Plants - Annual, Health & Disease, Medicinal Plants, Recipes.

Basil – Ocimum spp.

Herbs are often included in the permaculture design process and constitute a vital role in the garden for integrated pest management and bee fodder. They are also included because of their culinary properties and find themselves located near to the kitchen for easy access. However, these ‘culinary’ herbaceous plants are often underutilised as medicines. It is curious that many plants, and spices, get labelled as ‘culinary’ without much heed paid to their highly valuable medicinal properties. This series of articles aims to provide precise, simple information on how to use more medicinal plants in the permaculture garden. Knowing how to use medicinal plants and using locally available plants for medicine is an integral part of building self-sufficiency and resilience. Herbal medicine is part and parcel of a holistic, low-tech approach to sustainability.

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