A World of Limited Resources – The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013 by Natasha Lewis

The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.

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The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013

Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.

The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.

After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!

The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.

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The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule;  Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.

Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.

Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale. 
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.

The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.

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Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.

On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.

On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.

New Book – Ecology Economy by Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar & Jeemol Unni

Ecology Economyecology economy

- Quest for a socially informed connection

By Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni

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About the book, courtesy of Orient Black Swan:

Ecology, Economy is an elaborate argument to establish society as central in policy-making for holistic development. The book presents cases of the adverse effects of resource utilisation—water, metals, power, land—on Adivasi communities in particular. It presents an overview of the paradoxes inherent in ‘development’ projects, emphasising the drastic drop in the standard of living of rural communities, and the immeasurable damage to India’s ecosystems and resource base.

The authors highlight the tussle between real growth and the rule of law, the informalisation of labour under a neoliberal economy, and current threats to ‘Adivasi Economics’—the little monetised systems based on a long-term symbiosis with the natural environment, based on taking from the ecosystem without intrinsically damaging it.

It asks: what is real development? How can we transform present developmental patterns to achieve a more truly sustainable path towards collective well-being? Is there any politically feasible path out of the multidimensional economic, environmental, social and climate change cataclysms facing us now in India and worldwide? Contrary to seeing dissent as ‘anti-development’, this book puts a face to the people on whom ‘development’ is imposed.

A product of the confluence of anthropology, policy analysis and rural economics, this volume also comes with an extensive Bibliography to lead researchers and every interested reader towards a rich body of work. It will be useful for students and scholars of sociology, economics, anthropology, ecology and environmental studies, development studies, political science, law and international affairs.

Living Economy, Living Democracy – by Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva

This lecture was delivered in by Dr. Vandana Shiva in London in November 2007 under the auspices of Jeevika Trust, The Gandhi Foundation’s sister organisation.

“The word jeevika is derived from the word “life” or “life source”. So much in the name of globalization is happening which is not just indifferent to those life processes, but against them.

The large scale takeover of rural land for building construction – supermarkets, hotels and parking lots – is taking away land from farmers. In the corridor from Delhi to Agra there are five new hyper-cities being built. The livestock on that land is the basis of the livelihood of the people. We are building a movement against this process which we are calling the “Corporate Land Grab”. The colonial 1894 Land Act is now being used by the free market, forcing peasants to sell their land. American money, currently so insecure, is looking for security in that peasant land.

India’s stock market index just hit 20,000, and market value is shooting up. But that wealth is being created fictitiously. The women making bamboo mats will never defend that kind of economics in their nation. I started out defending forests in Chipko, and I was struck by the injustice of basket weavers having to pay more for their bamboo than the paper companies. Globalization does not work for everyone.

India is seeing the increased polarization of wealth. The jeevika of rural communities is under threat because the source of their livelihood is ecological wealth. Ultimately humans can only work with what nature has given them – work is a partnership between humans and nature. The issues of poverty and ecology were always the same for me – rebuilding nature means rebuilding people – and if we want sustainability then the resources of the Earth have to stay in the hands of the people.

When I started my work twenty years ago saving seeds it was to defend the livelihoods of the farmers. If the number of seeds drop then there is less biodiversity. Humanity has depended on 8,500 crops to make a living throughout history – producing food, furniture and energy has taken hundreds and hundreds of crops. Today we base our consumption on about eight crops. Monoculture is increasing and the monopoly over that monoculture is increasing.

The word for seed is bija and it has the same root as jeevika – the seed is where life resides; it’s the source of all life. In the hands of companies the seed is a source of death. Because the companies make the seed so it cannot renew, it is reduced to a commodity that the farmers are forced to buy every year.

Nature has given us diversity. After the cyclone of 1998, I gathered the salt resistant rice seeds with the farmers in the area. After the tsunami [in 2004], the scientists said that agriculture in the area would have to be put on hold for five years because too much salt had been washed into the soil, but because we’d saved salt-resistant seed, farmers were able to go on growing crops straight away. That diversity would not be available if seeds were not in the hands of the community – we cannot have seeds in the hands of monopolies.

In 1929 Gandhi wrote an economic constitution. It said that poverty in the world was the result of people being denied access to the resources they needed to work. Natural resources should be available to everyone – the wood, the fish, the bamboo – they belong to us all. This access debate is at the heart of globalization: who controls the resources of the planet?

Navdanya was created in reaction to GATT, which aimed to put a handful of companies in control of the world’s resources. Now companies are getting into energy through biofuels, leaving the goats nothing to graze on – the crops they use for biofuels are just oil berries. We have no deficit of oil-bearing trees but if every one was devoted to producing energy it would not be enough to sustain the fossil fuel economy. This economy is built on the false assumption that we can defeat nature. Food prices have already doubled this year and they are going up further as more land is devoted to producing biofuels. Instead of the land making livelihoods it is now going to run cars.

In Orissa, the steel industry is popping up like pock-marks on the landscape. Do we need that steel? No villager there has a single steel rod in their hut. Steel is being exported – 100% of the material is for export. Why? Because cost-cutting is the logic of globalization. India’s 9% growth rate is hiding destruction. Water from dams is going to steel plants rather than irrigation. Raw material and pollution intensive production is moving to the land which provides livelihoods to the poor – corporations are outsourcing pollution. People talk about the outsourcing of software but the real story is the outsourcing of pollution.

A head of state turns up after talking to five businessmen, he signs a bit of paper and the land is taken away from the people without consultation. The corridor from Delhi to Mumbai is being sold to Japan. There are 1.2 billion people in India – there is no extra land there – but everyone wants to descend there. There is a strong campaign against this corridor, the people and the farmers have protested against it. Our civil disobedience campaign meant that privatization was reversed.

We are defending the flood plains on the river of Delhi. The real estate people just sit there with a map, “Oh yes, there’s a green belt – let’s build there”. The building industry does not understand the flood plain or its role in storing ground water and we will be there to stop its physical construction. Three years ago we had the Bombay floods and the area was too built-up to soak up the water – the result was disastrous.

We need to start distinguishing between those economies that bring life and those that bring death. We’ve got suicidal economies – 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after the WTO and World Bank’s policies. Why suicide? Corporate seeds aren’t about increasing productivity they are about increasing debt. I call it “Corporate Feudalism” – the corporations are joining with feudal structures we thought we’d left behind after Independence. I’ve sat in front of 2,500 widows in the Punjab, the wives of farmers who have committed suicide. These farmers consume pesticide in the field – “pesticide” ironically translates as “medicine” in our language. The land in that area has turned into a suicide belt. This is the same land where Gandhi started the cotton movement, where he spun for freedom.

We need to give the land back to the farmers so they’ll never have to leave. We need to get them a just price – at present the market price of cotton is one-third the price of production. Our farmers are paying with their lives and the farmers in the UK are facing similar problems.

We can’t deal with climate change without farmers. In any crisis, uniformity is the worst way to respond – diversity is resilience. Secondly, disruption leaves people vulnerable – and they need food to be available during those times. Third, organic farming helps to mitigate against climate change. 200% more carbon is stored in soils that are farmed organically. Yet nobody is talking about how climate change can be solved by organic soils. The floods in Bangladesh saw 2,500 people lose their lives to climate change. Ecological multiples are insurance. In no sustainable economy does everyone do the same thing.

The ecological economy is an economy of renewal where you have six foot of bamboo growing in a few months, or a new goat in seven months. But we’re creating scarcity in an abundant world. Poverty is a human creation – nature doesn’t create scarcity – human systems do. But two processes are making humans more equal: climate change and running out of oil.

But this time brings opportunities as well as challenges. Human beings have never yet been forced to redefine our role as a species on this planet. We have been living off thousands of years of reserves, but now we are running out. Now we are going to have to give back to the Earth. The big shift Gandhi made was to explain that having a lighter footprint on the planet was not to be more primitive, but to be more sophisticated as a species.”

Dr Vandana Shiva is  Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology and Founder of Navdanya Trust

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