Sunday, 24 June 2012

Happy Lucky Idiot

"If you have time to chatter,
Read books.

If you have time to read,
Walk into mountain, desert and ocean.

If you have time to walk,
Sing songs and dance.

If you have time to dance,
Sit quietly, you happy, lucky idiot."
― Nanao Sakaki

I am following Nanao Sakaki's suggestion and taking a sabbatical from blogging.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions and ideas.

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Friday, 22 June 2012

Dangers of Urban Farming

Photo by Maggie Jones Urban Photographer

I just had an interesting question about the dangers of farming by roadsides.

Whereas, here in Asia, farming in the roadside spaces happens naturally and no-one really seems to wonder about the safety of it. The opposite is true in the West. 

It seems that the modern western movement toward 'guerilla gardening' and urban farming has met with a mix of caution and paranoia. 

Urban farming should be a practical and worry free system of agricultural production. 

It requires some forethought about buffer zones, and some proper soil tests before getting started. However, the dangers appear to be minimal and only in some amount of heavy metals in leafy greens. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Global Organic Research Network

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is in Rio addressing the lack of support from mainstream research funders. They have created the Global Organic Research Network (IGORN) which will showcase organic science and farming practices, in an attempt to garner funding for establishing a series of research centres in the developing world, and mainstreaming organic research and farming. The network will be launched in 2013.

In 2009 the Organic Research Centres Alliance (ORCA) through the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR), also tried to set up Organic research centres across the developing world. ORCA failed.

ORCA failed because the "CGIAR at that time was not very welcoming", said Urs Niggli, director of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and a professor at the University of Kassel-Witzenhausen, Germany. He said recent reforms to the CGIAR economic landscape had removed the possibility of funding such a network.  

Hans Herren, president of the Millennium Institute, in Washington DC, said that the CGIAR was focused on boosting yields through conventional, industrial-type agriculture and monocultures. Ignoring soil health and an integrated and holistic approach to agriculture, which the new network is hoping to address. 

Find out what you can do to support IFOAM, who's goal is 'the worldwide adoption of ecologically,  socially and economically sound systems that are based on the principles of Organic Agriculture'.

Some Advice for Young Farmers

This is a post for those who want to start a small farm, and want to connect to the local and global movements that connect the other young enthusiastic farmers who are making it happen around the world. It is a kind of a list of suggestions about how to plug-in to the global farming movement.

These are all good places to find collaborators, supporters, fellow activists, workers, networkers, grants and even to gain market access. Although, I would urge you not to use these connections and platforms to promote your products. Too many folks are already doing that and it really messes up the dialogue.

Go instead for local markets! I often tell people to do like Fukuoka and look at your neighbors and local small shops and don't try to make a killing, just make enough. Fukuoka is the grandaddy of radical farming (I recommend picking up his 'Natural Way of Farming' and 'One Straw Revolution' if you haven't already). If Fukuoka saw fruits and vegetables from his farm being sold at a premium in the shop he would refuse to do business with that shop again. (Conversely, the modern radical farmer is Wendell Berry and I recommend getting a copy of his 'What are People For' and for American readers 'The Unsettling of America'.)

Anyway, what I was writing about was, and what I believe to be the most important first step when getting started is, networking:

There are a few important places to plug in. Most of them ask for membership and charge a small annual fee to keep the network going but you can get pretty well involved without becoming a member as well.

The Slow Food Movement is working hard to defend what they call 'food biodiversity'. A beautiful term that comes from the genius mind and heart of the founder Carlo Petrini and has been taken up by activist groups and foodies around the world. In order to defend food biodiversity they develop networks, offer food and taste education, and connect producers and consumers.

La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, farmers and workers around the world. They call themselves an 'autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement'. They work to defend small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) is working all over the world to promote Organic farming and to support small-scale 'high biodiversity' farming. They have a number of resources from practical training to empowerment and advocacy. They kick ass and need your support.

Urgenci works closely with IFOAM. It is an international network of small scale farmers and community shared agriculture (CSA) with a network really stretches around the world - they have a bunch of great support for young and local farmers.

Young Organics also works closely with IFOAM and is working hard to promote young farmers for the International activism scene and on the ground in Europe. They keep a blog and you can find them (us) all on facebook if you do a little searching.

The Greenhorns or the Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles is a group of young farmers in the United States that are working to promote and support young farmers there. They are increasingly reaching out to the international movements. I even saw the founder Severin T. Fleming at the Slow Food Terra Madre a few years back.

The National Young Farmers Movement (NYFC) works for young farmers in the US, it does networking, enhances skills through the facilitation of peer-to-peer learning, and fights for the policies that will keep people farming for life. They have resources that will also be interesting for you farmers from outside the US.

Finally, the Linked In Organic Network is also a good place to start making some connections

Yes! magazine did a piece on young farmers a few years ago that is worth a read. 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Slow Food and Indigenous People

Last month at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) 'Right to Food and Food Sovereignty' session, Slow Food President Carlo Petrini gave Slow Food's perspective. 

He said "For twenty-five years now, Slow Food has sought to preserve agricultural and food biodiversity as a tool for ensuring a future for our planet and humanity as a whole," ... "it would be senseless to defend biodiversity without also defending the cultural diversity of peoples and their right to govern their own territories. The right of peoples to have control over their land, to grow food, to hunt, fish and gather according to their own needs and decisions, is inalienable. This diversity is the greatest creative force on earth, the only condition possible for the maintenance and transmission of an outstanding heritage of knowledge to future generations."

Slow Food is working to support Indigenous communities through the Foundation for Biodiversity projects and Terra Madre network of food communities to reintroduce local food products. Slow Food also works with the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, a network of Indigenous communities and organizations committed to defining their own food and agricultural practices that sustain agrobiodiversity, assisted by scientists and policy researchers.

In 2011, Slow Food International along with Slow Food Sweden and Slow Food Sápmi organized the first 
Indigenous Terra Madre meeting in Jokmokk, Sweden, a second is planned for 2014 in India.

Insect Food

Much of the world's population eats insects as a regular part of their diet. Insects are rich in protein and hardly have any fat. A new global movement is encouraging people to cultivate, harvest, cook and eat insects, partly as a way to save the world. Edible-insect advocates have set up food carts in San Francisco, conferences in Rome and food fairs in Bozeman, Montana to promote the idea that insects can help solve food and protein shortages and reduce the huge, expensive efforts to grow beef and pork. Insects, they point out, are much easier to grow than large animals. Of the 1.1 million species of insects scientists have identified and named, 1,700 are edible.

Insects are more efficient and do not waste much water, their exoskeleton is full of holes used for breathing and can be shut to prevent water loss. We mammals have to sweat to cool our bodies and lose a lot of water that way.

They are cold-blooded creatures, which makes them much more efficient in converting energy to protein.
But the big advantage of eating insects is that they are generally healthier than meat. A six-ounce serving of crickets has 60 percent less saturated fat and twice as much vitamin B-12 than the same amount of ground beef. 
Insects also do not spread disease to humans the way cows or pigs can.

California Academy of Sciences entomologist Brian Fisher put it this way: "...Insects are less dangerous and less of a problem for humans in terms of disease. We do have concerns about disease jumping from animals like pigs and cows to humans. But there are no worries about a disease jumping from an insect to humans. The more evolutionary distant we are from our food source, the less danger there is..."
The edible-insect movement in the U.S. appears to be gathering converts. At Montana State University in Bozeman, entomologist Florence Dunkel edits The Food Insects Newsletter ( and makes frequent appearances promoting the idea of eating bugs. University of California entomologist Lynn Kimsey also promotes edible insects. And others in the U.S. and other developed countries — especially the Netherlands — are pushing hard.

Permaculture Design in Hanoi

Having spent some time thinking about Permaculture design with the students of the Human Ecology Practice Area (HEPA) I have decided to start taking steps toward a Permaculture design house where I live in Hanoi.

Permaculture creates sustainable household and agriculture systems, modeled after natural ecosystems, that minimize waste, human labor, and energy input through synergistic design and engineering. It emphasizes patterns of natural landscapes functions and species and organizes the various elements of farm and household systems to mimic them. It does this by looking closely at the relationships created among these elements.

The primary components of a Permaculture home are simple and easy, it is really about saving energy and resources. - This will soon be a home where the wastes are recycled into nutrition for the soil which in turn feeds the people in the house. Also, things will be arranged so that it can all feed itself - this will make it do-able and fun.

So far I have only made a few small changes.

The kitchen compost lives up on the balcony above the back garden in a 5 gallon bucket with holes in the bottom so that it drips onto the hanging plants and large potted plants below as it rots. Soon I'll put in a composting toilet on the top floor and make sure we use it with loads of leaves and so-on to make a high carbon slow rotting compost for later use in the banana circles around the house.

The folks at CulturalREcyclists, have a great video about a Permaculture teacher with an amazing example of it right on her property

Green Harvest has a great piece on 'City Permaculture: Sustainable Living in Small Spaces' about urban permaculture, garden layouts, orchards, home garden, structures, woodlots and animal systems

The Long House Ta Lai Commune

Reading through the Vietnam News I came across this story about a place called 'The Long House'. It is a brand new ecotourism attraction near the ethnic Stieng (Xtiêng) resettlement area in Ta Lai Commune in the Tan Phu District of the southern province of Dong Nai in Vietnam.        

The house is the first community-based tourism guesthouse in the area and was built under a project funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to promote community-based ecotourism in Viet Nam's national parks. It should directly benefit the livelihoods of local communities while conserving nature. 

WWF Vietnam Director Tran Minh Hien said. "Ecotourism planning in and around the park is carried out through a participatory multi-stakeholder process and is incorporated into development plans at commune, district and provincial levels". 

According to the chairman of Ta Lai Commune,  Dang Vu Hiep,  the house offers not only cultural meaning but also economic value to ethnic groups living in the region. "Community-based tourism will create stable livelihoods for local people by helping reduce pressure on natural resources, raising people's awareness of environmental protection and promoting cultural characters of ethnic communities".      
The Long House will open to visitors in the middle of February. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Cambodian indigenous minorities from Ratanakkiri

The artwork, and personal reflections about the environment, of 12 indigenous children from Ratanakkiri went on display last Tuesday at Meta House in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The children attended the opening and were accompanied by several elders. 

50 year old Hoeur Sao, a member of the Kavet indigenous minority, was interviewed by the Phnom Penh Post during the visit and this grabbed my attention. 

The Kavet people live on the outskirts what is now the Virachey National Park, in Ratanakkiri province. This is a typical case of removing indigenous people in order to do 'conservation' - a terrible policy that exacerbates the loss of biodiversity and ensures the loss of the traditional culture that manages that biodiversity. During the interview Hoeur Sao said that growing up "there was a lot of wildlife"..."when we walked to our crop fields, we used to see tigers, deer and crocodiles in front of us. But now, we rarely see them." 

Hoeur Sao said people in her area never raised animals, when they hunted they distributed the meat in the village. Now they are all raising farm animals and practicing more sedentary agriculture. 

"Before, we just dug holes with sticks to grow our crops," she says. "During the Khmer Rouge, they taught us how to plough our soil with buffalo. In the '80s, people began to own buffalos. Now, 90 per cent of our villagers own animals." 

Hoeur Sao said that the disappearance of the wildlife in the jungle around her community is by people from outside.