GREEN RIVER – PEOPLE IN CHARGE

People in charge of regenerating their natural habitat

Green River is a community-led project focusing on restoring ecosystems, microclimates and its water cycles, and creating healthy livelihoods in the Western Ghat Mountains, Gundar Basin region, Tamil Nadu, India. This project has the potential to improve the social and economic realities of around 245 million people in this region whose livelihood depends upon monsoon rains.

Prologue

All over the planet people are confronted with extremely degraded land, not caused by natural events, but rather by their own actions. The resulting climate change and shifting weather patterns only intensify this crisis. Tamil Nadu, South India, ranks at the top of drought stricken regions on the planet. Therefore, the first Green River project is focusing on this region. Ultimately, the vision is to promote and work on regenerating green rivers and landscapes around the world, because the good news is that we humans, on the flipside, can do that too!

Green River is well connected to both local and global communities and organizations of regenerative knowledge and practices. These communities share knowledge, experience and resources and provide practical support upon request and come together in this initiative.

Green River is an evolutionary process and unique in that it identifies the whole watershed as the optimal landscape for bio-regional regeneration. The holistic, village-global approach gives it realistic opportunities for success.

Why

Communities in the Gundar Basin region are facing degraded landscapes causing severe droughts, resulting in water scarcity and further depletion of the environment. Current livelihood strategies and ways to acquire water are causing even more destruction to the already degraded land. It’s a Catch-22! A different approach is needed.

What

With a new approach based on restoring the ancient water harvesting cascade systems in the landscape, and through applying ancestral knowledge, new technologies and best practices of regeneration, communities bring back the natural flow in the whole watershed. This provides a structure for ecosystem regeneration: the emergence of a ‘Green River’! In a 5 – 10 year timeframe we’ll see vital and resilient communities in biodiverse, well-functioning eco-systems providing healthy livelihoods for all living beings.

Who

Around 2,500 families and their communities will be in the lead, assisted by Dhan Foundation who is building with Green River on their long-standing community enabling programs. The Embassy of the Earth is a co-creating partner bringing its longterm experience in building resilient communities to resolve complex issues. Other partners bring specific expertise on ecosystem and agricultural regeneration.

Background Information

Dhan Foundation has for 10 years worked with and provided services to an estimated 2,500 economically marginal farming families in a 300 km long watershed in the Upper Gundar River region. Cyclical monsoon rainfalls have become more unpredictable and in the last two years the region has experienced their driest period of the past 150 years. Some years ago, Dhan Foundation began restoring deteriorated ancient water tanks, large man-made reservoirs in the landscape that catch and hold the monsoon rain, part of the traditional water management system. But more is needed.

Over the past few years, through careful listening to the community needs and aspirations (see annex) and, by looking at best practices in and outside India, Dhan Foundation and Embassy of the Earth have co-created this holistic new vision for a river-ecosystem called Green River.

Proposed Project Area

The Gundar Basin has been identified to be the designated area for Green River’s first project. Dhan Foundation has substantial experience and financial backing from Unilever Foundation with tank restoration in this region, successfully involving tank- and farmer associations, water managers, regional government agencies, educa- tional institutions and funders. This makes it an ideal area for scaling up efforts and effectively use existing expertise and established trust within the communities involved.

Methodology

[…] the world’s smallholder farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, and forest dwellers are the front- line custodians of bio-diverse landscapes and increasingly so, healers of the land. With them lies the true regenerative power of our societies!

– Frank Heckman, Embassy of the Earth

The project deeply depends on a holistic participatory approach. The methodology is based on a holistic, co-creative approach. Local communities will be provided with all the necessary ‘pieces of the puzzle’ and, through this sharing of knowledge and practices, design their own community-based plans. They will determine their own indicators for success, embedded in the wider healthy river-based ecosystem vision.

The project foresees ecosystem regeneration by reintroducing and restoring the traditional water management system. This is an ‘ecological infrastructure’ to channel monsoon rainfall down the slope of their watershed. Earthen water catchment basins store rainwater, distribute it through smaller ponds and wells to irrigate vegetation and crops, creating a ‘green river’. Additional gullies and ‘cuts’ are made to trace water back to the aquifers and wells around the villages for home-use, long after the monsoon rains have ended.

The centre of the village is the tank and houses are grouped in hamlets on one or both sides of the embankment on the relatively higher elevation – example from Sri Lanka

[…] rivers depend on forests. And the forests need their plants. Without plants – trees clothed in epiphytes and grasslands at high elevations – monsoon clouds will not release their mois- ture. Without plants, water will not sink into the land to feed the rivers, sources and aquifers, nor will the local thundershowers form.

– Suprabha Seshan, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

Besides harvesting rainwater runoff, reforestation activities will play an important role in restoration of climatic conditions conducive for stimulating rainfall and to achieve a full water cycle. Experts on ecosystem regeneration and regenerative agriculture will share their knowledge and experiences with the communities. Ecological agricultural regeneration creates benefits for all living beings, biodiverse landscapes with healthy soils providing good livelihoods. Healthy soils and biodiverse landscapes are also important carbon sinks and substantially contribute to both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Other stakeholders, including governmental and educational institutions will be closely involved to create a supportive enabling environment, identifying necessary regulations and policies that will benefit the directly involved communities and the wider ecosystem.

The project will assist in establishing local ownership of the tanks and ponds, in the absence of government financing and management, through the participation in co-financing of each community of approximately 25% of the cost, in addition to the labor they will provide.

Teaching, innovation, knowledge, experience and skills will be introduced by faculty and students of the Tata Dhan Academy and others. With the idea to develop a vocational certification program around regenerative practices. Allowing young people and others to enroll into a new profession of land healers.

Five young tribal men from the Americas, called the Hopi Raincatchers, trained and accommodated by the Land Healer Foundation, will conduct training camps for their peers (and others) in India on traditional water infiltration techniques and how to retrace and revive.

Hopi Raincatchers making their ‘cuts and water-traps’ on the Hopi Reservation, Arizona, USA

In this year’s August, in the Embassy of the Earth’ Summer School, representatives of participating organization and involved communities will be brought together in dialogue sessions to understand the collective ‘journey’ they are embarking upon and to develop each of their roles in this regeneration effort.

In the following, October 2017, Community Search Conference involved community representatives will come together to create their community-based plans with shared knowledge and experiences from various experts.

Green River Deliverables

Restored water management system based on a functional Tank Cascading System (TCS)
A regenerated, functional river ecosystem contributing to the well-being of the local communities involved
Enhanced community resilience for climate change mitigation and adaptation
Improved economical situation based on natural capital, small business ownership, local markets and cooperative networks
Vocational Earth regeneration certification program – multi disciplined
Creation of a local field campus for learning and contributing in the replication of similar initiatives worldwide
Co-creation of new initiatives with other communities around the world

Initiators

DHAN FOUNDATION, Embassy of the Earth

DHAN FOUNDATION

A professional development organization with a long track record of enabling the poor to uplift themselves in large parts of India, deeply motivated by Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world”. DHAN has deep roots in values, such as Grassroots action, Collaboration, Enabling, Innovation, Excellence, and Self-Regulation. DHAN believes that these values are its core strength needed to realize its mission and vison. DHAN has the capacity, network, trust and good working relationship with the involved communities to make Green River successful.

Both the DHAN FOUNDATION and the Embassy of the Earth are closely connected to important international networks, partners of Green River (see next), creating excellent opportunities for the Green River to flow beyond India.

Green River – Partners

We are deeply honored and encouraged by the excellence of the people and networks that have committed to share their experience, knowledge and specific skills in support of the Green River initiative. We gratefully introduce the Green River team!

Suprabha Seshan – Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, internationally recognized as the keeper of the ‘gold standard’ for biodiversity, profound understanding of ecosystems – from the roots through the earth level to the canopy.

Leo van der Vlist – Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples, has advocated for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world since 1990. “Indigenous peoples are caretakers and protectors of Mother Earth, for countless generations. Eighty percent of the remaining pristine biodiversity can be found in their territories. Their bio-cultural knowledge and holistic visions are vital for the survival and well-being of human beings.”

John Dennis Liu – Ecosystem Restoration Camps, renowned Ambassador of Hope for ecosystem’s restoration. Chronicled and recorded countless Earth restoration projects across the planet over the last twenty years.

Laurence de Bure – a lifetime agricultural pioneer and land healer – inspiring, involving and educat- ing young people to take their place and care for the planet. Driving force behind the acclaimed Hopi Raincatchers initiative. Initiator of the Landhealer Foundation.

Jakes Jayakaran – Demeter Biodynamic School for Farming, master in the return of soil fertility, of growing food in response to the great laws of Nature. Educating for years the youth of Tamil Nadu to farm in a good way. Hailed for his rescue of the fruit trees of the city of Beijing, China.

Wim van Immerzeel – Pachamama Raymi, enabling more than two hundred of the poorest commu- nities in the most degraded landscapes in Peru to pull out of their poverty-stricken situation and reverse landscape and livelihood into thriving habitats.

Agricultural Biodiversity Community – ABC – network of eighty NGO’s in Africa and Asia, including DHAN, connecting more than three million smallholder farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists and forest farmers. Exchanging knowledge, experience and skills on seeds and technology, cooperatives, markets and trading, policy and governance.

Regeneration International – overturning ‘business as usual’ by uniting rural farmers, ranchers and herders and connecting them with health, environment and justice minded consumers. Creators of the Regeneration Hub, presenting regenerative projects around the world.

Open Team – United Nations’ recognized global platform, working passionately to solve social and environmental, climate related challenges around the globe. Matchmaking and scaling-up is the name.

Green River Art – Green River intends to involve a collective of artists from all directions, and some already contributed. Through ‘deep listening’, artists can hear, see or move what’s underneath, hidden. Perceive in openness, attentiveness, intuition and have the faculty to express the process through another angle, add a new perspective, open up eyes to another reality, make us smile…

Green River – Community Voices

Tata Dhan Academy, Rainfed Farming Working Conference, July 2014
‘I went to work in the city to make ends meet, after the well dried up and we had to sell off our life stock’ the farmer spoke. She continued: ‘Water levels have never dropped this much, not even in my Grandfather’s time – who is born on this land.’ Other stories followed about how farmers were coping with the increasing draughts and Climate Change. One of the women went on to sing a song, a rain-song, her clear voice was rising to the evening skies. Two other women sang for and about the water. Not much later the phone rang. A voice from her village, nearly 1000 miles away, told her: ‘It’s raining!’
Tamil Nadu, August 2016
In the village of Kosavapatty we sit with group leader Savariyayi. Daughters, son, grandmother, grandchildren and later her husband are all present. Across her house, on the square, many little school children are waiting for the bus. Soon the subject ‘water’ comes into focus and with it the frustration. Her husband joins the conversation immediately. ‘We are now drilling at a 1000 feet, and the resources aren’t really there. We used to drill between 300–700 feet. And the water quality isn’t that good either.’ ‘The use of fertilizers and other chemicals have damaged the top-soil.’ ‘It’s really hard to make ends meet.
Kalvarayan hill region of the Eastern Ghats – April 2017
The villagers immediately start to talk about a dam constructed in 1991 despite protests of their 7 tank associations. This dam redirects water from their tanks to 5,000 acres of other people’s land. The check dam was built to regulate floods, not to interfere with the agrarian irrigation, however, despite a verdict of a judge that enough water would flow to fill their tanks, this happened only the first three years and not thereafter. This group established their own peoples’ association called: Rain, Tree, Soil. Their forest degraded and there was very little rain in the last 5 years. The ground- water level went down to 1,500 feet deep. To keep the soil fertilized they use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but this leads to water pollution, soil pollution and air pollution. There are a few organic farmers. People took sand out of the river and now there are only rocks in the river which is why the river does not let sink in the water anymore as the water now runs much faster. There is not much awareness about the water cycles. They are now more aware of these things, realize they are themselves responsible for it and their vision now is that if they grow trees their problems will be gone. A very vocal group of youth volunteers works to remove invasive species from the land and to regrow they use seed balls with native seeds.
Upper Gundar River region – Sedapatti, April 2017
The entire watershed to which this village belongs stretches out about 300 kilometers. We make a walk towards the last spring that still works, but halfway we meet a local farmer who tells us that the day before the spring had stopped running. One of the women of the group tells us that in her childhood the forest was still so dense that they did not come here. But since then many trees were cut for firewood and for selling. About 50 years ago this group settled here. There were many children and the families did not have enough land to survive. The government provided the settlements. They are landless people and work as laborers on the land owned by farmers who live elsewhere or in construction work in other villages. Some of the land here is still common land, which anyone is allowed to use. The groundwater level went down in the last 10 years and they understand that the grazing of their cattle deteriorates the land. The group realizes the severity of the water problems and the deterioration of the land, but does not have a vision on how to change the situation, as they are too busy surviving.

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CUSTODIANS OF THE LAND, HEALERS OF THE EARTH

Prologue

A breakthrough in science, knowledge and consciousness is beginning to unfold for all human beings. As we pay attention, we begin to experience life through new perceptions of a delicately woven interdependence, cluing us in to larger patterns and expanding our knowledge and awareness of continuous flow and change. As an ABC community these larger patterns are helping us to better grow nutritious and delicious food for the world. Simultaneously this awareness directs us to allow the natural world, our ecosystems to do what they do best: protect and regulate the biosphere.

The case I’m making here is that there is a profound essence in the world’s smallholder farmers, fisher folk, pastoralists, forest dwellers. They are not just food producers, they are frontline custodians of biodiverse landscapes, with them lies the true regenerative power of our societies.

In this, the Agricultural Biodiversity Community is playing an important role.

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Gardening back the biosphere

We are entering Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. In forty years of research and understanding, rescuing thousands and thousands of plant species, living with them, taught by them, they understand better than almost anywhere on the planet what these patterns are, and how we can put them to use. They say:

‘We are not saving the planet. We couldn’t. What we are doing is to show humanity that people are capable of restoring, regenerating our natural habitat. We are conveying this idea, this awareness!

And they know much more and we are learning from them.

Late Saturday night, December 17, a small group arrived at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Western Ghat mountains an hour’s drive from Mananthavadi, in the district of Wayanad, Kerala, India.

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Lali tending on a tree-dwelling fern at the Sanctuary

This is the place where they ‘garden back the biosphere’ one of us whispered as we stepped into the tropical night of the rainforest under an immense star-bright sky.

We had just completed a four-day Working Conference of the Agricultural Biodiversity Community (ABC community) in Wyanad. The ABC community is a world wide network of supporters, promoters and practitioners of agricultural biodiversity, founded to share knowledge and experience, learn, co-create, collaborate and inspire.

This year’s gathering had its focus on sharing, exploring and really discussing the state of the Earth, the effects that Climate Change has on the practice of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fishermen and forest dwellers – men and women. What we are currently doing to adapt, mitigate and seek climate resiliency.

Climate resilience

Passionate discussions about the practices in the field, the shifting of the weather systems, droughts or floods in times and ways we have never experienced before. How delayed blossoming has a domino effect on many other factors and dimensions. From markets to production and of course the grave ecological consequences. Solutions? Yes, in some cases, but foremost learning by doing and discovering through innovation and collaboration. And we find that traditional knowledge often carries a tried and proven adaptation potential.

Many indigenous practices are beginning to make more sense then ever. As one indigenous farmer said on the land where his ancestors had been for a thousand years: ‘Cross-breed? No! Leave the seeds alone, Mother Earth will take care of the breeding.’

He opened his hand to show us seeds with a 500-year history.

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Suma, one of the senior-gardeners, who has these rare orchids and other plant families under her care
Living Earth

Most importantly, a larger picture started to emerge from the conversations. ‘We are not only producing food in a climate response–able way, we may in fact be a substantial part of the solution to climate change. With our core values around biodiversity, the community based approach to food production and the effect that more than two million smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisher folk and forest farmers can have on our living Earth.

Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary played an important role for the ABC community to run its annual meeting in Wayanad. Their clear ideas on biodiversity, ecosystems, plant life and the biosphere totally matched with this year’s focus on Climate Resilience and Agricultural Biodiversity. They hosted a field trip of a group from the ABC community on the first conference day.

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A Longhorn beetle on the forest floor at the Sanctuary
In the Garden

The early morning air is impregnated with fine mist and cool damp. On the ground, dewdrops glisten on blades of grass, many other greens. Three of us, – Vasimalai, Karthikeyan and I are taking a six o’clock walk in the Sanctuary with Suprabha Seshan.

‘This is really a refugee camp for plants’,

she tells us. We painfully realize once more that humans are driving species into extinction with a speed as never seen before. “If we can arrange their temporary habitat here, then, if we can keep them for 10 years, who knows what can happen next! These plant refugees live on borrowed time.

All beings are sacred

The increase of the population, migration from other areas, cultivation of tea, coffee, rice and other crops shifted the balance of the eco-system in this part of the Western Ghats. The impact on the natural habitat of these rainforests started to accelerate during the eighties of the last century. It was Wolfgang Theuerkauf [1948 – 2014], a young German from Berlin living as caretaker of a small piece of land in this wilderness – nearly forty years ago, who noticed the changes in the environment. And he started to take action. His ‘search and rescue’ operation of the ‘last species’ became his ‘calling’. He created the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in 1981, with the help of a small group of very dedicated women, local, some indigenous, and sometime later with the commitment of Suprabha Seshan. Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary sees itself as a community of people, animals and plants, in which all living beings are sacred. The focus, however, are the plants. They say: ‘Plants work harder than the mightiest governments on Earth. They give us free food and water.’

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One of the many species of delightful frogs that inhabit the diverse habitats at the Sanctuary
Zooming in and out

Zooming in on the facts, this is what the Gurukula team is really saying: 245 million people depend on the rivers that come from these mountains. And the rivers depend on these forests. And the forests need their plants. Without plants – trees clothed in epiphytes and grasslands at high elevations – monsoon clouds will not release their moisture. Without plants, water will not sink into the land to feed the rivers, sources and aquifers, nor will the local thundershowers form. And so on.

Zooming out. The entire planet, the whole Earth works this way, just as in the Western Ghat mountains. Living beings, plants, trees, animals, rivers, the skies above and much more are deeply connected, fine tuned, self-regulated through continuous communication, balancing and protecting all life on Earth.

Dynamic global network

Songs, tweets and twitter from the many feathered friends, in all sizes, whose songs are often new to me. Crickets take their part in the rain forest orchestra, chirping in unison. The lush growth of ferns, flowers and mosses and many other kinds of vegetation cover the grounds, stones, stairs and walls. ‘Plants manage to grow almost anywhere’, Suprabha tells us: ‘Look at this tiny fern on this flat rock surface, managing to grow.’

‘A crack and a bit of moisture.’

Plants are the primary life support system of the planet, not in the intellectual, categorical or ‘plant as object’ sense. Not in the scientific paradigm, but more holistic, as a huge sanctuary, a community of many plant families that continuously exchange energy and communicate. Sharing intelligence about numerous things such as temperature, moisture levels, mineral counts, nitrogen, density of the population, threats, life and death. The plant world is a world-wide community, very much alive, whose role on the planet is not destined to please man, but to balance, manage and protect the biosphere, to create a homeostasis in the dynamics of a the ever changing environment.

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Even during the dry-season epiphytic species of plants and mosses hang from the trees
Human intervention

Disrupting and destroying the plant universe was a grave mistake. Of course humans need to feed to themselves. And yes, the world population has increased tremendously in only two generations. So intrusion and taking what’s needed from our natural habitat is self-explanatory. Our ancestors knew, as being part of this large eco-system, how to proceed in collaboration, outweighing the pro’s and con’s, restraining when needed. We can’t go back to the ‘good old times’, but new technologies, innovative thinking and traditional ways can open up a new world.

When people moved away from this inclusive awareness of their habitats and began to dominate, domesticate and design large-scale food production systems, the Plant Life on the planet suffered.

The Industry and Agroindustry inflicted great wounds and cuts in the global plant network frustrating communication, obstructing recovery of the soils, degrading land into deserts, amputating plants innate ability to regulate and protect the biosphere and with it, good living for all beings.

Small is beautiful

I strongly believe that Rex Weyler, co-founder of Green Peace made no mistake when he said at a gathering with Earth Keepers – and Organic Farmer(s) – from all around the globe: ‘We are at the eve of a planetary breaking point, a point of no return. When such a shift occurs, systems shut down with catastrophic consequences and there is nothing humans can do to reverse it.’

What we understand of the natural world now, how ecosystems self-regulate, there is a limit to size. The amount of land we can take out of, extract from nature. Too large disrupts the ecosystem, regardless of practice. Ernst F. Schumacher – Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered – just like Wolfgang Theuerkauf had a deep understanding of the principle of size and scale. Small allows, doesn’t break up, natural systems to do their work. For the ABC community it says: ‘Small scale farming, at best agricultural biodiverse, organic or eco-agricultural is the name of the game.’ It allows the natural world, specifically the plants on the planet to stay attuned and connected to protect and safeguard the biosphere.

It is good to emphasize here that Indigenous Peoples are a vital part of the solution to restore our sacred relationship with our rapidly changing ecology. Eighty per cent of our last pristine nature here on Earth has been cared for and protected by generations of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge, experience and wisdom. Many times, until this day, under severe attack from extraction policies from nation states and corporations. Always with a strong spiritual connection to the Mother Earth, they take their stance and protect her.

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A spectacular caterpillar on a small twig
Deep listening and a two-fold gaze

We are standing on an elevated area in the Sanctuary looking into the valley below. A whole spectrum of multiple shades of green. In the stillness we sense our feet on the ground, a gentle breeze stroking our face, the sweet smell of flowers. Then, one bird’s song resonates across the valley, filling up the entire space. In that very moment we all feel the overwhelming beauty and great mystery of this awesome place…

Suprabha pauses, then points to the hundreds of different species of orchids, hanging on moss covered bark sheets, stitched on with tender micro-surgical precision. ‘Rescued from somewhere in the Western Ghat mountains, the last specimen of its kind on Earth, she explains, ‘What we work on is not just the plant, but its entire local habitat – direction, altitude, level of moisture, ‘companion’ tree, soil, pollinators, neighbouring plants, trees, animals and more.’

It’s like a two-fold gaze, seeing a dewdrop on a blade of grass and the whole of Mount Anamudi, at the same time! By recreating that very specific habitat in the sanctuary that we are enabling these plants to live here. Makes sense! Easy? No, forty years of learning through trial and error, learning by doing. ‘We carefully document everything we see and observe.’

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Orchids hanging on prepared bark sheets during the dryseason
Uniquely gifted

‘We often say we are a refuge camp for plants under attack, they kind of live on borrowed time.’ Is this the end game? Must be a frustrating experience. ‘No, not so!’ The amazing thing is that when plants grow back they are ultimately creative. They’ll find ways, as I showed you before, to root in many places, mosses do this with great ingenuity. In the surge plants are perfect team members and will climb on each other’s back to further growth. Plants have an enormous regenerative drive, are highly self-organized and –regulated.

So the good news is that humans are not only a destructive species. Among all animals they are uniquely gifted in tending their environment, the gardening species. Degraded areas on the planet can, when there is enough moisture and the right kind of care, restore themselves. The limitless diversity of the plant world is really the key to a balanced biosphere. It can under most circumstances adapt to keep planet Earth relatively stable and cool.

Unity in biodiversity

Biodiversity is key, but the real secret lies in the notion of unity. A pattern that connects, an organizing principle, an implicit design. But even more. As science is now telling us of the living plant world, the way trees relate and communicate. Through miles of fungi, connecting root systems among plants and trees, through organic matter carried by the winds, pollinators, animals. Through the flow of water, permeating all beings.

Plant world seems to be a working ‘holoversum’. A delicately woven interconnectedness, in which each part reflects the whole as in a hologram. With a collective intelligence, the whole organizes all the parts. Just think about what is often described as the butterfly effect; stirring things up in one place may cause a tempest on the other side of the planet. If any comparison at all, this plant web is far beyond and with much greater sophistication than what we call our ‘cyberspace’.

If we would extract, take out some of the major, key parts of our internet environment at this moment, our geo-political world will tumble into disastrous vortex before the end of the day!

Isn’t that what we are doing with our Earth, take out major, key parts of the interconnected natural system, debilitating its functioning?

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Regrowing forest at the Sanctuary
How we conspire

‘It is a rare fish that knows it swims in the water’, as the saying goes. Not at all at odds with how we are operating in our ABC community and thus the villages, communities, families of farmers, fisher folks, pastoralists, forest dwellers around the globe where the hand meets the soil, the waters and the trees and animals. Our focus may very well be on ways to sow, grow, harvest, bring to market, supported in the best possible way, but at the same time if we zoom out we are all conspirators, that is, con-spirare. We breathe together. ‘Hard-wired’ to learn together in a social context that amazingly much resembles the primordial communities. An ample two hundred years of industrial revolution and a couple of decades of increasing individualism won’t change that.

Indeed, all the people, who are in the fields, forests or on the waters know about the changing climate. How would they not know. It’s their daily experience, for years already, but it’s getting more severe. Harvests shifting, wells drying up, seeds under-performing, overfished seas, weather systems changing, and more. And they are adapting, of course they are, they always have. Do they always have the right solutions? Or the right knowledge?

Custodians of Nature – Healers of the Earth

We can only see patterns when we zoom out and meet others looking for similar solutions. And to be prepared to share the knowledge and experience. The point here is that those who practice agricultural biodiversity, with their choice of smallholder farming, a community based approach, do more than producing healthy and cost effective food. They have always been, but more so driven by the challenges of climate change, working for the Earth. Taking care if the soil, variation of species, by living in harmony with their natural environments they are actively supporting the natural world to restore, protect and balance the biosphere. And there are many smallholder farmers, fishermen, pastoralists and forest farmers. Only in our ABC community we are related to more than two million people.

They are indeed the frontline Custodians of biodiverse landscapes, and in respect, Healers of the Earth!

The natural way, learning through attention

On a personal note. My encounters with Nature are often like a shift in awareness. By which I mean a certain state of attention. I live in a forest in the Netherlands with big tall trees, Spruce, Pine, Oak Tree and many more. When I take the thirty-minute walk through the forest to the small railway station I almost immediately feel the presence of the trees. I greet them as family members, naturally, and they greet me back through the wind rustling though the tops, the fragrance, all of that. My indigenous friends understand this, as they communicate similarly and call it the ‘natural way’. When I was in the Western Ghat mountains last summer I sat quietly in the ‘orchid nursery’ while Suma, one of the eldest on the Gurukula team, was tending after the plants.

And then I saw it. She was in that state of effortless concentration, relating to and learning from the plant, accessing knowledge, letting it guide her actions. It is this kind of ‘direct knowing’ that we often lack, but which is now more needed then ever. It is a capacity we humans all have and many of the people working on the land will recognize this. Musicians know this, artists know this. We just have to remember that we are all indigenous to this Earth. Through immersion, just by being with nature, this capacity to relate and learn is activated and through use, strengthened.

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Last words

Maybe we should hear one more time what Wolfgang Theuerkauf and the Gurukula team say:

‘Plants work harder than the mightiest governments on Earth. They give us free food and water.’

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