“A healthy civilisation can only be one that harmonises with and integrates into the totality of life, enhancing not demolishing it.” – Jose Lutzenberger
Poets, scientists and visionaries have long warned that our mistreatment of this living planet and of one another would inevitably end in disaster.
Vast, globally-connected social movements have emerged from these voices in the wilderness to contest this destruction and injustice, joining the chorus of Indigenous Peoples who have been resisting colonial exploitation for over 500 years.
As governments and corporations seek to entrench their power through the Covid-19 crisis, we must urgently tell and learn from stories that show us that a different world is possible, so that our imaginations do not become another casualty of the pandemic.
We can be reminded of life-sustaining ways of being in the world through the example of those who have never left their eco-literate life-ways behind, or who are dedicating themselves to reviving what has been lost or stolen.
In the coming months, and in partnership with The Ecologist, we will be sharing stories from around our living planet to inspire and nourish hope and imagination.
Told in their own words, these stories come directly from communities living and flourishing in the midst of these crises, from a great diversity of places, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Finland, Uruguay, Uganda, Brazil and the UK.
Each community’s story, like every ecosystem, is unique. But they also share many similarities, both in terms of the harms they have suffered and the ways in which they have chosen to respond.
The first commonality is that the communities whose stories will be featured are all in the process of deepening their roots in place; decolonising their minds, hearts, practices and places after centuries of subjugation.
In addition to the expropriation, poverty and trauma caused by colonisation, one of the greatest challenges we face is rowing back the success of the capitalist system in colonising our minds with the idea that we need perpetual economic growth; that those who are not on this path need to be ‘developed’; that we are consumers rather than citizens, neighbours and kin.
Under this logic, Nature is an inert collection of “resources” ripe for exploitation and commodification to satisfy the wants and greed of the few. Eco-literate local cultures, languages, spiritualities and governance systems adapted to place over generations are at best considered quaint fossils to be consumed as entertainment by tourists, and, at worst, backward forms of human culture to be erased and replaced.
These ideas are infectious. They raise in us a view of the world that is divisive and that disconnects us from each other and the realities of life on Earth - a delicately balanced, self-regulating living organism of which we are an intrinsic part.
In each community that tells its story in this series, building resilience has, most fundamentally, involved protecting, remembering and restoring cultural pride and traditions that enhance Nature’s diversity. They are putting their worlds back together again, re-making connection.
A second commonality is food. Hunting, gathering, growing, storing, cooking and sharing food lies at the heart of community life and resilience. It provides an insight into the knowledge and relationships of a society and its fundamental values.
Industrial agriculture seeks to reduce food crops and growing to a set of inputs and outputs controlled by toxic chemical corporations to produce global commodities. Whereas the communities who share their stories in this series show us that the resilience of our food systems relies on developing an intimate relationship with Nature and her laws.
For a food system to be healthy, it must be held within a wider ecosystem that is biodiverse and provides homes and food for pollinators, space for wild edibles, wildlife and so on. A community’s key concern, then, is to govern itself in such a way that the whole ecosystem in which it exists continues to be in good health. To do this, a community must have sovereignty over its knowledge of- and relationship with seed, food, land and water.
No matter how good our agroecological or organic farming systems might be, if we destroy the ecosystems our food systems belong to, or cede sovereignty to corporations, resilience is undermined.
These stories teach us that nurturing diversity at all levels of life is the foundation of resilience. The biodiversity in our ecosystems; the cultural diversity that has evolved as peoples have adapted to different places; the diversity of seeds generations have nurtured to cultivate the foods we eat. All are essential for living well generation after generation, on a planet that is by nature diverse.
The final theme that unites the stories in this series, is that each of them, in their own way, contains a seed of transformation. They are a counter-cultural reminder that world we want, and the transformations we need to get there, will come from nurturing our roots and our collective power, not from political and economic elites.
Each story relates a journey of revival and restoration in the human community and in the communities of Nature and spirit – the three interconnected domains of life.
Each reflects how coming back into alignment with lands and waters, with the larger community of life as ‘a communion of subjects’, sustains and nurtures human consciousness and empathy, and brings out the best in us.
The challenges we face are unprecedented. But, standing firmly on the Earth, the stories these communities tell reveal many small trails into the future. If we choose to, we can follow these trails, broadcasting seeds of transformation as we go, making a new map for our societies which is beautiful, courageous and enables life on Earth to heal.
New instalments of the 'Stories of Resilience' series will be posted on The Ecologist monthly from September 2020. Please check back regularly for updates and follow The Ecologist on social media.
Million Belay is the founder of MELCA Ethiopia and coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). He is an expert and advocate for forestry conservation, indigenous livelihoods and food and seed sovereignty. Visit the AFSA website and follow them on social media using @Afsafrica.
Liz Hosken is the director of The Gaia Foundation, a UK-based NGO working alongside Indigenous and land-based peoples around the world to protect their territories and revive Earth-centred culture and governance. She is an expert in participatory methodologies for the revival of culture and ecosystems. Visit The Gaia Foundation's website and follow them on social media using @GaiaFoundation. Sign up for occasional newsletters here.