Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Community Alliance for Global Justice's critique of AGRA

Four Categories of Problems with AGRA

• uses tax-exempt foundation money to act without accountability
• uses influence to monopolize discussions of development and agriculture
• promotes solutions decided upon undemocratically, by people whose authority has not been conferred by the populace and whose frame of reference is the Global North
• frames the problem as African production, rather than global distribution

• privileges large-scale farmers/landholders
• encourages the purchase of inputs from foreign companies, leading to indebtedness
• intensifies reliance on volatile global economy
• does not address structural and social inequalities
• has the potential to exacerbate women’s poverty in integrated cash economies

• encourages higher intensity of cultivation and monocropping, which decreases biodiversity and undermines indigenous crops
• potential for GE crops to be introduced and contaminate surrounding crops
• is uncritical of the first Green Revolution and does not acknowledge that its priniciples were introduced in some countries in Africa, and failed

• privileges/asserts Western knowledge systems
• limits self-determination among farmers in Africa
• receives funding from foundations whose wealth is rooted in the maintenance of unequal global distribution
• promotes a racist model of development in which African producers are targets of Western conceptions of linear “progress”
• devalues the systems and knowledge of local peoples and precludes reciprocity and mutuality in exchanging ideas

One.org's Agricultural Policy - Critical Analysis

I am always excited about prospects for linking organic gardening with sustainable development, and appreciate any connection we can make between our own struggles for a sustainable local food system with the subsistence struggles of farmers in developing countries.

That said, I am fairly convinced at this point that One.org is not acting in the best interests of sustainability or resilience--economic or ecological--for Africa or for ourselves. Their long-term plans for developing Africa's agriculture seem by all accounts to be focusing on "green revolution" style improvements, including GM corn crops, subsidized inputs of patented seeds and chemical fertilizers, and partnerships with Agribusiness giants Monsanto and Cargill. There are also indications that the organization supports structural adjustment policies that force developing nations to remove tariffs and open up their ag markets to the fluctuations of global commodity prices.

I took some time to research this before writing, as I wanted to make sure it wasn't just hearsay. The fact is, One.org and their grantmakers and board members -- including AGRA (Gates Foundation) and the U.S. government's "Feed the Future" initiative -- are very guarded about the details of what they are actually doing on the ground in Africa. I did manage to find some good indications that the worst is true. Below are some excerpts and links to the most legitimate of the articles and documents I could find.

Different Shade of Green in Africa
Time article that covers the competing perspectives on sustainable agricultural development, with AGRA (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation→One.org) falling solidly on the Big Ag/GMO/chemical inputs side of the argument rather than the ecological agriculture side; also includes a disturbing indication of the ongoing costs that small farmers will incur under the new system.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Agricultural Development Strategy Overview:
"$39.1 million - Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) - African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) - This project seeks to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties to benefit smallholder African farmers in five countries. A portion of this grant funds research that uses transgenic approaches. (Monsanto is a subcontractor to AATF on this grant.)"

One.org policy brief:
"The private sector is a key component needed to drive growth, create markets, and improve food security by creating employment opportunities and reducing barriers to agricultural trade. The Asian and Latin American "Green Revolutions" that increased incomes and access to food for an estimated 1 billion people was underpinned by public and private investments in research, irrigation, infrastructure and extension. Therefore, investments are needed across the African agriculture sector for improving suitable seeds and fertilizers, farming practices, storage, processing, distribution and marketing…"

Huffington Post article:
"If you had any doubts about where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is really placing its bets, AGRA Watch's recent announcement of the Foundation's investment of $23.1 million in 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock should put them to rest. Genetic engineering: full speed ahead."

Guardian article:
“South Africa-based watchdog the African Centre for Biosafety then found that the foundation was teaming up with Cargill in a $10m project to "develop the soya value chain" in Mozambique and elsewhere. Who knows what this corporate-speak really means, but in all probability it heralds the big time introduction of GM soya in southern Africa."

Monsanto blog post supporting One.org: 'Nuff said.

Statement by Dr. Hans Herrens, chief editor of the most comprehensive survey of agricultural development strategies to date, the 600 page “Agriculture at a Crossroads” report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD):
"More revealing than what is said (or not said) in Feed the Future, is how it is interpreted. According to USAID, FTF will “build on breakthroughs in science and technology,” to be "delivered to" small-scale agricultural producers - which seems to belie the words about participation and recognizing local and Indigenous knowledge that appeared in the Summary document (the Country Investment Plans). There is no mention of agroecological farming or ecological agriculture and neither any of the IAASTD, the most comprehensive assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology published in the past couple of years, or actually anytime. There is no mention of addressing inequity in trade arrangements or within or between countries. Rather, the emphasis is on "agriculture-led growth" through "trade and other mechanisms," "seeking reductions in government controls on commodity prices,” and “protecting intellectual property.” The focus throughout is rather vaguely on building partnerships with everyone -- with the World Bank, IFAD, private sector, NGOs, etc. Special emphasis is given to investing in the WB's Global Ag & Food Security Program (GAFSP) which allows only minimal and carefully controlled inputs from civil society and which many see as the WB's way of funneling more investments towards transgenic, nanotech & other converging technologies."

And for your perusal, if you're as much an Ag nerd as I am: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD):
The objective of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was to assess the impacts of past, present and future agricultural knowledge, science and technology on the
• reduction of hunger and poverty,
• improvement of rural livelihoods and human health, and
• equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The place where Greg & Annie got married!

There's No Place Like Here: Communal Living with Nikki Silva

Spend Less, Invest More

Anything you spend money on can be thought of as an investment. The investment is both in yourself and in whomever made the product. If you spend money on a movie, you are investing in entertainment for your own well-being, perhaps (to take your mind off things), as well as in the studio that brought you the movie.

That said, we often don't think of our regular expenditures as investments, and doing so could change our way of thinking about how we spend money. When we are weighing whether or not to purchase thing A or thing B, considering the potential ROI on our investment might help us decide.

HLS Building Resilient Communities and other articles

Article by Longstaff et al: Building Resilient Communities: A Preliminary Framework for Assessment.

Economies of Scale Suppress Risk Resilience.
The food system is one context where this hypothesis might be tested. Over the last half century increasing scale and specialization of production and processing have significantly reduced the consumers cost of food as a proportion of overall income. The source of this savings has, however, also substantially reduced the number, diversity, and distribution of producers and processors. This narrows the ability of the food system to bounce back from a catastrophic event. If this is true for the food system might it also be the case for other supply chains?
Because the supply chain originates far away and draws on unknown sources there is an impression of complexity. And across these attenuated supply chains there are complex characteristics: lots of filters, need for pattern recognition, and some aspects of adaptive response.

But is the food system “complex” as defined by the Cynefin framework? The crowd sourcing of many more independent producers and processors has been reduced and standardized. Open markets have been replaced with much more predictable production contracts. The entire system has been reengineered and squeezed to maximize every penny-per-pound. In some ways, with fewer participants and fewer relationships the food system is actually much simpler than four or five decades ago.

Resilient Character.

And, from Resiliance Alliance:
The resilience of social-ecological systems depends largely on underlying, slowly changing variables such as climate, land use, nutrient stocks, human values and policies. Resilience can be degraded by a large variety of factors including:
1. loss of biodiversity
2. toxic pollution
3. inflexible, closed institutions
4. perverse subsidies that encourage unsustainable use of resources
5. a focus on production and increased efficiences that leads to a loss of redundancy

HLSwatch "Resilience: 5 Principles of Good Practice"

Article here.
For an individual or community or system, an increasing body of evidence suggests resilience is more likely when there is:

Awareness: Observe and engage the full context,
Connectedness: Recognize and engage our full range of relationships and dependencies,
Realism: Differentiate between cause and effect, capacity and capability, novelty and continuity.
Agility: Expect change in context and relationships, remain creatively open to change, and actively embrace change.
Flexibility: Expand the “basin of attraction” where and how turbulence can occur without threatening our fundamental identity.

Jamais Cascio's Principles of Resilience

This is framed in the context of disaster preparedness, but of course has broader application. Article here.

Graphic by Mario Vellandi

Diversity: Not relying on a single kind of solution means not suffering from a single point of failure. (Prepare for different kinds of problems -- needing to escape the house, needing to stay in the house, dealing with no water, etc.)

Redundancy: Backup, backup, backup. Never leave yourself with just one path of escape or rescue. (Make sure you have multiple copies of critical documents and extra amounts of key medications.)

Decentralization: Again with the single point of failure problem. Centralized systems look strong, but when they fail, they fail catastrophically. (Don't store your emergency supplies in one location -- spread them out.)

Collaboration: We're all in this together. (Take advantage of -- and learn to use -- collaborative technologies, especially those offering shared communication and information.)

Transparency: Don't hide your systems -- transparency makes it easier to figure out where a problem may lie. (Make sure key shut-off switches -- for gas, especially -- are readily identified.)

Openness: Many eyes make all bugs shallow. Share your plans and preparations, and listen when people point out flaws. (You're safer in an emergency when everyone is safer.)

Fail Gracefully: Failure happens, so make sure that failure states don't make things worse than they are already. (Think about what'll happen when disaster strikes -- what will fall, shatter, burst into flames, and what can you do now to prevent it?)

Flexibility: Be ready to change your plans when they're not working the way you expect. Don't get locked in to a particular approach. (Pay attention to what's happening around you, and don't expect things to remain stable.)

Foresight: You can't predict the future, but you can hear its footsteps approaching. Think and prepare. (Make sure you have your emergency kit ready before the emergency hits.)

10 Principles for a Resilient Culture [WORKING DRAFT]

1. Secure Your Sustenance. Never give up your direct link to sustenance resources including land, raw materials, tools, and skills. This need not apply to every individual, but should apply to every household and at the very least to a village-scale unit of households for whom mutual loyalty and interdependence runs deep. Jeff Vail's minimal self-sufficiency. Emphasize livelihood over career.

2. Cultivate Interdependency and Relationship. Do favors for neighbors, develop reciprocal relationships and trade. Have fun together. Hold fairs and festivals. Develop a skill set that has value to your neighbors. Offer it. Jack of All Trades, Master of One.

3. Invest Much, Spend Little. Protect your endowments. Always have enough surplus of basic needs on hand to outlast a bad year, or three. Treat your non-renewable resources as capital and never deplete the principle. Always think in terms of long-term payoff.

4. Know No Waste. Socially: everyone is capable of doing something useful. Ensure everybody has a role that is meaningful, takes effort, and provides something of value. No tokenism. Materially: eliminate your waste stream. There is no waste in nature. The ideal is that everything either biodegrades or can be limitlessly recycled; energy must be renewable.

5. Replace Standard of Living with Quality of Life. Create meaningful rituals, hold recurring events, eat well, and have fun together.

6. Practice Democracy. Practice making decisions together to manage common resources. Honor everybody's voice and opinion. Avoid consistently alienating anyone. Feuds are real threats when families have ongoing multigenerational relationships with each other. Get comfortable with argument and hashing things out till you reach a decision.

7. Set Clear Boundaries. Have clear notions around ownership and legal entitlements. Make sure people know their individual and collective rights.

8. Embrace Complexity. Some things are not simple. Be attentive to externalized costs. Do not judge activities, tools, or investments by measures which reduce efficiency or productivity to simple axes.

9. Value Diversity. Not just in ecosystems but in economies and social environments. Monocultures and homogeneity in general generally yield gains for the few at the expense of the many, and short-term "efficiencies" at the expense of long-term systemic resilience. Respect your neighbor and the choices your neighbor makes, so long as they do not actively impede your own ability to take care of yourself or your family.

10. Self-sacrifice. The acceptance of the possibility of death releases unimaginable power. One need not be willing to kill to protect themselves, their family, their neighbors, the innocent, or the good, but one must be willing to die to do so.

Preparing our Communities for Uncertain Times. Updating "community development." The problem with the idea of development. Redefine or toss. In it's place: ? Proposition: this is where we should have been going all along and certainly where we should be heading now. Responding the Jeff Vail's "One institution that I do wish to explore here is the notion of anthropological self-awareness. It is important that the every participant node in rhizome has an understanding of the theoretical foundation of rhizome, and of the general workings of anthropological systems in general. Without this knowledge, it is very likely that participants will fail to realize the pitfalls of dependency, resulting in a quick slide back to hierarchy... Additionally, it is important to recognize the cultural programming that hierarchal systems provide, and to consciously reject and replace parts of this with a myth, taboo, and morality that supports rhizome and discourages hierarchy. Rules are inherently hierarchal—they must be enforced by a superior power, and are not appropriate for governing rhizome. However, normative standards—social norms, taboos, and values—are effective means of coordinating rhizome without resorting to hierarchy. For example, within the context of anthropological self-awareness, it would be considered “wrong” or “taboo” to have slaves, to be a lord of the manor, or to “own” more property than you can reasonably put to sustainable use. This wouldn’t be encoded in a set of laws and enforced by a ruling police power, but rather exist as the normative standard, compliance with which is the prerequisite for full participation in the network."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jeff Vail

Required reading on "Rhizomes"

From the first article:

"...it is remarkable that such a simple concept underlies the necessity of growth: within hierarchy, surplus production equates to power, requiring competing entities across all scales to produce ever more surplus—to grow—in order to compete, survive, and prosper."

"Growth cannot continue infinitely on a finite planet. This must seem obvious to many people, but I emphasize the point because we tend to overlook or ignore its significance: the basis of our civilization is fundamentally unsustainable. Our civilization seems to have a knack for pushing the envelope, for finding stop-gap measures to push growth beyond a sustainable level. This is also problematic because the further we are able to inflate this bubble beyond a level that is sustainable indefinitely, the farther we must ultimately fall to return to a sustainable world. This is Civilization’s sunk cost: there is serious doubt that our planet can sustain 6+ billion people over the long term, but by drawing a line in the sand, that 'a solution that results in the death of millions or billions to return to a sustainable level' is fundamentally impermissible, we merely increase the number that must ultimately die off."

"Can global governance lead to an agreement to abate or otherwise manage growth effectively? It's theoretically possible, but I see it about as likely as solving war by getting everyone to agree to not fight. Plus, as the constitutional validity and effective power of the Nation-State declines, even if Nation-States manage to all agree to abate growth, they will fail because they are engaged in a very real peer-polity competition with non-state groups that will only use this competitive weakness as a means to establish a more dominant position--and continue growth."

"Exhaustion of energy reserves or environmental capacity could hobble the ability of civilization to grow for long periods of time--perhaps even on a geological time scale--but we have no way of knowing for sure that a post-crash civilization will not be just as ragingly growth-oriented as today's civilization, replete with the same or greater negative effects on the environment and the human spirit."

Does "Small is Beautiful" apply to nonprofits?

There is so much emphasis on getting to scale, and the relationship of scale and sustainability, but as I said last week in class, most of the large organizations I've worked for suck. Organizations get bigger, more risk averse and restrained, less empowering of their front line workers, less fun to work for, and more institutional in the way they relate to their clients. This emphasis on scale is an analog of capitalism's emphasis on economies of scale, which have been challenged in such books as Schumaker's "Small is Beautiful" or Piore's "Second Industrial Divide." I haven't heard the argument against mass production nonprofits, yet.

Social Justice as access vs. reformation

There are those intent on gaining access to the system for the currently marginalized, and there are those interested in reforming the way system works, dramatically. Does increased access strengthen the status quo by creating a greater number of loyal participants? Can these two parties work together to bring the system around and make it accessible to all? Will poor communities always be bought out by the protection and guarantees of big money?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Store of Value

Currency. Precious metals. Commodities. Real estate. Livestock. The common thread is that they will never (or rarely) lose all value.
This is the point of any store of value, to impose a natural risk management simply due to inherent stable demand for the underlying asset. It need not be a capital asset at all, merely have economic value that is not known to disappear even in the worst situation. In principle, this could be true of any industrial commodity, but gold and precious metals are generally favored because of their demand and rarity in nature, which reduces the risk of devaluation associated with increased production and supply.

~ wiki
Is a college degree a store of value? Is un-credentialed education a store of value? Does it depend on whether or not the skill or knowledge suite has economic value that is known not to disappear in even the worst situations? A store of value must hold value across multiple possible scenarios.

Economic value means the thing (tangible or intangible) has value as an item of trade; that it is a thing for which others are willing to give up something(s) of their own.

Precious metals are favored because of their demand and rarity in nature. This means that across multiple scenarios, demand is less susceptible than most things to economic fluctuations, and that it is not something which ample supply renders less precious, because there isn't ample supply.

Consider this in terms of tradeable skills, and we arrive at my own definition of a valuable, resilient trade or skill set: that there is consistently high demand for it, and that it involves high skill -- in other words: is rare.

The notion of the demand side of value is a bit more complex than John Robb gives credit to in his insistence on developing a virtualizable component to one's livelihood. It can either be (1) virtualizable as JR suggests, in that it is always in demand somewhere and you can supply it from anywhere, or (2) needed ubiquitously locally just about everywhere. As long as it is a skill that takes substantial time, effort, or natural ability to learn or master (thus rare), it will hold value in either demand environment.

On a related note: new thought on the Farmer vs. Hunter/Gatherer archetype. The Farmer stores his value in tangible things--land, crops, tools, community; the Hunter/Gatherer--also the Gambler--stores value in his wits. He hones his wits, and relies on luck and skill to win out. He takes bigger risks because things are less certain and he has less say over how things go. The Farmer has more "stores" to get through hard times, and more control over nature, and thus is more of an incrementalist. In times of greater uncertainty, even the Farmer types will flip to Gambler mentality...after all, if it's a mad scramble for survival, and a greater and greater proportion of people are likely to get screwed--or when the Farmer type loses his sense of control over his own destiny (due to endemic insecurity, financial meltdowns, excessive centralized bureaucracies moving people about willy-nilly, a faltering, uncertain economy, climate change, terrorism, whatever) than he'll throw caution to the wind and take bigger and bigger risks to try to be in the pool of the safe.

John Ruskin

Praising Gothic ornament, Ruskin argued that it was an expression of the artisan’s joy in free, creative work. The worker must be allowed to think and to express his own personality and ideas, ideally using his own hands, not machinery.

We want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up of morbid thinkers and miserable workers. Now it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.[39]

This was both an aesthetic attack on, and a social critique of the division of labour in particular, and industrial capitalism in general. This chapter had a profound impact, and was re-printed twice, first by the Christian socialist founders of the Working Men's College and then by the arts and crafts pioneer and socialist, William Morris.[40]
~ wiki

"It is impossible to conclude, of any given mass of acquired wealth, merely by the fact of its existence, whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it, just as strictly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the algebraic sign attached to it. Any given accumulation of commercial wealth may be indicative, on the one hand, of faithful industries, progressive energies, and productive ingenuities: or, on the other, it may be indicative of mortal luxury, merciless tyranny, ruinous chicanery." - John Ruskin, 1860

Ecological consciousness

is a consciousness of connectedness. It arose in the post-industrial era as a response to the excesses of industry and within the "small world" which industrial society--with its institutions of mass production, trade, communication, and interrelationship--created. The consciousness of connectedness arose in an environment of economic connectedness where it became clear that industry fed on the common resources of us all, and that "the global" is the sum total of "the local."

It is part of the "networked" society. Large labor unions are a response to industry, as well, but are part of the "institutional" society. Institutions are more clearly delineated, less organic, and more heirarchical in nature. They seem to exist in greater isolation from other things. Highly-regulated nation-states are more clearly of the institutional society, while the increasingly deregulated economies of contemporary nation-states have lost much of that insitutionality and actors within in them and between them operate more frequently in the networked society.

The Give ratio

A thought:

When we commit an hour to something, how much do we give to it? An hour? An hour and a half? Half an hour? This is the Give ratio. 1, 1.5, 0.5.

Example: Jack commits to an hour of work but spends half an hour of it on facebook (0.5 Give ratio). Jill commits to work for an hour but stays a half hour later (1.5 Give ratio).

With a little abstraction, the Give ratio can be used to gauge more than just time investments. Energy is an investment, as well. The concept of energy can be used to capture the less tangible aspects of investment. Passion or commitment are forms of energy, as is extroversion, in Elana's case. Our Give ratio may not measure just the time returns on our time investment, but rather the effectiveness returns of the time we spend on a job.

Returning to the example above, Jack may spend an hour at his job but work only at half capacity--slowly or less effectively--because he's uninspired (0.5 Give ratio). Jill may spend an hour at work but really put her heart into the work for the time she's there (1.5 Give ratio).

We can calculate our Give ratio for a specific job, or during particular periods, or even for a particular time of day. I can Give upwards of 2.0 when under pressure or inspired, and less than 0.2 when unsupervised and not under pressure or inspired. Our overall Give ratio might be considered a sort of average, a characteristic amount of Give.

I would say in general I'm a 0.7 Give ratio kind of guy, and Elana is a 1.2 Give ratio kind of gal. The difference between our ratio and 1 is our Take ratio, or what we keep for ourselves. Mine is 0.3, meaning for every hour I work, I manage to steal back 18 minutes (60min*0.3=18). Elana's is -0.2, meaning for every hour she works, she gives (loses?) an additional 12 minutes.

Because she's a natural introvert, Elana expends a lot of her available extrovert energy at work, and comes home wanting time to herself. Her Give ratio of 1.2 captures this investment of extrovert energy.

Unpacking "Value"

I'm on a mission to understand the idea of value. It's important to know what we're talking about when we say something is valuable. A start:

Two "value"s - a concept of worth vs. beliefs about how things should be. They are related in that values as beliefs define what a person or culture thinks is worth defending or promulgating.

Moral vs. natural goods - both can have value.

"In Ecological Economics value theory is separated into two types: Donor-type value and receiver-type value. Ecological economists tend to believe that 'real wealth' needs a donor-determined value as a measure of what things were needed to make an item or generate a service. (H.T. Odum 1996). An example of receiver-type value is 'market value', or 'willingness to pay', the principal method of accounting used in neo-classical economics. In contrast both, Marx's Labour Theory of Value and the 'Emergy' concept are conceived as donor-type value. Emergy theorists believe that this conception of value has relevance to all of philosophy, economics, sociology and psychology as well as Environmental Science."

Instrumental vs. instrinsic value - "An instrumental value is worth having as a means towards getting something else that is good (e.g., a radio is instrumentally good in order to hear music). An intrinsically valuable thing is worth having for itself, not as a means to something else. It is giving value intrinsic and extrinsic properties." Not mutually exclusive. John Dewey rejected the idea of intrinsic value.

"Marx distinguished between the "value in use" (use-value, what a commodity provides to its buyer), "value" (the socially-necessary labour time it embodies), and "exchange value" (how much labor-time the sale of the commodity can claim, Smith's "labor commanded" value)"

In economics, the worth of a good or service as determined by the market. Value in use vs. value in exchange. The value in exchange is relative to other goods.

Labor Theory of Value - "In classical economics, the value of an object or condition is the amount of discomfort/labor saved through the consumption or use of an object or condition."

"The value of a thing in any given time and place", according to Henry George, "is the largest amount of exertion that anyone will render in exchange for it. But as men always seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion this is the lowest amount for which a similar thing can otherwise be obtained."

"In 1860 John Ruskin published a critique of the economic concept of value from a moral point of view. He entitled the volume Unto This Last, and his central point was this: "It is impossible to conclude, of any given mass of acquired wealth, merely by the fact of its existence, whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it, just as strictly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the algebraic sign attached to it. Any given accumulation of commercial wealth may be indicative, on the one hand, of faithful industries, progressive energies, and productive ingenuities: or, on the other, it may be indicative of mortal luxury, merciless tyranny, ruinous chicanery." Gandhi was greatly inspired by Ruskin's book and published a paraphrase of it in 1908."

"Value in the most basic sense can be referred to as "Real Value" or "Actual Value." This is the measure of worth that is based purely on the utility derived from the consumption of a product or service. Utility derived value allows products or services to be measured on outcome instead of demand or supply theories that have the inherent ability to be manipulated. Illustration: The real value of a book sold to a student who pays $50.00 at the cash register for the text and who earns no additional income from reading the book is essentially zero. However; the real value of the same text purchased in a thrift shop at a price of $0.25 and provides the reader with an insight that allows him or her to earn $100,000.00 in additional income is $100,000.00 or the extended lifetime value earned by the consumer. This is value calculated by actual measurements of ROI instead of production input and or demand vs. supply. No single unit has a fixed value. Value is intrinsically related to the worth derived by the consumer. [Burke(2005)]."

What's missing in education?

1. tools for decision-making
2. financial management
3. goal-setting
4. unpacking "value"
5. birds-eye economics & one's place in it
6. the history of civilization and economy
7. growing. building. fixing. empowerment in the immediate world
8. long-term thinking and planning across scenarios (resilience)

more to come.

"The Missing Curriculum" ?

The Null Curriculum. Journal article.
"There is something of a paradox involved in writing about a curriculum that does not exist. Yet, if we are concerned with the consequences of school programs and the role of curriculum in shaping those consequences, then it seems to me that we are well advised to consider not only the explicit and implicit curricula of schools but also what schools do not teach. It is my thesis that what schools do not teach may be as important as what they do teach. I argue this position because ignorance is not simply a neutral void; it has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to consider, the alternatives that one can examine, and the perspectives from which one can view a situation or problems. ...p. 97"

From Eisner's perspective the null curriculum is simply that which is not taught in schools.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vandana Shiva's Sydney Peace Prize speech

Vandana Shiva : Sydney Peace Prize Talk from WisdomKeepers Productions on Vimeo.

The Value of Semi-Subsistence Farms according to the European Network for Rural Development

ENRD seminar on the undervalued public goods provided by semi-subsistence farms. These include biodiversity, cultural richness and stability, and social welfare.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Solar circle

From WSU Solar Energy Center. PDF here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Whatcom Folk School in Bellingham!

"Building Resilience, Strengthening Community"

Whatcom Folk School is all about connecting people looking to learn the skills of a more resilient, joyful and sustainable life with instructors and organizations who offer courses in practical skills such as woodworking, basketry, quilting, animal husbandry, living democracy, arts and crafts,… please see our catalog for classes being offered.
Whatcom Folk School is based on these five basic principles:

1.Re-skilling – Offering training in a vast range of past and contemporary practical skills.
2.Inclusivity – Believing that everyone in the community holds a part of the story and a part of the solution to a more sustainable and resilient county.
3.Honoring Elders – Learning from those who have lessons to share.
4.Awareness – Raising awareness about the changes we need to create more sustainable and resilient communities.
5.Networking – Working cooperatively with existing groups and programs.

Whatcom Folk School is a non-profit that is being started by a grass roots volunteer effort.

Whatcom Folk School is now open to receive submissions for teaching classes for Fall Quarter 2011!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Earthaven Ecovillage
Interview with Arjuna da Silva about the structure:
Listen to internet radio with Ecovillage Radio on Blog Talk Radio

Difficulties starting (3.30m); "get a commitment in writing that your founders will stay 10 years" (5.30m); main issues (a) the challenge of income & (b) giving up one's home & garden for a tent & hut (7.30m); ongoing issue of trying to appease, fly under the radar, of inspectors (10.30m); unexpected costs arising from good intentions (12.30m); haevn't found an architect or engineer willing to take on the liability of untested or unconventional construction by rubber stamping projects without lots of costs, and state-level lobbying for special permits (14.30m); current population 70-75 members on the land, mostly adults, exceptionally challenging for young families with children (17m); children not interested in living on the land (18.30m); interns< WWOOFers and seasonal help (20m); issues with being off the grid, hydro and solar infrastructure (22m); learning to communicate (25m); more on the issues of small families trying to make it (26.30m); Physical landscape of the property & design (30m); issues with codes - "spring water districts" (32.20m); tensions between community infrastructure and personal infrastructure (34.30m); acceptance of alternative culture in the area (36m); dealing with waste water (36.30m); meeting schedule and consensus decision-making process(38.40m); why a reed-bed lagoon system for waste water isn't the best option (41m); agriculture as a key focus of the community & description of systems/activities, "everybody is learning & making mistakes" (42.30); issues with cats and dogs (46.45m); how much food available from the land throughout the year, belief in healthy commerce and local markets (47m); obstacles to food self-sufficiency (50m); provisional contract for dogs, etc (53.30m); wildlife and predators (54m); how the communal work is encouraged, structured, planned - including 1500 hours community service in first 10 years, ~3 hours/week, ccash payment if they don't at $10/hr, etc, capital revenue fund, joining fee $4k per adult, siteholding lease fee, 99 year transferrable lease, $20k for the lease for full-size site holding, quarter acre, plus commons of hundreds of acres (56m); organization of community bureaucracy and labor, including paid positions (60m); more about how a person moves there, full-size, "compact" 60% full size, and cohousing sites, cheapest can come in is $10k, different ways to pay - (a) whole thing up front cash, (b) half down + payments @ 5% interest, (c) sweat equity option where someone trades skill, usually physical but not always (63.30m); CANNOT use bank loans (66.30m); issues utilizing grants (68.30m); cooperatively run businesses/nonprofits onsite including education center & ethanol production/aquaculture/mushrooms, privately-owned plant medicine business, small wood products business,CSA, forestry & construction business, Chuck Marsh's useful plants nursery (70.45m); working on developing earned income from hospitality "if economy will allow it," building a commercial kitchen (76.30m); how to visit and phone number (82.30m)

Directory for finding intentional communities (123 in WA state!).

The Beehive Collective.

Website for learning in Ecovillages abroad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Navdanya Internships

Info here:

The duration of an internship is a minimum of 3 months, begining in June, October or February. The deadline for submission of internship applications is one month before the internship begins (i.e. for internships beginning in June the deadline is May 1st, for those beginning in October the deadline is September 1st and for those beginning in February the deadline is January 1st). Internship orientation occurs during the first week of each of these months. Please be aware of visa processing times according to the Indian Consulate/Embassy in your country. Some positions require a longer time commitment than the minimum 3 months, and this is stated in the job description below.

If you do not already speak and understand Hindi, we strongly recommend that the first 2-4 weeks of your stay in India (if coming from abroad) be devoted to intensive Hindi language classes or self-directed study. This will deepen your ability to learn and share knowledge and ease communication with staff. There is a Hindi language institute 40 minutes from Bija Vidyapeeth in the hill station of Mussoorie. Please see their website at: http://landourlanguageschool.com/.

The interns are part of a larger community on the farm that includes short term and long term volunteers, staff and visitors, and must be able and willing to participate with enthusiasm in the life of the farm and for the betterment of the community. All Interns will become an integral part of the life at the farm and participate in the community activities as well as their own specific tasks.

Multi-tasking is an essential skill for all interns, and although there are specific job descriptions below, interns who match these positions will not be limited to only these tasks, but will partake in other projects and activities as they arise and according to their time, ability and energy.

Interns are not limited to the following jobs. Navdanya is open to self-directed projects and/or learning objectives. Please contact the intern coordinator if you would like to create a position or project that suits you and your skill set. Below are job descriptions for both Bija Vidyapeeth and the Delhi office.

Bija Vidyapeeth

Internships at Bija Vidyapeeth provide in-depth, hands-on experience with ecological agriculture. Interns integrate into daily life at the farm, joining the diverse community of farmers and volunteers in activities such as planting, harvesting, and threshing rice. Please see below for Bija Vidyapeeth Internship Job Descriptions.

Documentation Intern Team (Hindi speaker and Documentation expert):
Time Commitment: 6 months minimum (June-November and December-May)
Job Description:
This team will work together to document the growth progress of the crops at Bija Vidyapeeth farm, of the crops of the farmers that are trained, and other farms associated with Navdanya. The documentation at Bija Vidyapeeth needs to be done from the time of sowing the crops until the time of harvest of all the different crops and varieties. This process needs to be scientific, quantitative and qualitative. The data collected will then be put into reports for Navdanya and to be used internally as well as externally. It is important that there is a fluent Hindi speaker to be able to interview farmers, and the second person must have experience and knowledge in scientific documentation and recording. Preference will be given to an Agricultural graduate.Travel is necessary throughout India although a base can be established at Bija Vidyapeeth.

Waste, Compost, Recycling Management
Time commitment: minimum 3 months
Job Description:
We are looking for someone to come to the farm and set up a waste management system that is sustainable and simple to maintain after their stay. This would include research into the waste and recycling facilities of the area as well as of the farm (composting systems). The greenest of systems is sought after, so the ideal candidate would have knowledge about the various systems that exist and how to implement such a system in a rural site.

Time Commitment: minimum 3 months
Job Description:
This person would be in charge of the library and the documents, books and multi-media that are stored in the office. A coherent system for loaning books to interns would need to be created, along with an organization system within the library. This system should be transferable to the next intern who takes this position and not reliant on the personal knowledge of one specific person. The librarian will catalogue all the books in the Bija Vidyapeeth and the Dehradun office libraries with an index card cataloguing system. In addition, the librarian will upload Naydanya´s materials, books, and publications onto its website. Therefore this intern must have sufficient knowledge in webpage design and feel confident with computers and working with the internet. It is not necessary to be either a trained librarian or someone who has experience as such, but must be someone who is meticulous and extremely organized.

Food Coordinator
Time commitment: minimum 3 months
Job Description:
The Food Coordinator will be the liaison between the kitchen and the volunteers and interns. The idea is to share cultures and cooking techniques using organic ingredients from the farm. Weekly dinners or special dishes can be made. If extra ingredients need to be purchased, the coordinator would organize and budget for this.

Graphic Design Intern:
Time Commitment: minimum 1 month (for this specific project, and afterwards they will be incorporated into other projects according to their skill-set). This could also be a virtual intern (distance).
Job Description:
There is a short-term, immediate need for a person who has graphic design experience or knowledge. They would be working on the design of an Atlas (on the land grab in India) and working closely with Shreya and other interns who are working on the Atlas. If this position is filled immediately, there will also be work on an Urban Agriculture Manual. Other jobs may arise throughout his/her stay.

Medicinal Herb Garden Intern
Time Commitment: minimum 3 months, preferably 6 months (October-April, April-October)
Job Description:
This intern should have knowledge of medicinal herbs, their cultivation, uses and preparation. In addition to sowing, maintaining and harvesting the herbs, the Medicinal Plant intern will offer workshops in their field to the Bija Vidyapeeth community as well as visitors.

Soil Laboratory
Time Commitment: minimum of 3 months
Job Description:
Currently, the soil lab is out of use but has the potential of being used by interns for their own projects or for educational programs that interns create. The soil lab intern will be charged with maintaining the lab and giving demonstrations of the activities that could be carried out (soil testing, remediation, etc.).

New Delhi Office

Interns at Navdanya’s main office have the opportunity to work on dynamic projects related to the political, educational, and urban aspects of the organization’s campaigns. Projects include research for upcoming publications, urban garden construction, event planning and documentation, and teaching in New Delhi schools. Interns are often given a single long-term project as well as short-term projects that arise with current events.

Multiple interns are needed for each of the following positions, as each requires a team. They will be living and working in Delhi. Delhi interns are required to find their own housing. Please a lot at least the first week of your stay in India for house hunting.

Urban Agriculture Innovator:
Time Commitment: minimum 3 months (starting in November)
Job Description:
Navdanya needs a person who is an expert or has experience in Urban Agriculture or who has sufficient knowledge in permaculture, or similar endeavours in order to offer advice and help sustain and improve the various urban agriculture projects. This person would need to bring some expertise, although there is no minimum experience required. Some travel to other locations in India would be required.

Event Planner:
Time Commitment: ideally 6-12 months
Job Description:
This intern would work closely with Shreya to organize upcoming Navdanya events. These can range from the annual Grandmother´s University event or the Gandhi and Globalization course, to a one-time event or course that happens. Experience in event planning and coordination would be essential, as well as strong communication skills and the ability to work independently and with initiative. Other interns will be available to work alongside the Event Planner, and organization is necessary for appropriate delegation.

Business and Marketing Intern:
Time Commitment: minimum 3 months
Job Description:
This intern will work alongside our marketing expert in the Delhi office. She or he will need to follow direction but also have some business experience to offer. The main focus will be development of marketing strategies for Navdanya products as well as other organizational strategies and non-profit management.

Media Intern:
Time Commitment: minimum 3 months (6 months preferred)
Job Description:
This intern will be bilingual in English and Hindi and able to translate speeches, debates, articles and publications if necessary. She or he will be responsible for writing press releases for Navdanya events as well as arranging media events as they arise. Speaking with the media and with other interns and staff must come naturally, and knowledge of the Indian and international media is essential.

Also available sometimes: Volunteer Coordinator Job at the farm, with free room & board.

Vandana Shiva: "Occupy Your Life"

Here in the U.S. we so easily lose sight of it, thinking we have to have a “job.” But vast numbers of people around the world (as well as most of our ancestors) didn’t earn their livelihood from a corporate paycheck. As we move into a more Resilient local economy, the concept of “jobs” will probably become an antiquated concept. Of all the things Vandana Shiva said, the comments that had the biggest impact on me personally were in the final question of the night, during the Q&A portion of her public talk. Someone asked “if you could say something to the Occupy movement what would you say?” Vandana Shiva flashed her brilliant and embracing laughing smile, a smile that hooks right into your heart and you can’t help but feel the connection. She replied: “I’d tell them, Occupy your Life.”
Article here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Regenerating the Sustenance Economy of the "Developed" World.


1. Ecology - Effective management of the environmental commons is best achieved via local, decentralized, and democratic means, and requires people to understand the capacities and limitations of their environment, which is best achieved experientially [insert Vandana Shiva's inverted triangle here].
2. Citizenry - Responsible citizenship and wise decision-making begins with knowing where our sustenance comes from and how it is sustained.
3. Household Economy - The economics of small family farms and intergenerational households are far more resilient in the face of economic booms and busts than isolated, single-family households.
4. Regional Economy - Strong regional economies depend on people being producers as much as consumers.
5. Pleasure - Providing for one's own and one's family's sustenance is immeasurably satisfying.

One thing I learned in grad school

Good intentions doesn't grow food; actually doing what works grows food.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jean Pain and the Power of Compost

Jean Pain's technique for heating water, creating methane for cooking, generating electricity, and compressed gas for vehicles, all from brush pile or wood chip compost.

The website of the Comite Jean Pain demonstration site in Belgium.

Permaculture Activist article.

PDF of his book: Another Kind of Gardening.

Video of his methods in German with English subtitles:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Building the Infrastructre Base for Holistic Education - GVCS vs. Ad Hoc

If the goal is infrastructure for a holistic "school" nested within a resilient community, and the GVCS is a means of providing that, how does the GVCS stack up to an ad-hoc, pieced-together version of the same elements?

How much more useful would it be?
Strengths & Disadvantages?
How much more or less would it cost?
How much easier would it be to integrate the various pieces?

"Needs" in the 21st century

Maslow's heirarchy of needs:

The physiological basics are more easily met now than ever. The "safety" needs, however, and perhaps the "love/belongoing" needs, are more complicated. What does it take to feel secure in one's livelihood? In one's relative sense of security in the world? Secure in one's health and resources?

Well, the resources "necessary" to be a participant in the modern world have expanded in some ways and contracted in others. Clearly most people do not need to have the land, tools, and knowledge to grow their own food, but they do need access to the internet, electricity, health insurance, a cell phone. Of course, relying on others to grow your food to the extent that you forfeit all ability to do so is predicated on a so far reliable but rather dangerous assumption.

My question is mostly to do with what resources we would need to equip the 21st century person with in order for them to feel fundamentally secure and connected.

- food
- water
- shelter
- fuel/energy
- sanitation (bathing, "waste")
- clothing
- transportation
- computer
- internet & wifi
- cell phone & cellular service
- health care
- disposable income for travel

Now, what would it take to be able to produce all this on a village scale? Add to the above: tools to make and repair everything needed. That's fundamentally the project of the Global Village Construction Set.

The GVCS doesn't tackle health needs. Would a community train its own doctors and nurses? What about specialized medical technology? These could be purchased by regional cooperatives, but these costs are, of course, some of the highest costs of modern life. Without a disposable income, how can an individual or family afford to utilize specialized medical technology even in a regional center?

Similarly, internet and cellular technology relies on networks, and someone has to lay the fiberoptic cable or put up the transponders. What sort of organizational form would arise to manage this? And what about roads, bridges, and other infrastructure? Local is good, but local to the extent that mobility is drastically reduced is a recipe for provincialism.