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  • Developing Bio-fertilizers in Nepal

    Since January 2019, Almost Heaven Farms, in a cooperative effort with Chris Evans of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre and Juanfran Lopez, has been supporting farmers across the Himalayan bioregion to transition to regenerative agriculture through the development and use of bio-fertilizers. Bio-fertilizers can be made using locally available materials, and increase the health of soil, and nutritional value and productivity of crops. This project focuses on four strategies to accomplish this goal: Research - Three mini production centres and research trials have been set up in the hills and lowlands of Nepal to measure the effectiveness of different bio-fertilizers on different crops grown at varying elevations providing sound scientific proof of the results of bio-fertilizers, which is soon to be published in a peer-reviewed paper. Education - Training programs and materials have been developed to educate farmers, government workers/officials and non-governmental organisation's staff on bio-fertilizers, their production and uses. A bio-fertilizer training manual is being developed in both English and Nepali languages. Production - Production units have been established across the country. 12 bio-fertilizers have been developed using local resources and are currently being trialed. Network - The Nepal Bio-fertilizer Network has been established to connect bio-fertilizer training participants from across Nepal and to share experiences and information related to this field. The network is made up of farmers, academics, governmental and non-governmental officials, both nationally and internationally, dedicated to the promotion of bio-fertilizers and efforts are being made to extend the network to include organizations, government bodies and the business community. Above: Juanfran Lopez delivers training on bio-fertilizers, soil science and plant health BACKGROUND According to the International Labour Organisation, agriculture provides livelihoods for 68% of Nepal's population, accounting for 34% of the GDP. Nevertheless, Nepal struggles to produce an adequate supply of food for its citizens and it is estimated that 36% of Nepali children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Food security in Nepal depends on land productivity as managed by small land holders who face challenges in both productivity and sustainability. This project provides farmers across this bioregion with the knowledge, tools and local resources to make on-site bio-fertilizers, improve their soil and grow more nutritious food. Adaptation to climate change in the agricultural and allied sectors is a major current and future challenge for Nepal, particularly as Nepal is ranked 4th under the Climate Vulnerability Index. The majority of the population is still dependent on highly climate-sensitive agriculture. In recent years, long drought spells during the monsoon season, increased temperatures and unseasonal heavy rains during winter have caused serious distress to agriculture-dependent communities in many locations. Bio-fertilizers can improve food production in a way which is beneficial for the surrounding environment. A bio-fertilizer is a substance which contains living microorganisms which, when applied to seeds, plant surfaces, or soil, colonise the rhizosphere or the interior of the plant and promotes growth by increasing the supply or availability of nutrients to the host plant thereby restoring the soil's natural nutrient cycle. Through the use of bio-fertilizers, healthy plants can be grown, while enhancing the health of the soil. These drums contain fermented stinging nettle and weeping willow liquid bio-fertilizers. WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? IMPACT ON PLANET - improved food production and security - carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in the soil - increased biological diversity in soils - decreased soil erosion - improved water retention in the ground, particularly in higher regions of the Nepalese landscape - decreased production of greenhouse gases - less water pollution from agricultural run-off IMPACT ON PEOPLE - nutrient dense food - healthier rural environments - provides a buffer for farmers, to help protect their production from flooding, drought, pest and disease - increased knowledge of soil science and plant health for farmers - increased production and meaningful livelihoods - reduced costs and improved financial security - lowered levels of stress, depression and suicide COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT Bio-fertilizers are a set of tools that, when combined with agro-ecological management practices, have the potential to empower farmers to regenerate soils and the ecologies around them. While focusing on soil health and growing a diversity of plants, we also start to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it into the ground. This improves the holding capacity of water in the soil, creates habitats for wildlife, grows more nutrient dense food and increases the value of crops that farmers are growing. The farmers start to see their farm as more than just a place to grow food, but also as a living ecosystem. Farmers become one of the most important segments of society with the potential to help restore the biosphere while also growing nutritious food, improving the health of the communities around them. Farmers from west Nepal collect local native microbes from their local jungle to propagate out and use as an inoculant for their soil. SCALABILITY While still in the preliminary stage of research and development, this project is putting in the foundations needed to scale up across the bioregion, including working with multiple key stakeholders to help develop local and national policy on regenerative agriculture. At the same time concurrent projects are being run across Africa by Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI) and Rural Community in Development Uganda (RUCID). The potential for scaling this project is significant. Bio-fertilizers and their inputs are based on the utilisation of local resources. In fact, the best microbes for improving farm production will come from the closest forest or local farm animals. The initial investment needed for starting up local bio-fertilizer production units is cheap and the process is easy. All that is needed is water drums, pipes and few other plumbing materials that can be sourced at any hardware store. REPLICABILITY This project directly applies the principle of valuing local knowledge and resources and implementing programs that are appropriate to communities across the Himalayan region. Several farmers and extension workers have already started to implement their own bio-fertilizer development and research in their working areas. Stories and findings are shared through our Bio-fertilizer Nepal Network hosted on Facebook. We are ready to help communities replicate this project as soon as it is safe to do so. Alisha Devi Magar, a young permaculturist representing the Magar tribe helps teach farmers about soil health and plant needs. WHAT’S NEXT FOR THIS PROJECT? Bio-fertilizers are currently being introduced into the agricultural policy of Suryodaya Municipality, Ilam, Nepal with the support of Almost Heaven Farms. Over the coming fiscal year, we will be training more than 100 farmers in these methods and introducing bio-fertilizers in 12 villages. Bio-fertilizers are continually being trialled in 3 villages on a range of different crops. This research is being shared with both local and international academics to document the results to be published in a peer-reviewed paper in the near future. CONTACT ALMOST HEAVEN FARMS Almost Heaven Farms is a permaculture demonstration, training, research and resource centre based out of Ilam, Nepal in the eastern hillside of the Himalayas. AHF supports farming communities transition to regenerative agriculture, restoring local soils, water sources and ecologies. Website | Facebook | Instagram | Youtube CONTACT US If you would like to know more about Bio-fertilizers, or join our network of regenerative practitioners, contact us here.

  • Can Permaculture Play a Positive Role in International Development?

    By Chris Evans. The word 'development' is like a double-edged sword. It can be a tool to cut your fodder needs, or it can cut your throat. It can mean improvement in quality of life, or it can herald a slide into deterioration of social, economic and environmental systems. Here, Chris Evans examines the history of the word development, and the part Permaculture has to play as a method of ensuring its positive side. Picture above: Remote upland villages like this one in Humla, Nepal are the last to get access to development as most organisations prefer easy access. The word 'development' is meaningless. It is what Wolfgang Sachs called an 'amoeba word', having no fixed boundary, yet within it can be all, or none. We cannot use current speech without using it, though it is a relatively recent addition to the common language. It was U.S. President Truman, in a Presidential address on January 20th 1949 who first split the world into two parts - the 'developed' and the 'under-developed'; the 'North', and 'South'. So the concept of development is a very young concept, while the 'underdeveloped' world is full of diverse, traditional cultures, evolved and adapted over centuries and holding the wisdom of generations. However, now these cultures have become defined by what they lack, and it is deficit which marks its boundaries. Similarly, the poorest part of the world is designated only one-third – the 'third world' – despite it having most of the population and biodiversity. I prefer to call it the two-thirds world; other names such as 'global South' and 'Majority World' are also used. Truman saw the world as a race on a track - some in front (Europe, U.S.A., etc.), some at the back (the two-thirds world) and some in the middle (the 'Eastern Block'). The speed of the race is measured by Gross National Product (GNP, also a new term, coined by Colin Clark in 1948). This is how the world became organised. Before this, there was no measure of poverty (though there was assuredly less), but there was rampant exploitation of natural resources and an effort to increase social standing through education and income. The imperative of the development race - an objective all governments strive for - is to catch up. A primary objective for the 'developed' world, to show an effective (not ethical) use of its profits, has been to pull all nations into the race, i.e. the world market. Secondly, it has been to train the new nations to be competent runners - how to run fast. To get on the racetrack, you need three things. Firstly, you need cash input. Secondly, you need input (import) of technology, and thirdly you need cultural change. All investment into development is towards these goals, and therefore old, traditional ways become an obstruction to development. Above: Women planting SRI rice, a radically new technique that take a few years’ commitment to embed in communities, but can double rice yields with no significant extra inputs, with less water and less seed. The Role of International Banks The training in how to run faster in the race is provided by those in front. This is rooted in the international banking syndicates - the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund etc., but also encompasses in the national scale, central government and the elite classes that run it. After this, everyone else are like lost sheep running whichever way they are herded. Governments are provided massive loans and grants in order to enter and run the race, for which they have to implement an 'economic structural re-adjustment programme'. This takes different forms, but some of the criteria for reform frequently include removal of barriers to free trade (thus countries with cheap or excess product can dump this into other countries' economies), cutting government spending (education, health, and other public services) and high emphasis on cash crops and consumer goods for export. The latter is to compensate for shortage of foreign currency, where economies must be restructured to perform 'more competitively' on the world market and to increase the nation's ability to service its debts to the international banks. This takes emphasis away from meeting basic needs and the whole vast 'informal economy', which is based on small farmers, especially women who play such a crucial part to produce food for local needs. Traditional systems of recycling wealth and non-money value systems are undervalued and consequently lost. Opening up to the international development community implies giving access to local markets for agribusiness corporations. Their saturation policy and government support pressurise traditional farms to adopt seed hybrids, monocultures and chemical fertilisers (leading to pesticides) in the place of local resources. There is a general pattern of less food grown for local consumption every year. Opening up to international markets as the only form of development is also inherently risky, though they can play a part to augment and diversify strong local economies. Now into the race, trying to keep pace and breathe, developing nations regularly fail to service the interest payments on debts accrued to finance capital intensive development projects. Thus, the traditional food base is further compromised by the need to produce goods for export. Again, emphasis is all the time taken away from local solutions to local problems, away from investing in local resources (skills, environment, technology) or building a strong local economy. Above: Netra Gurung, farmers’ leader in Surkhet, Nepal displaying what’s possible with good organic growing. Dissolving Traditional Cultures Development, therefore, is re-distributing knowledge with the rationale that traditional cultures are ignorant. It dissolves cultures not centred around the frenzy of accumulation and consumerism, and the level of 'civilisation' is measured merely by levels of production and consumption. Yet for the whole world to mine and consume the resources needed to acquire the current standards of Europe or the U.S., and to dump its waste afterwards, we would need six planets to look after our one. Hardly a realistic situation, and it is because of this that the development race can only fail, as it points in the wrong way, and runs into an abyss. Nowadays, 'First' and 'Third' Worlds are not so much separated by geographical area - there are elements of both on every land mass. Europe and Japan compete their race on Indian soil. Development is now not so much an issue of being exploited, as it was in colonial times, but one of being included or excluded. To be included, you need a car, a job, a bank account, etc. So what for the choices ahead? Maybe it is like choosing a bus ticket - one to a sustainable future where all needs can be met, or one which heads into the abyss. If you are already on the latter, there is nothing to do but to get off the bus, and find one going to a sustainable destination. We have to accept a finite nature in order to increase the possibility of dignity for more people. We need to create a society not dependent on exploiting. This is done by reducing our energy throughput (by up to 50%), and living gracefully with less energy needs, and a reduced economic growth. Thus traditional cultures become a positive resource, as it is they who have flourished for centuries using local resources, without their over-exploitation. Their indigenous knowledge is an untapped reservoir of ideas & solutions that already exist in farming and social systems that have maintained themselves, without money as a primary or priority means of exchange, for many years. By working with and respecting this traditional wisdom, as Permaculture designer and teacher Lea Harrison says, "We are not going back to a more primitive society, but forward to a more intelligent one." Above: A Permaculture Design workshop with the Himalayan Permaculture Centre. What and Who are we Developing? All this led me to explore the wider context of development: what is to be developed? For whom? By whom? For how long? And of course, how? The answers, of course, inevitably start with “it depends…”, as what we have realised over the past decades is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer or technique. Context is everything, and depends on many factors of what, why, where, who, when and for how long. Below are some fine examples of existing projects that provide clues as to the way forward. It’s also interesting to see the difference and similarities between humanitarian and regenerative development work. The former is about people and communities that have been forced to leave their homes because of human and/or naturally-induced disasters, and are needing to meet their needs (basic and otherwise) in artificial settlements. The latter, meanwhile, is about communities developing their own homes and settlements and is illustrated by the Himalayan Permaculture Centre’s mission to co-create abundant villages that people don’t need or want to leave, because they are meeting all their material and non-material needs locally. Both are about creating abundance and meaningful lives, but in very different contexts. Permaculture, with its time and site relevant design systems and careful energy accounting, is a synthesis of the principles of ecology and natural systems, traditional wisdom, and modern scientific knowledge and innovation. Design is used to create cultivated ecologies and communities, based on natural wealth and linked to cyclic economic systems that are self participatory and respectful of traditional societies. In fact, permaculture has already played a positive role in International development over several decades. In many countries, using the Permaculture principles of “Observe and Interact” and “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback”, these roles are becoming more common and more effective over time. Permatil in Timore-Leste have successfully integrated principles into over 1,300 schools, have been embedded in local government policy, and have created the fantastic Tropical Permaculture Guidebook. In Zimbabwe since 1988, the great Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre pioneered work that has been replicated throughout Southern Africa. In Malawi, Never Ending Food is a well-established implementer of best-practice ideas since 1997. These are great examples, not just of the techniques and approaches espoused to community groups, but in the very management of organisational planning, design, implementation, learning, monitoring and evaluation that goes to making effective and participatory development interventions. It is the learning from such initiatives that our team, including fellow Re-Alliance members, and I have created a 'Permaculture for Development Workers' course, looking at the common patterns of success that can be shared to make development more effective. Through this course, we work with development professionals to illustrate just how useful permaculture design has been, is being and can be. Finally, if solutions appropriate to current issues are to be developed, farmers must be considered experts in their own right, given the respect and value due, and their innovations taken seriously and included in the research and problem solving process. There are after all just two types of people: farmers, and those dependent on farmers. Chris Evans lives on and manages Applewood Permaculture Centre, aka Waterloo Farm, in North Herefordshire, UK, with his partner Looby Macnamara. He is also advisor to the Himalayan Permaculture Centre in Nepal where he has worked in permaculture develop­ment for over 30 years. Article first published in Permaculture Magazine, Autumn 2019.

  • Regenerating Soil, Land and Food Systems in Kenya

    Sustainable Village Resources (SVR) Kenya is a community based, non profit organisation, restoring lost livelihoods by creating natural, agro-ecological ecosystems. SVR is a perfect example of how a mutli-layered, socially driven permaculture project can have far reaching effects in community. From delivering Permaculture Design Courses to tree-planting initiatives, SVR’s multiple aims are to reach out to people overlooked, displaced or disenfranchised by mainstream social, financial and political variables and engage them in practical solutions to become self-sufficient and independent. Permaculture Teacher Caleb Omolo (right) with farmer receiving her Permaculture Design Certification (PDC). SVR has been running since 2012, reaching people in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, DCR, Uganda and Southern Sudan. The key aim is to improve food security in the region, including everyone in the community, regardless of age, gender or ability. Other goals are to restore biodiversity, increase productivity and strengthen community through the use of indigenous knowledge and agroecological systems. There is a focus on permaculture as a key to regenerating soil and land and providing good quality, organic food. Some of the key principles that SVR work by are to build from 100% local materials, harvesting water for irrigation, no dig methods, building soils naturally and using no chemical pesticide inputs. These methods allow people to replicate the systems cheaply and easily in their agroecological zone and with a focus on accessibility for the whole community. Indigenous knowledge is the first thing to be assessed, so that this can be built on to tailor the context of the education to groups. What makes this Regenerative? Impact on Planet The training provided by SVR champions food production through permaculture design. This includes the building of soils and humus, water harvesting and management, applying no dig principles, designing multi-layered growing spaces (2) and of course, obtaining a yield. Through designing food production with natural systems the impact on the planet is one of increasing biodiversity and a move away from reliance on synthetic chemical inputs. This has a positive impact on the land and local ecosystems. Impact on People This project particularly focuses on people care and the creation of a community of educators, growers and practitioners who are able to apply permaculture design for food security, environmental regeneration and social cohesion. A lower dependency on inputs such as herbicides, pesticides and growth enhancers means a lower financial output, a key area of focus for allowing farmers to improve their financial security whilst obtaining healthier and more natural produce. Organically, locally grown food also has a function in wellbeing, as people are able to trace where their food comes from, eating better quality and more abundant healthy food and feel a sense of ownership. Shared knowledge of permaculture also allows an increase in confidence and often better community relationships, which this project has been able to demonstrate. Knowledge and education are key areas of people care and SVR’s primary goal of integrating existing indigenous knowledge with permaculture design, allowing communities to put their own stamp on their particular projects. Regenerative Impact: whole-systems integration of people and planet, and improving qualities SVR has a regenerative impact in several ways. Firstly, their approach of establishing indigenous knowledge regenerates cultural and community based relationships within each area they operate. This allows each participant the opportunity to act as both educator and student, a mutually beneficial relationship with the programme leaders. Secondly, the reintroduction of organic and permaculture design principles allows the growing areas to regenerate, whether through soil quality, increased biodiversity or increased productivity. Water harvesting techniques are also powerful aspects of environmental management. This project seamlessly integrates people and planet, and SVR is actively involved in both the educational aspect as well as the physical implementation and building of the designs created during their PDC training. A great example of the application of this education is the Rongo shade grown coffee initiative. (3) Scalability & Replicability SVR has already proven it can work across scales, having reached communities in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, DCR, Uganda and Southern Sudan. The key principles of engaging the community, education and implementation are easily scalable to groups of many sizes. It is also a setup that can be replicated across many different communities. What's Next for SVR? Building on their successes, SVR has a network of permaculture practitioners throughout Kenya. They are now extending their work to Nairobi, and Kukuma in Northern Kenya where they are working with refugees. Additionally SVR are working within schools to educate children on permaculture, three in Kenya and one in Nairobi. Further Information Shade grown coffee provides habitat for animals including a fantastic foraging habitat for birds. In this system, the coffee is grown intercropped with trees. As well as providing a better ecosystem it also produces a better quality product, contributing to the needs of people and planet. Multi layered growing spaces are useful in permaculture design. They increase the space available for food production, create multi-layered systems that are closer to existing systems in nature, and they also provide microclimates, such as shade, moist or dry conditions or shelter from the wind. 350 former sugarcane farmers and 65 farmers who had former involvement in gold mining were able to grow coffee through polyculture design systems. These designs co-planted coffee with other species, such as trees, which increases the quality of the coffee grown and has improved yields of up to 5 times higher. The shade provided by the trees is a more traditional method of growing coffee, mimicking the conditions coffee favours naturally. The trees used for shade trees are often able to supply a yield themselves, such as fruit, giving the farmer a secondary income. Additionally, this set-up provides habitat for birds and plenty of other species. Each farmer involved in this project has been able to increase the amount of produce they grow and their income as a result.

  • Nepal's First Strawbale House

    Completed in 2019, Nepal’s first strawbale house showcases an earthquake shake table tested straw bale wall system costing about half the price of a conventional earth-quake resistant buildings. The lime and clay plastered straw bale walls provide super-insulation, moderating extreme temperatures, while the breathable clay and lime plasters prevent moulds and moisture build-up inside and durable lime render gives a water resistant external layer. Local people were trained in these easily replicable building systems while also using traditional Nepali building methods and local, affordable and sustainable materials. BACKGROUND In April and May 2015 Nepal was struck by two devastating earthquakes, killing 9,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. In response, Builders without Borders looked for a test case site to promote and assess the appropriateness of strawbale buildings as earthquake resistant homes in Nepal. They found the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation (KRMEF) in the Kathmandu valley, which already included a showcase of eco buildings. Close to Kathmandu the KRMEF centre was well placed to be a showcase for wider interest, was within the earthquake zone and provided access to a local network of skills and materials. Some of the other eco-builds at KRMEF are earthquake resistant made from stabilised earth blocks and recycled  bottles sat on foundations supported by rammed car tyres, described by the then DFID Humanitarian Shelter Advisor, Magnus Wolf-Murray as, “some of the best examples of low cost earthquake resilient buildings in Nepal." KEEPING IT LOCAL, KEEPING COSTS LOW Using local labour, materials and sharing skills with local people who worked alongside and in leadership roles meant this durable, safe, regenerative building was easily affordable. PAKSBAB (the organisation promoting straw bale building as an earthquake resilient option for Kashmir, Pakistan) estimate building costs to be about half of the cost of conventional earthquake resistant buildings. The addition of lime-stablised soil render has given the building a durable breathable finish and trained local women to continue the maintenance of this building and others. WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? IMPACT ON PLANET Low carbon build using locally sourced natural materials which cut down on transportation impacts. Natural materials reduce pollution from building materials Passive ventilation, heating and cooling with super-insulation allow buildings to be comfortable without air conditioning. High thermal performance achieved without the use of energy-intensive, sometimes toxic, industrially manufactured insulation materials. Natural finishes avoid the environmental and health burden of VOCs. Little waste creation and bio-degradable, compostable building at the end of life. Cradle to cradle standard - transformative system with a positive impact on people and planet. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Local gardeners, mainly women trained into leadership roles for Lime Stabilized plastering. More affordable than other building techniques, including other earthquake resistant building methods. From all global shake tests, it's been repeatedly evidenced that strawbale buildings can remain standing through earthquakes, so potentially preserving life, shelter and livelihoods. Lime rendered straw bale buildings promote healthy air inside them because they are non-toxic and breathable. Lime or clay plastered straw bale walls will moderate temperature extremes through high insulation values and high thermal mass so increasing thermal comfort. Community capacity building through Increasing skills and income. Through training and use of local labour, people are empowered to build durably with straw and lime, going forward they are able to maintain their buildings and implement future projects. Comfortable, high performance culturally appropriate buildings provided as a resource for the community. COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT This building system with a cradle to cradle design is a transformative system with a positive impact on people and planet. It combines both climate change adaptive and climate change mitigation technology. REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can straw bale building help to regenerate land and livelihoods after natural disasters? DISASTER RESILIENCE - FLOOD & EARTHQUAKE The combination of the uniquely appropriate resilience of straw bale buildings to earthquakes and of lime-stabilised soil to flood or monsoon damage, promote the possibility of a fully integrated disaster risk reduction solution for areas of high flood, monsoon and earthquake risk. Integrated systems of training local labour and of local materials use maintains and builds resources and resilience within the area. Local farmers are paid for straw, soil is dug from the foundations and used for free, labourers are paid for their work and women and men can be trained in new trades and skills, building community capacity and livelihoods. Partnering with an established local organisation gives access to an integrated network of sources of skilled labour, students and self-builders for training, materials availability, cultural insight and skills transfer. It allows projects to be inclusive and empowering and increases the learning of both the external trainers, organisations and local communities. SCALABILITY For earthquake resistance, PAKSBAB have completed 40 strawbale homes in Pakistan through training of trainers in seismically vulnerable northern Pakistan using the same load-bearing  wall system, proving upscaling of skills and production is possible.  ​ For flood and monsoon-rain resilient buildings, UK Aid funded Strawbuild training has led to the building of over 200,000 lime-stabilised soil houses in high flood-risk areas across southern Pakistan. Training in lime-stabilised soil can quickly equip diverse groups to become proficient in building resilient houses in their local, vernacular style, often predominantly of earth, that remain stable (do not dissolve) in water. All earth building elements can be stabilised with small amounts of lime - including foundations, wall blocks, mortars, floors, renders, plasters and roof screeds - so skilled labour and production through training can rabidly be upscaled.   ​ Strawbuild have authored  a manual in  Lime Stabilised Construction - a practical guide to spread best practice with engineers, masons and self-builders, as used in the training courses for many NGOs and International Humanitarian Organisations in the UKAid funded Flood Resilience Programmes of Southern Pakistan - Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan, 2012-2016. ​ Lower build costs (by an average saving of 70%) represent an opportunity to build greater numbers of carbon-zero, high performance and disaster resilient houses at the same cost as fewer conventional earthquake and flood resilient buildings. FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS Straw and Lime Stabilized soil can be used in different combinations and there is scope for further pilot projects and demonstration builds. Bee Rowan from Strawbuild explains, “The next step is to continue to develop both technologies into a climatically appropriate and closer design synergy for full disaster risk reduction - from earthquake, flood and driving monsoon rain. Stawbuild and Builders without Borders plan to partner again in the straw-rich but high flood-risk Terai area of Nepal, using light straw, lime-stabilised soil walling systems, another easily replicate and appropriate building method using the same locally available materials for such areas of extreme climate at risk of both flood and earthquake." Independent, published evidencefrom IOM (UN's International Organisation for Migration) and ARUP Engineers, London, supports the use of lime-stabilised soil for flood resilient housing and details test results confirming high compressive strengths gained through stabilising soil with lime and the durability of the stabilised mixes in water for prolonged periods. Bee expects to return to Nepal this year (2020) to continue to support and promote these sustainable technologies and to partner local engineering and earth building companies in offering scalable solutions, such as within the design of resettlement villages, schools and community buildings. She is currently advising on similar uptake, design and training in Iraq, KRI (Kurdish Region of Iraq) Nigeria, Nicaragua and India, as well as within the UK. REPLICABILITY Plans from PAKSBAB can be adapted to use varied local straws, and bale presses can be made from locally sourced agricultural machinery or timber on site. Once the wall system is in place, other parts of the design can be adapted to suit local vernacular styles, materials and skills.  Lime is a widely available and most cultures have currant heritage use of lime, for example, in an IOM survey of vernacular buildings in Pakistan, 28% of the buildings built between 2010 and 2014 used lime. Following simple soil tests, an accurate formula can be found for all local soil types to make durable renders, plasters and light straw lime stabilized soil. CONTACT US Get in touch for links to the wider team of designers, implementers and trainers via Bee Rowan at Strawbuild.

  • Integrating Compost Toilets, Tree Planting & Soil Building in Rural Senegal

    In 2019 in rural Kamyaak, Senegal, residents with local organisation Jiwnit invited Jay Abrahams of Biologic Design (a UK regenerative water systems practitioner) to work together to build two double Treebogs, a simple and effective compost toilet, and a non-infiltration swale fed by rainwater from a shed roof. Planted around the Treebogs and along the swale edges 100 carefully selected trees were planted. The Treebogs give toilet facilities to the local community and the trees are fed by the nutrients in the faeces and urine and watered by the washing water. The Treebogs create fertile soil and productive trees, for food, fuelwood and polewood for construction.  A pre-existing orchard and vegetable area are watered by the 100 metre rainwater harvesting swale ditch. Local involvement and learning was built by sharing and talking with the community and a slideshow by Jay to build awareness of how all water passing through a site can be used. Local carpenters guided by Jay learnt about Treebogs as they constructed them and swale digging and tree planting was done by the community. BACKGROUND In Kamyaak, residents rely on growing their own food and on livestock for their livelihoods, in a challenging region where drought has led to desertification and land degradation. The Rainy Season is providing less rain, often for shorter periods and the six metre deep groundwater wells of the local villages are now giving saline water. Residents are working to regenerate the village with local organisation Jiwnit, their aim is to build soil and use harvested rainwater systematically to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs and trees. This project brought together the skills of local carpenters with the regenerative  design skills of Jay Abrahams. If you would like to build Treebogs in Senegal or design and implement integrated water-retention systems, you can contact Jay and Jiwnit by following the details at the bottom of this page. Above: Led by local carpenter Aziz, villagers build the Treebog. REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can integrated water retention landscapes with densely planted Treebogs and rainwater harvesting swales  help communities battling desertification  ? IMPACT ON PLANET Soil is created and enriched below and around the Treebogs, and when planted with trees, helps combat desertification. Swales and Treebogs are passive systems that do not require energy from non-renewable sources to operate. This is in contrast to pit latrines or flushing toilets which fill underground tanks or pits, which need to be pumped out and the contents tankered away and can negatively effect groundwater. Treebogs use 'wastes' as a resource and feed the plant nutrients directly to productive trees and shrubs. Rainwater is harvested and retained by swales rather than it running off the land, which can cause erosion. With the extra water and nutrients trees grow more quickly and are bigger and healthier, increasing the local biological resource base and enhancing biodiversity. Trees and plants thrive absorbing carbon dioxide, shading the ground from scorching in the sun and creating habitats for other plants and wildlife, while their roots hold water within the landscape. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Low cost, clean, safe toilets built by the community, for the community. In an area where there are some flush toilets but the main option is open defecation the privacy and safe space provided by the Treebogs is especially valued by women. Treebogs are welcomed by villagers because there is no need to dig out or otherwise handle or move waste.  It is composted in place and absorbed by trees planted densely around the Treebog. Increased resources are created from the nutrients and water in harvested rainwater, washing water and toilet wastes. Trees provide food, coppice materials, shade, traditional medicine ingredients, wood for crafting and building and animal fodder. Fertile soil is created which can grow food for household use. Livelihoods are promoted by hiring local craftspeople for building and increasing the skills and capacity of everyone involved through knowledge sharing. Capacity building for around 200 people who took part in a 10-day workshop, increasing awareness of rainwater harvesting for resource production, along with environmental protection and enhancement. Increased sense of self-action and self-improvement; ideas spread by example throughout the locality. COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT The creation of tree planted swales and Treebogs regenerates the land and enhances lives. Using low-cost or freely available local inputs, Treebog toilets enable trees to thrive and soil is created. There are multiple long-term benefits to people and place with little or no environmental cost. Above: a team from Kamyaak Village  dig swales using handtools. POTENTIAL How can this and other similar projects develop in the future? SCALABILITY Experience from the UK and around Europe shows the potential for large numbers of Treebogs which can be adapted to varied local conditions.  ​​ The toilet wastes within a Treebog are composted in-situ, reducing costs and logistical management. Cutting out the disposal, handling and transportation of waste by instead using it for soil production and ecosystem restoration. Treebogs are widely used in Europe where they are helping to create tree based, productive landscapes and home gardens. ​ Water retentive swales are used by Jay extensively at many different scales and, as well as retaining rainwater, they can be integrated into water treatment designs such as Wetland Ecosystem Treatment, or WET systems, to process sewage. See this example of a WET system using swales at a large festival site in the UK which serves 50 people all year round and up to 5,000 people four times a year during the gatherings on site. REPLICABILITY Water retentive swales fed by runoff from roofs can be easily replicated by local people with hand tools as specialised equipment is not needed. ​ Treebogs are easy to build and have a 30 year track-record in both temperate Europe and the brittle ecosystems of the Mediterranean. Provided a Treebog platform is mounted at least one metre above the ground, the structure can be adapted to use a variety of local materials and the skills and imaginations of  local people. Treebogs are built using simple hand-tools and can be planted with trees which can be coppiced for polewood - which can be harvested to make more Treebogs. Initially the siting of swales and Treebogs needs input from someone experienced in regenerative design (they should not be located where there is a likelihood of flooding),  but very soon local people gain the skills to ensure they will be located appropriately, will function properly and are able to build more. Local knowledge is important for the success of the Treebogs so that appropriate trees are used. Knowledge sharing and planning with local people is needed to make sure swales, Treebogs and the trees planted around them are properly maintained. "I feel that the Treebog has landed successfully in Africa, and that here at Kamyaak they will be looked after and used, meaning that Treebogs have a good chance of wider acceptance both here and in Africa generally. There is a greater opportunity to harvest rainwater from all of the roofs within the compound and direct this water to mulched tree and shrub lined swale ditches all around the compound." - Jay Abrahams, Biologic Design "We are absolutely convinced about the Treebogs and would like to help other communities to build their compost toilets. We see the results already in our village and are happy to share that knowledge. Just contact us by email or phone." - Aziz from JiwNit CONTACT AZIZ & JIWNIT contact@jiwnit.com Tel: 00221 772653038 CONTACT US If you would like to know more about Treebogs and water retentive landscapes, or be connected with Jay Abrahams at Biologic Design, contact us here.

  • Home Garden Competitions in Domiz Refugee Camp

    Home gardens in refugee camps have been shown to make a huge difference to the local environment and to individual lives. The work of the Lemon Tree Trust (LTT) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has shown how running garden competitions for camp residents encourages people to take innovative approaches to using any available space and water to plant herbs, vegetables and flowers. The first LTT garden competition took place in Domiz 1 camp in 2016. By employing local coordinators to promote the competition within camp neighbourhoods, LTT supported households to create gardens around their tents and shelters, building on initiatives that people were already taking. The competition focussed on encouraging people to grow ornamental plants, not simply growing for food. Households were given advice on safe ways to recycle grey water to irrigate their plants and were encouraged to share ideas on growing vertically or in recycled containers. In three seasons the camp was noticeably transformed from a largely dusty environment to a green and vibrant city. BACKGROUND In 2016, after supporting garden development for refugee communities in the USA, LTT looked at possibilities for greening refugee camps in Iraq. The Syrian crisis had led to the sudden creation of large camps in the north for Syrian Kurds, which to begin with were bleak areas covered in tents. Domiz 1 camp was established in 2011 and LTT first visited the camp in 2015. By offering trees and working with local coordinators, LTT was able to gain official permission for people to plant around their houses. Its activities supported a nursery which had been established in the camp to sell plants to the growing number of gardeners keen to create a home garden. Wastewater in camp conditions is often problematic and by encouraging water recycling and diverting water run off they were able to turn a potential problem into an advantage to the area as a whole. The LTT competition offered plants from a local nursery  to support people to establish their gardens, stimulating the local economy. Seeds were distributed to entrants and cash prizes were offered as further incentive to take part, with categories including: best overall garden, best garden in small space, best community garden, best vegetable garden and best use of recycled materials. "This garden reminds me of my childhood, my land, it also benefits me for food, essentially it connects me to my homeland." WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? IMPACT ON PLANET Improvement of local environment with greener spaces and cleaner air Environmental advantage of additional tree planting Reduction in areas of water run-off and water borne diseases Potential to reduce food brought into camp and waste water taken out IMPACT ON PEOPLE Increased sense of individual well-being from green spaces Increased levels of physical activity through gardening Community cohesion through sharing of seeds and plants Home grown food and herbs allow people to cook traditional, local dishes Extends limited space in shelter to outside area in which to socialise REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can home gardens increase wellbeing in refugee settlements? Home gardens improve a camp environment as well as personal and social well-being. Obtaining permission from camp authorities to grow between houses legitimised these activities and opened the door for further gardening projects. The Domiz LTT garden competition has been held annually since 2016 and has led to the development of hundreds of home gardens. The initiative has now spread to seven IDP and refugee camps, with over 1,500 entries. In Domiz 1, a community of gardeners has been established who continue to tend their gardens year-round. This has led to a community garden being established, run and managed by residents. The community garden provides a safe space for women to grow food and flowers, to socialise with their families and to bake traditional bread in the community oven. After nine years, houses have been constructed where tents were sited, with small plots of outside space allocated to each household. What was a temporary settlement is becoming an accidental city, with its own economy as houses are bought and sold and businesses are established to sustain the community's demand for food and goods. "I grow because I love nature, nature is more important than anything, and can solve so many problems." HEALTHY SPACE Planning green spaces at both individual shelter and neighbourhood level from the beginning of a camp's development, would lead to healthier refugee and IDP communities in the longer term. There is some way to go before this is a reality, but in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, LTT is making inroads and is now active in almost half the camps in the region. The Sphere standards recommend: 4.5 square metres for each person in camp-type settlements, including household plots 3 square metres for each person, including household plots, where communal services can be provided outside the planned settlement area Minimum ratio between covered living space and plot size is 1:2; move as soon as possible to 1:3 or more. Upholding these and pressing for the ideal ratio of 1:3 covered living space available per household leaves adequate space for gardens and allows the camp to develop into a liveable long-term environment. SCALABILITY & REPLICABILITY The 2018 garden competitions introduced in Yazidi, Kurdish and Arabic camps, including some where people were still living in benders, are evidence that this approach is scalable and replicable in other areas. Even in new camps people enjoyed setting up gardens in order to enter competitions. ​ In transit camps, usually seen as bleak and uninhabitable, people are growing plants - see these pictures from Moria on Lesvos and this report from the New Yorker.The innovation shown by people to grow in the smallest spaces, is evidence that gardening is ‘wanted’ not just ‘needed’ in communities of refugees.  This cross over, from necessity to pleasure, has the potential to galvanise communities of displaced people the world over. Gardening is well documented to improve mental and physical health and this is as true for people living in situations of forced migration as it is for people in permanent settlements. CONTACT US Re-Alliance can provide support and advice on setting up home gardens in refugee camps and using integrated approaches to improve the environment. ​ The Lemon Tree Trust is open to approaches from other organisations who want to adopt its gardening initiatives in communities of forcibly displaced people across the world.  ​ www.lemontreetrust.org

  • Kitchen Gardens, Composting and Organic Farming in a Ugandan Refugee Settlement

    In Bukompe refugee settlement in Uganda, each household is given a plot of land by the government. Local organisation YICE have been working long-term and at scale with the community and brought in Caleb Odondi Omolo, from Sustainable Village Resources in Kenya, for a training project focusing on regenerative food production. YICE and Caleb worked with local residents to build a demonstration kitchen garden as a collaborative workshop where people learnt as they worked together. Following the workshop and seeing the success of the garden, 13 nearby households spontaneously created their own gardens helped by the local owner of the demonstration site, who shared his knowledge and experience. In parallel Noah (YICE) and Caleb ran training courses to build compost heaps with 35 refugee farmers, making use of freely available materials like weeds, manure and cooking ash. They also created demonstration sites of lasagna beds and no-dig gardens which grow fertile crops while creating nutrient rich soil. BACKGROUND Bukompe settlement in Uganda is an area where small plots of land are given to refugee families unable to return to their homelands. The pressures of earning a living  with little resources has led to deforestation for charcoal production and degraded soils from monoculture maize and bean fields fed with fertilisers and pesticides. The fertilisers and pesticides are costly and have reduced incomes for farmers and have also degraded soils. Building awareness of organic farming methods, using freely available inputs, has increased the productivity of farm plots and encouraged the creation of household kitchen gardens outside homes. REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can low-input kitchen gardening and farming help communities battling poverty and land degradation? "The gardens are designed with nature firmly in mind. Corn is used for mulching, and once broken down by termites replenishes the soil. Banana trees draw in nutrients from the air and ground; spinach, cabbage, and climbing beans create a variety of layers, supporting the whole system as they grow. Everything here has a purpose." - Caleb Odondi Omolo - organic farming and permaculture trainer IMPACT ON PLANET Rainwater is retained using S-Shaped contours rather than running off and causing erosion. Growing mixed crops and creating soil through no-dig techniques increases biodiversity while holding water within the landscape. Creating fertiliser through compost reduces the use of chemical fertilisers which are energy intensive to produce and transport. Using natural and targeted pest control reduces the number of plants, animals and microorganisms killed through pesticide use. IMPACT ON PEOPLE From one demonstration garden, self-motivated, self actuated implementation soon led to 13 more gardens, encouraged by local resident Fred, who has taken on the role of leading the other refugee gardeners, encouraging and mobilising them. With input from YICE, the refugees in this settlement are growing enough to feed themselves, and will soon also be able to sell vegetables at the market. The diversification of food crops has led to an increase in nutrition. The creation of compost heaps to create fertiliser and Lasagna and no-dig gardens allows diverse crops to be grown without expensive inputs while building fertile soils. 'Waste' charcoal dust from around the site was turned into a resource of free soil-improving bio char. "I always thought using modern fertilizers is best to improve my productivity but now I’ve changed my thinking. I will create my own compost heap and harvest my own fertilisers." - Owambaze Pelazia - Bukompe resident and farmer COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT A diverse mix of plants were chosen for the kitchen gardens with multiple benefits like speedy growth, drought resistance, shade enhancement and attractive to beneficial insects.  The gardens are planted to last, with a preference for perennials. Here a self-renewing integrated environment is created, enhancing place as well as feeding people. ​ ​This project is about more than supporting people in need. It’s about empowering people to take control of their own lives, and at the same time regenerate the land. The wellbeing of people, their communities and the environment they live in are all improved in a mutually beneficial cycle. POTENTIAL How could this and other projects develop in the future? The building of just one demonstration garden led to 13 copied gardens. More demonstration sites showing the successes of kitchen gardens could spark spontaneous growth in community led design and garden building, with support and guidance given from trained people where needed. Through this and similar projects, YICE has trained 158 Farmer Groups, established 40 Permaculture demonstration gardens and increased the income of 669 households. This project is being replicated successfully by YICE in the local host communities, who face similar food security challenges. WHAT'S NEXT FOR THIS PROJECT? YICE are working with local people to create an additional 20 organic kitchen gardens and conduct follow-up activities and refresher training to empower people to put the knowledge they’ve learnt into practice. CONTACT US Get in touch if you would like to know more about creating demonstration kitchen gardens in refugee camps or sustainable agriculture training.

  • Building Community Preparedness through Puppetry

    IDEP, an NGO in Indonesia, set up and led by Re-Alliance member Petra Schneider, developed comic books, puppetry and films to raise awareness of the early signs of disaster and ways of responding to these. Working with an international theatre company they made films of different disaster scenarios and used them in schools and community meetings. Local people were taught to use the puppets to play out community dialogues, discussing how people might prepare themselves for these. As a result of this work, a large number of casualties have been avoided. BACKGROUND Teaching children about disasters and disaster preparedness can be challenging – and involves capturing their attention without alarming them unnecessarily. After a series of natural disasters within a short period, IDEP developed comic books, games and short films to alert children to early warning signs and explain how they should best react. The children quickly spread these messages among their families and communities. A partnership between Trocaire, JRS, No Strings, Cordaid and IDEP, worked together to develop a series of short films on Flood, Volcanic Eruption, Earthquakes, Tsunami’s and Social Harmony. The films took care to develop characters and scenery that reflected local cultural and environmental contexts and generally included a heroine, often a child with a local name who helped warn or save the community. Facilitators were trained in how to use puppets to stimulate discussion and reinforce the messages shared in the films often using games, songs and puzzles and working with children and adult groups. WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? The whole-system thinking of regenerative design includes pre-disaster as a space for intervention. Humanitarian response becomes pro-active and is a more effective use of resources than only intervening after disasters occur. Building up capacity within communities to respond to disaster before it hits reduces reliance on outside intervention, which can often be slow to reach remote areas when the need is greatest.  Communities can respond effectively to disasters using local resources and knowledge, reducing reliance on costly and sometimes inappropriate moving of equipment and expertise around the world. This project brought together the external skills of film-makers with community knowledge, local culture and facilitation. Through a collaborative community driven process, the lasting tools for self-help and resilience are shared to mitigate the effects of repeated disasters. Working through children to spread awareness of early warning signs and effective response strategies can build community and save lives. IMPACT ON PLANET ​Climate change is leading to increased frequency of natural disasters and communities need to build their own plans for responding to these in ways that use local resources and minimise international travel and interference. These plays and films were used to encourage people to look after their environments and help to increase resilience and preparedness to  such disasters. ​ IMPACT ON PEOPLE​ This approach was designed to empower people to build resilience. In doing so it encouraged children to take an active part in their communities and brought local communities together to discuss what disasters they might be facing. One film specifically looked at community relationships and social harmony. SCALABILITY AND REPLICABILITY How can creative arts like puppetry be used as mass educational tools to quickly inform communities about effective disaster risk reduction and response? The films have been screened for over 10,000 school children, and a further 5,000 people during other public showings and are highly effective for school and community education. IDEP, its partner organizations and many others who have used the films have integrated them into broader DRR training and education programs. While puppet shows can be developed locally and facilitators trained, the filming of the short plays and stories makes them easily scalable. However, reflecting local contexts and norms is important and they may need to be remade for other areas. There is a long history of using puppetry to spread messages in development and humanitarian work. Many cultures have a tradition of puppetry and skilled local story tellers and puppeteers. Even in areas where this doesn’t exist adults and children tend to respond well to the representation of familiar situations. Re-Alliance can provide training in how to build puppets from local materials and develop stories and workshops to share key information. CONTACT US IDEP develops and delivers training, community programs and media about sustainable development through Permaculture, and community-based disaster management. If you are interested in similar projects contact us to be connected. MORE MATERIALS Supporting educational materials that can be used in conjunction with the films: IDEP’s Community Based Disaster Management (CBDM) manual for disaster preparedness – a comprehensive guide that empower communities to develop their own strategies for disaster management (this manual is endorsed and used by a range of bodies working in disaster management including: UNESCO, USAID, Oxfam, CHF, IOM, Bakornas (Indonesia’s national body for disaster management) and MPBI For more information on IDEP's educational materials, including a series of children's comics and activity books on Community Based Disaster Management, see here or get in touch.

  • Alam Santi's Water Harvesting Design

    The planet's fresh water supplies are limited, climate change is adding to periods of intense rain and subsequent drought and the structure of the earth’s subsurface is easily damaged if the water table is not able to remain relatively consistent or to be replenished. The installation of deep wells contributes to the lowering of the water table, impacting on plants and animal life and contributing to the occurrence of landslides. ​ The Alam Santi design team have been working with the UN, governments, businesses and local communities to design rainwater harvesting systems that can be used by everyone to help replenish natural fresh-water resources. BACKGROUND The team have worked out a system for both calculating the size of tank needed to store water, to remove debris and to filter the water itself, ready to store and deliver with a pump by demand. They recommend the use of traditional, corrugated steel cladding and a maximum roof length for optimal drainage. Their calculator for working out the size of the system needed per household or per building is easily adapted for different environments. Their design further specifies materials needed to build and install the system. Alam Santi’s work makes recommendations for devices to reduce water use by adapting shower and tap heads and by installing specially designed toilets that extract urine with separate flushes for faeces or urine. The latter allows for water with diluted urine to be reused in irrigation and to add additional nutrients to plants. ​ Combined with simple technology (like perforated bamboo pipes inserted next to trees and plants to ensure water reaches their roots directly) and landscaping and storm drains designed to capture and use any water run-off,  the planet’s limited freshwater supplies can be conserved and used most effectively. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Heightening public awareness of the water they use and the difference they are able to make Ensuring water is more equitably shared and available for all sections of the population Enabling people to reuse and recycle water in order to cultivate gardens and produce their own food IMPACT ON PLANET Prevents the desertification of land caused by lowering the water table through excessive drilling of wells Limits the landslides caused when the water table is unable to be replenished Provides irrigation (and urine fed irrigation) for plants and vegetables avoiding excessive use of pesticides or GM crops WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? How can water harvesting deepen human relationships with natural systems? Water harvesting, at individual household, community, or state level brings together a range of techniques that contribute to the regeneration of the environment and prevents the degeneration caused by excessive human populations. ​ Effective use of water and careful harvesting of rainfall show the close interaction between humans and their environment and illustrates how, when working together, communities and environments can thrive. It illustrates an approach to meeting the human need and right for clean water without depleting or stealing from the natural world. SCALABILITY & REPLICABILITY As a series of techniques that can be used at different levels and in different contexts, water harvesting can be introduced at any scale of human settlement. The drilling and digging of deep wells have for several decades been a core part of international development’s response to water scarcity in an attempt to reduce water borne disease and the daily trek to carry water experienced by many village populations. While good intentioned, these can add to the degeneration of an area and future livelihoods, in the attempt to alleviate human suffering in the short term. ​ In contexts of disaster and displacement, shelter and water have to be provided in a hurry and is often trucked in with drinking water provided in bottles and wash facilities constructed rapidly.  ​ The existence of an integrated design approach, the construction of emergency buildings and facilities that allow for harvesting and recycling of grey water or diluted urine and the promotion of water harvesting habits will mean that such a settlement is viable in the longer term without unnecessary damage to the environment or health risk to the community. Such settlements can then include green spaces and vegetable gardens and become thriving places for humans and the natural world. CONTACT US Get in touch for links to Alam Santi, and our wider network of water harvesting and filtration practitioners.

  • A day out at the International Disaster Response Expo

    by Juliet Millican The International Disaster Response Expo ('Prepare, Respond, Protect, Recover', Olympia, UK 3 – 4th December 2019) should not have been the surprise it was for me when I attended earlier this week. Co-located with the International Security Expo (Employing Security through Innovation) and free to attend, I should, had I thought carefully, have realised it was to be funded through the subs of private sector companies paying to advertise their wares. Nor am I against the involvement of the Private Sector in humanitarian and disaster relief. As the numbers of disasters escalate, climate related or conflict associated, all sectors are desperately needed for any sort of adequate response. The investment of ethical responders, their support to governments and to NGOs are a vital source of funds and of creative intelligence much needed in crises that are now beginning to affect us all. Signing up to a workshop on ‘Eco Supply Chains’ again felt like a useful opportunity to network with those organisations involved in first response work and who were as concerned as we are to recognise the impact of disasters on people and planet. The workshop was organised by the Humanitarian Logistics Association – an independent group advising on and coordinating the interventions of different donors – public, private sector, NGOs, UN and Red Cross. All vital work in ensuring efforts are not duplicated or resources wasted. The workshop facilitator opened with some important remarks: global emissions from transport, if they continue to increase at their current rate, are likely to double by 2050, we need to prioritise local sourcing and local expertise in order to find ‘new ways of delivering assistance in difficult to reach places’. His images of airships (while reminiscent of His Dark Materials) showed that helium assisted vehicles, invented after the second world war, could even now carry with them 20 tons of food, water or equipment, plus 20 passengers using a fraction of the fuel of traditional air freight. Yet, as the workshop and the event progressed I had a rapidly growing awareness of the deep systemic change needed in the whole Humanitarian relief industry. A second speaker involved in moving and supplying equipment to rescue missions told how his company are aiming for a 50% reduction in emissions from air freight by 2050. But this means if transport emissions as a whole are set to double, then in real terms the most we can expect is that they only rise to 1.5% of today’s totals. And this at the end of a week when scientist tell us emissions are currently peaking at seriously dangerous levels. Nor was his aspiration of eventually owning aircraft that run on biofuels any more reassuring. Land is already scarce in much of the world and areas for food growing diminishing. In areas where people are marginalised due to land grabbing for profitable cash crops (and those carbon offsetting projects), they are pushed to eking out a living in ever-more marginal landscapes that are, themselves, exposed to natural disasters. With extensive cultivation of crops for biofuel, the loss of vegetation cover further destabilises soils and landscapes, adding to further displacement as it keeps the aid industry alive. Yet the workshop informed us that there are already far more climate refugees than those displaced by conflict across the world. Could we call this greenwashing while adding to the crisis? The calculations of the emissions needed to transport huge heavy machinery across the globe was sobering but the many, many stands advertising Toyota Landrovers, hippo trucks and lifeboats, ready to be jetted off across the world, even more shocking. The dozen or so people who had signed up to attend ‘Eco-Supply chains’ from the 100 humanitarian exhibitors present showed it was still a minority interest. There were 375 security stands, nearly four times as many as humanitarian. An indication of the importance we give to fighting terrorism and keeping ourselves safe, compared to saving other people’s lives, or the fact that is it a more profitable business at the end of the day??? None the less there were some reputable speakers on leadership, crises and turbulent times and here audiences were much larger. The messages were similar - we are living with uncertainty and we had better get used to how to manage it. The climate is becoming more unpredictable, there will be more climate related disasters, and these will come closer to home for those living in the global north. We need to know how to ‘transform risk into resilience’ and to ‘lead in turbulent times’. These speakers, from Harvard, from Insurance and from Investment, all referred to the need to be ‘environmentally friendly’ in our responses and to find ways to mitigate risk. But I still left feeling almost as if the industry, if not the planet, was almost beyond hope, certainly beyond any offer of ‘friendliness’ and in need of a complete and drastic system overhaul. There was almost no talk of long-term development, of the links between humanitarian response and future planning, of supporting local economies to respond, of providing funds and finance to assist in locally organised responses and solutions. There was a focus on the human cost and the centrality of a human response, but little of the environmental cost or the potential long-term damage of some of the solutions. And there was nothing at all on nature-based solutions, part of this summer’s UN global compact signed at the UN Climate Action Summit. Just one day after Guterras opened Cop 25 in Madrid and said ‘the planet is close to the point of no return’, that this is a ‘critical time’, that ‘We need a rapid and profound change in the way Humanity does business, generates energy, builds cities, moves and feeds itself, eliminating our addiction to carbon’, it was business as usual at the IDR. Build, sell, ship around the world, develop your business, make a profit - and do your damndest to keep it safe. Ultimately the event felt far too transactional, showcasing the widgets we can buy to protect rather than thinking about why we are unsafe in the first place or how we might use people’s own capabilities to support them in reducing the risks that are developing to themselves and to the places in which they live. Juliet Millican is coordinator of Re-Alliance, a coalition of practitioners, policy makers, academics, and donors working to support regenerative solutions to disaster, displacement and development.

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