Sunday, April 26, 2009

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

A new article by Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute in the latest issue of Scientific American Magazine examines this question. This is a highly important issue, and the GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach we are teaching here at Ezemvelo produces food with a fraction of the energy, water and soil amendments of conventional approaches. 34 students on a the Leadership Course here this week, spent this morning learning how to make new soil from plant based compost and how to conserve water and promote healthier plants with higher yields by double digging a new vegetable bed for our new GROW BIOINTENSIVE demonstration garden.

The following two posts are alarming, and one needs to remember that the root of the word "crisis" has the same origin as "circle", ie that a crisis represents lack of balance, and the beginning of a return to balance again. It seems we humans need to be pushed to the brink of catastrophe before we will change our ways! Also the word for "crisis" in Chinese is associated with the word "opportunity".

From the May 2009 Scientific American Magazine

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

The biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries to cause government collapse

By Lester R. Brown

  • Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos.
  • Such “failed states” can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.
  • Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production.
  • Without massive and rapid intervention to address these three environmental factors, the author argues, a series of government collapses could threaten the world order.
One of the toughest things for people to do is to anticipate sudden change. Typically we project the future by extrapolating from trends in the past. Much of the time this approach works well. But sometimes it fails spectacularly, and people are simply blindsided by events such as today’s economic crisis.

For most of us, the idea that civilization itself could disintegrate probably seems preposterous. Who would not find it hard to think seriously about such a complete departure from what we expect of ordinary life? What evidence could make us heed a warning so dire—and how would we go about responding to it? We are so inured to a long list of highly unlikely catastrophes that we are virtually programmed to dismiss them all with a wave of the hand: Sure, our civilization might devolve into chaos—and Earth might collide with an asteroid, too!

For many years I have studied global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. The combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies. Yet I, too, have resisted the idea that food shortages could bring down not only individual governments but also our global civilization.

I can no longer ignore that risk. Our continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy—most important, falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures—forces me to conclude that such a collapse is possible.

Full article here...

A Water Warning

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestlé, argues that water shortage is an even more urgent problem than climate change

The rise in the price of basic food has had devastating effects on the most vulnerable—the poor who spend up to two-thirds of their income on food. Some of the measures taken in response, such as export restrictions, have been highly counter-productive. In 2009 the world needs to reflect on the underlying causes of the food crisis and start addressing structural factors, in particular the link to biofuels and water.

Frank Rijsberman, from the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute, gave warning in 2003 that if current trends continued, the livelihoods of one-third of the world’s population could be affected by water scarcity by 2025: “We could be facing annual losses equivalent to the entire grain crops of India and the United States combined.” Normally, when people hear about water scarcity they think of tap water; he talked about crops. And the dimension of the problem ahead is vast: America and India combined produce about 30% of globally consumed cereals.

Continued here...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Student Hike

Students from the Maharishi Institute in Johannesburg begin their one week course on Leadership with a 3 hour hike. We walked from Reception past remains of a kraal and rondaval hut east of the main dam. From there we followed animal tracks to the old farmhouse (middle picture), and up by single file on a well-used animal track to the spring (at lower left in bottom picture) near block 14. Just close to this spring is another old kraal where the students rested (top picture). This path marks the main route between the spring and the Wilge River and is likely thousands of years old. There is evidence of human habitation in this area dating back to the Middle Stone Age (about 250,000 to 25,000 years ago).

Understanding the environment of our ancestors here provides an opportunity to understand how people have learned to live in harmony with nature over the ages.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Enlightened Leadership

Today a group of 40 students arrive at Ezemvelo from the Maharishi Institute in Johannesburg for a weeks course on Leadership. So it's very fitting that this week in a newspaper report from London the former President of Mozambique, while receiving a $5 million award for Achievement in African Leadership, is quoted as crediting group practise of Transcendental Meditation for bringing "political peace and balance in nature in my country."

An excerpt from London's Independent:

Joaquim Chissano: Democrat among the despots

Sunday, 19 April 2009
By Claire Soares

Yesterday, however, at City Hall in London, the focus was on Africa's good things. Well one good thing to be precise – Africa's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, whose very first winner is Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique.

It was without doubt the most lavish of all the presents Mr Chissano received as he celebrated his 68th birthday yesterday. The Achievement in African Leadership, to give it its proper name, comes with $5m in prize money, making it the world's largest individual award.

While the financial gains leave the real Nobel (with its comparatively paltry $1.5m pot) for dust, the African version lags behind the Oslo original in one respect. It is not quite so slick at getting hold of the winner. "It has been difficult to reach the former president," Mr Annan, the former UN Secretary-General who led the panel of six judges, said with a sheepish grin.

Yet there was no need for embarrassment. The absence of Mr Chissano from the ceremony was, in fact, entirely in keeping with the Mozambique leader, who is the antithesis of the stereotypical African Big Man. While egomaniacs would be fidgeting by the phone, waiting for that all-important call, Mr Chissano was busy in southern Sudan on a United Nations mission to broker peace between the Uganda government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. "It shows the dynamism of the ex-president that he is still travelling and doing his good work. But we will find him," Mr Annan promised.

Mr Chissano is living proof that power doesn't have to go to the head. Perhaps his zen comes from the Transcendental Meditation he is said to practise. Indeed, in literature published by devotees of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Mr Chissano is quoted as saying: "First, I started the practice of Transcendental Meditation myself, then introduced the practice to my close family, my cabinet of ministers, my government officers and my military. The result has been political peace and balance in nature in my country."

Full story here...

Today also is the day after South Africa's General Election. It seems fitting then that the new government should take heed from this giant among African Leaders, and that political peace and balance in nature is available now following the experience learned in Mozambique.

Related links:

Recent editorial in USA Today by Dr John Hagelin and Maj. Gen. Singh describes how Invincible Defence Technology can help any nation

Major Werner Klokow in the South African army suggests the South African military should follow the example of Mozambique and have the soldiers practice Transcendental Meditation in a group to promote peace in the country.

See articles Major Klokow has posted here:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monsanto GM-corn harvest fails massively in South Africa

By Adriana Stuijt.
Published Mar 29, 2009

South African farmers suffered millions of dollars in lost income when 82,000 hectares of genetically-manipulated corn (maize) failed to produce hardly any seeds.The plants look lush and healthy from the outside. Monsanto has offered compensation.

Monsanto blames the failure of the three varieties of corn planted on these farms, in three South African provinces,on alleged 'underfertilisation processes in the laboratory". Some 280 of the 1,000 farmers who planted the three varieties of Monsanto corn this year, have reported extensive seedless corn problems.

Urgent investigation demanded

However environmental activitist Marian Mayet, director of the Africa-centre for biosecurity in Johannesburg, demands an urgent government investigation and an immediate ban on all GM-foods, blaming the crop failure on Monsanto's genetically-manipulated technology.

Willem Pelser, journalist of the Afrikaans Sunday paper Rapport, writes from Nelspruit that Monsanto has immediately offered the farmers compensation in three provinces - North West, Free State and Mpumalanga. The damage-estimates are being undertaken right now by the local farmers' cooperative, Grain-SA. Monsanto claims that 'less than 25%' of three different corn varieties were 'insufficiently fertilised in the laboratory'.

80% crop failure

However Mayet says Monsanto was grossly understating the problem.According to her own information, some farms have suffered up to 80% crop failures. The centre is strongly opposed to GM-food and biologically-manipulated technology in general.

"Monsanto says they just made a mistake in the laboratory, however we say that biotechnology is a failure.You cannot make a 'mistake' with three different varieties of corn.'

Demands urgent government investigation:

"We have been warning against GM-technology for years, we have been warning Monsanto that there will be problems,' said Mayet. She calls for an urgent government investigation and an immediate ban on all GM-foods in South Africa.

Of the 1,000 South African farmers who planted Monsanto's GM-maize this year, 280 suffered extensive crop failure, writes Rapport.

Monsanto's local spokeswoman Magda du Toit said the 'company is engaged in establishing the exact extent of the damage on the farms'. She did not want to speculate on the extent of the financial losses suffered right now.

Managing director of Monsanto in Africa, Kobus Lindeque, said however that 'less than 25% of the Monsanto-seeded farms are involved in the loss'. He says there will be 'a review of the seed-production methods of the three varieties involved in the failure, and we will made the necessary adjustments.'

He denied that the problem was caused in any way by 'bio-technology'. Instead, there had been 'insufficient fertilisation during the seed-production process'.

And Grain-SA's Nico Hawkins says they 'are still support GM-technology; 'We will support any technology which will improve production.' see

He also they were 'satisfied with Monsanto's handling of the case,' and said Grain-SA was 'closely involved in the claims-adjustment methodology' between the farmers and Monsanto.

Farmers told Rapport that Monsanto was 'bending over backwards to try and accommodate them in solving the problem.

"It's a very good gesture to immediately offer to compensate the farmers for losses they suffered,' said Kobus van Coller, one of the Free State farmers who discovered that his maize cobs were practically seedless this week.

"One can't see from the outside whether a plant is unseeded. One must open up the cob leaves to establish the problem,' he said. The seedless cobs show no sign of disease or any kind of fungus. They just have very few seeds, often none at all.

The South African supermarket-chain Woolworths already banned GM-foods from its shelves in 2000. However South African farmers have been producing GM-corn for years: they were among the first countries other than the United States to start using the Monsanto products.

The South African government does not require any labelling of GM-foods. Corn is the main staple food for South Africa's 48-million people.

The three maize varieties which failed to produce seeds were designed with a built-in resistance to weed-killers, and manipulated to increase yields per hectare, Rapport writes.

Read the source and comments here...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A new map of Ezemvelo

We've completed a new map of Ezemvelo. Click on image to enlarge. This is being distributed at Reception. On the back is the map of the very popular Penduka Trail.

A simple water system

We finished the fence enough to begin the gardens last week. Still have to add electric fencing on the top for the baboons and monkeys. To source water, we made a simple dam from a small trickle of water higher up the hill. This drains a large marshy area and flows most of the year. 70 meters of pipe was all that was needed to give us a very adequate supply of water. The outflow is seen at top soaking the ground in preparation for double digging to 2 foot depth. The interns each have their own GROW BIOINTENSIVE 10 square meter bed so they can learn all stages of biointensive food raising.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Interns start work on Biointensive Gardens

We're putting in a gravity fed water system for the garden so we won't have to pay electric bills to pump from the main borehole. Walking up to a marshy area to locate a site for a dam I found the remains of an ancient dam. A few large stones in a straight line deep into the grass. So it seems a validation of our choice of location - people have found this area many years before us and captured the very same water we'll be using in the garden.

We have not yet made wooden seed flats to start seedlings so local intern Thabo is pictured improvising with cardboard boxes lined with plastic. They seem pretty strong so it will be interesting to see how long they will hold up. All made from materials that would otherwise go to the landfill. (Like many rural areas in South Africa, there's no recycling yet in Bronkhorstspruit).

Top picture is our two new interns from Mpumalanga Province, training at Ezemvelo to learn Biointensive food raising to support a community garden project. We're very grateful for their support in creating the garden for the first GROW BIOINTENSIVE five day workshop in South Africa, here at Ezemvelo in September.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The view to the North East

The view above the reception is quite stunning. The Ezemvelo and adjoining Telperion Nature Reserves stretch for as far as one can see. Without a building in sight except the reception, the stillness and silence is almost palpable. I found another ancient kraal at the top of this hill, as well as a perfect skull of a small monkey.

Ancient Stones and Cacti?

Walking just one minute up the hill behind Eland Lapa presents a glorious view of the entire reserve to the north and northeast. It is quite a surprise from living under the trees in the campground. The view is enabled by a rocky outcrop just above the trees. These rocks have been worked into many ancient buildings the remains of which are dotted around Eland Lapa. I believe they may be hundreds of years old. I often find cacti wherever I see evidence of old buildings. The prickly pear and this less common variety pictured here. The prickly pear was cultivated for food.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Veggie Garden at Ezemvelo

We started the fencing for the veggie garden this week close to the student housing at Eland Lapa. This will be the demonstration garden for our upcoming Food and Our Future 5 day workshop on GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini farming in September. We are also planning a 3 month course in Sustainable Agriculture to begin with this workshop.

Pictured at top is Simphiwe Tinini and Sandile Nkosi with their students in South Africa's first GROW BIOINTENSIVE courses at CIDA City Campus in Johannesburg. Their programme has over 200 graduates since it started in 2007.

The lower picture shows Simphiwe next to the fence for the new Biointensive demonstration garden at Ezemvelo.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Change Begins Within

The most common report of new visitors to Ezemvelo is the silence. So close to the noise of Johannesburg, the economic powerhouse of Africa. I believe it is this silence more than anything that draws people to this place. We all need some silence in our busy lives.

Ezemvelo was donated to the Maharishi Institute in Johannesburg last year by Strilli and Nicky Oppenheimer for the express purpose of protecting this haven of silence and natural beauty, and to provide an opportunity for the Maharishi Institute to extend it's Consciousness Based Education programmes to Ezemvelo.

There is an exciting promotion of the benefits of this system of education today by a group of celebritries including Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Russell Simmons, David Lynch and others in New York City. This will be followed by a benefit concert to raise money for one million students to learn Transcendental Meditation. Russell Simmons in particular is devoting a considerable amount of his time to raise funds for South African students to learn Transcendental Meditation.

Basking in the silence and beauty of Ezemvelo provides a good backdrop to consider what is most important in our lives. Giving more young people the opportunity to experience deep silence within regardless of where they are is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give. As the slogan for the concert and press conference reads: "Change Begins Within".

The organiser of the event, film producer David Lynch, has edited a two-minute summary of the Beatles in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. When he showed it to Paul, there were tears in his eyes. People in Paul's office said they haven't seen him this happy in 20 years.

After the concert, Paul will be auctioning a signed guitar, Ringo will auction signed drum skins, Donovan, a guitar that he said was George Harrison's favorite.

Read more about the press conference here.