Thursday, 9 December 2010


I went to the Klimaforum yesterday, which meant walking on the highway outside of the Cancunmesse (the venue where the COP's side events are held) and passing an army tank to take a bus to the gas station at Puerto Morelos. From the station (guarded by about 30 soldiers with big machine guns) I took a Klimaforum shuttle to the Polo Club where the alternative forum is being held. The other 9 people on the shuttle were all from youth groups from the U.S., between that and the reggae blasting from the speakers I had already started feeling a different vibe to the stuffiness of the Cancunmesse. I was imagining crowds of young, eager people gathering in tents by the time we arrived. This expectation contributed to my shock to find that there was, at the most, 30 people and that the big Polo field was empty.

Nevertheless, the first session I went to was more inspiring than most side events I've attended at the COP and I'd like to share some of it here.

Organized by the Global Ecovillage Network, the session included a talk by Nicolas M├ętro, founder of 'Trees & Life'. After 20 years of working in marketing he decided to pursue his interest in trees and forest conservation, embarking on a 5 year quest to try and convince Danone to use acacia gum in their Activia yogurt. His plan was to get them to source the gum from Chad, providing a source of income to producers, ensuring proper management of the trees and giving them the alternative to have a livelihood that could reduce the exploitation of nearby forests. He also got Danone to return 10% of the profits from the final product to the producers, a fund used for capacity building and construction of schools.

With the money he made from the project in Chad he then went to Senegal to implement agroforestry projects in a small community, providing the seeds and infrastructure to make nurseries. They planted fruit trees, vegetables and some jatropha (while the fruit trees grew). Nicolas placed a lot of emphasis on fostering a relationship between people and the trees they planted in order for them to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the trees so they would take care of them.
The project was so successful that apparently the Senegalese government is going to create a Department of 'ecovillages' to replicate this project all over the country. One of the challenges of scaling up though, as pointed out by Nicolas, is trying not to fall into cookie cutter molds and making sure that the uniqueness of each place is taken into account and that a creative and flexible approach is always used. An idea he also stresses to funding bodies with sometimes rigid frameworks such as the GEF which is funding 10 Trees for Life pilot projects in Senegal.
I think it's interesting to see how finance bodies and government departments respond to the increasing trend of scaling up, which requires more flexibility than the usual top-down approach. It will also be interesting to see if conservation of forests in these 'ecovillages' does indeed improve and the changes in livelihoods of the people in the communities.

On another positive note, Maria Ros, the Latin American Representative of Permaculture said that after 20 years of efforts, the Public Education Department of Mexico had approved the inclusion of permaculture in the public school curriculum. She will begin implementation in the state of Puebla. As a volunteer in a school in Tepoztlan, Morelos I find this news particularly exciting, especially the fact that this includes activities that address how children relate to nature and to themselves. I think this ties in to what Evo Morales was talking about today (I recommend reading his speech), about addressing the underlying causes of climate change and not only the symptoms. It's true that if we wait around for the old habits to suddenly change overnight and ignore the symptoms, the symptoms will get much worse. Nevertheless, I think its time we payed attention to something the ecovillage veterans have learned over the past 20 years- about what makes an ecovillage 'make or break'. They say it's not enough to concentrate only on the physical landscape around you but equally important (or maybe even more so) to concentrate on the invisible landscape inside you.


ahs (former BCM student)

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