Category Archives: Agriculture

Olive Picking in Palestine – Keeping Hope Alive

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A reader returned from Palestine after taking part in the Olive Picking Programme organised by the YMCA and YWCA of East Jerusalem. This Joint Advocacy Initiative was from 13th to 22nd October.

On an earlier visit she helped to plant olive trees

She writes:

It was such a wonderful experience that I feel like sharing some of it with my friends and fellow activists in the UK and further afield.

The Olive Picking Programme offers an opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Palestine living in the West Bank who are under Israeli military occupation. All aspects of their daily life are controlled, which include access to their own fields. Palestinian farmers often depend upon their olive harvest for their livelihood and it is essential for them to have access to their fields to tend their trees, plant new saplings, and harvest their crops in time.

The presence of internationals deter Israeli settlers from intimidating Palestinian farmers and preventing them from reaching their fields, harming them whilst they are at work, or destroying their property. This also applies to Israeli soldiers who are known to act in this manner. The programme offers help particularly to families who are vulnerable in this respect. Joining it is a tangible way of showing solidarity with the people of Palestine and is a great encouragement to them in their struggle for justice.

This year’s programme consisted of four mornings and one whole day of working in the fields. We had all been issued with sun hats and T shirts bearing the programme’s logo, and most of us had also brought our own light, gardening gloves. Thus equipped, two batches, each of a goodly company of 55 or more internationals from about 20 counties, set off from our hotel or host families at 8am. Before leaving we had to load our bus with ladders, plastic sheets, buckets and plenty of drinking water. By 9 am we reached our field which was in the vicinity of Bethlehem area. We had to unload our equipment and on some occasions walk some distance as the road was not suitable for the bus to drive all the way.

The owners welcomed us and showed us trees which needed harvesting. Our first task was to spread huge plastic sheets around the base of each tree. Then we set to work, attacking the trees at the front of the field and working our way towards the end. As many as eight or ten of us would work on one tree, starting from the lower branches and then working towards the higher ones. Each branch was thickly covered with plump green or dark purple olives, the purple ones being the ripe ones. We were asked to pick them all. It was wonderful to slide our fingers down a branch and see the olives falling effortlessly on to the plastic sheet, with a rhythmic clop-clopping sound.  Some trees were very dusty and a dusty cloud assailed us as we worked. Where the crop was thick, it took almost half an hour for one person to work on a single section, with six or seven others working around different branches. There were others who diligently collected the fallen fruit into buckets and emptied them into huge sacks which would eventually be taken to the local press. As the lower branches were stripped, the higher ones were reached by ladders and some climbed up where the ladders fell short. I confined myself to working on the lower branches, moving on to another tree when one was done.

There was a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation as we worked together, and at intervals stopped for coffee which came around provided by the owners. We worked until 1 pm when lunch was announced, which was more than welcome. Lunch was provided by the host farmer’s family and was usually a simple dish of rice cooked with lentils – absolutely delicious, salad and yoghourt and plenty of beverages. Only on one day did we work after lunch. Our best pickings in a single field amounted to 100 kg of olives. An average tree produces about 9 kg of olives yielding 2 litres of oil. Most of the oil produced is for family or local consumption and not for export. Trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government make it difficult to do so.

On our half days, we visited places which gave us a better understanding of what life under military occupation is like.  One of our most moving visits was to the Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar which has been in the news. This Bedouin community is semi-nomadic and has been living on its land for generations and centuries. Yet, the Israeli government has issued an order to demolish the school which serves its children. There were Palestinian as well as Israeli human rights activists keeping a 24 hour vigil to prevent its demolition. It was a privilege to meet and talk to these dedicated men and women. The demolition has not gone ahead, although it could go ahead at any time. There were visits to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron, not in the usual touristy fashion, but with a view to highlighting our awareness of life under occupation for its residents.

We had one free day with a choice of visit to either Ramallah, Jericho, or Nablus and people were free to arrange their own programme. I opted to visit my friend of nine years standing in Ramallah and it was a joy to see her twin sons now 5 years old, and the latest addition, a son nearly two years old who I had not seen before.

Evening meals were at our own hotel or with host families, and were followed by a talk or a documentary film. They covered topics such as the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and information about various organisations working for justice and the rights of Palestinian people. Truth to tell, we were often exhausted by the end of the day, but it cannot be denied that they gave us valuable opportunities to learn more about the struggle of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and with dignity and ways of supporting their struggle from our own countries.

On the last evening, we had a splendid meal in a local restaurant, accompanied by folk dancing in which our active participants joined. There was a great sense of comradeship, and of having shared a meaningful experience which would stay with us for a long time. There was sadness too, knowing that the local Palestinian people still had to face the harsh realities of life under military occupation. But we knew that we were leaving with a heightened awareness of these realities.

 Email addresses were exchanged, and goodbyes were said as people had to leave later that night or early next day. I am sure that in one way or the other, each one of us had been touched and many were returning with a renewed resolve for working for justice and freedom for the brave people of Palestine, back in their own countries.

For more information about the Olive Harvesting and Olive Planting Programme, visit their website: http://www.jai-pal.org/en/campaigns/olive-tree-campaign/olive-picking-program. For alternative tours visit their website on www.atg.ps

 

 

 

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American farmers ‘go organic’

A sign of hope: farmers take action which has beneficial consequences.

Richard Bruce, former farm manager, whose health has been seriously damaged by agro-chemicals, sent a link giving news of large-scale poisoning in Maharashtra, India. Further reading included an article with a medical report not given in other sources:

Three children died and around 250 people fell ill, with several in critical condition, after a dinner for a house-warming ceremony. Dr. Ajit Gawli, Raigad district civil surgeon, said “The serum test reports of two patients indicated presence of organophosphate compound in the food. The cholinesterase enzyme level was found to be around 800, which ideally should be around 1,200. It does confirm the presence of organophosphate compound found in insecticides and pesticides.”

Kate Mendenhall, director of the Organic Farmers Association USA, finds that farmers are ‘going organic’ because of concerns about pesticides.

Kate’s master’s degree thesis at Goddard College (Vermont)  involved interviewing farmers worldwide who transitioned to organic, and she found that pesticides were a major concern. She says:

  • Some farmers transition to organic production to earn premium prices paid for organic crops.
  • Others switch to make their farms more sustainable.
  • But for some farmers transitioning to organic is a necessity to save their health—and even their lives.

A 2017 report by Oregon State University and organic certifier Oregon Tilth, Breaking New Ground: Farmer Perspectives on Organic Transition, found that 86% of farmers surveyed said that concerns about health was one of the main motivations for transitioning.

Blaine Schmaltz, who farms in Rugby, North Dakota, is a good example. One day in September 1993, Schmaltz was spraying an herbicide on his field. He stopped to check the level in the sprayer tank. Looking inside, he started to feel lame and then passed out. He was later hospitalized for several months with asthma, muscle aches and pains, and insomnia. A doctor diagnosed him as having ‘occupational asthma’. While recovering, Schmaltz read about organic farming and decided to transition because he wanted to continue farming. The next spring he started the transition, and over time found it was the right choice. His symptoms disappeared. Schmaltz continues to farm organically, growing wheat, edible beans, flax and other specialty grains. “I didn’t switch to organic farming for the money or a utopian dream,” he said. “I did it for myself and my family in order to stay in agriculture.” Ken Roseboro gave this and other examples in a Responsible Technology article.

Other farmers in the U.S. and Canada have switched to organic methods because of a health crisis they had—or even the death of a family member—due to pesticide exposure.

There are many American visitors to the Chemical Concern website (right) and in May the top post was about the World Health Organisation’s statement that the herbicide glyphosate is ‘possibly carcinogenic’.

In Britain, a government document notes that the total number of organic producers and processors rose by 5.1% in 2016 to 6,363. The number of processors only rose for the third year running and now stands at 2,804, the highest number since 2008.

A move to organic cultivation is a sign of hope for a healthier future:

  • There will be no herbicide resistant ‘superweeds’ which afflict some parts of the USA.
  • Pests will not become resistant to pesticide requiring heavier doses of alternative brands to kill them.
  • Costs will be reduced as these expensive agro-chemicals are no longer used.
  • People living near farmland will no longer be affected by pesticide drift.
  • The health of farm workers, farmers and their families will no longer be damaged
  • The health of the food consumer will not be affected by pesticide/herbicide residues.

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And on a larger scale . . . 

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Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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What went right? January to March 2017

From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites

  1. China is planning a national park three times larger than Yellowstone in the US, to help boost the wild population of giant panda. It will link 67 existing reserves to make mating easier
  2. A seven per cent annual drop in teenage suicide attempts among US high school students is linked to the legislation of same-sex marriage, say researchers
  3. More than 30 million people in Kerala, India, will given access to free WiFi after the state declared it a basic human right
  4. El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining
  5. Clean energy jobs in the US now outnumber jobs in oil and gas by five to one
  6. Denmark announced it has reduced food waste by 25 per cent in five years
  7. Experts revealed that 86 per cent of new power in Europe came from renewable energy sources in 2016 with wind energy overtaking coal as the largest form of power capacity
  8. The world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, has warned it will vote out directors of companies who fail to address the risks posed to their businesses by climate change
  9. A teenager is on track to plant a trillion trees. Felix Finkbeiner, 19, who began his tree-planting quest when he was nine, founded environmental group Plant for the Planet. It has overseen the planting of more than 14bn trees in 130 countries and aims to plant 1tn – 150 trees for every person on Earth
  10. The value of UK ethical markets grew to almost double that of tobacco, new research suggests

Read on here for the other ten points; https://www.positive.news/2017/society/media/26491/went-right-jan-mar-2017/?mc_cid=e55ab60695&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

Innovation, resilience and co-operation in war-torn Syria

In 2010 it was reported that the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education had launched programmes on renewable energy to be studied at the faculties of electrical, mechanic and technical engineering and in the institutes and postgraduate programs. Research and training energy centers had been established in Damascus, Aleppo, Tishreen and al-Baath universities.

However the progress of these programmes have been adversely affected by four years of air strikes, street battles and sieges.

damascus          Above: a street without electricity in Douma, northeast of Damascus

Now, though the widespread infrastructure damage in the areas around the capital Damascus means that thousands of Syrians have no more than a few hours of power a day, a resourceful, resilient spirit is enabling many survivors to cope with only a few hours of power a day by modifying their way of life and innovating.

Almost all Syrians have switched to using longer lasting LED lights which are cheaper than candles and can be powered with a car battery. In the war affected areas, people go to bed early and most now wash their clothes by hand, having sold machines and refrigerators.

Some are also finding ways to make their own power, using solar panels, fuel made from plastic bags and even bicycle-powered batteries. 

syrian solar panelsIn southern Syria, many shops sell solar power panels for $20-$200 and some are used in shelters at a refugee camp in Aleppo. Omar al-Golani, a media activist in the town of Kwdana, said that even the poorest will try to borrow money to buy them, or sell their food rations. In May, Rami al-Sayyed told the Financial Times that he and many of his neighbours started generating electricity by pedalling bicycles about three years ago. He would pedal his bike for two hours every day to charge his laptop.

A few Syrians are also using wind energy, reports Khaled Issa, from Idlib. They buy fans, or make their own, and place them on the roof.

Most Syrians save fuel for farming equipment, generators that power shops and hospitals, or machines used to dig victims out of bomb sites. Since late 2013, in the besieged suburbs around Damascus, people have collected and burnt plastic bags and the cooled liquid plastic produced can be made into a substitute for diesel or kerosene.

Rami al-Sayyed points out that the shortages have brought about moments of community spirit. Some of his neighbours came together to put up a bicycle and take turns to pedal in order to watch new TV programmes released during Ramadan.

 

 

Green Farmer of the Year

andrew hollinsheadAndrew Hollinshead, a farmer from Spring Bank Farm in Arclid, Cheshire has just been named ‘Green Farmer of the Year’ for his pioneering work with eco-friendly power.

His business is 90% powered by “eco-friendly” energy sources – a wind turbine, 200 solar panels and a hydrogen refuelling station which stores excess electricity in batteries and converts it into hydrogen for use as heating fuel and vehicle fuel for his pickup truck. The hydrogen comes from rain, which is filtered and put into an electrolyser which separates water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Andrew’s home and bed & breakfast business is totally ‘green-powered’ and he hopes his farm will soon be fully powered by green energy which saves money, power and gives security and independence from the large utility companies.

tom2 emma

On the Facebook video it was also good to see another farmer known to us as a very active campaigner, setting up a sheep dip sufferers group on behalf of farmers whose health has been damaged after administering sheep dip. Tom Rigby, a finalist in the competition, is seen here with ‘EMMA’ – the energy and microgenerator manager which helps him to make best use of the renewables, ensuring that as much as possible of the power being generated gets used within the farm and not exported to the grid.

Noting another sustainable practice, growing animal feed on farm, instead of importing it, brings to mind William Taylor’s point that, with a fair farmgate price for produce, farmers can afford to invest time and money when raised above the poverty line (1 in 4 UK family farms 2010 figures). They can invest in new technology and less spectacular time-consuming labour-intensive good farming practice.

William points out that profitable farmers can easily produce more food whilst abiding by commonsense environmental laws – doing all this in harmony with nature:

  • applying lime, instead of cutting and spraying rushes,
  • controlling hedges,
  • mending and replacing fences
  • improving drainage

Messrs Hollinshead and Rigby show there is a huge potential for farms to generate energy whilst producing food and – in due course – the harvesting and storing of rainwater undertaken by many farmers will be recorded on one of our sites.


Small countries making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy

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As the world gathers in Paris, the Guardian reports on small countries who are making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It focusses on Uruguay, often described as the most democratic, secure and peaceful country in South America. It is regarded as a high income country (top group) by the UN and contributes more troops to UN peacekeeping missions than any other country. The agricultural sector exports family-farmed produce, including combed wool, rice, soybeans, beef, malt and milk.

uruguay windJonathan Watts in Montevideo reports that in less than 10 years, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs, according to the country’s head of climate change policy, Ramón Méndez. In fact, now that renewables – wind, biomass, solar power and hydropower, provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity, prices are lower than in the past relative to inflation. There are also fewer power cuts because a diverse energy mix means greater resilience to droughts.

Fifteen years ago oil accounted for 27% of Uruguay’s imports and a new pipeline was just about to begin supplying gas from Argentina. Now the biggest item on the import balance sheet is wind turbines.

uruguay solarWind, biomass and solar power, added to existing hydropower, mean that renewables now account for 55% of the country’s overall energy mix including transport fuel. The transport sector still depends on oil (which accounts for 45% of the total energy mix). But industry – mostly agricultural processing – is now powered predominantly by biomass cogeneration plants.

Energy investment in Uruguay over the past five years has surged to $7bn, or 15% of the country’s annual GDP. Ramón Méndez explains that as construction and maintenance costs are low, and investors are offered a secure regulatory environment, it is a very attractive prospect.

Compared with most other small countries with high proportions of renewables, the mix is diverse. While Paraguay and Lesotho rely almost solely on hydro and Iceland on geothermal, Uruguay has a spread that makes it more resilient to changes in the climate.

uruguay hydro

“For three years we haven’t imported a single kilowatt hour,” Méndez says. “We used to be reliant on electricity imports from Argentina, but now we export to them. Last summer, we sold a third of our power generation to them.” Heavy rain had boosted hydro output, allowing Uruguay to export energy to Argentina during four of September’s five weeks.

He adds that Uruguay has proved that renewables can reduce generation costs, can meet well over 90% of electricity demand without the back-up of coal or nuclear power plants, and the public and private sectors can work together effectively in this field.

uruguay 2 others

And we look again at the proposals recently made, that quantitative easing should provide funding for our climate change programmes.

Further reading:

http://elpais.com/m/elpais/2014/07/11/inenglish/1405089785_254270.html?rel=rosEP

http://www.elp.com/articles/2014/10/renewable-energy-up-fossil-power-down-in-uruguay.html