Friday, 26 June 2015

Think Global, Eat Local: a diet for a sustainable society

Think Global, Eat Local: a diet for a sustainable society

A short film by Morag Gamble and Evan Raymond (2005). Supported by the Maleny Film Society. A 15 minute film exploring local food issues & community food systems in 15 countries over 15 years.

Tour and visit of Djanbung Gardens in Nimbin

 I had the chance last week to visit Djanbung Gardens in Nimbin together with Kate. Djanbung gardens is one of Australia 's leading Permaculture centre established in 1994 by Robyn Francis .Its a living landscape of sustainability in practice. Djanbung means platypus in the local Wyabul dialect. The name was given by Bundjalung elder ´Uncle´ Eric Walker.


1993 – land was acquired, major earthworks for dams & swales, 3 railway carriages moved on site, renovated & essential services installed. First trees planted
1994 – moved into railway carriages, started gardens, first courses conducted
1995 – received Rivercare 2000Award for Composting toilet & greywater system
1996 – began construction of main education centre building
1997 – hosted Australasian Permaculture Convergence
1998 – Main building officially opened
2000-2002 – hosted National Permaculture Gatherings
2003 – launched National Accredited Permaculture Training
2005 – Commenced APT delivery Cert III and Cert IV at Djanbung Gardens and established Bioregional Campus
since then the gardens have continued to grow, and grow, and grow….
Robyn Francis the founder of Djanbung Gardens,she has completed her PDC in 1983 and is one of the Permaculture pioneers of Australia.Robyn Francis is an inspiring and skilled educator, passionate about empowering people to solve problems in a practical and creative way, regenerate their environments, build resilient communities and create abundance while caring for the earth. Based on the earthcare ethics and ecological principles permaculture can be readily applied and adapted to specific cultures and climates.
Robyn Francis has been developing and delivering permaculture training throughout Australia and internationally since 1984, and is regarded as one of permaculture’s leading and most experienced educators and practitioners. She has taught hundreds of courses including the classic PDC, advanced and specialist courses for professional development, as well as fulltime Accredited Permaculture Training (APT) Certificate III, IV and Diploma. Many highly respected permaculture teachers and presenters have undertaken training with Robyn Francis including Rosemary Morrow, Geoff Lawton, Costa Georgiadis, Morag Gambol, Darren Dougherty, John Champagne and Steve Cran.

Robyn Francis is the founder and principal of Permaculture College Australia, developing curricula and programs, and senior trainer-assessor for the APT Certificate IV and Diploma program at Djanbung Gardens. Her annual schedule includes limited periods for travelling to teach intensive courses elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

Overseas work has involved teaching PDCs, advanced courses, teacher training, professional development and consultation in Bali, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, New Zealand, USA, Cuba, Germany and France, many of which have involved working with translators.

It was an honor for me to meet Robyn Francis,her daughter and other permaculture practitioners involved at Djanbung Gardens

Djanbung Gardens – from cowpasture to permaculture paradise

                                       Student Accomodations

It felt the whole place is very well geared towards creating a nice learning environment for students and Robyn herself is just such a lovely,inspiring and knowledgeable person that has dedicated many years of her life towards Permaculture research and practical action.

Here are short infos of some of he Key areas of Djanbung Gardens as shown to us by Robyn Francis daughter during our visit. These key areas are described very nicely in the map handout for self guided tours and I have complied here some of them :
Education & Resource Centre: This building has been designed by Robyn Francis and features passive solar house design. Natural building techniques like earthbricks,natural renders and packed-sawdust-sand panels. The surrounding edible landscape supports the passive solar design with deciduous trees to the north and windbreaks to the south-west.

Greywater Wetland Treatment System: This Rivercare 2000 Award winning system treats greywater from the railway-carriages kitchen sink,shower,handbasin and laundray tub plus excess urine from the composting toilets.

Blackwater Reedbed Treatment & Flow Forms: Treats waste water from the main building canteen kitchen and flushing toilet. All waste flows into septic tank for solids to settle out and waste water gravity feeds trough the reedbed system for purification. The holding pond has flow forms for aeration treatment and oxygenation as the final treatment.

 Djanbung Gardens Main Dam: The main dam with a holding capacity of 1,8 megalitres is Djanbung “drought insurance ¨ .The pond is also a natural aquaculture system stocked with native fish,attracts a variety of wild aquatic animals and water birds and provides a natural swimming pool in summer.

Top dam for gravity irrigation: Constructed at the highest point of the property,this dam gravity feeds the watering system for the gardens and livestock.

Temperate Orchard and Ducks: This orchard maximises the winter chill and frost factor of the valley floor.A flock of ducks are rotated to provide natural fertilisers for the fruit trees,and control weeds and pests.Over 18 citrus varieties are inter-planted with temperate fruits including pomegranate,fig,olive,japanese plum,quince,pecan,low chill peach and native shrubs for pest predators.

Tropical Food Forest: A frost-free microclimate has been created for subtropical and tropical fruits.Under the tree legume canopy are layers of productive plants: Jakfruit, Starfruit, Grumichama and local rainforest bushfoods. Understory plants include Coffee, Galangal, Tumeric and Cardamon.

Poultry & Pig System: Two poultry systems flank the main path to the garden and composting bays.The main chicken system includes a strawyard for processing garden mulch and a forage forest if fruit trees and bamboo windbreak where garden weeds and food scraps are fed to the chickens.Breeds include old heritage rare breeds.Adjoining the poultry is the permanent pig pen housing for Polly,the main poo producer for compost.The pigs are taken for regular forage walks in the orchard and there are also pig tractor gardens where main staple crops are planted after the pigs worked the soil.

The mulch meadow: The main mulch meadow is a valuable source of mulch and provides an area for occasional animal free-ranging. It is also a valuable space for recreation and events.

Overall I really enjoyed my time at Djanbung Gardens and felt inspired by the place,its people and the lovely social environment. Hope to be back in the future.......

more about Djanbung Gardens and Robyn Francis here:

Core Model Poster by Gaia Craft

“The patterns and forms of a tree are found in many natural and evolved structures; an explosion, event, erosion sequence, idea, germination, or rupture at an edge or interface of two systems or media (here, earth and atmophsere) may generate the tree form in time and space. The tree form may be used as a general teaching model for geography, ecology, and evolution; it portrays the movement of energy and particles in time and space.”
– Bill Mollison

Inspired by an exercise from Permaculture Elder Larry Santoyo, this collaborative project between Delvin Solkinson and Martin Bridge grew out of their work together at the CoSM Visionary Permaculture Design Certificate Course. If you were to redesign society from the ground up, what elements would you need to have in place?

Consider both visible and invisible elements of that system. Integrating the design principle “Make it beautiful” and the spirit of CoSM’s effort to provide the most creative and inspiring model in all their efforts, Martin Bridge developed this learning tool over a number of versions.

This art is being offered freely to any designers, teachers and student who wish to utilize it in their work. This is a gift to the Permaculture Movement to support the evolution of permaculture education worldwide. Visit to see more of Martin’s work

download free from:

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Latest 3 months of practical work & learning at PRI Sunshine Coast

The importance of the demonstration, research and education we are a part of at PRI Sunshine Coast becomes more and more obvious when we look at the current challenging situations all around the world, the daily worrying news of war, exploitation and destruction. The evidence to act cannot be overlooked any longer and I think if we are not part of the solution, we are possibly part of the problem.

"As inhabitants of this Earth we breathe the same air, we watch the same starry skies and as humans we share the same basic needs. Every single one of us can choose to become a part of the solution instead of part of the problem; and we can support one another in opting for simple beauty and walking our talk." Gaia Education Publication
 I find this a highly empowering and encouraging statement which recognizes the power of the individual to bring about positive change. The motivation and inspiration for me personally to work hard to find alternative ways of living on this planet, to be part of the solution, is stimulated by quotes like this:

As David Holmgren said: "The quality of the revolution will be determined by the diversity of living and working models that we have the energy & vision to create."

I think that's what brought me to Australia, to work and learn at PRI Sunshine Coast and gain practical knowledge and understanding to be able to live a more self-reliant life and establish a working model for a regenerative future afterwards.

That's why I am happy to share with you what we have achieved and learned here in the last 3 months at PRI Sunshine Coast.

Firstly I would like to share about the wonderful experience of getting new family members on the farm, 19 baby chicks were born with the help of our low-budget incubator on site.

     The babies enjoying freedom in the grass

A pleasure for the eyes was seen the morning that we went into the garden and the dragon fruit next to the pond was in flower. Its just such a pretty and special flower and each time again I like to enjoy its beauty.  I feel grateful and blessed working in an environment with such natural beauty around on a daily basis.

                                           The dragon fruit flower

One of the diverse projects we completed was the Humanure Storage Bank with a Vetiver grass thatch roof. We have compost toilets here and we store the Humanure for 12 months before we use it on tree systems; so we need a facility to store large amounts of Humanure safely for 12 months. This works best in a shaded place, protected from too much rain and wildlife or dogs.

                                     The Humanure storage bank

The timber for the Humanure Storage Bank wood structure was completely recycled from used timber and for the roof we used split Bamboo that we harvested from a friend living close by and split ourselves to create the structure for holding the Vetiver grass thatch. The Vetiver grass was grown on site.We use Vetiver grass a lot as edge plant functioning as a weed barrier and soil stabilizer as it has very long root systems.

                                         Thatching in action

The thatching itself is a slow and almost meditative process which needs patience and concentration. It was an amazing learning experience and had been a dream of mine for a couple of years to actually make a thatch roof. It just looks beautiful, is totally compost-able after use and produced on site from natural materials.

One day Tom had an amazing and simple idea of putting holes into a barrel and filling it with kitchen waste to create a Black Soldier fly breeding barrel and low budget protein supply for our chickens.

                                                     Soldier fly barrel

For 12 days in April there was a Permaculture Design Course on site with 14 participants from a diverse range of background and multiple nationalities like Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Germany. On the first day Tom and the participants  made an 18 Day Compost which I also had the pleasure to be involved with. The 18 Day Compost, also called the Berkley Method is a fast track hot composting method which creates compost very quickly but is labor intensive as you need to turn the pile after 4 days every 2 days.

                Tom with the compost materials explaining the steps of 18 day composting

During the PDC Course, Tom also showed  the worm-farm grease-trap which filters the grey water that comes from our showers and dish washing sinks. The outlet feeds a swale so that the nutrient rich water can slowly infiltrate into the soil and feed the vegetation down slope. The worm-farm grease-trap has multifunctional benefits: breeding worms as well as producing worm castings mixed with rich, fertile soil that has been decomposed by the worms from the organic matter that we put into the grease trap once in a while.

                                           The worm-farm grease-trap

Another exciting experience was the harvesting of wild bee honey and at the same time splitting the hive to create another colony for another hive. It was really amazing for me to see the architecture of the inside of the beehive and all the processes that are going on in there. We harvested the valuable wild honey and split the hive into two colonies to establish a second hive.

                                                    The hive opened open up ready for harvest

 We also shifted our chicken tractor to a new place which the chickens are going to work on for 5 weeks until most of the grasses have been scratched through and the area will be ready for the planting of a multi-story food forest guild. Usually we plant a variety of plants after the chickens have prepared the ground. We place a fruit tree in the center and we arrange different types of support species, like Crotalaria and Pigeon pea, in a pattern around it . Also we plant a ground cover of pinto peanut and make use of plants like Ginger, Arrowroot, Galangal, Comfrey, Tulsi and Mugwort to create a multi-layered diverse part of the food forest. This is a really exciting process to watch as the chicken tractor is moving along the land and behind it a food forest starts to emerge.

                                           The chickens in the Chicken Tractor preparing the planting site

                                   Newly planted food forest section after chickens prepared the soil

                                  The emerging Food Forest behind the chicken tractor

 I am also pretty excited about cream, cheese and yoghurt making. The last 4 months I have been involved in the weekly making of cream, butter, cheese and yoghurt from the milk of the cow named Choko that I milk twice daily. At the moment I have the chance to train Adrien, a long term volunteer on the cow routine and therefore just need to do the milking once a day and this gives my hands a welcome break!

                                                         Cheese making in process

 I felt satisfied and inspired by being part of another closed-loop system where I rotate the cows through a cell grazing system with 25 cells spread out over the property. This prevents overgrazing and actually builds soil over time. I milk Choko twice a day and we use the milk for cream, butter, cheese and yoghurt and also for raw milk consumption in teas and coffees. The manure from the cows is used in a Biogas Digestor that provides us with gas to cook. The biogas sludge is composted and used in the vegetable gardens. Through creating connections and beneficial relationships we can utilizes our resources to their fullest potential. We can design and create systems that don't produce waste and follow nature's cyclic patterns which are represented in the Permaculture principle of Catch, Store and Recycle Energy & Nutrients. This for me is at the heart of good Permaculture Design.

                                            The finished and preserved homemade cheese

Each month there is the Noosa Permaculture Group Seed Saving meeting in Pomona and we went along to help pack seeds and connect with local networks. It was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere were we all had the chance to sort and pack a diversity of seeds. This is a good opportunity to get in close contact with the precious seeds that are so crucial in our Permaculture systems.

                                                The Noosa Permaculture Group Seed bank

We also have been working on the Goat Fodder Area. The aim was to clear a fenced off area around our goat paddocks and produce some forage material on spot.We made a quick design of a perennial cropping pattern and after implemented straight away.We cleared the grasses, sheet mulched the area to prevent weeds and planted several fodder species like Leucaena, Pigeon Pea, Moringa, Bamboo and Ice cream Bean. I hope it all grows fast so our 4 goats can enjoy the good, fresh fodder soon.

                                         The quick perennial cropping pattern map that I made

                                     Planting Trees in the goat fodder area

 Another big project was getting logs from a neighbour's property for fencing material and other wood for construction purposes. I had the chance to use the Koehler Lucas Mill a portable saw mill for the first time. Tom showed me how to use this amazing machine and I sawed up a few pieces of flooring material by myself in the end from a really big log.

                                         The portable sawmill in action

Overall it feels like we have had a very active 3 months here and lots has been learned and achieved. The more I work practically on the land, the more I get connected with the idea of seeing Permaculture also as an art-form, the art of regenerative ecosystem and human habitat design & management.

"When the poems, paintings & galleries have long gone, the piece of land you worked on and co-created will still persist "(Bill Mollison)

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

P A Yeomans - the originator of the Keyline Plan for land development

This is a rare first time digitized interview with P A Yeomans, the originator of the Keyline Plan for land development.

P A Yeomans wrote the following four books in five formats (each out of print):
1. Yeomans, P.A. (1954). The Keyline Plan. Sydney, NSW: P.A. Yeomans
2. Yeomans, P.A. (1958). The Challenge of Landscape. Sydney, NSW: Keyline Publishing Pty Ltd.
3. Yeomans, P.A. (1965, 1968). Water For Every Farm. Sydney, NSW: The K.G. Murray Publishing Company Pty Ltd.
4. Yeomans, P.A. (1971). The City Forest. Sydney, NSW: Keyline Publishing Pty Ltd.
5. Yeomans, P.A. (1978). Water For Every Farm Using The Keyline Plan. Sydney, NSW: Murray Book Distributors Pty Ltd.
or Yeomans, P.A. (1981). Water For Every Farm Using The Keyline Plan. Katoomba, NSW: Second Back Row Press Pty Ltd.

Additionally, P A Yeomans' academic colleague wrote (out of print):
6. Holmes, J.M. (1960). The Geographical Basis of Keyline. Sydney, NSW: Angus & Robertson Pty Ltd.

Thanks go to Geoff Booth for digitizing this interview from compact cassette tape.


Last weekend I was fortunate enough to have the chance to participate in the Retrofit Mullumbimby Workshop with David Holmgren the co-originator of the Permaculture Design Science and also listen to his Aussie Street talk the day before in the Mullumbimby Civic Hall.

                          David Homlgren's Aussie Street talk at the Civiv Hall in Mullumbimby

Davids Aussie Street talk deals with the Energy Descent Future ahead of us and asks the question of how will the typical suburban australien household deal with an energy descent future when less cheap oil will be available and climate change effects us. In a country were there are in total 8 Mio. empty bedrooms in massive houses. This type of questions were raised :

What will we eat? What will it cost?
What will we do with all the open spaces in a typical Australien suburban
What type of economic system will be present?
What will we do with coastal real estate that has lost its value as climate change
is in full effect ?
Can Permaculture renew suburbs after the property bubble collapses?
What type of opportunities are going to be there?

Many examples and possible solutions have been discussed reaching from a renewable solar-powered agriculture systems,Community Supported Agriculture , non monetary economics, re-localization , community networks and collaboration.

A few actions to kick-start the re-localization process have been mentioned:
 Get producing & support local producers
 Review needs & reduce consumption
 Share your place! Get in a boarder!
 Car pool
 Get out of debt
 Network for inspiration & information

During the talk several times for me the importance of collaboration and shift in personal behaviors have come up. The utmost importance of social connection and re-localization with a focus on resilience and productivity using Permaculture as a model for direct change.

A very clear and inspiring statement from one of Davids publications always keeps coming back to me:
…...the ways we observe & fail to see,the ways we think & fail to grasp,the ways we speak & fail to listen are all more important to the long term achievement of a sustainable society then any particular information about appropriate technology,plant and animal species or land management. While
information & experience with these elements in the Permaculture toolkit are necessary they do not of themselves lead to sustainable systems.

The focus of collaboration,co-operation and personal transformation becomes very clear after David mentioned to the group:

How many competent backyard gardeners have we produced in the last 30
years of Permaculture? How realistic is the future of all of us growing their own
food in a Permaculture way on their own land?

This question come to my mind:
Do we all need to collaborate together and set up local food systems which are ethical and environmental sustainable?

The next day we meet at 9am at the Community Gardens of Mullumbimby an
very inspiring place and project.

                                             A part of Community Gardens Mullumbimby

The workshop started with a short introduction of Davids 30 year long work at his own place Melliodora in Victoria. Its was really really inspiring to here directly from him and his partner Su about the successes and challenges of 30 years Permaculture Design,Education and Living.

                              David and Su sharing details about Melliodora

David Holmgren has been recommending for 30 years: to engage in a shift away from being a dependent consumer, and toward being a responsible self-reliant producer for your household and community, and to shift a significant portion of assets out of the mainstream economy and move them into building household and community resilience.(from Integral

Melliodora is one of the only places with an in depth study and documentation of the effects and benefits of a Permaculture system operating for 30 years and is definitely one of the best managed and established Permaculture sites in the world . David documented very well all the yields , inputs and outputs of his specific site. At Melliodora David and Su have worked within the following areas which are of great importance for resilience:

 History and Connection to place
 Constraints of climate an wildlife
 Surveying the opportunities
 Earthworks
 Ecological building materials
 Passive solar design – cooling,heating,food storage
 Waterharvesting
 Nutrient cycling & soil building
 Garden agriculture – food security,health , conservation
 Tree crops – food,fodder and mulch
 Working with animals – yield & ecological services
 Harvesting wild abundance – mushrooms,bees,berries
 Local and seasonal food culture
 Low energy food preserving
 Immersing children in holistic living
 A focus on shared food
 Renewable energy from low to high tech
 Creative re use and manufacture
 Learning from novel ecosystems
 Food Forests for the future
 Community supported agriculture
 Volunteering and exchange
 Publishing and documentation
 Sharing the space and connecting to the world
 Communicating the message
 Measuring & monitoring your project

The following two question were raised during David presentation:
 Can we measure resilience?
 Does resilience also reduce environmental impact?

Together we were also looking at resilience indicators before we move on to the presentation of the Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) for a Brown Tech future. The theme was planning positively for a world of less while we hope for the best but assume the worst. The Energy Descent Scenarios were clearly outline to us:

It was made clear to us that severe climate change and rapid collapse of our resource base could easily trigger a major crisis which most of us are not prepared for. We realized that a crisis also creates opportunities and breaks open a door for new possibilities. The knowledge of this possibilities that might come up connects us to the importance of preparedness to make best use of new opportunities. The valuable skills of practical self-reliance,collaboration and Permaculture Design will help us to make direct change in the following areas:

 Land and nature stewardship
 Buildings and infrastructure
 Tools and technology
 Education and culture
 Health and spiritual well being
 Finance and economics
 Land tenure and community governance

We also brainstormed together in groups useful strategies for specific energy descent scenarios.

Following the brainstorm,we discussed all together strategies to retrofit Mullumbimby and their aim of 100% sustainability in the near future.

A quick mindmap with input from DavidÅ› years of experience and knowledge was created and will be a useful resource for the future work of the Mullumbimby action groups.

Afterwards we had a good lunch of local organic home made food before the action groups of Mullumbimby meet for their 2nd yearly meeting to share,connect and exchange. For me it was impressive to see how forward thinking and active the local community in Mullumbimby is and it gave me a lot of hope and inspiration for the future ahead.

 Thanks so much to David for his inspiring talks and wealth of knowledge,to all the activists involved in direct action in the Mullumbimby area and the organizers from Free Farm for their great work and dedication.It was really a great start into the weekend !

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Our roots are our future - Root and tuber crops


I am telling you a story, it’s the story of your roots, of the plants which feed you, and
which have fed your ancestors ever since. They are also the oldest plants cultivated on earth.
They are reliable, solid, adaptable, humans have transported and adjusted then accordingly to
their wishes and tastes. This story is yours; you will decide what you want to do with it.

Part I. Our heritage.
1. Roots and tubers crops.
Root crops (such as cassava, sweet potato, yams, and taros) are mainly produced in
tropical, least developed, countries. They are cultivates yearly on more than 25 million
hectares and yielding around 415million tonnes of fresh harvest each year.
The available statistics are very much under-estimated due to the fact that these plants
are more or less cultivated in small gardens and in remote areas. These factors contribute to
non existing, or less reliable figures.
These plants have been included since thousands of years in traditional agro-forestry
systems with other species such as bananas, island cabbage, sugar cane, breadfruit, papaya,
just to name a few.

They sometimes take up fringing spaces where other species couldn’t be cultivated;
like swamps or stiff slopes, for example.
Women are most likely to produce these plants for the rural and municipal markets and they
therefore contribute directly to local development.

Five hundred millions people live on these plants for their daily use and they are
consumed by more than 2 billions people on earth, especially in tropical humid areas where
are concentrated a major part of the world’s population. These species are essential for the
world food security.

In Melanesia and in Vanuatu especially as well in all the humid tropical countries we
can see that farmers practice “vegeculture”. Vegeculture requires no machineries for planting
and for labour because these terms determine “agriculture” a cropping system based on the
use of fossil, non renewable, energy. Vegeculture is done with simple basic tools, which
requires no fuel energy and is therefore very much environment friendly. These tools are of
course, a bush knife, a pick, hoes and shovels.

Vegeculture deals with individual plants and manipulates generally clones and not
seedlings. Here is another major difference with agriculture. These plants are planted out
individually in plots by using vegetative propagation, never using seeds. That’s why it is
called “vegeculture”

Even though the people are mostly poor and deprived, their planting system is far from
being primitive, it sometimes require sophisticated knowledge in agro-forestry and sometimes
techniques of irrigation.

It has proven itself to be sustainable and the yields are impressive. Indeed, these plants
allow farmers to gain manually, without machines and the use of fuel energy, a higher yield
than what they would have, planting cereal with their poor means.
Even though, these plants belong to different botanical families, these root crops share
the same biological characteristics. On the one hand, the useful organ/part is underground. We
have root tubers for cassava and sweet potato, tubers for yams and corms or cormels for taros.
On the other hand, these plants with vegetative propagation never flower or do so
episodically. They, therefore, have quite a narrow genetic base and it is their only weakness
nowadays in a world where changes are tremendous.
Thus, unfortunately, if we consider these plants as orphans from the International
Agronomic Research System it is because very few scientists have worked on their genetic
improvements. Moreover, at the national level, they are mostly neglected from research even
though they have in most countries an important cultural impact. They are food-producing
crops and nowadays they are mostly crops of income.
Generally, the farmers always work with their traditional cultivars. The fast change of
diet and the increase of wheat and cereals imports and other starches as well as climatic
changes have a strong impact on the agrobiodiversity of these root crop species.

2. An amazing variation.
The morphological variability of these root crops is impressive even though they have
been cloned by cuttings. People from some villages have more than a 100 different cultivars
of the same species. One could count at least 10 to 15 or more different varieties per family.
The traditional knowledge on these plants is very much complete. A traditional
cultivar and its cultural background such as its vernacular name, its history, colour, texture, its
transformation, the taste, its planting methods, the type of soil … etc… are passed on from
generation to generation and travels very easily.

Then…. where do all these varieties come from if the farmers don’t use sexual
reproduction and no seeds? How can cloning enables a wide spread of variety? Let’s leave it
to the farmers to tell us.

Heritage, exchanges, new introductions, mutations, discoveries, there is a wide range
of ways to accumulate the visible diversity in root crop gardens. Vegeculture appears to be an
extremely dynamic system which generates a certain form of diversity that farmers are eager
to handle.

But this dynamic system is only maintained thanks to the socio-cultural weight of
these plants. They are traditionally related to many forms of Cultural figures and meanings:
the reputation or esteem of a clan, the exchange of an heritage, the preparation of a traditional
dish which is highly regarded in custom, such as for marriage, religious feasts, gaining chiefly
titles, burials, etc… These plants belong to a rich cultural environment which holds important
gastronomic knowledge and maintains particular folklores.

However, if these traditional root crop species are indicators of the cultural wellbeing
of nations, they nowadays have to face another challenge: being competitive with other
imported products.
And this is far from being accomplished

Part II. Threats to diversity.
1. The role of globalization.
The delicate balance in which we find the traditional varieties of most root crops is
being disrupted by the intrusion of “globalization”. The diversity in gastronomy leaves place
to the standardization of food flavour. Here and there we are fed by “modern agriculture”
which manages to produce cheap starch …but for how many more years?
It’s a victory for rice and wheat over local products. Being fed with imported bread
and rice, children adopt new diets from other civilizations very distant from what their parents
could offer them by working their land.

It’s a dive in an infernal and vicious cycle where the importers become dream
merchants who put on a pedestal the consumption of imported products: “consume and win!”
This raises however, a complex issue. Does it means that if developing countries want
to offer the young generation the satisfaction of their new food flavours and diet, they will
have to make the crucial choice to sacrifice their food crops to the benefit of export cash crops
needed to buy cereals from large producing countries?

Is it a sign that small sustainable forms of agriculture are being threatened by products
which totally depend on fuel energy for their production, packaging, as well as their
transport? And what should be done with the waste cause by the use of these products?
The rise of fuel costs on which depends agricultural productions that float the world is
intriguing. It should worried the leaders of least develop countries and lead them to debate on
their future’s self reliability? What will happen when the imported products won’t make it to
the dock and port due to the lack of fuel energy to produce and transport them?

 What will happen when they will be so expensive that one has to export more cash crops in
order to buy food supplies? This will drive to a pauperization or even proletarianization of
farmers who, in some countries, stay ironically land owners? Why didn’t they see in time that
this traditional vegeculture of long ago is the condition of their survival?

2. Changes in diets.
Eating habits are changing, but they disappear along with the pride feelings of
independence and self sufficiency in food. Hence, it is how the competition of imported starch
over local starch is present both in meals and in the gardens. Moreover, if some plants are no
longer consumed then the producers won’t cultivate them anymore. The varieties of species
vegetatively propagated that are not consumed neither used by human beings are not replanted
and are rapidly disappearing from the rural areas.

The traditional varieties could be called “humanized
plants”. They lived within the complicity of human beings for a long time, these varieties were modified by humans in order
to satisfy their needs which they are often depending on and are unable to survive without
them. So, when a traditional variety disappears from a specific area, then it can disappear

With the loss of these varieties, a lot of sections are disappearing from the local
culture: the myths of the origin, legends that are associated to these plants, the methods of
preparing some local dishes, and many things more…

The cultural wealth associated to the local produce is indeed directly linked with the
presence and the use of their genetic diversity. For instance, if 50% of the daily need in starch
is satisfied by imported food, it is probable that varieties which were, until then, used to vary
the tastes and the dishes will be put aside.

It is by following this trend that the dynamism of the vegeculture cropping system
could not evolve anymore. Some methods that worked for millennia and that have produced
the diversity we are observing nowadays will be forgotten. The less we cultivate, the less we
have chances to observe some mutants, or some spontaneous plants coming from seeds so
ultimately, we have a tiny chance to capture the diversity.

Loosing one’s plants is partly loosing one’s culture. But the cultural erosion of men is
also the main source of plant species genetic erosion. The cultural diversity and the
conservation of agro-biodiversity appear being undividable. If you loose your Culture, you
loose your food and your plants.
The genetic erosion of local food crops is revealing the cultural
erosion of the people.

Part III. Proposed solutions.
1. More research needed.
In only one century, one-third of the traditional varieties of food plants that men have
selected during millennia have disappeared.
In the case of roots crops, only the genetic resources of manioc, sweet potato and yam
are kept in international centres. For all the other yam and taro species and their varieites, the
genetic resources collections are very rare. Those which exist are being assembled and
disappear along with erratic funds, budgetary restrictions and accidents of all sorts, either
from the climate or the human side.

The conservation system for these plants seems to present serious constraints. It
essentially aims at creating collections that are maintained in the field, sometimes by in vitro
culture or by preservation at very low temperature. The concentration of these resources
requires a lot of financial and human means (farm workers, technicians, curators, and
laboratory workers) and present certain risks as a result of its centralization (epidemics or
diverse infections, mix or loss of ownership, natural disasters…etc).

Furthermore, the genetic improvement of particular trait, when it happens, is a very
slow process. The crossing by reproduction between the best parents and the selection of
improved varieties needs about ten years before producing a new selected variety.
Unfortunately, once the variety is selected, it couldn’t be said that it will reach the highest
number of producers. In fact, the seed industry which, for seed plants or potatoes for example,
distribute wholesome and highly efficient seeds, don’t exist in the case of tropical root crops.
Root crops producers are not farmers, the increase of vegetatively propagated cuttings
leads to a slow and very expensive distribution. Moreover, there are risks of distributing
diseases and there is often a need to use quarantine centres of transit, for cleaning up and
cultivating with in vitro methods. And this generates additional costs. Furthermore, the
selection of a new variety in a specific environment can often be disappointing when
evaluated elsewhere from its area of selection. Many varieties are mostly adapted to particular
and local conditions.

In reality, producers are, for most of them, left alone with themselves with no
assistance. As usual, they get rid of diseased plants then select healthy plants; they spot
“extraordinary” plants which will become the new varieties of the future.
Except that nowadays, other constraints have appeared. The diets are changing and
taking the farmers away from subsistence farming, the signs of climatic changes make the
millennia plants, of which, the narrow genetic basis becomes more vulnerable. Besides,
serious diseases are transmitted with the accidental insertions of insects, of bacteria, of fungi,
and other “poisoned gifts” of globalization which are speeding up the exchanges and

We still remember the disasters due to the narrowness of genetic basis of potato in
Ireland or more recently, to the one of taro in Western Samoa in 1993 which had destroyed
this culture in less than a year. It is thus necessary to anticipate in order to avoid these kinds
of situations.

2. A new approach for preserving and creating diversity.
It is too late to step backward. Globalization, changes in food habits, climatic
disturbances, and the whole process have been engaged and are speeding up. If the people of
the modern times are not ready to fight for the preservation of their ancestors food plants, if
the new tastes lead them to get rid of everything…. do we really need to submit ourselves to
loose a diet heritage of several millennia?

The traditional varieties are not adaptable to the changes of both the society and the
environment. When they disappear, it will be forever. What will then happen to the next
generations when the imported food won’t come in the country because of high costs of
production and the transport?

No one can say if future farmers will have enough financial resources to pay for more
and more cereals considering the cost in carbon and the volumes of copra, of cocoa and of
coffee that they will have to produce in exchange to the consumption of imported goods. At
the end, it is possible that the farmers will come back to “local”.
So what can be concretely done for these farmers?

We have been thinking of a new approach to preserve the best traditional varieties: an
approach based on an ancestral system of selection, but which tends to accelerate it. The
farmers are given some “new blood”, which means new exotic varieties or varieties coming
from remote regions, very different genetically from those they already have, but they have
the same taste so that they can be accepted by them.

Firstly, cuttings have been distributed but it is a long and expensive process
considering the isolation of some villages. In order to be free from the transport constraints of
the cuttings, farmers are offered some seeds and they are taught how to create diversity.
But these growers don’t know anything about root crop species flowers, fruit or seeds. They
must be taught how to cross breed their plants in order to create useful diversity for their
descendants… that is to say, they have to learn how to manipulate plants, which they already
knew since millennia but this time, by speeding up the process of manipulation… because in
the end, there is still a hope: if some diversity could be injected in areas where food plants are
cultivated, there is a chance that they will adapt to the rapidly changing environment.
The idea is simple: it a question of distributing geographically a wide diversity.
Contrary to the collections which are systems concentrating diversity in a specific area, our
approach aims at spreading, at distributing diversity. In other words, to do exactly the
opposite of what is usually done. It is a complementary approach which is particularly more
adapted to plants for which no seed industry exist and where the actors have to handle the
situation on their own.

It mainly aims at not putting all the eggs in one basket. The distribution of the new
genes under new variety forms is the best means of preserving this diversity. Finally, genetic
diversity is really similar to Culture, the more it is distributed, bigger the chances we get to
have something left from it. If the cultural erosion is the main cause of genetic erosion, then
the spreading and distribution of the genetic diversity could easily recreate what is currently
fading away.

It is you turn to act now. Do the same as these farmers, and dare to do it. It will take
time, but by injecting the bases of the future cropping systems into isolated areas or fields, we
are building the future.
It is too late to be pessimistic, in the islands and even in other parts of the planet.