‘Soil, Soul and Society’ – Dr Satish Kumar

It was a great disappointment that Vandana Shiva was too sick to be able to come to give her talk at the University of Hong Kong today, but, fortunately, Dr Satish Kumar gave his talk and it seemed to me to press many of the right buttons (I watched the talk on webcast). He began by saying how important it was for cities to be surrounded by farmland providing them with food, and that Nature and Culture work in partnership. He stressed how wrong it is to think of farming as being ‘dirty’ low-level work for ignorant peasants. We must recognise that it is honourable work and that we must bring back the dignity of working on the land. Unfortunately, we take it as an absolute must that we have cheap food, and we take it for granted that we can import anything from anywhere in the world very cheaply. This mindset must change. Our farming methods contribute 15% of the CO2 which we are pumping into the air, and so are a major contributor to global warming. But we have also come to see food as just a commodity, and so we have allowed violent forms of food production to develop, such as factory farming. We need to recover our sense of the sacred quality of food, and to produce all of our food non-violently, and this will only happen when we regain our awareness of our intimate links to all of creation, be it to cows and sheep or to the lowly but magnificent earthworm.

Agribusiness with its modern methods of farming is concerned about one thing only – making a profit. It has helped destroy small-scale farming around the world because of its financial muscle, enabling it to pour massive amounts of money into fossil-fuel-driven agriculture which small farmers have no way of competing with. Thus it causes poverty and climate change whilst being a ludicrous waste of precious fossil fuels. Globalisation has reached ridiculous proportions. What is the sense of water being transported from Scotland to France at the same time as water is being transported from France to Scotland? I’m sure we can all think of many similar examples.

So, we need to move from globalisation to localisation. Buy local, and buy organic. Get involved in growing food even if it’s only on a balcony. Mindful Gardening  is therapeutic, healing the psyche and the soul far better than any visit to a doctor’s surgery (especially if it’s the one in Mui Wo). Gandhi emphasised the dignity of manual labour: we need to re-discover that. We’ve got to stop our war on nature, with our combine harvesters and pesticides and chemical fertilisers. We need to return to local, small-scale farming, using technology to aid us, not to replace us. Above all, we need to SLOW DOWN (HK are you listening?). Mindful growing-harvesting-cooking-sharing with guests will help us recover an awareness of the sacredness of food.

At the root of all this is the need to compost everything we can, replenishing the soil to produce food in a truly sustainable way. Compost is Green Gold. In the UK 40% of the food produced is wasted. We are the Waste Makers.

It was an inspiring talk, but in all honesty I think he was preaching to the converted. I agreed with just about everything he said, but I don’t think people will recognise the dignity of farm work until it’s paid decently. That won’t happen as long as people whinge about having to pay more for organic vegetables which are grown locally, and opt to buy tomatoes flown in fresh from the US, or wherever. We all need to do some serious thinking about where our priorities lie, and put our money where our mouth is.

I suppose the only surprise was that he made no mention of what communities can do, rather than individuals. Coming from the heartland of the Transition Movement I thought he might mention it. My own stupid computer skills meant I managed to delete my question on this twice before sending it, by which time the last question was being called. Doh!

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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