Nature projects

Wander off the grid. Smell the flowers along the way. Observe the waste along the road. Speak to the people along the path. And the flower, the waste and the people will tell them their stories. Their stories which are our stories, in fact. Stories which teach us everything and more. Which provide nutritions and guidance for our ways forward.

Go back to basics of life and it will teach you how our relationship with nature is intended to be. We are taken care by nature through her nourishing gifts. Plants, trees, fruits, water.. We ARE nature. So why don’t we act as if we have a close relationship with nature?

I have followed my heart to go out in the world and see what is happening. How is the relationship that communities have with nature? What environmental problems do they face? And how can we learn and develop beautiful projects that help us change that relationship in a positive way? Because as cities grow bigger, as modern lifestyles develop, as new practices take over traditional ones, we face new challenges for sustainable living on and with our common space for life, our nourisher, our mother… earth.

I am very grateful for the organisations and people I have worked with. There are so many ways in which we can create and live our lives. How amazing if we can take up soms ways of thinking and living which nourish both our hearts and this unique earth we live on!

I would like to share some of my experiences and insights with you about these beautiful projects.

Justdiggit and LEAD Foundation, Tanzania

I can be so amazed by the endless coming and going of water in a river. It all passes by, day after day, night after night. There seems no end to it. Water keeps coming.. I see it as one of the wonders of nature and it makes me filled with gratitude. Will there no end to it at all.. ever..? I wondered as a child.

After my experience in Tanzania, I know the answer. Yes, there can surely be an end to the seemingly ‘endless’ river stream. During my work I have seen so many dried up river beddings. River beddings of rivers which were once full-year streaming. Nowadays some rivers are seasonal, most are not even seasonal but occasional. Only when it rains, only then, the bedding is filled with water for a couple of hours. Rain periods shorten, and when the rain falls then often so heavily it causes huge floodings. The floodings and the periods of drought have many consequences: soil erosion, diseases, damaging of crops, bushfires, soil fertility loss, and so on. Can you imagine how this affects the lives of many farmers dependent on rain? And how it affects the overall environment? Once an oasis of green, now that same place is rather similar to a desert.

Now, there are many processes which lead to the change of regional climates. The main ones derive from human activities, globally and locally. The arrival of English and German settlers has had drastic influences on the traditional ways of living and agriculture in Tanzania. Tanzania is one example; I have seen in many countries how the involvement of western world has had (and is still having) consequences for local communities and their quality of life. The western idea of making your land as bare as possible, all potential space utilised for crops, does not leave any space for trees and forests. And so many other human practices, such as cutting trees excessively for firewood and letting cattle graze without limitations, do not benefit local ecosystems. Trees disappear out of the landscape, which affects climate and decreases the resilience of nature.

Justdiggit (Netherlands) and LEAD Foundation (Tanzania) started a beautiful program together as an answer to local and global climate changes. This is done through the training of local farmers in various landscape restoration techniques. One of them is FMNR (Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration). This is an amazing and costless method where tree stumps are pruned and protected to enable them to regrow again into a mature tree. Another one is digging big waterbunds in the earth, so that water has a better chance to infiltrate into the soil and let grasses grow in and around the bunds. The more vegetation, the more evaporation, the more rain and the cooler the local climate.

Justdiggits main goal is to fight climate change by regreening arid areas in the world. But for me the program in Tanzania goes way beyond this: it is about making people mindful to connect again to nature. To think about how to combine agricultural and daily life activities with nature. It is about changing mindsets so that more sustainable human behaviour can be achieved. When do we live a sustainable life? When it is done out of the heart… With passion and compassion. When we are aware and we feel what is needed to be done.

Very important is that our nature projects give ownership to local communities in the project. Because in the end, they make the change. They can choose how they respond to challenges. It is important to make people aware about their responsibility and capability. We can all take up the shovel and start today!

Navdanya Biodiversity Farm, India

One of the most beautiful insights I got at ecofarm Navdanya (Dehradun, India) is how important seeds actually are in our life. I never thought of seeds that much. Neither do many people. So let me share something about seeds with you.. Taken by the wind, they are nature’s travellers through the world. They provide our basis for life, the creation room from where flowers, medicines, food, oxygen, peaceful environments can grow. They are all of nature’s intelligence put together. They are the bridge between closure and beginning of life. The ornaments of mother nature. Small and yet so big. And if we observe them closely, with peace and patience, they are our teachers too..

All the reason to care for them, respect them, embrace them. Traditional seeds are getting replaced more and more by GMO seeds. A global trend, stimulated by large corporations and governments. The indigenous seeds provide highly nutritious food without needing any chemicals to grow, unlike GMO seeds. Original varieties in wheat, rice, oats, legumes, and so on get lost. In return a new system is born with weaker seeds that have unhealthy impacts on people and nature. Happy to see that there are movements which protect and distribute those precious little buddies!

Waste Warriors, India

Our consumption patterns are impacting our environment globally in different ways. We like to live with today’s luxuries, but it seems that we often don’t think about the waste that comes with it. Producing, consuming, and then.. oh wait, now I have plastic and a phone that I don’t want any longer. What to do?

In India there is slowly some awareness rising among governments that waste is an environmental problem that should be dealt with sooner or later. And that it is a growing problem with growing consumption patterns and growing population. Some neighbourhoods in cities nowadays have a system where garbage is picked up from homes. Wet waste, dry waste, all together. Where does it go? To a landfill in the open air. I once drove through a beautiful landscape full off green hills. I smelled a non-nature like dirty smell. When I looked to my left, a huge landfill exposed and it hit my heart to see this happening to nature. And I knew: my own waste ends up here too.. Sometimes we are good in hiding it, especially in Western countries we don’t want to see this happening in front of our eyes. Sometimes, like in this case in India, hiding the waste underground is not seen as necessary. But hiding or no hiding: it has the same effect on nature. In Europe still 90% of the landfills are non-sanitary, meaning these landfills lack the required environmental protection technologies to decrease harmful effects on soil and environment.

Often in developing countries there is no system for garbage pick-up, segregation and recycling. The waste ends up in open burning or open dumping. Open burning is simply burning the waste in small open fires. More than 40% of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires. The smoke contains a lot of toxic pollutants which are very harmful for health and atmosphere. Also it is harmful to grow any crops in soil that has been used for this purpose. Open dumping is another activity used, where waste is being dumped outside the house. They can be find anywhere: public spaces, market places, compounds, etcetera.

Since India’s government is still lacking behind in taking up action, it is amazing that organizations as Waste Warriors have taken up responsibility and care to collect, segregate and recycle trash. They also have education programs running in schools to create more awareness among our future generations.