Restorative Climate Justice
A Concept to Place at the Heart of Foreign Aid and International Development?
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The concept of restorative climate justice has been endorsed by the Scotland-Malawi Partnership.
In the course of reflecting on our Scottish Government-funded schools project in Malawi, and how we would like to take this work forward, we developed the concept of restorative climate justice. It is described below, and you can also download a PDF version, complete with appendices and bibliography.
Let us know if you think this is a useful concept and, if so, how we can all take it forward. Feedback is most welcome.
The concept of restorative climate justice was inspired by our work with schools in the Rumphi District of Malawi.
‘Africa has much to offer its citizens and to the world. With appropriate redirection of policies and investment, the wealth of our seed, agrobiodiversity, land, vibrant cultures and nature can contribute to solving the food crisis affecting so many of our people.’
Earth in Common proposes a new term: ‘restorative climate justice’. The concept it describes brings together elements of restorative justice, climate justice, agroecology and food sovereignty. While it is arguably already implicit in many effective projects, it has not, to our knowledge, ever been made explicit. We believe the concept could contribute to the field of international aid and development, boosting the fight against climate change, enhancing climate resilience and, not least, greatly increasing the status and wellbeing of indigenous peoples.
Restorative climate justice in a nutshell
Restorative climate justice brings together many of the elements of restorative justice and climate justice, and adds a further one: a more literal interpretation of the word ‘restorative’ than is necessarily always involved in the former. It empowers people, in accordance with the principles of climate justice,
to research, explore and rediscover their traditional/indigenous agricultural practices and varieties of crops and livestock, as well as their beliefs and customs relating to agriculture and land stewardship, and their historical land tenure/ownership, in order to identify (in particular) elements which could combat climate change or help climate resilience, and/or
to transmit, implement, revive or use such elements of traditional/indigenous practices, varieties of crops/livestock, beliefs and customs, and tenure/ownership, and/or
to combat forces threatening the above.
Restorative climate justice in a nutshell
Guardians of the Forest
The Work of EarthLore
Additional recommended reading (extracts from
and links to useful articles)
*For the Appendices and Bibliography, please see the PDF version of this briefing.*
Appendix I: The Value of Traditional/Indigenous Agricultural Practices, Crops and Beliefs Affecting Land Stewardship and How These Were/Are Threatened [see PDF]
Extract 1: Lessons from Zimbabwe [see PDF]
Extract 2: Information on Selected Crops and Approaches to Agriculture [see PDF]
Appendix II: The Principles of Food Sovereignty [see PDF]
Bibliography [see PDF]
Restorative climate justice is fundamentally about respect, and meaningful contrition, on the part of those responsible for climate change and those who have disparaged/displaced/destroyed the traditional cultures, technologies, etc., which did not/would not have caused climate change, and which could help combat it and/or boost resilience in the face of it.
Why is the concept of restorative climate justice needed?
Restorative climate justice is already implicit in many enlightened and effective projects and approaches to aid/development (e.g. probably most of those which embrace the principles of food sovereignty – see ‘Examples of restorative climate justice’ and Appendix II). Such projects contrast with damaging and counterproductive ones which do not comply with this concept (for examples see Curtis, 2016, and Dodwell, 2016).
By promoting the concept of restorative climate justice, one decreases the chances of the latter ‘slipping through the net’ and receiving support, ensuring funds go entirely to projects which respect human rights and effectively address climate change and promote climate resilience.
Earth in Common believes that this concept should be discussed in schools, as a means of fostering a holistic approach to global issues, and should become an accepted framework for projects, or criterion/suite of criteria against which they should be evaluated.
The general principles of restorative justice are described by the Crown Prosecution Service (Crown Prosecution Service, n.d.) as follows:
Restorative justice (RJ) has been defined as a process through which parties with a stake in a specific offence collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future. RJ can take the form of victim-offender mediation either through direct contact between the offender and victim or indirect communication involving third parties. It can also involve restitution or reparation where this is agreed between offenders and their victims.
The aims of RJ are commonly stated to be:
Victim satisfaction: To reduce the fear of the victim and ensure they feel ‘paid back’ for the harm that has been done to them.
Engagement with the perpetrator: To ensure that they are aware of the consequences of their actions, have the opportunity to make reparation, and agree a plan for their restoration in the community.
Creation of community capital: To increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and other agencies with a responsibility for delivering a response to anti-social behaviour.
Properly administered, RJ processes produce individually tailored solutions involving interaction between offenders, victims and the community. RJ can give victims answers to questions about why they have been victimised that information or support on their own cannot. Victims are more likely to receive an apology through an RJ process than at court. Similarly for offenders, RJ processes offer a unique opportunity to face up to what they have done, take responsibility and make up for the harm their offending has caused.
Climate justice has been summarised by Mary Robinson (Canzi, 2015) as follows:
Climate justice is a moral argument in two parts. Firstly it compels us to understand the challenges faced by those people and communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Often the people on the front lines of climate change have contributed least to the causes of the climate crisis. This is an injustice which can only be rectified by swift and ambitious climate action, including reducing emissions to zero as rapidly as possible.
Climate justice also informs how we should act to combat climate change. We must ensure that the transition to a zero carbon economy is just and that it enables all people to realise their right to development. This requires that the global community acts in solidarity and ensures that the necessary resources are available to allow all countries and people to make the transition to clean, renewable energy on the same timescale.
Implicit in the above is that the most well-resourced (often the most responsible for climate change) have a duty to help the less well-resourced (often the least responsible for climate change but the main victims of it).
Mary Robinson, former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been very active on the issue of climate justice. (Photo attribution: Nationaal Comité 4 en 5 mei)
How exactly does restorative climate justice relate to climate justice and restorative justice?
Restorative climate justice is completely aligned with the broader concept of climate justice, but explicitly recognises the harm done to indigenous peoples by much so-called ‘development’, and the potentially invaluable contribution of their heritage to combating climate change and promoting climate resilience.
Restorative climate justice could be considered to be a subdivision, or type, of climate justice, and so is fully in line with it. Restorative climate justice is also related to restorative justice, but differs from it in that restitution/reparation are essential, not optional, and that the perpetrator can be viewed as an economic system or philosophy (e.g. neoliberalism), or country or group of countries (e.g. the Global North), as well as legal persons (be they people or organisations such as corporations). Accordingly, the mechanisms for engagement may not always be the same as those in used in simple restorative justice. Acknowledgement of responsibility, and to some extent awareness of the consequences of their actions, is implicit in perpetrators’ acknowledgement of the concept of restorative climate justice. This could be done at government level, with governments explicitly funding projects aligned with the principles of restorative climate justice.
Restitution/reparation of what?
Restorative climate justice’s interpretation of restitution/reparation (possible elements of restorative justice) flows from its acknowledgement of the following:
Many traditional/indigenous agricultural practices, crops and social systems had/have great survival value, and served/serve to maintain/foster biodiversity and provide environmentally sustainable and highly nutritious diets. Though sometimes dismissed as superstitious and primitive by westerners (or should that be northerners?), ‘tribal’ beliefs and customs can embody significant wisdom and be invaluable in safeguarding critical elements of the biosphere in addition to serving social purposes. This is illustrated by the culture and traditions of Zimbabwe’s Shona people, which is discussed at length in Appendix I. They not only developed and transmitted wisdom, in relation to how to live sustainably and foster community but, integrated with this, they also developed and preserved an array of highly adapted crops and livestock. Furthermore, (one author writes) their sacred groves were effectively the first national parks in the world.
To use one of today’s most important buzzwords, many aspects of traditional/indigenous practices, crops, beliefs and customs were/are highly ‘climate-resilient’ or contribute/contributed to ‘climate resilience’. They also had minimal or negative carbon footprints. However, they have been/continue to be displaced and destroyed by colonialism, land grabbing, and the ‘green revolution’/productivist approach to agriculture (typically monoculture-based and requiring high inputs of fossil fuels, artificial fertilisers and pesticides) allied with neoliberal/‘free-market’ capitalism. (In reality, markets are often rigged to benefit large corporations and the subsidised agricultural sectors of the global north.) Climate change is significantly contributed to by the very forces of agro-industry which are also destroying this priceless legacy which could combat it and build climate resilience.
With regard to land grabbing, indigenous peoples historically had tenure and control of their land, which is the same as saying that they had power and agency. However, they may not have a system of land ownership considered valid by forces seeking to dispossess them. They may also not have the means to defend themselves against violent attempts to harm or dispossess them, or access to formal justice.
Restorative climate justice may help people recover/protect/transmit elements of their heritage and/or restore their agency with regard to their land.
How does food sovereignty relate to restorative climate justice?
Projects funded by ‘perpetrators’ to benefit ‘victims’ of climate change (restorative justice terms), and which are in alignment with the principles of food sovereignty (Appendix II), are likely to be examples of restorative climate justice. Restorative climate justice is a broader concept, however, as it would include projects that have no direct relationship to food. They might involve, for example, the restoration of ‘sacred groves’ which, while indirectly benefiting agriculture and food sovereignty, more directly protect/foster biodiversity and protect watersheds and water sources. Combating land grabbing would also fall within the sphere of restorative climate justice (see ‘Examples of restorative climate justice’, below).
Earth in Common has long championed food sovereignty. Click on this screenshot from Friends of the Earth’s website to learn more about this concept, closely related to restorative climate justice.
What restorative climate justice does and does not do/stand for
Restorative climate justice does not maintain or imply that all indigenous traditions/practices are good, or that all ‘modern’ practices are bad. It is not against science or technology, per se, and is compatible with integrating the best of the old with the best of the new, seeking to draw intelligently on indigenous heritage to combat climate change and boost climate resilience, to add to/improve the mix of agroecology, agroforestry, permaculture, conservation agriculture, etc., already developed which can be used to meet these aims. (However, it is hard to envisage the circumstances in which the term ‘restorative climate justice’ could be applied to projects promoting GM crops, for example.)
It will not promote elements which flout fundamental human rights.
It does insist that all projects should be led and approved by the people they seek to benefit, and that costs should largely be borne by ‘perpetrators’ or those representing them.
How does restorative climate justice relate to women’s rights?
Because projects aligned with restorative climate justice must also respect fundamental human rights (see above), and because women were/are the bearers of much indigenous knowledge and, for example, played/play a major role in saving seeds and preserving crop varieties (Shiva, n.d.), while restorative climate justice is not primarily about women’s rights per se, restorative climate justice projects will often necessarily have elements relating to gender justice, empowering women and supporting their rights.
Women's rights and restorative climate justice are linked, in that often women are the custodians of indigenous agricultural knowledge and crop varieties.
Extra benefits of restorative climate justice
The denigration and destruction of a people’s belief systems, tribal identity and sense of agency can have dire consequences for individuals’ mental health, self-esteem and general wellbeing. Bruce K. Alexander (Alexander, 2010) and Gabor Maté (Clark, 2013) argue that psychosocial dislocation is the major cause of harmful addiction and therefore it is little wonder that dispossessed indigenous peoples often suffer high rates of harmful addictions and other mental health issues. Conversely, by restoring what has been damaged or destroyed, by assisting people to reconnect with the best aspects of their heritage, one can enhance self-esteem (pride in heritage and identity), foster wellbeing and combat such problems. This is illustrated, for example, by the highly effective Family Wellness Warriors Initiative in Alaska, which uses an approach grounded in traditional values and Alaska Native strengths to promote family wellness and tackle abuse (Scottish Government, 2014; Southcentral Foundation, n.d.).
Vandana Shiva says: ‘Seeds are the first link in the food chain. Yet women seed breeders are invisible in the industrial model of food production and in intellectual property regimes. The roots of food and gender justice lie in keeping seeds in women’s hands and recognizing women’s knowledge of biodiversity.’
Obviously, another benefit expected to flow from many restorative climate justice-compliant projects is the (re)discovery of practices, crops, etc., which may have wide application (i.e. not only benefiting those whose heritage they come from).
Examples of restorative climate justice
The seven extracts from articles/websites below obviously do not constitute a comprehensive list, but should give a good idea of the types of projects which could be considered to be outstanding examples of restorative climate justice. Refer to the bibliography or click on the hyperlinked references to access the full original material online, and also see our 'Additional recommended reading' section for other examples.
Guardians of the Forest (Guardians of the Forest, n.d.)
[Note: this is an organisation of Indigenous peoples, so support of it by the Global North would constitute restorative climate justice.]
We are the Guardians of the Forest. We come together as the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, a partnership of indigenous and local communities from tropical forests around the globe. We represent more than 1800 communities and protect more that 400 million hectares of forests.
Guardians of the Forest: Support for this Indigenous peoples' organisation by the Global North would be an excellent example of restorative climate justice!
Currently, COVID-19 is posing yet another threat to our territories - already under siege from miners, loggers and land grabbers. With your support, we will continue to protect the wisdom of our elders, safeguard the forests of the planet and raise our voices on behalf of Mother Nature.
Indigenous Wisdom is Supporting Reforestation (Harris, 2019)
Recently, the Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA) experimented with an indigenous farming technique to support tree growth, which has been successful. Biochar, a compound made from slowly burning discarded Brazil nut husks, is added to fertilizer and used with transplanting seedlings. The results are improved height and growth of seedlings and an increase in the number of leaves developed.
The experiment was performed in the Amazon region called Madre de Dios in Peru, where the height of illegal mining has occurred. Dirt that comes from the mining sluice has no
Biochar: An Indigenous Farming Practice Fueling Rainforest Tree Growth in Gold Mining Areas
nutritional value for the soil nor any organic matter that supports plant or microbe life. This makes it difficult to grow anything, but adding biochar to the mix improves the soil. The native peoples of Amazon started using biochar thousands of years ago and still use it today. Biochar improves the soil’s ability to hold water and reduces acidity. This creates a favorable environment for microbes, which supports plant life, and decreases the need for fertilizer re-application. The mining soil is extremely limiting, but treating it with biochar makes it something plants can grow in.
Economic Empowerment for Women (UNDP Republic of South Africa, n.d.)
Mupo Foundation, with funding from the UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented a project called: Securing local food sovereignty and enhancing climate resilience through ensuring the custodianship and access of local communities to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The primary objective of the project was to conserve and protect biodiversity, having a specific focus on sacred natural sites, which was supported by local knowledge systems and food control.
Joyce Mmbengeni showing off different local crop varieties that she grows. Pic: Mupo Foundation
When the project came to Venda in 2013, Joyce was one of the 315 females who joined and benefited from this initiative. Today, these women are bringing food to their families. They are able to plant and get enough food for their families due to the association and guidance they get from the project.
They underwent a training which covered identification of indigenous trees, seeds, and food, methods of plant multiplication including establishment of plant nursery. The training also covered seed selection, saving and storing seeds, further on how to grow crops organically and to manage flower pollination.
They also developed skills in selecting the best crop for seeds, packaging and labeling for future production.
Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology Project (FAO, 2016)
Farmers who participate in the MAFFA project get training on agroecological principles along with nutrition and social equity issues. They then can choose what they want to experiment with, including growing edible legume intercrops, diversifying their cropping system with additional crops such as sorghum, finger millet, sweet potatoes or cowpea, adding compost manure or legume residue to their soils, mulching and growing local orange landrace varieties of maize. The farming systems that farmers are experimenting with are mixed systems.
Excerpt from a report on the Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology project, an excellent example of restorative climate justice, building on indigenous resources.
While many of the crops are ones that they or their neighbours might have grown in the past, some crops would be ones that they have never been exposed to, because there has been a significant decline in crop diversity across the country. Some of the crops are indigenous, such as finger millet and sorghum, but were widely discouraged by previous governments. Sorghum and finger millet are indigenous grains that can be substituted for maize, the main staple in Malawian diets. These two crops are drought tolerant and can be used to make a range of food types, including breads, sweet beer and popcorn. Landrace varieties of orange maize, known as Mtinkinya, provide a source of vitamin A, an essential nutrient for human nutrition. They are harvested earlier than other maize varieties, and are relatively drought tolerant, thereby reducing risk of crop failure. Other crops, such as sweet potatoes, are not indigenous, but have multiple benefits, such as soil cover, a source of both leafy greens and tubers, and early harvest, thereby spreading out the harvest period and increasing food security for households.
The Work of IWGIA (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs) (IWGIA, n.d.)
We support indigenous peoples
IWGIA is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights.
We have a global focus
IWGIA follows and reports on the situation of indigenous peoples worldwide. Every year we publish a global report with detailed country reports.
We advocate, document and empower
The key drivers for change in IWGIA’s work are documentation, advocacy and empowerment of indigenous peoples.
IWGIA is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights.
The Work of Survival International (Survival International, n.d.)
How we work
We work in partnership with tribes to amplify their voices on the global stage and change the world in their favor.
We helped the Yanomami people create the largest area of rainforest under indigenous control in the world.
We were partners in the “David and Goliath” victory of India’s Dongria Kondh tribe against mining giant Vedanta.
Survival fights alongside indigenous peoples all over the world.
Alongside the Kalahari Bushmen, we won a landmark case to see them rightfully returned to their ancestral land.
The Work of EarthLore (EarthLore, 2016)
NB See Method Gundidza’s article (mentioned in the ‘Additional Recommended Reading’ section) for a beautiful illustration of EarthLore’s work.
EarthLore partners with local communities to secure land, seed, food and water sovereignty. By reviving indigenous knowledge and protecting sacred natural sites (SNS) local self-governance is strengthened. Along with focussed support and capacity building, this enables communities to become more resilient to climate change and the industrial processes which threaten livelihoods and endogenous development.
EarthLore partners with local communities to secure land, seed, food and water sovereignty.
Respect that indicates respectfulness to the communities, their indigenous knowledge and traditions and the sacred land and its species, of which they form a part.
Integrity of all living things that includes nature and the communities they sustain.
Emergence that underlies EarthLore’s practice of creating enabling spaces for building relationship and dialogues that allow for reconnection to inner strength, knowledge and passion that fuel transformation.
Strategy and practice
The work of EarthLore is for enabling greater community cohesion (strengthening relationships, building the status of women, reclaiming autonomy over community’s own lives); and strengthening community ecological governance (building seed and food sovereignty, protecting bio- and cultural diversity as well as building local economies). These goals are accomplished through accompanying communities in dialogue processes (surfacing and reconnecting with indigenous knowledge systems and agency); capacity building through training in agro-ecological farming methods, and support for ecological governance; and advocacy, for taking up issues against practices that harm the ecosystem and pose a threat to local traditions and livelihoods.
Additional recommended reading
We include short ‘taster extracts’ from each article. Together, these articles should make clear that Earth in Common is not attempting to reinvent any wheel. We are simply giving an existing wheel a name – ‘restorative climate justice’ – so that all the good work that is going on can more easily be recognised and supported, and all the ill-conceived and destructive projects can more easily be called out as being antithetical to restorative climate justice.
Aalto, K. (2020, November). Between Science and Knowledge. Resurgence & Ecologist, 322, 58–59.
He has grown frustrated, he admits, with attending conferences and talks about Indigenous knowledge and sustainability that lack concrete ways of integrating precolonial knowledge into modern sustainability practices.
“Solutions to complex problems take many dissimilar minds and points of view to design,” he writes, “so we have to do that together, linking up as many other us-twos as we can to form networks of dynamic interaction.”
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. (2021, May 3). African civil society refuses to engage with UNFSS without radical change. AFSA. https://afsafrica.org/african-civil-society-refuses-to-engage-with-unfss-without-radical-change/
Africa has much to offer its citizens and to the world. With appropriate redirection of policies and investment, the wealth of our seed, agrobiodiversity, land, vibrant cultures and nature can contribute to solving the food crisis affecting so many of our people.
Anderson, M. (2019a, August 21). The Fate of the Amazon is in the Hands of its Youth. Amazon Frontlines.
Nearly 10 years of living in the Amazon rainforest have given Mitch a unique perspective on what’s at stake for the rainforest and indigenous life, and how to build power for indigenous people of the Amazon Rainforest and beyond to protect their lands and way of life.
Anderson, M. (2019b, December). Resistance in the Amazon. Resurgence & Ecologist, 317, 10–13.
The Waorani refused to sacrifice their forests and rivers to oil wells, roads and pipelines. They decided to resist. They began by conducting dozens of hours of interviews that revealed the government’s “consultation process” to be fraudulent. In the run-up to the auction announcement, the state had relied on time-tested tactics of manipulation and deceit, designed to keep Waorani villagers in the dark about the potential impacts of oil operations in their territories.
Brown, M. (2021, February). News from the Grassroots. Resurgence & Ecologist, 324, 5.
To protect their culture, the group have been running workshops with young people to promote intergenerational exchange with elders. They have also been recording ancestral shamanic knowledge. Their next goal is to establish an alternative school combining ancestral wisdom with lessons on subjects like permaculture, audio-visual techniques and communications technology.
Bunting, M. (2017, February). Language of the Land. Resurgence & Ecologist, 300, 11–13.
What intrigues me – and it goes to the heart of Orwell’s insight – is how Gaelic provides a language of resistance to capitalism; it is inherently countercultural, challenging central concepts such as the notion of private property. For example, there is no succinct way to translate the word dùthchas. My Gaelic dictionary suggests ‘place of origin’ or ‘homeland’. But in Lewis I was told it means much more. It’s a collective claim on the land, which is reinforced and lived out through the shared management of that land. It is a right that is grounded in daily habits and activities, and it is bound up with relationships to others, and responsibilities. It gives rise to the idea, identified by the scholar Michael Newton, that “people belong to places rather than places belonging to people.” Gaelic turns notions of ownership on their head.
Chao, S. (2019, June 13). The Truth About ‘Sustainable’ Palm Oil. SAPIENS. https://www.sapiens.org/culture/palm-oil-sustainable/
…despite their purported benefits, “green” palm oil initiatives are often criticized by Indigenous peoples, who find themselves dispossessed or displaced by agribusiness. Among Marind communities in the Merauke district of West Papua, where I have been carrying out fieldwork since 2013, these projects give rise to consternation, frustration, and sadness. They disconnect the Marind from their ancient relationship with forest organisms they view as kindred spirits and as companion species in both life and death.
Chao, S. (2020, January 22). Corporate “Sorcerers” Reveal the Magical Power of Capitalism. SAPIENS. https://www.sapiens.org/culture/marind-rainmaking-ritual/
In December 2015, representatives from an Indonesian oil palm company visited the village and offered to hold a rainmaking ritual. Most villagers assumed the proposal was a ruse. This corporation had repeatedly urged the villagers to cede their lands for an oil palm project, and the businesspeople were becoming increasingly desperate to start development or risk losing their permit.
Craig, M. (2020, June). The Real Custodians of the Forest. Resurgence & Ecologist, 320, 16–17.
“WWF’s activities fund abuse and intimidation. It’s the same story from the Congo to India – the theft of tribal peoples’ land and relentless persecution in the name of ‘conservation’,” Survival International director Stephen Corry said. “But this ideology is so entrenched, and the vested interests are so powerful, that it’s going to take a global outcry to change it.”
Dungdung, G. (2020, December). Lessons in Destruction. Factory schools threaten the survival of Indigenous culture, writes Gladson Dungdung. Resurgence & Ecologist, 323, 20–21.
KISS claims it is the world’s largest ‘anthropological laboratory’. Its boarding school in Bhubaneswar is exclusively for Adivasi children – 30,000 girls and boys from Adivasi communities in Odisha and other states. KISS is a ‘factory school’ funded by several extractive corporations, including Adani, Tata, Vedanta, Nalco and NMDC, which are exploiting Adivasi land and its mineral resources for profit. Adivasis have a symbiotic relationship with Nature. Their culture, language and worldviews are completely embedded in their territory and resources. Activists believe factory schools like KISS act as a medium to promote cultural apartheid – a policy design similar to the ‘stolen generation’ model of boarding schools for Indigenous children, now acknowledged as a national crime and cultural genocide by countries such as Canada, Australia and Norway.
Early, C. (2020, February). Reconnecting with Nature in the Ashes of War. Resurgence & Ecologist, 318, 6–7.
Costa has created books with the local community that explain the traditional story of the guardian of the forest and the guardian of the river. “ The children can now understand that their grandparents have a close relationship to wildlife that they don’t have now,” she says.
“We want them to know that we’re not imposing new views on them: we’re actually using their own culture for the sake of conservation,” she emphasises.
Gundidza, M. (2021, February). Grains of Hope. In the memories of our elders lies a vision for the future, writes Method Gundidza. Resurgence & Ecologist, 324, 36–38.
Together we came to a conclusion: the more diversity we have in our fields, the more resilient we will be. This season, farmers who found that their maize harvest was poor were saying to me: “But I still got something from my millet crop,” or, “Nonetheless, I got something from my groundnuts.”
In this part of the world, farmers are encouraged by the government to grow cash crops and to use pesticides and herbicides, which these crops depend on. Our trajectory in recent years has been the opposite – to revive the diversity of local, traditional crop varieties suited to our lands and climate from the seed we save ourselves.
We have seen amazing and unexpected results from this work. No crop exemplifies our success better than millet.
Hosken, L. (2017, October). Learning from Nature’s Laws and Lores. Resurgence & Ecologist, 304, 21–23.
This thinking resonates with Indigenous shamans from the Colombian Amazon with whom the Gaia Foundation has also been working in recent years. They are deeply concerned that the dominant industrial growth economy consistently breaks the laws that govern life. “The consequences will be severe,” said shaman Rodrigo from Pia Paraná. “Those who believe that humans are superior and can override Nature’s laws are destabilising Mother Earth, and the consequences will affect everyone. It will lead to sickness and chaos for the Earth, and for all who depend on her, including humans. What we do to the Earth, from whom we are born, we do to ourselves. We are part of the web of life. This is the way things are, whether we see it or not.”
Kumar, S. (2016, October). The Answer Lies In The Soil. Resurgence & Ecologist, 298, 66.
The reality that Vandana points out is that 70% of the world’s food is still grown by small farmers around the world. Further, through careful and thoughtful methods these farmers look after the soil and maintain the fertility of the land, whereas 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost from large-scale industrial farming each year.
Vandana reminds us that no technology can claim to feed the world while it destroys life in the soil. “Degraded and dead soils, soils without organic matter, soils without soil organisms, and soils with no water-holding capacity do not provide food security: they create famines and are at the heart of the food crisis the world is facing today,” she says.
Lamb, H. (2020, June). Champions of the Future. Resurgence & Ecologist, 320, 30–32.
Brazilian enterprise Rede de Sementes do Xingu has been operating in the Amazon since 2007. Native seeds are gathered from the forest and sold by Indigenous and agricultural communities for reforestation of degraded land. The restoration approach is called muvuca, whereby large quantities of native seeds are scattered across an area.
Xingu is the most mature seed-collection network in Brazil, with over 550 collectors. In 2018, 200 tonnes of seeds were gathered from over 200 native species – a huge contribution to restoring biodiversity.
The network was formed in response to demand from Indigenous communities for ways to restore their lands. As well as earning more and protecting the forests, and improving water quality as a result, the people working within the seed network now have much greater social visibility, pushing the issues of deforestation and climate emergency up the priorities of those beyond the local community – all this at a critical and dangerous time for Brazil’s Amazon forests and Indigenous people.
Lane, C. (2017, October). Conflict in a Place of Milk and Money. Resurgence & Ecologist, 304, 10–12.
In my time with the Barabaig, I learned that they had suffered from prejudice and imposition at the hand of others. The resulting decline of Barabaig pastoralism offers an important precautionary tale on how ill-conceived interventions can so easily undermine the lives of Indigenous peoples.
Up until the 1960s, the Barabaig sustained themselves through a pattern of migration managed by a communal land tenure system, which made best use of scarce and variable resources in a climate with only 600mm of annual rainfall. Since then, loss of land through encroachment and state-sponsored alienation has threatened that way of life.
Largo, V. (2017, June). Home on The Range—But For How Long? Resurgence & Ecologist, 302, 14–17.
Parakuyo Maasai have long connections with the land. They have been documented in the southern part of Tanzania since the late 1700s, and many hills and plains have Maasai names. Parakuyo and Datoga Maasai have been evicted from the Ihefu wetlands and the Kilombero River basin, areas that are now earmarked for huge European- and US-funded farming projects in the so-called Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT).
Lights, Z. (2020, December). Standing Up For Land in Indonesia, Zion Lights speaks to Dayak leader Emmanuela Shinta. Resurgence & Ecologist, 323, 16–18.
Research has found that handing over care of the land to Indigenous people who have managed it for generations is the best way to protect the land and biodiversity and therefore help to protect us from the impacts of climate breakdown. This has been found to be true even when comparing Indigenous knowledge with other land-management methods. For example, legally protected large territories in Brazil are crucial for the protection of biodiversity. Yet Shinta states, “Indonesia still does not recognise the rights of the Indigenous people and it makes the fight to protect the forest more difficult.
“Indigenous people are the guardians of the forest, and the local communities are at the frontline of environmental battle. Climate change is the fight that belongs to all of us. However, if you learn more about Borneo forest fires and their relation to the palm oil plantations, everyone can relate to the issue and has some responsibility. Indonesia is the biggest exporter of palm oil, and more than half the plantations are located in Kalimantan.”
Mills, S. (2017, February). Distant Voices Still Live, Warn and Inspire. Resurgence & Ecologist, 300, 11.
Ladakh, northwest of Tibet, was then one of the world’s last virtually intact subsistence economies. Norberg-Hodge, the first Westerner to become fluent in its language, brought captivating images and accounts of Ladakhi life. She spoke of the manual and animal cultivation of grains in comely irrigated fields, the summertime grazing of hardy invaluable cows, dzo, goats, sheep and yaks in high montane meadows, of the multigenerational households, the winter ceremonies and festivals, of polyandry and monastic celibacy and the finely tuned structure of land tenure that helped keep Ladakh’s population proportionate to its affordances.
Moses, K. (2020, April). The Wilderness Myth. Resurgence & Ecologist, 319, 26–29.
The displacement of Indigenous peoples is one of many dark legacies of European colonialism. By 1914, most nations had been colonised by Europeans at some point. The ‘colonial package’ imposed on invaded lands contained a suite of dominatory elements: western systems of rationalist, mechanistic thought; capitalism, along with its money, work ethic and aspirational consumerism; ‘development’ in the form of infrastructure and extractivist industry; patriarchal, monotheistic, ‘sky religions’ (usually Christianity); shaming of ‘heathen’ Indigenous, Nature-based culture and spirituality. Above all else, what the colonists imported and what these elements support is the conceptual separation of humans from Nature.
Murphy, J. (2020, September 15). Decolonizing Environmentalism. YES! Magazine. https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2020/09/15/conservation-decolonize-environmentalism
The exclusion of Indigenous people and other non-white communities in environmental and conservation work is, unfortunately, nothing new. For centuries, conservation has been driven by Eurocentric, Judeo-Christian belief structures that emphasize a distinct separation of “Man” and “Nature”—an ideology that does not mesh well with many belief structures, including those belonging to Indigenous communities.
Mutch, T. (2017, April). Planting Seeds of Resistance and Renewal. Resurgence & Ecologist, 301, 11-13.
Janet Maro is not a woman to be messed with. Of the Chagga tribe in northern Tanzania, and fiercely proud of it, she started farming on the slopes of Kilimanjaro (famous for its rich volcanic soil and hundreds of small, successful vegetable farmers) with her family. She says: “I’m basically a farmer. All I am doing is building on traditional Chagga knowledge, what my grandmother taught me, and bringing it up to date.”
She’s not even 35, but her achievements (though she doesn’t brag) are impressive. She has serious international funding and she has the ears of donors who are desperate to find alternatives to the nagging problems of underperforming yields, farmers stuck in cycles of poverty and unstable markets, and the gradual encroachment of ‘big agra’ onto what it views as prime virgin markets.
Rademacher, N. (2020, September 18). Indigenous Educators Bridge Native and Western Science in the Classroom. YES! Magazine.
Gregory Cajete stands in front of a classroom full of University of New Mexico students enrolled in a graduate seminar on Indigenous nations and sustainable communities. Cajete is teaching these students about having a relationship with, and responsibility for, the environment. This way of knowing is called Native Science, and it is part of a body of evolving Indigenous knowledge based on generations of learning and direct contact with nature.
Raygorodetsky, G. (2018, October). Lessons from the Peoples of the Land. Resurgence & Ecologist, 310, 26-28.
Gleb Raygorodetsky reports from western Canada what we can learn from Indigenous cultures about responses to climate change.
The circumstances of each Indigenous community are different – distinct cultures, unique histories, diverse ecosystems, and multiple climate change impacts. Yet their individual predicaments are fundamentally similar – colonial history, displacement, pressure from resource extraction, and limited political power to determine their own future.
To understand how Indigenous communities stay resilient in the face of all the challenges that the ‘civilised’ world continues to throw at them, including climate change, it is essential to go beyond dissecting the specific how-to lessons, and attempt to explore the fundamental principles of how these communities maintain their relationships with the living world around them. To heal the Earth and rebalance our relationship with it, it is not enough to ‘treat’ the symptoms: our medicine must penetrate to the very core of our affliction. This is why, when I meet Levi for lunch, I am seeking some guidance from the ‘all-knowing’ Kaa-muth.
Shiva, V. (2016, December). Exterminating the Amaranth. Resurgence & Ecologist, 299, 18–19.
[Personal note on this article from Earth in Common:
one of us recently foraged some amaranth, growing wild, on a trip to South Africa,
where it is known as morogo or marogo, and found it delicious!]
Amaranth greens are incredible edibles that grow uncultivated in our fields. They are a major source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, carotene, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, sodium and potassium. Amaranth is nearly 500% richer in carotene than the genetically modified “Golden Rice”, which is being promoted as a means of addressing vitamin A deficiency in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In many parts of the world, therefore, the poorest, landless woman and her children have access to nutrition through the generous gift of the amaranth. Yet, just as during the Spanish colonial era cultivating amaranth was made illegal in Mexico, so in our time modern industrial agriculture has treated amaranth greens as “weeds” and tried to kill them with herbicides.
Tickell, O. (2016, December). Going Against the Grain. Resurgence & Ecologist, 299, 13–15.
“Just focusing on GMOs (genetically modified crops) is not enough. The point is, what is happening in the fields even without GMOs? Industrial agriculture only works with tons of soluble nitrogen, fungicide, insecticide and herbicide. And the result is that the bees are dying out. We cannot go on like this. GMOs are just the final tweak in the entire system of industrial agriculture that is destroying our environment and ruining our health. So we have to do more than just complain about it. We have to set out the alternative.”
I meet John Letts – academic, organic farmer, archaeobotanist, crop breeder and agricultural revolutionary – at the Buckinghamshire farm where he is now growing 50 acres of “heritage grains”, a term he invented some 15 years ago to describe the genetically diverse seed mixes he has spent much of his life developing.
Tickell, O. (2017, April). Turning the Tide in a Desert War. Resurgence & Ecologist, 301, 22–24.
“If elephants disappear it means the land is no longer good for us either,” one villager told zoologist Susan Canney in the early days of her conservation project in 2007. A subsequent survey revealed that 78% of people in the 42,000km2 project area share his views.
“They know their survival depends on the quality of their environment,” says Canney, “and for them elephants are like very large canaries in the mine – so long as they are flourishing, the land is also flourishing and they can flourish within it.
Torres Torres, A. I., & Torres Chaparro, G. (2020, April). The Right to Life. Resurgence & Ecologist, 319, 14–15.
The mamos and kwimis are the male and female spiritual leaders chosen from among the Arhuaco people. Under their leadership, the Arhuaco people think and act in pursuit of “the quest for balance with Nature and oneself”. The mamos explain that humans must compensate for every harm committed in the material dimension; otherwise, the harm will cause a perturbation of the spiritual order. The disturbance of both orders puts in danger the existence and wellbeing of all the inhabitants of Niwi Umukunu.
Wahl, D. C. (2020, August). Building a new normal. Resurgence & Ecologist, 31, 25–28.
Our future depends not just on a reinhabitation of our bioregions but also on a reindigenisation of our way of being. What does it mean to belong to place as a healthy expression of that place? We are coming home to a deeper knowing. Our bioregional Indigenous ancestors always knew that we belong to the land rather than the land belonging to us.
Wegener, J. (2020, April). Bringing Back the Good Fire. Resurgence & Ecologist, 319, 34.
As devastating wildfires rip through Australia, stories have emerged of land being saved by a different kind of fire, “good fire”, managed through a traditional practice called cultural burning.
The phrase describes burning practices developed by Aboriginal people over thousands of years to enhance the health of the land and its people. It can include burning or prevention of burning for the health of particular plants and animals, clearing pathways and protecting property. It can also be as simple as a campfire around which people gather to share, learn, and celebrate.
Colonial powers largely eradicated cultural burning in the 1700’s because they “didn’t quite understand there could be a ‘good fire’”, Jessica Wegener, a Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan woman, told Resurgence. “On the other hand, I have heard personally from Australian European settlement families who learnt the ways of fire management practices from local Aboriginal people and continued this practice with Aboriginal support across generations.”
Wooltorton, S., Poelina, A., Collard, L., Horwitz, P., Harben, S., & Palmer, D. (2020, October). Becoming Family with Place. Resurgence & Ecologist, 322, 34–35.
Listen deeply, look closely! Indigenous narratives help us to see, hear and feel our places and our world in ways that reveal an animate, communicative, living Nature.
Everyone has ancestors who are indigenous to somewhere, and we all have the capacity to meaningfully engage with our places. Acknowledging living lands, living waters and traditional knowledge holders where we all live and work demonstrates our ethics and values and helps us remember there are layers of cultural, historic and contemporary meanings in our landscapes, waiting in full view.
Yeo, S. (2020a, October). Buying Time. Resurgence & Ecologist, 322, 18–19.
[Note: Earth in Common is not enthusiastic about fostering dependence on export markets, but this article does raise some interesting points for discussion.]
The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organisation that works with farming and forest communities across the world, mostly in the tropics. The organisation has a two-pronged approach: it seeks to improve the lives and livelihoods of forest communities, while also ensuring the sustainability of their operations, helping them to protect the diverse ecological landscape of the forests and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Its certification scheme – essentially a regular audit to ensure that farmers are meeting high social, economic and environmental standards – covers a huge variety of farm and forest products, from coffee to soap.
Yeo, S. (2020b, December). Research makes Nature-based solutions more accessible (in FRONTLINE: Beavers, good news for biodiversity and nature-based solutions in Zimbabwe). Resurgence & Ecologist, 323, 7.
[Note: see also the article by Kwashirai about Zimbabwe's Chinhoyi Caves,
listed in the main bibliography section of the PDF version of this page,
in which he refers to sacred forests (rambotemwa).]
In Zimbabwe, protected forests provide honey to supplement food and income when crops are lost to droughts. This is one of hundreds of ways in which Nature-based solutions can help bolster our ability to thrive in a warmer world, according to new research published by the University of Oxford’s Nature-based Solutions Initiative.
*For the Appendices and Bibliography, please see the PDF version of this briefing.*