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Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture excerpt

Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture excerpt

The following is an excerpt from Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture: Sustainable Solutions for Hunger, Poverty, and Climate Change by Dr. Vandana Shiva:

Biodiversity is the Foundation of Agroecology

Agroecology is the scientific paradigm for sustainable agriculture. Agriculture is and should indispensably be a life-enhancing phenomenon. Production of a variety of healthy and nutritious foods requires a productive and healthy agroecosystem reverberating with biodiversity in its forest, cropland, and livestock. Agriculture based on healthy, biodiversity-laden, and vibrant agroecosystem is naturally the agriculture rooted into its inexhaustible source of nature: the solar-powered agroecosystem.

Agroecology is the holistic study of agroecosystems, including all environmental and human elements. It focuses on the form, dynamics, and functions of their interrelationships and the processes in which they are involved (Altieri 1987; Reijntjes et al. 1992). Intercropping, agroforestry, and other traditional methods mimic natural ecological processes. The sustainability of many local practices lies in the ecological models that agroecologists follow. By designing farming systems that mimic nature, farmers can get the optimal use out of sunlight, soil nutrients, and rainfall (Reijntjes 1992).
Agroecology gives deeper meaning to agriculture. It integrates agriculture with ecology. It helps us understand the direct relationship between agriculture and ecology. It teaches us to be in tune with nature while producing a diversity of healthy, nutritious, and delicious foods using sources of nature. In essence, agroecology is the philosophy of relishing all edibles that nature produces and, at the same time, nurturing nature so that it can blossom with biodiversity.

Agroecology is now a separate discipline of agriculture and ecology. It is the central concept of many valuable ideas, philosophies, approaches, strategies, and tactics of life which include natural farming, traditional agriculture, permaculture, biodynamic farming, integrated pest management, organic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture. Agroecology uses ecological theory to study, design, manage, and evaluate food production systems. It is the concept on which sustainable agriculture—which ensures the future of agriculture—has been built. It is through applying the principles of agroecology that we protect, conserve, and augment natural resources such as forests, grasslands, livestock, soil, water resources, and farming. Agroecology appreciates and strengthens interactions among all crucial biophysical, socioeconomic and technical components of the agroecosystems. All components are regarded to be fundamental units of an integrated system.

Agroecology helps us understand and maintain vital mineral cycles, biological processes, energy transformations, and socioeconomic relationships in an integrated manner. Agricultural strategies woven around the principles of agroecology look into local geographical, socioeconomic, environmental, and cultural specificities and obey traditions, such as food habits, festivities, and ethical or aesthetic values.

In essence, agroecology is the philosophy of relishing all edibles that nature produces and, at the same time, nurturing nature so that it can blossom with biodiversity.

A one-dimensional monoculture view of conventional agriculture has no place in agroecology. An understanding of ecological and social levels of co-evolution, structure, and function is instead necessary (Altieri 2000). Rather than focusing on one particular component of the agroecosystem, agroecology emphasizes the interrelatedness of all components and the complex dynamics of ecological processes (Vandermeer 1995). Agroecology is a holistic response to agribusiness-based exploitative technologies and trade for profits, which have no room for other values of life and are not conscious of the future of the planet. Agroecology, on the other hand, does not overlook technical and economic aspects but is very much alive to social, cultural, and environmental issues, firmly standing for the present and future well-being of society.

Food production needs are central to the concept of agroecology. The performance criteria in agroecology takes into consideration vital contemporary issues, namely, ecological sustainability, food security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Traditional concepts of organic farming, natural farming, and ecological farming offer to resolve numerous issues from the individual family to the global level, from seed to swaraj (self-rule), from agribusiness empire to genuine socialism, from food security to food sovereignty, from ecological disaster to ecological affluence, and from climate chaos to climate order.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is an author, physicist, ecologist, and advocate of biodiversity conservation and farmer’s rights. Her pioneering work around food sovereignty, traditional agriculture, and women’s rights created fundamental cultural shifts in how the world views these issues.

Along with Jerry Mander, Edward Goldsmith, Ralph Nader, and Jeremy Rifkin, Dr. Shiva is a leader and board member of the International Forum on Globalization and a prominent figure of the global solidarity movement known as the alter-globalization movement.

Dr. Shiva founded Navdanya, an organization that promotes agroecology, seed freedom, and a vision of Earth Democracy, seeking justice for the Earth and all living beings. She has authored more than 20 books including Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth (Synergetic Press, 2020), Philanthrocapitalism & The Erosion of Democracy: A Global Citizens’ Report on the Corporate Control of Technology, Health, and Agriculture (Synergetic Press, 2022) and Agroecology and Regenerative Agriculture: Sustainable Solutions for Hunger, Poverty, and Climate Change (Synergetic Press, 2022).

Dr. Shiva is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain’s Socialist Party’s think tank and the International Organization for a Participatory Society. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, an honor known as an “Alternative Nobel Prize”. She has received numerous other awards and honors for her work including the “Save the World” award in 2009 and the Sydney Peace Prize in 2010. Dr. Shiva’s life and work is the subject of the award-winning 2021 documentary, “Seeds of Vandana Shiva.”





The Mind of Plants excerpt: Cannabis

The Mind of Plants excerpt: Cannabis

The following is an excerpt from Jeremy Narby’s essay, “Cannabis,” from The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence:

The years skipped by, and I started working for a humanitarian organization based in Switzerland as an Amazonian projects manager, helping Indigenous Amazonian people gain land titles and access to bilingual education. So, my work kept a focus on humans. But the Ashaninca’s view of plants continued to intrigue me. Were plants really intelligent beings? Could psychoactive plants really teach things to those who consumed them? My experience with ayahuasca confirmed that this plant brew could lead to important understandings, so I knew the notion had some basis.

I decided to test the matter on a psychoactive plant that I knew I could grow in my garden, outdoors, and with sunlight: cannabis. I had used it previously for recreational purposes. While in college, I had occasionally smoked grass, usually with pleasure.

I intended to grow some organic cannabis and test it on myself to see if it worked as a “plant teacher.” I would follow Ashaninca precepts as much as possible. For starters, it had to be a natural-grown plant, not an indoor one grown with electricity. And to try to learn from this psychoactive plant, I would have to act with disciplined intent. As I am not a shaman of any sort but an anthropologist and a writer, I wanted to see if the plant could help with my thinking and writing. I wanted to enroll the plant to reach a fuller understanding of the world we live in and gain knowledge about nature and all forms of life, including people.

First, I read up on the cannabis plant and on growing techniques. I learned how to start plants from seeds, grow them with daily care, select only female plants for their resin-rich flowers, harvest them, and dry them. By 1991, at the age of thirty-one, I was producing outdoor organic cannabis for my personal research. Starting any younger would have been risky, as research indicates that heavy cannabis use disrupts learning in adolescents and young adults. But I figured I was old enough to take a risk. The point was not to take repeated doses of strong cannabis and become a “chronic heavy user,” but to use the plant for a purpose and in a disciplined way, in order to get an idea of what the Ashaninca were talking about when they said that one could learn from a plant.

I trained myself physically, running in the forest every day. I kept to a healthy diet and gave up sugar and processed foods. I knew I had to be healthy and strong to work with a plant teacher.

I spent the first part of my working days in ordinary consciousness, doing my desk job, and reading anthropology and biology on the side. And in the late afternoons, I would smoke some cannabis, go running in nature, and think about what I had just read or written. Interesting ideas tended to flow into my mind during those moments; I could consider the data from a freer, more sensorial, and side-winding perspective. To catch these fleeting ideas, I carried around a pocket notebook and a felt pen. As soon as an interesting idea came my way, I would stop running and note it down. The next morning, in sober and lucid consciousness, I would use the previous day’s insights or discard them if they did not seem relevant.

It’s true, some cannabis-inspired thinking is nebulous and requires lucid criticism. But I found that this worked both ways; cannabis thinking provided an interesting angle on normal thinking, and the converse was also true. I allowed myself to critique both equally as I went back and forth between the two. The end result of combining these two ways of thinking was that I found myself reaching a fuller understanding of the questions I considered.

Cannabis also allowed me to reread my own words with detachment as if someone else had written them. This was precious because I tended to be overly attached to my own words when I was in the process of writing. With cannabis, I found that I could detect the words that didn’t feel quite right or that lacked clarity, and I could also see what was missing—such as the things I didn’t know enough about yet and needed to look into. For me, cannabis worked as a “plant editor.”

For several years, and on a near-daily basis, I went back and forth between these two ways of thinking. Using this method, I looked into a discipline about which I knew very little, molecular biology, and ended up writing a book about its possible interface with Amazonian shamanism. The book went on to have some success and was translated into multiple languages. However, I kept the cannabis work method to myself. Using the plant was one thing, discussing it was another. At the time, in the late 1990s, cannabis was illegal almost everywhere in the world. There was still a “war on drugs,” and talking about the method would have meant confessing to a crime. Also, discussing the method could have been construed as promoting it, and it seemed obvious that consuming strong cannabis on a regular basis was not for everybody. I was fortunate to find myself in the right circumstances, living in a quiet place surrounded by nature, and knowing enough to follow Ashaninca principles of discipline and intent. What’s more, my driven temperament allowed me to handle most of the plant’s discombobulating effects. But this was certainly not the case for most people. Cannabis was just not everybody’s cup of tea. Most of the people I knew who smoked it in their teens or early twenties had stopped doing so because it made them feel paranoid or confused.

I had no interest in promoting cannabis by saying that I used it as a plant teacher. All I wanted to do was to “learn from the plant.”

Jeremy Narby is an anthropologist and writer who has worked since 1989 as Amazonian projects director for the Swiss non-profit Nouvelle Planète, backing projects for the self-determination of Amazonian indigenous peoples that involve land rights, primary education, village health, botanical knowledge, fish farms, tree nurseries, and other local initiatives.

Jeremy grew up in Canada and Switzerland, studied history at the University of Canterbury, receiving a doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University. Jeremy spent several years living with the Ashaninca tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, cataloging indigenous uses of rainforest resources.

Narby has authored several books including The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (1999), Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge (2001), Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge (2005), and Psychotropic Mind: The World According to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism (2010). He lectures worldwide and sponsors rainforest expeditions for biologists and other scientists to examine indigenous knowledge systems and the utility of ayahuasca in gaining knowledge. He was featured in the documentary “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.”



Are Plants Conscious?

Are Plants Conscious?

It’s often the things we take for granted that have the most potential to provide significance and meaning in our lives. Like many things in our environment essential to our being and our becoming, plants are commonly overlooked, and so it might not feel natural or even useful to ask, are plants conscious? It can come as a surprise to learn that more than ninety-nine percent of all biomass on our planet consists of plants. They have an enormously consequential presence in our lives and yet in many ways we can easily misunderstand the nature of these fascinating beings. 

When we raise the question of what it is like to be a plant, a different picture begins to emerge, though we must remain aware of how easy it is for us to project the qualities of our own subjectivity into the answers we come up with. 

The specific question of whether plants are conscious remains open and our approach to answering this query informs the type of answer we arrive at. In the recently published book, The Mind Of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, a diverse group of authors, poets, naturalists, and social scientists examine their own connections to plants and elaborate on the questions and answers that these relationships produce. The editors of this collection intend to “inspire fresh ways of seeing—of feeling and of being with—the photo-synthetic personae with whom we share this precious, imperiled planet.” It is with this spirit of openness to a new phenomenology that our questions will prove most rewarding and conducive toward gleaming whether plants are conscious, and what we can learn from their intriguing and mysterious experience.

What is Consciousness?

A clear definition of what consciousness is has continued to elude consensus and, much to the dismay of apostles for scientific materialism, there continues to be ample disagreement regarding whether their current theories can accurately describe the faculties of consciousness displayed by earth’s organisms. 

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines consciousness as “the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.” If we think of consciousness as the state of being aware of one’s surroundings it seems that plants qualify, after all, many plants direct the growth of their roots based on the amount of nutrients they encounter in soil and they extend their branches toward the direction where light emanates from. However, more nuanced definitions of consciousness include the ability to be aware of oneself, and to be intentional, or to have volition. Even with these more demanding constraints on the definition of consciousness, it is not immediately apparent that plants can be disqualified. Although consciousness is evidently and notoriously difficult to explain, certain characteristics of what we consider consciousness have been clearly observed within plants

Examples of Plant Consciousness

In recent years the debate over whether to classify plants as conscious or not has developed with several factions presenting evidence and making competing claims. There have been important publications that support the idea that plants are conscious including a study published last year in the journal Nature which examined the patterns of growth exhibited by the common bean as it sprouts and seeks a feasible path for its limbs. The researchers found a difference in how the beans grew when placed in a pot with a cane which they could grab hold of or when placed in an empty pot. This seems to suggest that the plants have some kind of sense which allows them to know if there was anything for them to climb on or not. 

Arguments Against Plant Consciousness 

There are of course many scientists who for several reasons believe that we cannot properly call plants conscious. Many of these points are outlined in a paper published in 2019 in the Journal Cell in which a group of biologists and plant physiologists argue that consciousness is too complex of a state for us to attribute it to the plant behavior observed. One of the authors of that paper, Lincoln Taiz, is a botanist working at UCLA who believes that proponents of plant consciousness fail “to consider the importance of brain organization, complexity, and specialization for the phenomenon of consciousness.” 

Monica Gagliano, a professor in the School of Biological Studies at the University of Western Australia, and co-editor of The Mind of Plants, responds to this by pointing out that if plants are conscious we should not expect the mechanisms by which consciousness is correlated in physical systems to necessarily be the same.

Rethinking Plant Intelligence

Plant Neurobiology is the recently developed field of study that looks at “how plants process the information they obtain from their environment to develop, prosper and reproduce optimally.” By rethinking plant intelligence, this field is providing new perspectives for how we view and relate to plants. Botanist Stefano Mancuso is Director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology which proposes renewing our view of plants by understanding them as “information processing organisms with complex communication throughout the individual plant.” The areas which Mancuso and his colleagues work on include plant behavior, plant intelligence, and plant signaling. In their research, they take the view that “plants are dynamic and highly sensitive organisms… capable of a refined recognition of self and non-self…”

The legacy of Western historical perspectives continues to be challenged and it seems in some ways science is approaching a closer balance with the view held by Indigenous knowledge for time immemorial that plants are conscious and even teachers. Let us accept that we are invariably influenced by the underlying ontology that we absorb and uphold. But, let us also acknowledge that our own mysterious capacity to reflect in consciousness allows us to play with our imaginative capacity and thus perform both measurements and interpretations of what consciousness is like on the far side of our subjective divide.

The Mind of Plants Book Launch Event

World renown ethnobotanist and researcher Dennis McKenna, PhD, will give an introduction at a global, live-stream event to celebrate the publication of The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, on October 28. 

The Mind of Plants event will feature the book’s editors, John Ryan, Monica Gagliano, and Patricia Viera as well as reflections from José María Pout, whose illustrations bring the plants to life throughout the collected works. Multi-instrumentalist January Kultura will also provide a deep listening experience for event attendees.

Learn more and register here.  


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