Rewilding, people and agriculture

Posted by Vance Russell on 26/11/2018

Two weeks ago, I made a lightning quick trip to Washington, D.C. to attend a board of directors meeting at Groundswell International. Toward the end of the meeting I was humbled to accept appointment by the board as their next chairperson. I am honoured to assume this important leadership position, and perhaps a little daunted at the prospect of filling the shoes of those that have served before me.

Groundswell has had a tremendously successful year, increasing revenue for innovative, world-leading projects focused on community-driven agroecology and poverty alleviation. As I reflect on a few things that I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving, my work at Groundswell, and as Biodiversity Lead at Ecosulis, gives me hope that we are making progress in the crossover between agriculture and biodiversity conservation.

Here are a few reasons to be optimistic.

• Farmer-trainers

Alimatou Lankoande lives a rural village in Burkina Faso and received training on the "zai" technique, a method for introducing nutrient-rich organic matter into infertile soils that dramatically improves crop yields. She subsequently trained other women in the village and helped form a highly successful farming cooperative to cultivate plots of land and sell the crops. Throughout the world, farmer heroes like Alimatou are increasingly providing inspiring leadership on land stewardship and community development.

• Growing impact

Groundswell now works with 30,000 farmers, improving the lives of 350,000 people through improved nutrition, production and incomes. It plans to benefit a further 750,000 people over the next five years.

• Rewilding and agriculture

Rewilding and agriculture can co-exist, with technology helping to make conflict between them a thing of the past. For example, using traditional husbandry practices such as delaying lambing to avoid predators to the more futuristic approach of using infrared sensors and drones to assist for early warning and shepherding. There is now an increasing awareness of local communities in the intersection between wild nature and farming, with burgeoning interest in agroecology, agroforestry, rewilding and nature recovery across the globe. Where there was once resistance to the reintroduction of trophic species such as beavers, wolves and lynx, locals are now celebrating their return for the value they bring to both the natural environment and local economies.

In the past year the proliferation of conferences and forums on rewilding and agroecology demonstrates the growing interest in and demand for creating new, durable and successful farming and conservation models. However, scaling these efforts up remains a significant challenge.

"Agroecology, and the responsibility for spreading it, is rooted in families - both farming families, as well as people who eat - all of us - all over the world," says Stephen Sherwood, of Ecuadorian NGO Ekorural.

The same could be said about recovering the Earth through rewilding efforts. We must work together with communities in a democratic way, because we depend on biodiversity, water, pollination and the many other services that wild nature provides.

Lying at the heart of both Groundswell and Ecosulis's working philosophy is change emanating from people and communities. Acknowledging traditional ways of life, while supporting local innovation and the potential for change, is critical to every action that we take. By the same token, if we, as caring human beings, want to reduce poverty and create productive agricultural ecosystems, we must accept that farmers will improve their livelihoods, and the landscapes they live in, if they believe it will benefit their families, health and communities without compromising cultural values.

Check out the work of Groundswell International and Ecosulis to learn more about people, agriculture and rewilding. Maybe it will inspire you to become part of the grassroots movement for positive change in the agricultural, community and conservation fields.

Happy Holidays!