Friday, July 29, 2011

Local Barley for Local Brew

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Somalia Cries Out For Help

"So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag"
K'naan, Somali-Canadian songwriter singer

"This is not about Charity
This is about Justice"

      Famine is not a word used lightly by the humanitarian agencies that work around the world. While many countries struggle with food security issues and large numbers of people go hungry, rarely are there conditions that exist to declare a state of famine. To declare a famine, more than thirty percent of the population are found to be suffering from malnutrition, over twenty percent of households face extreme food shortages and are unable to cope, and the death rate exceeds two persons per day for every 10,000 persons.
      For the first time in almost twenty years the UN has declared a famine in southern Somalia, with the added stress of large-scale displacement, violence by Islamic militants who are blocking aid to the stricken region, and widespread destitution, destruction and disease, leading to complete social collapse. More than 11 million people are at risk of starvation and thousands are migrating from the area to refugee centres.

      The Canadian government has just announced that it will immediately increase famine relief to the area three-fold, and will create a fund to match individual charitable donations dollar-for-dollar. The $50 million dollar pledge, which exceeded expectations by aid agencies, is to be added to the $22 million dollars already donated to the Horn of Africa. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda visited the region last week and on Friday made the announcement, adding that “I truly believe you cannot witness this kind of suffering without responding.”
      Minister Oda visited a refugee camp in Kenya intended to hold 90,000 that is now overcrowded with 400,000 and counting. She heard heartbreaking stories and met some of the refugees from the stricken region. She spoke of meeting a young mother who was taken hostage and released when she went into labour. She then gave birth at the side of a road and walked with her children for three days to the camp. There were children who made it to the camps alone, sometimes walking for over two weeks. Many more did not make it.
     Minister Oda intended the matching-fund program to tap into the hearts and generosity of Canadians. As our islands hold our annual fund raising efforts through our fall fairs and celebrations we should also make an effort to reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves. Already there is talk in some communities of donating proceeds of these events to the Horn of Africa efforts. For those that want to donate individually, the newly formed Humanitarian Coalition which is made up of Canadian aid groups, encourages Canadians to match the governments compassion and generosity and donate to the Canadian charity of their choice. Many are already in the area, working to bring aid.
      The region called the “ Horn of Africa” has been facing drought-related hunger for some time. Even without political instability and war this region has long suffered from a farm productivity crisis. Africa is the only region on Earth where human poverty and hunger have been increasing, and with increasing poverty comes increasing malnutrition and instability. It is sadly ironic that the majority of the malnourished poor are smallholder farmers, mostly women. Men often leave for the cities to find employment, leaving families behind to tend the crops. In unstable regions the men may be enlisted into the military or militant groups, or even killed. Even without political instability, the basics that we take for granted are not there. Roads to markets are poor, the work is labour intensive, water is hard to access – yet, within their system of farming they are very efficient. Nothing is wasted, labour is used efficiently and skills are high. Besides the immediate needs to lessen the impact of the current famine, many of the aid agencies and the UN are calling for long term assistance for the region – and Africa as a whole – to deal with the main causes of the poverty, and to improve the food producing capacity with water systems and agricultural support. The goal is to build in long term resilience by preserving livelihoods and strengthening agriculture to ensure long term food security.
      It wasn't that many years ago that Somalia was having a similar crisis. As a young boy, K'naan Warsame was living in the midst of a war zone. He witnessed murders and bombings, and his mother was determined to get them out. She was reported to have walked through gunfire to the US Embassy to file a visa, and continued to go there each day until they were able to leave in 1991. Shortly after, the Somalian government collapsed and the country was engulfed in violence. K'naan and his family eventually ended up in Canada, where he became a rising star in the hip-hop world and is best known to most Canadians for the song “Waving Flag”, an anthem of freedom for his homeland Somalia. “Waving Flag” was used to raise awareness for the plight in Haiti, was often heard during the Olympics in Vancouver and was the official anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament. K'naan's strength and success is testimony to the value of helping those who are part of our human family, even if we are an ocean apart and many miles and cultures away.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Humans as part of the Ecology - the Anthropocene

     Farmers spend a lot of time outside and notice changes in weather perhaps more than most people. Not surprisingly, three agricultural societies with more than 10,000 members are saying that the Earth's climate is changing and they believe it is partly because of human activity. The American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America said “A comprehensive body of scientific evidence indicates beyond reasonable doubt that global climate change is now occurring.” The impact on agriculture, whether it be by changes in temperature, pests, water availability or pollination is already being felt in some areas.
     Dr. Erle Ellis, an American ecologist from the University of Maryland, believes that humans are part of the ecology and we are now in an age of humans as driving forces in a new geological era called the Anthropocene epoch. He is part of a growing body of scientists who suggest that not just climate is being changed by human habitation on this planet, and that some of the changes are inevitable with a growing human population. Although the industrial era and the use of fossil fuels has had great impact, the Anthropocene is thought to have begun over 8,000 years ago with the growth of agriculture.
The classical view of ecology looks at humans as distinct from the natural world; the ecology of a place results in a disturbed degraded ecosystem, not a properly balanced ecosystem, when humans are put into it. Ellis says this perspective is a fallacy, because over 75% of the planet has been disturbed by humans – even in the past dating back to man's earliest existence. Dr. Ellis studies managed landscapes, primarily in rural China and also in the eastern US.
     The Gulf Islands have been shaped by First Nations and early settlers, as well as logging in the early and mid 20th century, and development to this very day. Invasive species have taken a strong foothold, farms are nestled into valleys that once were thick with trees. Waves from the ferries buffet the shorelines several times a day. Cellphone towers, fire suppression practices and roadways are signs of human habitation. In the past forty years development has grown in the Gulf Islands and the impact of mankind has grown along with it, despite the establishment of the Islands Trust. The mandate of the Islands Trust, “to preserve and protect”, has emphasized ecological protection in the hopes of preserving and protecting the fragile and fractured ecology of the place. It would seem that the ecologists guiding the Trust have a classical view of ecology, not one that recognizes the ongoing role of humans in shaping their landscapes. Instead, there is a grudging acceptance that people live here and must be dealt with. It could be argued that this narrow classical view should be balanced with an acceptance of ecological studies that accept the role of humans in shaping their environment. Some have argued that the model being forced on the human population by Islands Trust is somewhat irrational since people are part of the ecology and protected spaces are not true and pure ecosystems.
As Ellis says, everything around us has been modified, and nature is to be nurtured by us, it is changed by us and it is created by us. We are part of the ecology, something most Gulf Islanders recognize. Everything we do has an impact. Even trying to manage the ecology for the better is really a “best guess” approach since there are many factors involved in a dynamic system, many outside of our control.

from "The Farmer's Stand" in The Islands Independent, issue #70   July 15, 2011

Pender Highlanders on BC Ferries

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Farmer's Toast - for Earl Hastings

As many of us were working to bring in the hay before the threatened rain showers, a local long time fellow farmer and man of many skills, Earl Hastings, passed away. Earl was a very special man to Pender Islanders. He was known for the cattle and hay fields near the Driftwood Center, and also known for his airstrip that would welcome flyers from all over to our island. For several years the small field next to the airstrip was home to our community fall fair and the field across from the Driftwood was the parking lot for the fair. He was an avid gardener as well, and had many friends and admirers. Warmest thoughts especially go to his family who will dearly miss him. His was a long life lived well.

The Farmer's Toast – For Earl

"Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendour and state.
I envy them not I declare it.
I eat my own lamb
My own chickens and ham.
I shear my own fleece and I wear it.
I have lawns I have bowers
I have fruits I have flowers.
The lark is my morning alarmer:
So my jolly boys now
Here's God speed the plough.
Long life and success to the farmer."

Free Camping in the Gulf Islands (?!)

A website for camping enthusiasts may give a boost to tourism this summer, but one that may be unexpected for most Gulf Island property owners. The site “Northern Bushcraft” describes how to camp for free in the Gulf Islands – yes, free. Free-camping is the semi-underground activity of pitching your tent outside of a designated camping area - on a beach, in a forest, up a mountain, or anywhere that you are unlikely to be bothered or bother anyone else. This guide relates some of the lessons I've learned over the years while solo free-camping on the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, for several weeks or months at a time with only my backpack, tent, and a minimal amount of gear. Most of this advice is suited for anyone interested in backpacking and tenting.
Hornby Island, Galiano Island and Saturna Island are listed as the best for free-camping. Hornby Island has “free-spirits and party-goers” with great beaches, Galiano has many forest trails, free internet and good beaches, and Saturna is friendly with a lot of National Park Reserve land to explore.
Hmmmm - what would they think about some rams patrolling the fence line?