The timing of my trip coincided with the second half of course on ‘Gandhi and Globalisation’ being run at Navdanya Farm near Dehradun, India. The campus ‘Bija Vidyapeeth’ is affiliated with Schumacher College in the UK, and was founded by Vandana Shiva. Dr Shiva is quite remarkable and highly regarded by many people in many different fields. For many, myself included, she stands out as someone who combines the intellectual firepower, force of spirit with also being a living demonstration of what real sustainability means.
The farm is a beautiful place, and an amazing example of sustainable agriculture that supports cultural and biological diversity. There was a similar amount of diversity amongst the 40 or so people participating – from France, Spain, Brazil, UK, Australia, US, India and more.
Yoga and meditation, work in the fields, amazing food, perfect weather and inspiring and challenging content made it all a great experience. In fact, I decided to stay on for a few more days, just enjoying the time to read, write and experience the farm when quiet.
Vandana herself proved to be a real force of nature. She was able to sit and lecture for about ten hours over the course of three days in a way that answered everyone’s questions, that wove together everything from soil to feminism to sub-prime loans to enlightenment teachings….all ending with the purest of solutions in terms of re-engaging with the earth, growing and other people.
There is no doubting her wisdom in that it has been hard-won through practical action and through thorough research. The message she is, and that she describes when speaking is one that so deeply challenges the current paradigms upon which our modern society is built, and even many of the paradigms of the mainstream sustainability movement. I think it’s closest relative is Permaculture and Transition Towns. And, these present a real challenge to the ‘Bright Green‘ and ‘Eco-Techno’ approaches to sustainability. There are so many dimensions of the visions and solutions offered up by those movements that are incompatible with her vision. And, you can’t help but feel her wisdom is better-grounded than that of others.
And, at the same time, there is something of a stubborn naivety I have also perceived in some of the writings in Resurgence. There is a flavour of romanticism or denial of the world that exists, when advocating for a return to the farm when already 50% of the world’s popultation living in cities. I think this type of ‘denial’ is conscious, in that Gandhian philosophy highlights the ability one had to disengage from unjust systems. And, may represent what actually has to happen for us to be sustainable!
It may well be that in two decades, after the techno fixes have failed to help us, that even the sustainability consultants in London will be knocking on the door of the Shiva’s, the Holmgren’s and their ilk who have been spending as much time getting their hands dirty producing food as they have been designing sustainbility strategies.
I am still listening to the podcasts from the first week, of the course with Satish Kumar, and chasing down Gandhi’s autobiography. So, I may be able to make more informed comments on this philosphy.
And, while I took a load of notes, then neatly summarised them, I didn’t really focus on the facts so much as my reaction to them and what it meant for me. So, if you want to know about some of those sorts of learnings, click here. Otherwise, grab one Vandana’s books, a copy of Resurgence, or even some of Satish Kumar’s work.