THE CHALLENGE OF PARADOX
Night descends swiftly in Africa. By late afternoon Africa’s Animals are seeking relief from a blistering day; all are drawn to a water source. Follow that well-worn track through the thorn bush down to the waterhole. Hide just behind the acacia trees and gaze upon a small herd of Kudu – an old male and four or five females with butting youngsters. Ah, look just to the left, next to that rock on the water’s edge – a male in his prime.
A delicate neck sustains huge magnificent horns, fragile legs achieve incredible speeds, shy but with a direct, authoritive gaze, vulnerable and yet the preserver of a whole ecosystem.
Paradox - ‘a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement that is or may be true’ and ‘an opinion that conflicts with common belief.’
If we draw the Buck card from the Wild Voices pack we are challenged to face the difficult paradoxes in our lives or to acknowledge how wonderful the paradoxes are that support us … the power of the love of a small child, the tender touch of a lover that makes us invincible, the seemingly insignificant deed, like a smile, that actually change someone’s life – the universe in the grain of sand.
Buck and his herd call to mind paradoxes from Nature.
Most buck need the herd, alone they are vulnerable, and yet one buck satisfies the lion pride for a meal.
Buck’s challenge is his thirst. He has to come down to the waterhole each day but it is there that he is at his most vulnerable to predators. What is your waterhole?
Kudu at waterhole
Thundering across the savannas of Africa these vast herds have maintain the grasslands for millions of years. A solitary buck is not able to service the Grasslands, it has to be fast moving and bunched herds.
Another interesting paradox is that Buck ‘eats the sun’s energy’ in the form of green leaves and grasses and then deposits his fertile waste back onto the land. His manure feeds the Earth which in turn produces a bounteous storehouse that once again feeds him and his herd.
Individuals from the herd become food for the carnivores. Often the abdomen is opened first, and the meal starts with the entrails – the vegetation from the grassland. A co-creative cycle. Placid Buck allows for the transmutation of one potent life force into another. As humans we have lost touched with this cycle. Today we are so separated from nature that there is little understanding, even among the most highly educated of us, as to why this should be a problem. The Western economic model which is the central pivot of our times must be kept running; the only cycle that we understand is the one that keeps the economic wheels oiled and turning and this is done by buying stuff.
At last it is becoming obvious that we cannot continue plundering our planet for this petty consumption. Buck is one of the Animals that highlight another type of cycle – living in harmony with nature.
When we become co-creators with Gaia we see how we, in turn, are enriched by her bounty – Tim Wigley
The Disappearing Grasslands
A reminder: FRONT LAWNS ARE NOT GRASSLANDS
Our carefully kept front lawns are a mowed, monotonous, mono-chromed, miserable green desert - Grasslands they are not!
Grasslands are biomes dominated by thousands of species of flora and fauna, mainly grasses, flowers and herbs which flourish in very specific temperature and rainfall zones. After the last ice age destroyed the forests, grasses quickly pioneered the bare soil left behind by the glaciers. With all this grass available there was a rapid recovery of the surviving grazing animals and naturally their predators proliferated too.
In Africa our Tropical Grassland is called Savanna and in South Africa on the high central plateau is the Temperate Grasslands, locally called Grassveld.
Unseen beneath the visible biomass of grasses and flowers is twice as much biomass of soil-life ranging from bacteria and fungi to burrowing reptiles, insects, worms and even small mammals! This thriving living soil, completely covered with a mass of vegetation, is able to absorb all the rain that falls. Any surplus rainfall slowly sinks though the soil with roots and fungi filtering out any impurities. This surplus water bubbles up in crystal clear springs that in a sustainable system never dry up. The Karoo of South Africa once a lush Temperate Grassland is now, due to short sighted farming methods, a semi-desert. Think of the towns that sprang up as the Voortrekkers moved deeper into the interior of South Africa - Klienfontein, Bloemfontein, Biesiesfontein, Koffiefontein, Bitterfontein, Bultfontein,Jagersfontein – and today? No, there’s not a fontein (fountain) in sight!
Old Boer diaries tell of great herds of Springbok that would cross their wagon paths, the stream of jumping buck taking days to deplete. The Temperate Grasslands of the Karoo was a thriving biome, thick with herbaceous plants and bulbs such as arum lilies, aloes, watsonias, gladioli and ground orchids. Rare plants are often found in the Grasslands, especially along the escarpment area. Hiding along cliff faces or tucked into crevasses above mountain streams, these rare species are often endangered.
Wetlands play an important role in our South African Grasslands with 45% of our endemic mammals living around them. Most are threatened due to the crumbling of the Grassveld. Ten globally threatened bird species and some endemic bird species, like the blue crane, blue swallows, oribi and bald ibis which live here, are threatened too.
Of the river systems falling in the Grassland biome in South Africa 83% are ranked as threatened and half of these are listed as critically endangered.
How were the Grasslands maintained for millions of years?
Huge moving herds of buck have maintained the Tropical Grasslands of Africa, the Savanna for millions of years. Sometimes these herds – wildebeest, zebra, eland, Thompson’s gazelle, blesbok, springbok, quaggas, eland, antelopes – reached numbers of over two million.
The nature of ungulate herds is for them to migrate, they do not stay in the place they have dunged or urinated. So after a few hours the herds move on, travelling in tight bunches to avoid predators. Under certain circumstances they might stampede, the weighted and sharp hooves of a tightly packed thousands-strong herd pounding the grasses keep the Savanna soft and mulched. This movement also disperses grass and flower seeds, which ensures the continuation of grassland diversity and the overall fertility of this biome. This movement of huge herds migrating across the Savannas and Grassveld of Africa has maintained them for millions of years.
The Guns and the Greed
“Surely too many animals in one place? Too over-stocked?” No,a perfect balance.The Savannas of Africa remained in a biologically pristine state carrying these millions of animals for millions of years. Over a few hundred years human intervention has wreaked havoc on the world Grasslands. In Africa, practically in our living memory!
When European settlers arrived on North America’s Great Plains, they encountered tens of millions of buffalo living on the bountiful Prairie Grasslands. By the end of the nineteenth century, less than one thousand remained. In the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa we have killed off both the enormous roaming herds as well as their predators. The annihilation of herd and predator was the beginning of the destruction of the Grasslands.
Where have all the Grasslands gone? Gone to Cashlands everyone.
Modern farming methods have been the final nail: Farm fences, sometimes hundreds of miles long, that disrupt animal movement, farmers shooting any animal he considers a threat to his farm, spraying herbicides and insecticides that kill off all natural flora and fauna that get in the way of his “cashlands”... all have contributed to the destruction of one of our most delicate, richly complex and diverse biomes.
It is a puzzle to some people (usually the greenies and tree huggers amongst us) how we could have let this happen. Reductionism, which holds that a complex idea or system can be completely understood in terms of its parts, is how science has taught us to think for the past three hundred odd years. This model prevents us from seeing holistically; prevents us from seeing that complex systems actually emerge out of a multiplicity of interactions and that all processes in life have a vital principle that often can’t be explained by science.
It is the inability to understand this that has brought our planet to the brink at which we now hover.
Armed with the hob-nailed boots of Reductionism and the magnetism of the Almighty Dollar, we went into the Grasslands on every continent in the world and planted millions upon millions of acres of virgin Grasslands to cash crops.
So, naturally, gone are the diverse and complex combination of grasses, herbs, bulbs and flowers, gone are the insects, the birds, the small rodents, the loins and leopards and cheetahs and gone are the millions of herd animals that primarily supported these Grasslands.
Now when it rains very little water penetrates the soil; most of it rushes off along the surface taking topsoil and agricultural poisons with it so that our rivers run thick with mud only to dry up or slow down to a brown trickle when there is no rain.
Never before has a biome so rich passed so unnoticed – Tim Wigley
Monoculture of the Mind
Grasslands once covered more than two thirds of the face of the Earth not covered by oceans. Only remnants of these magnificent grasslands are seen today in the Pampas in Argentina and Uruguay, the Steppes of Russia, the Prairies in Central North America and the Savannas of Central southern Africa.
Grasslands make perfect farm land; they are flat, treeless and covered with grass, perfect for maize, sorghum, wheat, rapeseed and sunflowers. Today the Grassland biome is the mainstay of dairy, beef and wool industry in most countries. Grazing mismanagement, ploughing, insecticides and herbicides, surface run-off and excess salts left behind by irrigation waters have all contributed to the annihilation of the world’s Grasslands. Strong winds blow loose soil from the ground after ploughing, especially during droughts. This results in the dust storms of the Great Plains. Restoring Grassland is difficult and it would seem that only a fraction of the land’s original ecological function can be regained (in our life time).
Between 2006 and 2011 more than one million acres of grassland in the U.S. Corn Belt were converted to corn and soybean fields. This is the highest rate of rassland conversion since the 1930s.
From Grassland to Cashland to Trashedland. It would seem there’s no stopping this madness!
Not that the rest of the world is any better. The Pro-Savanna Master Plan which has Brazil, Japan and Mozambique holding hands in “an innovative partnership to accelerate agricultural growth in Mozambique: developing improved seeds of soybean and rice; improving soil health; and, funding roads and other infrastructure”. The madness continues.
Pro-Savanna is not pro the Savanna at all, it is a contradiction in terms. Where do they get these incongruent names? They invent them to con ordinary people into thinking they are being helped. These economic terrorists are helping only themselves.
[NGOs from around the world are saying that the Pro-Savanna Master Plan confirms their worst fears "… we are determination to stop Pro=Savanna and to support Mozambican peasants and people in their struggle for food sovereignty. It will destroy peasant agriculture by wiping out farmer seed systems, local knowledge, local food cultures and traditional systems of land management. It will displace peasants from their lands or force them on to fixed parcels of land where they will be obliged to produce under contract production for corporations and to go into debt to pay for the seeds, fertilisers and pesticides required. The peasants that do get private land titles will be left at extreme risk of quickly losing their lands to corporations and big farmers.]
WHERE to from HERE? Have we lost the Grasslands for good?
Allan Savory who coined the term Holistic Management which manages the relationships between land, grazing animals and water in ways that mimic nature, says that managed holistically is a method that works. He has examples of many farms that have been managed using Holistic Management principles and they are very positivelty restoring Grasslands.
Permaculture developed by Bill Mollison has answers and practical ways to farm that build up the whole ecosystem while we produce our food. It is a way of simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems / mimicking nature.
We started this blog with looking at PARADOX and we will end there.
Both Holistic Management and Permaculture fly in the face of traditional methods of farming – they ask us to shift our thinking 360 degrees. Savory says we must look at “how we make decisions”. Mollison says “Our lifestyle has led us to the very brink of annihilation ... we can either ignore the madness of uncontrolled industrial growth ... or take the path to life and survival.” In making decisions and finding new ways to live they both urge us to mimic nature.
Bringing fetility to the land!
From where we are standing now we are called to embrace the paradox (an opinion that conflicts with common belief) and LOOK at what we have done to the planet.If in coming to solutions we have to do things that “conflict with common belief” then that is what we must do. As Colin Tudge says there must be an Agrarian Renaissance which means a “complete rethink of absolutely everything from growing beans and feeding cows, to the philosophy of science, to economics, to politics and moral philosophy and into the depths of metaphysics. And it must be driven by ordinary people… it may sound vaunting but it is all quite doable."
In recent years there has been a spontanious uprising of people from multiple nationalities, race groups and religions stepping forward to say ENOUGH is ENOUGH. We are looking for new ways to farm, to school our children, to bank, to run our towns, to use natural methods of heath care, to use alternative energy and so much more. And what more revolutionary - no seriously - thing to do then replacing your lawn with a veggie patch!?
Read Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything. She says, “The measures we must take to ensure a just, equitable and inspiring transition away from fossil fuels clash directly with our reigning economic orthodoxy. And as we will see such a shift breaks all the ideological rules - it requires visionary long term planning …. In short it means changing everything about how we think about the economy so that our pollution doesn’t change everything about our physical world.”
Klein like all other visionaries, is looking for the other way. They hold the paradox and see beyond and it is us, the "orduinary people" that Tudge speaks of, who need to gather together and make the better furture happen,