Embracing values in nature and culture

Fassil Gebeyehu explores an alternative way out from the pandemic and building resilient life ways

The contemporary distraction we are currently facing in COVID-19 is associated with unlimited necessities and extended human interest due to the ever-growing economic demand, leading to a breach of Natural law and order. The emergence of this pandemic stems from disrespect of biosafety measures to satisfy the ever-growing market in China. Many agree that the swift economic growth in southern China, where COVID-19 was first identified, has led to an increasing demand for animal proteins.

The small re-emergence of SARS in late 2003 after the resumption of the wildlife market in southern China and the recent discovery of a very similar virus in horseshoe bats, bat SARS-CoV, suggests that SARS can return if conditions are right, leading to mutation, amplification, and transmission of this dangerous virus.[1] SARS virus in 2003 was identified as an agent of emerging and re-emerging infection and this has been proven by the emergence of the current COVID -19. Despite the global movement on finding a vaccine, WHO states that it is unlikely to get rid of the pandemic in the near future. The UN Secretary General also reported that the impact of COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting social, cultural, economic, political and multidimensional impacts on the whole of societies, including young people. It seems that we must adopt the new lifestyle often referred to as the ‘New Normal’.

On the positive side, the emerging trend after the introduction of COVID has been revealing the unbelievable capacity of Nature’s ability to bounce back, following the reduction in human activity due to restrictions of movement and subsequent reduced pollution. The way that the air has cleaned up in some places during lockdowns has been phenomenal. People in Kenya, for example, could see Mount Kenya from the capital Nairobi. Nairobi River has been observed with clean water flow compared to its appearance before COVID-19.

Despite the damaging effects on the economy and disruption of social and cultural practices, the infection and death rate of COVID pandemic in Africa is not as high as it was predicted.[2] Assumptions and explorations about the nature of the pandemic are continuing to emerge, a recent one being that a possible reason for the lesser impact of COVID-19 in Africa is the unfavourable weather conditions for the virus. Another assumption is that feeding habit of Africans and elsewhere particularly those who have access to organic and nutritious food prepared from diverse seeds could possibly help people to fight the virus through an enhanced immune system.

As Vandana Shiva has explained, the issue of nutrition security becomes more critical in a world which is increasingly dominated by government supported mono cropping farming. WHO recommends different precautionary measures to fight COVID pandemic. One recommendation is to build the immune system by consuming nutritious foods which are produced from diverse seeds/vegetables.

Yet, the systematic imposition by multi-national seed companies against African governments has been skewing small holder farmers who grow seed diversity but are forced into monocropping and buying improved seeds. These seeds usually need to be grown with high inputs such as chemical fertilisers which deteriorate soil fertility and destroy useful minerals leading to lower nutritional values.

Much attention has been given to high yielding varieties which are supported by governments’ regulatory tools such as seed legislations, strategies and policies. For example, article 3 of the COMESA Seed Trade Harmonization Regulations encourages investment in seed business, breeding improved seed varieties as well as increasing access to the existing varieties in member countries. Seed laws in Tanzania are being changed to boost private sector involvement in the seed industry.[3] The consequence of these actions by governments and regional regulatory bodies could gradually weaken productivity of small holder farmers in the region, leading to the diminishing of breeding and maintenance of diverse seed over time.

Following the harsh impacts of lockdowns in 2020, the easing of environmental regulations in order to boost short term investment will certainly exacerbate planetary crisis. I believe that this is the time more than ever for governments to use this crisis as an opportunity to lay a solid foundation for looking for alternative development path ways. In Africa, the natural environment and people’s integrated knowledge system has offered opportunity for people to use and maintain biological and cultural diversity, social and ecological justice as well as resilient food systems. Elders and women are custodians of such integrated knowledge but such important role of custodianship is not being recognized by their own governments and other stakeholders. As a result, the indigenous Knowledge holders are more vulnerable when it comes to maintaining their agronomic, cultural and spiritual practices which are linked with conservation of natural resources such as seeds, herbs, medicinal plants and other elements useful for life on Earth.

When it comes to finding possible solutions to the COVID pandemic, the focus has been on science per se and not much attention paid to alternative ways out through the use of Indigenous Knowledge and practices. We need to learn from the pandemic that our life style needs change. This should be connected with Nature and culture in a way where there is understanding of the complex life systems through guided processes and interaction with physical as well as non-physical world.

Similar challenges to the COVID pandemic have been observed in the past and earlier generations managed to survive mostly using local solutions in the context of less or no support from science. Many elders working with ABN partners remember pandemics in the past and share stories of how the problems were solved using local remedies. Some of them were social distancing, use of herbs and medicinal plants, rituals and prayers, consumption of nutritional foods etc. All these and many other practices are guided by traditional ecological governance where the role of Elders is at the centre. Communities’ traditional ecological governance sets out the do’s and don’ts for people to live in harmony with Nature. Elders provided mentorship across generations. ABN methodologies are purposefully crafted to honour such wisdom of elders and women.

[1] (Cheng et al 2007). CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY REVIEWS, Oct. 2007. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Re-emerging Infection
[2] https://www.afro.who.int/news/social-environmental-factors-seen-behind-africas-low-covid-19-cases
[3] Ebe Daems 2016 – https://www.mo.be/auteur/ebe-daems