From Small Beginnings Greater Things Can Grow

  Grassroots environmental initiatives are often sneered at as too small to make a difference or not likely to work but there's nothing to be gained by not trying whatever the so-called experts say.

Two heart-warming stories of local people taking the initiative to improve their lives and the environment around them help explain why.

While it is a sweeping generalisation because attitudes vary between villages and magacities, between people of different faiths and in different parts of India it's generally believed that girls in India are far less valued than boys.

In Kerala, south India birth rates are 1058 girls per 1000 boys, while in the northern state of Bihar, one of India's poorest and most traditional rural states it's around 960 girls per 1000 boys.

Although dowry payment is strictly speaking illegal in India it is still widespread and a cause of great hardship to the parents of girls It's one of the reasons thought to be contributing to the gender imbalance in the birth rate and higher under-five mortality rate in girls.

But not in the 7000-population village of Dhararha, Bihar, which now has more than 100,000 fully mature fruit trees, largely mangos and lychees, as well as the benefits of a shady, green environment under which to shelter from the intense summer heat!

The village has had a tradition for generations of planting ten fruit trees, usually mangoes, when a girl is born, not only helping farmers' incomes,the village economy and environment but also saving girls' lives!

The village farmers bank part of the income from the sale of the mangoes - a fruit very popular in India - to save for the dowries traditionally paid by the bride's family to the grooms as part of marriage arrangements.

Over on the other side of the world in the Peruvian Andes there's a much more bizarre activity going on near the village of Licapa.

Glaciers have been melting and snow has been disappearing from the peaks and over the past 40 years residents of the area of the Glacier Chalon Sombrero have reported that the river level has been getting lower, the nights colder and the days hotter.

It's a serious situation for the 900 people who live in Licapa, which depends on Chalon Sombrero for water. So now four Licapa villagers are spending their days "repainting" the loose rocks around the summit white, using an environmentally mix of lime, industrial egg white and water, courtesy of a grant from the World Bank.

The experiment is based on the scientific theory that sunlight reflects off white and light-coloured surfaces sending solar enegry out through the atmosphere into space instead of warming the earth.

It was the idea of local inventor Eduardo Gold and although there is a lot of scepticism among scientists his idea was one of 26 winners of a World Bank competition - 100 ideas to Save the Planet.

The common denominator of both these examples is that ordinary people are just getting on with it, even breaking with tradition - and what have they got to lose?

Openness to innovation on the whole seems to be sadly lacking whicle the politicians, alleged experts and the powerful corporations argue about larger-scale solutions, regulation and so-on.

This situation is well illustrated in farming, where there are good indications that the Biopesticides Developers' new ranges of biopesticides, bio fungicides and other low-chem yield enhancing agricultural products could hold the key to helping small and large farmers increase their yields while preserving soil fertility and protecting their local water sources from harmful chemicals.

In Africa the African Union is proposing a plan to plant a "Great Green Wall" of drought-resistant trees from Senegal to Djibouti to halt the advance of the Sahara Desert. It hopes the trees will prevent soil erosion, slow wind speeds and help water filter into the ground helping to enrich the soil for communities in the Sahel that depend on land for farming and agriculture.

While this is an example of what could potentially be achieved with cross-country co-opration for big projects and despite thousands of trees being planted in nurseries around Chad's capital, where African leaders recently gathered to push the prohject, so far not a single tree has been transplanted.

Perhaps there's something after all to the argument that small is beautiful!!

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

Instead of belittling them and looking for large-scale solutions why not encourage environmental initiatives being developed in small communities, asks writer Ali Withers? After all many scientific breakthroughs came from small beginnings in garden sheds. Biopesticides Developers' inventive agricultural solutions could help smallholders as much as large-scale agribusiness


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