Wednesday, 15 October 2008

frugality (blog action day - poverty)

"Frugality does not mean poverty or deprivation. It means the wise use of resources."

Paul Hawken in 'The 11th Hour'.
For full quote, see NPQ (4th from bottom).

Rather than write about poverty, the theme of this year's Blog Action Day, I thought instead I'd consider the wise use of resources as the means to avoid it. Partly I am inspired by that wonderful organisation Practical Action which devises and/or introduces very simple technologies to lift struggling communities out of dependency or poverty.

A recent mailout from Practical Action describes a fish-rice culture introduced to Bangladeshi rice farmers. A minor re-design of rice fields allows fish to also grow there. The rice thrives from the fish naturally fertilising it, consuming insect pests and circulating oxygen, giving an apparent 10% increase in yield and savings in purchased pesticide and fertiliser. As well as having fish to eat, the farmers now also grow vegetables and bananas on the dykes.

Fish-rice culture reminds me of the traditional silk production cycle – silkworms feeding on mulberry bushes, the cocoon waste following silk harvesting fed to fish in the pond, with fish waste being scraped from the pond floor annually to fertilise the mulberry bushes.

My dream is to find a similar cycle for woad production. At the moment, in theory, I can use organic chicken manure to fertilise soil (for nitrogen content). Perhaps chickens will eat post-extraction plant waste, but there isn't much of it (currently it goes in the compost bin). Perhaps as woad is such a slug-magnet there'd be mutual benefit with poultry living alongside? Whether simple or complex the cycle turns out to be, I said it was a dream and probably it will stay that way. I don't have and am unlikely to ever have enough land to grow enough woad for all my own dyeing – I will always need to buy it in.

Earlier in the year I visited Ian Howard in Norfolk, who's been at the forefront of woad revival in Britain for some years now. Since processing my comparatively meagre crop a month ago I have thought a lot about the time and effort he must put in, leading to the high cost of woad-sourced indigotin. Occasionally I've wondered whether it is really worth it... but then think back to Procion dyes and the minimal information available about its production. It means so much more to know who has grown and produced the dye and where, how, and why! To know this farmer has and is increasing specialist knowledge of the crop, knowledge that would have been garnered over generations of past woaders. To trust that he knows he needs to take care of his land in order to continue to grow it, and to maintain both quality and financial return. That must mean a wise use of resources.

Synthetic dye... dye with no entity, no place, let alone no place in nature, and virtually no history. Dye without a soul. Manufactured anonymously somewhere in the world from petrochemical from somewhere else in the world, packaged up and sold on somewhere else again. There is no trail, no depth – any dyeing from this becomes just a colour, nothing more. So how to be sure resources have been used wisely? Impossible, it seems, with Procion MX.

One is cyclical, working within nature's limits; the other based on linear production. Cyclical is frugal, implying taking only what nature can afford – some years not much, but in others a bonanza. In comparison linear can only ever lead to poverty somewhere for someone, surely?

update, midnight at end of Blog Action Day

Having spent the last hour reading other blogger entries for this day addressing poverty, I have felt moved enough to do something more (the concept of Blog Action Day works!). Instead of occasional donations I am setting up a regular payment to Practical Action. Their donation page says the following:

Please do something special today. Offer the hand of friendship to poor communities by making a regular donation by Direct Debit. Be part of the solutions that will change the lives of people in poor communities day after day, year after year.

For over 40 years Practical Action has been investing in simple and extremely effective technologies that give determined people the power to change their lives. Our experience tells us that you can’t solve poverty by giving handouts – instead we work together with people in their homes and communities, listening and learning from them. We work at the heart of desperate communities across the world, helping people to find simple, sustainable solutions to problems they face.

- We don’t believe in imposing quick fixes. So we make sure that all our projects are sustainable, use local materials and are organised and run by local people
- We overcome poverty across the world using practical, tangible and often innovative solutions. We use simple technologies and share our knowledge widely.
- We make sure that the money that funds our work goes directly to our offices in that country rather than the government, so you can be sure the money goes only to the people who need it.

Monday, 6 October 2008

quality not quantity

I woke up yesterday morning thinking about my two grams of extracted woad pigment... of the amount of work involved in its production. And, even allowing for the cool wet summer's affect on growth, how disproportionate is the effort to the result.

Later I read this article about Cornish vineyard Camel Valley Wines. The weather knocked out nearly 80% of their grapes but also created circumstances for those remaining being ideal for their sparkling wine 'Cornwall'. So if 'Cornwall' can compete with Champagne (as the vineyard owners believe), then I shouldn't be at all despondent about my measly woad pigment result...

Quality it is then. Not quantity.

. . .

While writing this I've been wondering whether there's a connection between grapes getting extra fizz from the particular circumstances of this year's summer, and the exuberance of foam I got during woad processing, also experienced this year for the first time by Helen Melvin (in North Wales) (see previous post and comments). Is it an omen of the champagne of blues to come?