Localisation/swadeshi: a programme for long-term survival


Swadeshi has been described by Satish Kumar, founder and Director of Schumacher College in Devon as a programme for long term survival.

It is the principle of preferring the neighbouring to the remote.

It relates to need-based lives, ruling out unlimited consumption.

It is not autarky; but a needs-based global alternative.

Economic swadeshi was shaped by Gandhi, who advocated the production and use of indigenous food and goods. In 1956, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission was established in by Act of Parliament.



Active today, a list of its SMEs may be read here. 


Swadeshi practices economics according to its original definition of good household management, seeking to preserve natural wealth and promote the balanced development of all regions and society as a whole.

It regards the market as an instrument, not as master; the swadeshi global view is “let a thousand markets bloom – and not merge into one global market”.




Research findings: allotments have good food yields without sacrificing soil quality

Fruit growing on Hall Green allotment
Fruit growing on Hall Green allotment

There are around 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, covering more than 8000 hectares and demand is growing, with more than 90,000 people currently on allotment waiting lists in the UK. 

Findings of a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology

  • Soils under Britain’s allotments are significantly healthier than intensively farmed soils.
  • By growing on a small-scale in urban areas, it is possible to produce food sustainably without damaging the soil.

Science Daily reports that ecologist Dr Jill Edmondson from the University of Sheffield took soil samples from 27 plots on 15 allotment sites, local parks, gardens across the city of Leicester and surrounding agricultural land. She measured a range of soil properties, including soil organic carbon levels, total nitrogen, and the ratio between carbon and nitrogen (all directly related to the amount and quality of organic matter in the soil) as well as soil bulk density, an indicator of soil compaction.

Intensive farming often results in significant declines in soil organic carbon stocks, as well as reducing the ability of soils to store water and nutrients, and damaging soil structure, on which food production — and other services such as carbon storage, flood mitigation and locking up pollutants — depends.

Compared with local arable fields, the allotment soil was significantly healthier: allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen, and was significantly less compacted. Dr Edmondson says:

University of Reading study
University of Reading study

“We found remarkable differences in soil quality between allotments and arable fields. Our study shows how effectively own-growers manage soils, and it demonstrates how much modern agricultural practices damage soils.

“Allotment holders are able to produce good food yields without sacrificing soil quality because they use sustainable management techniques. 95% of allotment holders compost their allotment waste, so they recycle nutrients and carbon back to their soil more effectively.

“An estimated 800 million city dwellers across the world participate in urban food production, which makes a vital contribution to food security. Our results suggest that in order to protect our soils, planning and policy making should promote urban own-growing rather than further intensification of conventional agriculture as a more sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand.

Vegetables growing on Hall Green allotment
Vegetables growing on Hall Green allotment

“Using urban land, including domestic gardens, allotments and community gardens for own-growing is an important and often overlooked way of increasing productivity whilst also reconnecting urban dwellers with food production.

“As well as improving food security, studies show that own-growing has direct physical and mental health benefits, and can provide access to sustainably produced fruit and vegetable crops without the associated food miles.”

As a result of the findings, the authors say that planners and policy makers should increase the number of allotments available.

Jill L. Edmondson, Zoe G. Davies, Kevin J. Gaston, Jonathan R. Leake. Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12254 – gives link to pdf.


The University of Reading studies of soil erosion on farmland: see picture above left and http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/erosion.htm

Local farm-to-table production is a government motto

jamaican fruit vegIn Jamaica, Haiti, the Bahamas and elsewhere, local farm-to-table production is not a restaurant sales pitch: it is a government motto.

“We’re in a food crisis,” said Hilson Baptiste, the agriculture minister of Antigua and Barbuda. “Every country is concerned about it. How can we produce our own? How can we feed our own?”

In June Baptiste said around half of the food consumed in the country is now produced locally. “The total figure we need for our own local production is about 300 million pounds of food per year and we are producing close to half of that now locally. So it means we got to fight to produce all of it locally.”

Questions about the quality of food imported also made the rounds of ministerial caucuses and professional workshops. Baptiste said all should be concerned about hormone-laced meats and vegetables on Caribbean dinner tables.

The New York Times reports that across the Caribbean food imports have become a billion-dollar threat to finances and health. But instead of turning to agribusiness, officials are recruiting everyone they can to combat the cost of imports, which have roughly doubled in price over the past decade.

Locally grown food: responsible and smart

The Jamaican government – years ago, with cross-party support – unveiled a national food security campaign with the slogan “grow what we eat, eat what we grow.” Action includes:

  • Grocery stores now identify local produce with large stickers and prominent displays.
  • Jamaica has given thousands of seed kits to encourage backyard farming.
  • 400 schools in Jamaica now have gardens maintained by students and teachers
  • Gardening and cooking are often part of the school day.
  • The cultivation of land outside homes, hospitals and prisons is encouraged.

jamaican school gardenJacqueline Lewis is the acting director of Rennock Lodge All-Age School in east Kingston, which started offering free breakfast for students, usually stews made with ingredients they grew themselves. The school has a thriving farm and Ms Lewis treats food and farming as issues of national and local security. She notes that the attendance and achievement of many of the children who came from troubled backgrounds and struggled in class has soared: farming, she said, gave them a reason to come.

Caribbean officials have emphasised for years, at regional meetings, that “food security,” primarily availability and access, is a top priority.

Many countries in the region are now responding, branding foreign food like meats and high-calorie snacks a threat, and locally grown food responsible and smart.



Cutting through ‘sustainababble’

Today we received news from America’s New Economics Institute – a partner of Britain’s nef – about the latest edition of Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World series. Their comment:

Every day, we are presented with a range of “sustainable” products and activities – from “green” cleaning supplies to carbon offsets – but with so much labeled as “sustainable,” the term has become essentially sustainababble, at best indicating a practice or product slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative.

In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible, scientists, policy experts, and thought leaders attempt to restore meaning to sustainability as more than just a marketing tool.

wwi coverThey define clear sustainability metrics and examine various policies and perspectives, including geoengineering, corporate transformation, and changes in agricultural policy, that could put us on the path to prosperity without diminishing the well-being of future generations.

If these approaches fall short, the final chapters explore ways to prepare for drastic environmental change and resource depletion, such as strengthening democracy and societal resilience, protecting cultural heritage, and dealing with increased conflict and migration flows.

State of the World 2013 cuts through the rhetoric surrounding sustainability, offering a broad and realistic look at how close we are to fulfilling it today and which practices and policies will steer us in the right direction.


Is the priority to expand world trade or to build on the resilience of communities?

DF Times obit

Fleming, second left, discussing the working of an experimental rocket stove – to capture heat with clean combustion – at Transition Town Louth, Lincolnshire (The Times)

In Lean Logic, David Fleming asks:

“Is the priority to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, or to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market and to improve their food security?

“The former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mike Moore, writes persuasively about the benefits of free trade in A World Without Walls; (2003). He shows that the lowering of trade barriers has stimulated growth, that the countries that have been the most open to trade have enjoyed the most economic progress and the greatest rise in the incomes of the poor. And, as former prime minister of New Zealand, he has the experience of making that country a pioneer of free-market agriculture, with benign effects across the economy. How, then, can there be doubts when he argues that the anti-globalisation movement, if successful, would bring catastrophic consequences, not just for the poor in developing economies, but for all of us?

“Can Mr Moore and the anti-globalisation protestors really be talking about the same thing?”

He continues with the opposing argument which states that globalisation, in the form of free trade, opening up small-scale production in the non-industrialised countries to competition from multinationals:

  • leads to unemployment and dispossession;
  • makes agriculture dependent on imported energy;
  • devastates soils, ecosystems and communities;
  • raises incomes in part by destroying local subsistence and forcing people into the cash economy;
  • and is supported by the governments of the affected countries
  • not least because of the debts into which they have been lured.

And concludes:

“Food security, with higher overall yields and greater diversity, less damage to the soil and higher real local incomes, would be more fruitfully sought by helping farmers to make the best use of their own skills applied to local conditions”.

Lean logic DF titleBoth sides beg the question: they are each correct if their premises are accepted: if the priority is to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, Mr Moore’s conclusions naturally follow; if it is to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market, and to improve their food security, his critics are correct.

The begged question is the one thing they should be talking about.

Plunkett Foundation forms partnership with Land Settlement Association

Horticulture smallholdings: a crucial contribution towards higher employment, a reliable, home-grown food supply and a diverse, more ecologically healthy countryside

The Plunkett Foundation newsletter reports a new partnership with the Land Settlement Association Charitable Trust. Plunkett hopes to identify ‘pioneering approaches to co-operative horticulture across the UK’ to ‘share and develop further’.  Shaun Chamberlin has written about one such initiative, the Ecological Land Co-operative in the January 2013 issue of Country Smallholding magazine. General reflections are summarised here.

ecological land co-operative
Shaun opens by pointing out that nearly half of the UK’s land is owned by just 40,000 people (0.06% of the population).

Such land ownership ‘by the few’ tends to favour uniform, large-scale, mechanised agriculture, yet with the UK population having increased by 4 million over the past decade, it becomes ever more pertinent that such farms have long been known to produce far less food per acre than smaller holdings.

However, although smaller holdings can produce substantially more food per acre, the big farms can produce more of a given monoculture crop per acre, which suits the large-scale centralised buyers.

The greater challenge facing smallholders, however, is that their higher productivity per acre relies on careful human attention, which can be a major expense. Large-scale mechanised farms, on the other hand, have replaced human care with cheap fossil energy, standardisation and monoculture.

Chamberlin concludes:

Industrialised agriculture is a major contributor to climate destabilisation, soil depletion and numerous other problems, while smallholdings provide an ideal context for diverse, low-carbon, localised lifestyles that could provide a desperately needed model for true sustainability.

Extortionate land prices and the intricate absurdities of the planning permission system combine to make the simple aim of living on and working a piece of land seem an unattainable dream for most of us; however, with finite fossil fuel supplies depleting and oil prices having tripled over the past decade, the balance is shifting and smallholdings and horticulture offer a crucial contribution towards higher employment, a reliable, home-grown food supply for the UK and a diverse and thus more ecologically healthy countryside.

To read about Ecological Land Co-operative and the history of a government-funded Land Settlement Association in the 1930s, go to the article: http://www.darkoptimism.org/articles.html

Website: http://ecologicalland.coop/
Twitter: @EcoLandCoop
Join mailing list by emailing: zoe@ecologicalland.coop

The Resilience imperative – Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy

resilience imperative conatyLocalise West Midland’s co-founder, Patrick Conaty, has just published a book co-authored with Mike Lewis: The Resilience imperative – Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy. It examines many elements of a resilient local economy, collating and critiquing many examples of how this has been achieved all over the world over the last 150 years.

The term ‘resilience ‘ is coming to the fore; the American organisation of that name focusses on building community resilience in a world of multiple emerging challenges: “the decline of cheap energy, the depletion of critical resources like water, complex environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, and the social and economic issues which are linked to these”.


Extracted from Pat’s interview with Naresh Giangrande from the Transition Network:


NG: Why should someone involved in a Transition Initiative read this book?

PC: Mike and I were aware that although there have been many social and environmental change solutions developed, there has been a lack of strategic thinking. How can we join these partial solutions up? Through co-researching and co-writing the book over three years, we felt that we could clarify a Great Transition strategy for going forward by bringing together different fragments of positive change strategically and practically. We saw a need to bring ecological and cooperative economics together. Kenneth Boulding, a founder of ecological economics was the first to call for a Great Transition in the mid 60s, and saw the need to link cooperative and ecological economics together. . .

NG: You were involved in the 1990’s in The Real World Coalition seeking to bring together the third world development, green movement, social justice movement, small business, and micro credit movement.   Is this book in some way an expression of that impulse?

PC: The Real World Coalition united over 30 NGOs in the UK from these sectors and was led by Jonathan Porritt, Sara Parkin and Mike Jacobs. It was unique in that it spent three years developing a common manifesto among the NGOS. We need something like this again. How do we unite the fragments of change, to tackle the big issues? We have to come together .Yes this book is looking at the intervening years and what are the practical, tried and tested ways that people have been cooperating and  been successful in creating the pieces of local resilience . . .

NG: If you were to synthesize ecological and cooperative economics what would you come up with?

To root the integrated theory with practice, we looked at basic needs – food, shelter, finance, and energy services – and how could we meet human needs  co-operatively and what are the practical ways that have been pioneered to satisfy these needs and build a sustainable society  . . .

NG: I loved your tables at the end of chapter showing the costs to an average family.

PC: Yes we took a family of four and looked at what if we were addressing their needs in the new economics way and what would be the impact on their household budget.

NG: And the result?

PC:  We substituted usury based on high rates of compound interest with mutual fee based money and private energy and food monopolies with energy and food coops. We also show savings by converting housing to Community Land Trusts to take the land cost out of the market. The result we found is that there are significant savings to be made in each instance and the cumulative results show the practical potential for a steady state economy.

For an average family of four, you make a savings on energy and financing of over $360,000 over 25 years. Local organic food would be more expensive, but the net savings including food are still $280,000 over 25 years. We converted this to life hours which translated into saving 10 hours a week per household. This is significant . . .

NG: You have a keen sense of how there is nothing new. The REconomy project, need for land access, and social justice. Others have been over this ground many times before.

PC: We have lost sight of the historic and international struggles over that past 170 years for achieving land reform, economic democracy and for a co-operative economy.

As a result each generation typically starts with a blank page which is tragic because we lose sight of what these struggles can tell us so we can move forward faster and more effectively.

I am convinced that cooperative solutions lie at the heart of the new economy. We explore in diverse chapters the growing social solidarity economy internationally – which is generally below the radar – but none the less a powerful force. It is often unaware of its power, despite the fact that co-ops globally employ more people than multinationals . . . Some exciting work we show is going on with La Via Campesina uniting small farmers globally, in Quebec with co-op federations in Montreal and in the social co-ops in Northern Italy.


The Resilience Imperative Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty New Society Publishers 2012. Paperback: ISBN: 978-0-86571-707-7; ebook ISBN: 978-1-55092-505-0

Read this interview in full on the Resilience website and an interview with Mike Lewis here.



’New’ weather demands a new politics – and economics?

“Isn’t it time to rethink our international trade policies?” asks New Delhi agricultural scientist and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma today, just before a powerful summary of the crucial importance of a healthy environment to the global economy on Radio 4 this morning by Tony Juniper and complementing a recent article by George Monbiot.

Creating and popularising local markets: the alternative to WTO ‘madness’

Food_Miles_Report_coverSharma writes: “In 1994, I remember reading an excellent report, Food Miles, produced by Sustain – now updated and republished. It told us about the dangers of shipped food across the continents, processed and repacked elsewhere, and then shipped back to the same country from where it all started.

“There were several glaring examples, which should have woken up the policy makers and of course the economists who talk of everything but make little sense. Food on an average travels 3,000 miles before it reaches your plate. This itself was such a startling revelation that should have made consumers to rethink, but somehow it did not.

“Supermarkets excel in globe-trotting for food products, taking advantage of the cheap processing costs (and also taking advantage of the massive fuel subsidies), remaining unmindful of the carbon footprint they generate in the process . . .

Is aviation fuel cheaper than Coke?

himachal apples2“I have never understood the logic of allowing apples to be imported all the way from New Zealand and Chile into India while there are no takers for apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Similarly, what is the logic behind allowing Washington apples to be exported to India, while Chinese apples travel all the way to the US, controlling roughly 45% of the US market. The food globe-trotting is happening because the aviation fuel is damn cheap. Many have said that aviation fuel actually works to be cheaper than Coke! (Ed. See the Himachal Live News describing local markets as a boon for their apple growers.)

airport watchSharma cited the 2007 Airport Watch post, recording the Sunday Times’ finding that supermarket chain Sainsbury’s Traidcraft coffee is grown in Bukoba, Tanzania; the coffee beans then travel 656 kms to Dar-es-Salaam and are shipped to Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, 3,250 miles from Dar-es-Salaam. In Vijaywada the beans are packed and shipped to Southampton in UK – 5,000 miles. From there it goes to Leeds and is then redistributed to Sainsbury stores worldwide.

He expects that, with the approval granted recently to FDI in retail in India, Sainsbury will find it convenient to ship the packed coffee from Leeds to New Delhi.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) and climate negotiations work at cross-purposes

Going to the heart of the matter, Sharma points out that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Climate negotiations actually work at cross-purposes:

“While WTO will push for more of such trade, it doesn’t pay any heed to the resulting carbon footprint such trade generates and the impact it has on global warming. Similarly, Climate negotiators are not calling for restricting such unwanted trade as a precursor to climate control standards”.

His recommendation: creating and popularising local markets is perhaps the only viable alternative to the madness of making food travel across the globe.

Consumers have a very important role to play here. Try to avoid being lured by products which claim to have brought you the same processed stuff from far away which is grown in your neighbourhood. Keep a close watch.

apple juice urban harvest

Why go for processed orange drink from Chile or from US, when you have fresh and tasty juice available in your local market (eg. courtesy of Urban Harvest above)? By making such sensible choices you will have played your small but effective part in limiting the global carbon footprint.#

Read Sharma’s article at Ground Reality at 1/14/2013

Unhooking from transport & energy-intensive economy

Some readers will have visited the late Robert Hart in his Forest Garden in Shropshire.

Zac Goldsmith, when reviewing Robert’s book about his life and work, focussed on his perception that growing and seemingly unconnected problems emerge as connected symptoms of something deeper:

“The shortening of links between farmers and ‘consumers’, for example, leads not only to the strengthening of communities and local economies, but also to an increase in local diversity, a consequent decrease in the need for chemical inputs, whose function is primarily to support artificial monocultures, and perhaps, most importantly, it results in the unhooking of whole communities from dependence on the transport and energy intensive economy . . .

“Rather than relying on vast high-tech energy plants, water storage tanks and centralised sewage treatment, communities around the world are re-inventing simple technologies which can be assembled and managed using local skills and resources.”

This simple but essentially comprehensive localising message will also be shared on an Indian website.