What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Friday, 28 August 2009

It is soooo windy here!

It is no wonder Zero Carbon Britain says that the UK could generate all it's power from the wind and have some left over to sell to the continent. I'm walking the coast path and the wind has been still for barely a few hours over the course of several weeks. Today I was knocked down repeatedly by 50 mph gusts funnelling over the cliff edge from a NW gale. The only question is, where are all the windturbines? With this magnificient resource why is the government so keen on developing more coal and nuclear power plants? It makes no sense.

I'll be on the trail for several more days and will only be posting on an irregular basis. Thanks for being patient and for stopping by.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Greenpeace action on Mt. Rushmore

Good on these guys. I only hope it's true. Does America really honor leaders?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Sustainable Fashion?

Sounds like an oxymoron to me but if anyone can steer us in the direction of sustainable fashion it has to be the Thrifty Chicks.

"Stop! You are being forced into a box and tied up neatly with string and a tag that says SEASONAL TREND. It’s mass marketing and it has you in mind left to ponder the exact bikini you will wear next summer of 2010, now on the eve of September, 2009. It tells you the skirt length this season. It tells you chartreuse is the new black.
Confused? Well of course you are! That’s why it is good to have an idea of fundamental style; something that can be molded into one’s own. Once you have a hand on the idea of the necessary basic foundation of a wardrobe you can add elements that meet contemporary trends without compromising your own unique self, your pocket book, or your dignity. The best part – these wardrobe essentials can be found at your local thrift store. Say no way to the department store Stepford wife keeping up with the Janets you must wear it because we said so style. The Thrifty Chick's idol, Audrey Hepburn was noted for admitting all she really needed for style was a scarf. Style is best served simple." - Thriftfully Modern Mommie

Water, too precious to waste.

Here's my latest submission to the Sheffield Star Green Scene.

In Bermuda every home has built in rainwater harvesting mandated by code as there is no natural source of fresh water. There is also a developing network of water mains provided by a desalinization plant. As this process uses a great deal of electricity, provided by an oil burning power plant, the cost of this water is some incentive to conserve. Many homes have 3 sources of water, a shallow well that provides brackish water for flushing toilets and washing clothes, the rainwater harvesting system used for drinking water, bathing and dishwashing, and the desalinated mains back up for those weeks of dry weather that exhaust the rainwater supply. The long history of relying on the skies for much of their water has contributed to the development of a deep seated water conservation ethic in many Bermudians.

We are not so fortunate as to have mandated rainwater harvesting here in the UK where water usage in the home breaks down as such;

toilet flushing - 33%
washing machines - 21%
baths and showers - 17%
kitchen sink - 16%
wash basin - 9 %
dishwashers - 1%
hosepipes - 3%
and a further 5 to 10% is lost through leaks in the home.
(Harris and Borer 2005 p.279)

From these figures some obvious avenues of conservation are evident. Firstly, why do we flush our toilets with drinking water? We can at least cut down on the number of flushes. In Bermuda there is a saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Another simple flush saver is to have an occasional surreptitious garden pee on your compost heap. The extra nitrogen will speed up the composting process and as long as you don’t overdo it the heap won’t smell much different.

In our home we place a collection bucket in the shower to capture the water wasted while waiting for it to get hot. When we step in we push it back against the wall and it continues to collect splash and drip throughout the shower. We then pour this “excess” water into the toilet to flush.

Showers use less water than baths unless you have a power shower. If you have a hot water heater you don’t need a power shower which uses far more water and electricity than is needed. In either case take as short a shower as you can.

Use a bucket in the sink when you wash dishes, you can use this water to flush toilets or to water your lawn. Be sure to use gentle, natural soaps. Avoid antibacterial soaps as they will have a deleterious effect on the soil ecology.

Don’t use hosepipes. If you must wash your car or water your plants use buckets. The simple act of carrying your water will encourage conservation. A running hosepipe can get through an astonishing amount of water, hundreds of litres, in a very short period of time.

Avoid plantings in the garden that are water hungry, if you must water plants use rainwater from a water butt. Rainwater is better for the plants and the soil as it does not contain chlorine.

There are more expensive options for water conservation. If a replacement is needed of a water using device be sure to carefully source lower use options such as low flow shower heads, spray taps, and low use toilet cisterns. An even better solution is a compost toilet which uses no water and produces compost for your fruit trees.

Harris, C. and Borer, P. 1998 - The Whole House Book; Ecological Building Design and Materials 2nd edition,

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Health Insurance Reform Reality Check

I've not gotten heavily involved in the health insurance reform debac... er.. debate. This is not because I don't feel strongly about it. After having lived in Britain for 3 years I am convinced of the value of a single payer system. Unfortunately, that option doesn't appear to be on the table.

It is immoral to profit from the suffering of others.

I am disgusted by the rightwing corporate propaganda designed to protect the profit mongering in the current system.

I've received the following from the White House.

Health Insurance Reform Reality Check

8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage
  1. Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.
  2. Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.
  3. Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.
  4. Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.
  5. Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.
  6. Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.
  7. Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.
  8. Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.
Learn more and get details: http://www.WhiteHouse.gov/health-insurance-consumer-protections/

8 common myths about health insurance reform
  1. Reform will stop "rationing" - not increase it: It’s a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.
  2. We can’t afford reform: It's the status quo we can't afford. It’s a myth that reform will bust the budget. To the contrary, the President has identified ways to pay for the vast majority of the up-front costs by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse within existing government health programs; ending big subsidies to insurance companies; and increasing efficiency with such steps as coordinating care and streamlining paperwork. In the long term, reform can help bring down costs that will otherwise lead to a fiscal crisis.
  3. Reform would encourage "euthanasia": It does not. It’s a malicious myth that reform would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors. For seniors who want to consult with their family and physicians about end-of life decisions, reform will help to cover these voluntary, private consultations for those who want help with these personal and difficult family decisions.
  4. Vets' health care is safe and sound: It’s a myth that health insurance reform will affect veterans' access to the care they get now. To the contrary, the President's budget significantly expands coverage under the VA, extending care to 500,000 more veterans who were previously excluded. The VA Healthcare system will continue to be available for all eligible veterans.
  5. Reform will benefit small business - not burden it: It’s a myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses. To the contrary, reform will ease the burdens on small businesses, provide tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage and help level the playing field with big firms who pay much less to cover their employees on average.
  6. Your Medicare is safe, and stronger with reform: It’s myth that Health Insurance Reform would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits. To the contrary, reform will improve the long-term financial health of Medicare, ensure better coordination, eliminate waste and unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies, and help to close the Medicare "doughnut" hole to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.
  7. You can keep your own insurance: It’s myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors. To the contrary, reform will expand your choices, not eliminate them.
  8. No, government will not do anything with your bank account: It is an absurd myth that government will be in charge of your bank accounts. Health insurance reform will simplify administration, making it easier and more convenient for you to pay bills in a method that you choose. Just like paying a phone bill or a utility bill, you can pay by traditional check, or by a direct electronic payment. And forms will be standardized so they will be easier to understand. The choice is up to you – and the same rules of privacy will apply as they do for all other electronic payments that people make.
Learn more and get details:

8 Reasons We Need Health Insurance Reform Now
  1. Coverage Denied to Millions: A recent national survey estimated that 12.6 million non-elderly adults – 36 percent of those who tried to purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company in the individual insurance market – were in fact discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the previous three years or dropped from coverage when they became seriously ill. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/denied_coverage/index.html
  2. Less Care for More Costs: With each passing year, Americans are paying more for health care coverage. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have nearly doubled since 2000, a rate three times faster than wages. In 2008, the average premium for a family plan purchased through an employer was $12,680, nearly the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage job. Americans pay more than ever for health insurance, but get less coverage. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/hiddencosts/index.html
  3. Roadblocks to Care for Women: Women’s reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly pap smears, mammograms, and obstetric care. Women are also more likely to report fair or poor health than men (9.5% versus 9.0%). While rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are similar to men, women are twice as likely to suffer from headaches and are more likely to experience joint, back or neck pain. These chronic conditions often require regular and frequent treatment and follow-up care. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/women/index.html
  4. Hard Times in the Heartland: Throughout rural America, there are nearly 50 million people who face challenges in accessing health care. The past several decades have consistently shown higher rates of poverty, mortality, uninsurance, and limited access to a primary health care provider in rural areas. With the recent economic downturn, there is potential for an increase in many of the health disparities and access concerns that are already elevated in rural communities. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/hardtimes
  5. Small Businesses Struggle to Provide Health Coverage: Nearly one-third of the uninsured – 13 million people – are employees of firms with less than 100 workers. From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. Much of this decline stems from small business. The percentage of small businesses offering coverage dropped from 68% to 59%, while large firms held stable at 99%. About a third of such workers in firms with fewer than 50 employees obtain insurance through a spouse. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/helpbottomline
  6. The Tragedies are Personal: Half of all personal bankruptcies are at least partly the result of medical expenses. The typical elderly couple may have to save nearly $300,000 to pay for health costs not covered by Medicare alone. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/inaction
  7. Diminishing Access to Care: From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. An estimated 87 million people - one in every three Americans under the age of 65 - were uninsured at some point in 2007 and 2008. More than 80% of the uninsured are in working families. Learn more: http://www.healthreform.gov/reports/inaction/diminishing/index.html
  8. The Trends are Troubling: Without reform, health care costs will continue to skyrocket unabated, putting unbearable strain on families, businesses, and state and federal government budgets. Perhaps the most visible sign of the need for health care reform is the 46 million Americans currently without health insurance - projections suggest that this number will rise to about 72 million in 2040 in the absence of reform. Learn more: http://www.WhiteHouse.gov/assets/documents/CEA_Health_Care_Report.pdf
Visit WhiteHouse.gov

Meatless Mondays - what a great idea!

The Climate Bill is an economic necessity

How does 20 million new jobs by 2030 sound?
How about a growth in GDP of 9 trillion dollars by 2030?
According to the National Association of Manufacturers that is what we will get from a commitment to the Waxman-Markey Climate bill. For all you "growth is god" capitalists out there this should be good news. If it is then contact your senators and tell them so. You can do it quite easily at the Care2 petition site.

Read more at Climate Progress.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Meat Eating is 'Huge Contributor' to Climate Change

"Last week, the Washington Post summarized a number of recent reports indicating that one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint or greenhouse gas pollution is to reduce your meat consumption. Here are some quick highlights:

-A Carnegie Melon study found that the average American would benefit the planet more by being vegetarian one day per week than by switching to a totally local diet (heck, why not do both?).

-A University of Chicago study found that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading your gas guzzler for a Prius.

-The head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recommended that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere.

-According to a 2006 United Nations report, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Although we've reported similar studies in Organic Bytes over the years, it's refreshing to see a mainstream media outlet finally bring attention to the topic. Americans seem okay being told they should recycle, drive less, and weatherize their homes, but something short-circuits when you ask them to reduce their meat consumption."

Read more about this at Organic Consumers Association.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Organic food still the best nutritional choice

Recently the media has been trumpeting a report from the UK Food standards agency that ostensibly states that there is no nutritional benefit to choosing organic produce. Rodale institute has published a rebuttal to this interpretation. Apparently the data in the study offers no proof to support the claim of no benefit;

"The study, funded by the UK Food Standards Agency, formally acknowledges data
demonstrating significant nutritional advantages for organic. It said in its analysis,
however, that the evidence was insufficient, under its protocol, to proclaim organic
superiority.... The study accepted data from only 55 field trials, farm surveys and market basket
surveys of the 52,471 citations it identified with relevance to comparing nutrients (and
other substances) from organic and non-organic sources. Methods for rejection included
statistical methodology, unclear organic system verification and lack of specific breed/
cultivar identification. Some of the studies included were conducted before the creation of
current national organic standards. "

Their are added benefits of organic farming;

"The Rodale Institute has been comparing organic and non-organic practices for nearly
three decades, and released a report in 2008 explaining the regenerative capabilities of
organic agriculture as a solution to confront global warming. Organic production methods
are responsible for fewer pesticides and herbicides in soils and water, better management
of land, and food with little to no risk of doing long-term damage to our planet, its people,
and its biodiversity."

Monday, 10 August 2009

A slim population is a more sustainable one.

A report "Population adiposity and climate change" by Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts links low levels of obesity to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. As reported by Sophie Blakemore over at Worldchanging;

"Countries with normal rates of obesity (3.5%) consume almost 20% less food and produce up to one gigatonne fewer greenhouse gases than a population with a 40% obesity rate....

One European city has already risen to the challenge. Ghent council, in Belgium, has declared every Thursday vegetarian day, to encourage its inhabitants to eat less meat and so take a step to more sustainable living.

To date, 94 restaurants have agreed to guarantee at least one vegetarian dish on Thursdays, the council claims, with some going completely meat-free. From September the main dish at all primary schools on that day will be vegetarian. Other cities, including São Paolo in Brazil and Genoa in Italy, have expressed an interest in replicating the move.

In the UK, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary have launched a ‘Meat Free Monday’ campaign, to raise awareness of vegetarianism and highlight the impact of food choices on the environment.

Researchers at the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam have come up with figures claiming that if every UK citizen took up the idea, the associated reduction in carbon emissions would be equal to taking five million cars off the road."

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Monsanto and Fox News

Remember when soy was a "healthy" alternative to meat?

Back in the 80's I remember eating soy to get my protein instead of meat. I ate lots of tofu. To bad soy has become a toxic soup of gmo and hexane contamination. Read more in this article by Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq. at Organic Consumers Association, here's an excerpt;

"GENETICALLY MODIFIED More than 90 percent of US soy is genetically modified. While genetic engineering is widely believed to be intended to increase yields, genetically modified soybeans, the world's most widely planted GM crop, have consistently lower yields than conventional soy.

SPRAYED WITH PESTICIDES Soy is genetically modified to withstand massive applications of Monsanto's RoundUp pesticide. According to the Center for Food Safety, U.S. government data reveal a huge 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on soybeans in the U.S. from 1994 to 2005, driven by the adoption of the Roundup Ready version of the crop. Increasing weed resistance to glyphosate has led to rising use of other toxic chemicals. In the U.S., the amount of 2,4-D (a component of the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange) applied to soybeans more than doubled from 2002 to 2006.

PROCESSED WITH HEXANE Before being added to food, soy processors, including Archer Daniels Midland and Solae, use a toxic petroleum-derived solvent called hexane to extract the oil and protein. When hexane is released to the environment it degrades to produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Hexane can cause dizziness and irritation and, with long-term exposure, nerve damage. It is regulated as a volatile organic compound, a class of compounds that contributes to smog problems."

Friday, 7 August 2009

Video - "Creepy at the EPA" by Peter Sinclair

Thanks to Joe Romm over at Climate Progress for the heads up on this.


In this article by Bary Katz over at The Future is Green we are reminded once again of the pitiful job mainstream media is doing at keeping us apprised of the challenges we face. We are still flushing our toilets with fresh, treated, drinking water while;

"... 12 million people die each year due to lack of access to clean water. A child dies every six seconds for lack of access to clean water."

You might say "but what can we do about water in the developing world, we are not going to ship vast quantities over seas are we?"

"... this is not just a Third World problem. Huge swaths of the United States are currently facing severe water shortages. Maude Barlow writes in Blue Covenant that in 2007, " Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, dropped to its lowest level in eighty years. . . . California has a twenty-year supply of freshwater left. New Mexico has only a ten-year supply. Arizona is out: it now import all of its drinking water."

Barlow also notes that the U.S. Geological Survey found that "the parched Interior West is probably the driest it has been in five hundred years." This is more than a drought. We are running out of water."

We rely on huge quantities of water, not just to flush away our waste but also to grow the food we eat. This is clearly not some passing perturbation;

"The WorldWatch Institute has called water scarcity 'the most underappreciated global environmental challenge of our time.'"

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Malawi Newsletter 2009 – 2

Tristan Cooper East Africa Trust

After such a good start . . . it just got better -

This time last year, we instigated what I called the Mud Stove Initiative, though today I prefer to call them Rammed Earth (or RE) stoves as we do not actually use wet mud at all. The idea was to show local people how to use a wooden mould to make stoves from earth, stoves that allow the use of two cooking pots on one fire so preserving firewood and with the added benefit that the smoke can mostly be kept out of the kitchen. Our hard-working guys here built several stoves locally which garnered much interest. One local carpenter has made his own stove box and has built 7 stoves in his village; a good start. Those that were built last year are mostly in very good condition after one year and are easily repaired if any cracks appear. Judging by what I have seen, they will have a long life. A further refinement of the design that I have just introduced has proven to be successful. We can now have a box with a lid – so the stove is make upside-down and the top is actually rammed first and is therefore rammed the most, making it stronger. The lid is also shaped to provide the ‘hobs’ without them having to be cut later.

Above you see the stove that George has just made emerging the box. The lid has shaped the hobs on the top and the pieces of banana trunk that have formed the fire holes are about to be removed.

Getting others to start making stoves is another matter but, in time, we will show them off to more people and the benefits will be clearly understood. Shortly, we will make a demonstration stove in Chintheche town centre, outside the premises of a local doctor so that everyone can see how it’s done and the benefits of having a stove instead of a 3 stone fire. Perhaps the box can be made available on a rental basis for those who want to make their own. I’m optimistic that some people will take up the idea of making them as a business too. Unfortunately, the presence of a muzungu leads people to think they can have something for nothing. In this regard, my being here is detrimental to progress so I try to keep a low profile, not easy!

And better –

EAT have established a close link with GAKO, the organic training farm near Kigali, Rwanda. Richard Munyerango is the head of GAKO and through his intelligence and hard work is showing the Rwandese a range of effective farming techniques. The mud stove originated at GAKO and Richard welcomed learning how to make the EAT improved Rammed Earth Stove when I visited in June, subsequently demonstrating it at the annual agricultural show where GAKO were awarded third best exhibitor in the country. Through this exchange of ideas and techniques, GAKO and EAT can jointly improve farming practices and appropriate technology in both countries. One of Richard’s great ideas is the construction of Vegetable Mounds: an effective way of making good use of limited space and providing a good growing medium for plants. Possibly the first ever Malawian Vegetable Mound was built in July at Bamboo Beach Community (BBC) and we hope to be able to show you the results before very long.

Above is a GAKO style vegetable mound at BBC. A central circular fence of sticks contains compost, while the earth is piled around this nutritious core, resulting in a mound with a larger surface area than the original ground and the soil is constantly fed nutrients from the compost.

Making a vegetable mound is hardly rocket science but the challenge is not so much teaching people how to do it, it’s more a question of how to get them to realise that it is worth doing. Here by the lake the soil is poor but cassava grows relatively easily in it. The tuber of the plant provides a very filling starch and the leaves are also edible; even the stalk can be used as firewood The nutritional value is however quite low and cassava actually leaches zinc from the gut so depriving the body of its ability to absorb vitamins. But the local people are simply used to bloating themselves with this stodge, making them full but undernourished. We need to get the message across that a more balanced diet is desirable and then show them how to grow better food. Quite a challenge when you’re always faced with the “But it’s what we’re used to” argument. As ever, I’m optimistic that the youngsters will listen even if the ‘older generation’ (those over about 25!) are unwilling to change. If there are any marketing experts out there who think they can convince the locals here that fruit and vegetables are good for you, do get it contact and come and help.

And better –

As well as reducing firewood use through more efficient cooking, EAT is hoping to introduce a means of building walls from Rammed Earth rather than the, now ‘traditional’, method of using fired bricks and cement. It is one of Africa’s ironies that white men like me are now aiming to discourage methods that earlier whites brought here. Wet mud has long been a traditional African building material. Then the security obsessed white man came and showed how to ‘burn’ bricks to make them stronger, then stick them together with a cement mortar. But burning bricks uses huge amounts of increasingly precious firewood and cement is wickedly expensive as a result of it too needing much energy to make it.

For years the Ngoni have built mud walls. But, just as the earth stove is better made from rammed earth rather than wet mud, so too walls are stronger if made with almost dry earth than is rammed in situ. So, formwork to make RE (Rammed Earth) walls is slowly coming together, strictly using locally available materials and tools. We will shortly be making a start on building with RE, at Bamboo Beach and also at our new site!

This week EAT bought an additional parcel of land to extend Bamboo Beach a little to give us a piece of land to use for agro-forestry trees and to tidy up a rather uncertain boundary. But Bamboo Beach is about 2 kilometres from the nearest road and is rather isolated and invisible. So we have now bought a further piece of land directly on the main road that runs south from Nkhata Bay. This land will be used for a very visible showroom where we can display stoves, wall building methods, vegetable mounds, composting toilets, details of courses to be run at BBC and more to be revealed in the future. It will also provide some basic office space, a metal-working workshop and a civilised flat for visitors.

Malawians come in a variety of tribes, including the Ngoni who originally migrated from the south, the Tonga who are lake and river dwellers, the Chewa from Zaire, Lomwe from Mozambique, the Tumbuka from the north & others. Happily for Malawi, the various tribes all get on with each other and observe mutual respect. Respect extends across the age divide, with elders being well regarded, their opinions sought and often revered, regardless of tribe or origin.

This is a welcome contrast to some African countries where, in some cases, one tribe or class within that tribe, has elevated itself to a level of supposed superiority over their fellow Africans. Unsurprisingly, this conceit does nothing for inter-tribal relations, yet these arrogant, and generally lazy, men (it is rarely the women who behave this way) manage to acquire positions of responsibility seemingly appropriate to their greater ability. The truth is that they are no better than anyone else, unsurprisingly, yet from their self-appointed exalted positions they practice their deceit and demonstrate their stupidity. This can, and has in the past, led to appalling conflict; with increasing pressure on land and resources, we may see more terrible scenes of bloodshed in the future. Fortunately, as I have said, Malawi is free from this plague; here only the white man, the Muzungu, is treated as the exception, receiving undue and unwelcome attention from the sadly ignorant and ill-educated.

Mud-coloured children, invisible in their mud-coloured rags in a mud-coloured landscape, shriek their ill-advised hellos: ‘muzungu, muzungu, muzungu’ ; ‘give me money’ ; ‘give me pen’ ; ‘where are you going?’ ; ‘what is your name?’ these are the greetings the wandering white hears yelled at him constantly wherever he ventures. Why? I suspect we’ve brought it on ourselves through generations of giving without thought for the effect. Today, white skin means unlimited wealth as far as the many Africans are concerned. Some though not all people above perhaps 50 know better, but most younger people see every white as rich beyond measure, wealth to be shared with them if at all possible. In an environment where you spend today every penny you possess else some family member will need it from you, where every scrap of food is eaten today or the rats or cockroaches will get it, where no resource is considered worth conserving, what chance is there of saving? But, here is a man with cash in his pocket, wallet or case. He can’t possibly need or spend it all today so it is fair practice to relieve him of some of it. Not theft but redistribution of wealth. He surely won’t miss a few banknotes when he has so many. Again, Malawi is not so bad in the matter of theft: bags are left untouched in bus baggage compartments, pickpockets are few. In other African countries this is far from the case.

Talking to local people, it becomes clear that the generations of do-gooders have created the culture of expectation of handouts from whites. We have done it for so long that children are taught by their parents, or even their teachers, to demand money from any and every white. Once it is ingrained in the children, the same expectation passes on into the adults and ultimately into the government too. From little children to village elders and on to Immigration officials, it’s ‘Muzungu, give me money’. We have unwittingly created a culture of dependency on foreign aid primarily through handouts combined with teachings of ‘God will provide’ and ‘Ask and you will be given’. Yet the practice goes on with present day aid agencies giving, giving, giving, feeding the dependency and depriving people of the will to work and the understanding of a fair wage for a good day’s work.

Compassion is the reason for being in Africa, to help improve people’s plight. By teaching a range of skills in elementary agriculture, nutrition and healthy living, we can elevate these poor people from their primitive lives into a state where they can think and fend for themselves. Good farming, even on a subsistence level, will lead to a more balanced diet, instead of the stodge currently filling little bellies. Better nutrition will lead to brighter, healthier children, capable of doing well at school. But handouts of a bicycle here, a new roof there, a cow or a pig, no doubt given to a deserving soul, will merely further the dependency, leading others to wait in line for their gift from god.

East Africa Trust does not give handouts. We demonstrate, at grass roots level, at rural village level, how people can improve their lives themselves through hard work and basic knowledge.

The bloated child in the above photo is malnourished yet full of starchy stodge. All around us there are big, succulent lemons that few people are interested in. I take a hefty wedge in every cup of tea. A common sight is the chewing of sugar cane. So, why not combine the two to make a tasty and vitaminC-rich drink? If our Moringa grows well, we can add that and up the vitamin A and mineral levels too. Slowly, slowly, we may have some influence and achieve the goal of gradually raising the health around here. ‘You are what you eat’. Cassava makes good glue but a poor diet if eaten exclusively. By demonstrating the worth of vegetable growing and how easily it can be done, even in a small garden with a veg mound, the message will gradually sink in.

You saw the transformation at Bamboo Beach, from jungle just a year ago, to a fertile and productive garden today, through the efforts of just 5 good men. BBC now has rabbits and hens (layers). We will shortly add broilers to our range, if we can find a way to feed them organically and without expensive supplements, and we think we can! (I hope to reveal how in the next newsletter). There is no point in demonstrating an uneconomic means of production to people who can’t afford to do it. This is why we will steer clear of raising cattle – these inefficient animals are not a viable option for most people and take a considerable amount of grass and maintenance to produce a poor return in milk and meat. Wages here are modest and EAT’s income and expenditure are very low but if you would like to help, and a little goes a long way, you can find us on the Justgiving website www.justgiving.com/eastafricatrust, or if you use eBay you can easily make a donation from the proceeds of your sale. EAT is a registered charity in the UK, so we can claim Gift Aid from the government on donations from UK taxpayers.

Your interest in our work is very welcome and we’d be happy to hear from you, particularly if you’re willing to become involved in our work.

Do visit www.surrecommunity.info/eastafricatrust (or just Google East Africa Trust). You’ll find our email address on the website.


Living with less points out room for improvement

My wife and I are back after having walked the Coast to Coast path here in England and as I stated in a previous post I find backpacking, when done in a minimal impact style, to be quite a sustainable existence compared to normal life in the city. One additional thing I did notice was that by living with less I noticed the minutiae of what we did consume to a greater degree. For instance, when I unwrap and eat a granola bar I have to carry the wrapper until such time as I can dispose of it "properly". This is true of every item we consume or purchase. Usually we remove products from their packaging as much as possible when we buy them and immediately put it in the bin, recycling can be hard to find. But invariably there is some packaging we end up carrying. Wherever we can we try to buy flapjacks and other baked goods fresh from the bakery. These items are packaged less and usually with paper.

This attention to these details brings a greater awareness of the folly of this excess packaging and will hopefully carry over into our normal city life. There is always room for improvement.