The Politics of Conservation & Growing Food: Fieldtrip to Blaeneinion Farm, Powys.‎

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The last EPRG event of the year was an inspiring visit to Blaeneinion farm – home to a reforestation project, organic farm, and one male European beaver. After a transnational effort at organizing with the three group conveners in Wales, Mexico, and Serbia, we successfully car pooled to the Artist’s Valley that is the home of the 75ha of the farm. We were welcomed by Sharon, the founder and director of the project, and after some tea and biscuits in the beautiful on-site lodge, we got a detailed tour of the many things that are happening at Blaeneinion. Sharon’s enthusiasm, dedication, and ability to manage such a versatile project kept us going despite the rain clouds that gathered over Artist’s valley in the afternoon!

The project started as a reforestation project – bought as an old sheep farm, the site now has more than 70,000 trees planted. With the help of a grant from the Forestry Commission in Wales and hardworking volunteers who take ‘planting holidays,’ the barren pastures are slowly being turned into a young forest.

Because of the harsh climate which includes 100 mph winds and frosts well into April, the project was marked by many losses in the early years, but also a sharp learning curve. Choosing trees fit specifically for high winds and long winters, and developing her own know-how on saplings, spirals, and planting techniques, Sharon is creating a deciduous forest that will not only help recover the lost soil quality but also provide food from walnut and chestnut, elder, wild pear, wild cherry and plum trees. In the years to come, it will also provide timber for fuel, building materials, furniture making, sap for wine production and much more. One of the most educating experiences of the tour was comparing plots in different stages or re-wilding: seeing a plot that has been free from grazing for just a couple of years, next to a plot that has had more than five years to start its recovery, shows the true extent and importance of soil recovery in mid Wales.

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One part of the farm is slowly being turned into a forest garden, following the principles of agroforestry – plants are planted in ‘stories’ or layers to create an edible and medicinal ecosystem.  This system mimics natural systems, is highly productive, and bypasses many of the problems that monoculture systems face.

Producing food with many challenges like poor acidic soil and endless armies of slugs was a challenge for Sharon, but she used her experience from two decades of permaculture projects in London and started a producing and selling food at Blaeneinion. Bfast Delivery for MrBeaverWe took cover from the rain in two poly-tunnels built by Sharon and volunteers at Blaeneinion – the humid air and comfortable temperatures extends the growing season for a crucial few months and allows a steadier income. Sharon’s beautiful produce is now a part of the Green Isle Growers’ veg box scheme and also sold at the Community Shop in Machynlleth.

The biggest reward at the end of the tour was seeing Blaeneinion’s Mr. Beaver come out for the night and have his breakfast of apples, carrots, and willow. Mr Beaver lives in a 2.5-acre enclosure at Blaeneinion and attracts crucial guests needed to keep the project going.

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If you would like to get closer to Blaeneinion, there are two ways to spend more time on the farm. If you want to actively contribute to the re-planting project, you can take a working holiday and help out Sharon by planting trees and doing basic farm work. Food and accommodation in a yurt provided!

If you would like to use Blaeneinion as a quiet escape, you can also stay in one of the lodges at very affordable prices. More than just comfortable accommodation, these lodges provide the crucial funding needed to keep the project going. You can check out the website and find out more info by e-mailing Sharon directly at: 01654 781215, info@blaeneinion.co.uk.

This was the last EPRG event for the 2015/2016. We will spend the next month developing the programme for next year. If you want to get more involved or have ideas that we could work on together, please do get in touch with coordinators Katarina Kušić (kak12), Danielle House (dah20) and Justa Hopma (jmh23). We are looking forward to seeing you all again in the autumn!

 

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“Many thanks to the EPRG and of course to amazing  Sharon. I found Blaeneinion to be impressive and inspiring; the evening was most enjoyable, despite the rain.  Looking forward to seeing Mrs Beaver next time!”
– Professor Henry Lamb,  DGES, Aberystwyth University
“Thanks to the EPRG for organising the outing to Blaeneinion Farm near Machynlleth yesterday. It’s an ambitious permaculture project set on 75 acres and includes reforesting the open pasture with native broad leaf, nut bearing and fruiting trees and the reintroduction of beavers. I found it really inspiring. Taking back the Earth!”
– Mike Fincken, Greenpeace captain of the Rainbow Warrior

 

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Desperately seeking structural change!

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The EPRG have had two great events in the past two weeks, with a screening of ‘This Changes Everything’ based on the book by Naomi Klein, and a talk from Dr Clive Gabay, ‘Desperately seeking Gramsci: A personal journey through development policy 2008-2015’.

Fortunately Clive arrived in Aber unaware and unaffected by this week’s flooding, for a relatively dry and calm mid-Wales night. In his talk he explained his engagement throughout his career with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which this September developed into the next 15 year phase as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Clive was originally drawn to engage with the MDGs during his PhD where he examined hegemony and counter-hegemony in relation to the Global Call to Action against Poverty (G-CAP) initiatives in India and Malawi.

Within this context, Clive explored different conceptualisations of resistance. Following James Scott, Clive explored how certain acts, such as throwing defecated waste out windows of newly built apartment blocks in Mumbai, may not be understood as political, but can be seen as ‘resistant blockages of development projects’ (see also Gabay 2013). Throughout this engagement Clive has observed the ways in which the MDGs have acted as a disciplinary power, in certain contexts and in certain ways; from the exclusion of groups such as the elderly, not explicitly addressed in any of the 8 MDGs and resulting in limited access funding, to the ability of the MDGs to legitimise states simply by engaging with them on a relatively superficial level.

So what are the prospects for the SDGs over the next 15 years? Clive has explored the potential they have to create a different sort of conversation. The fact that the SDGs sought greater civil society consultation and the idea that they are ‘global’ in nature (i.e. would refer to the whole world, instead of being a set of goals devised by the North and imposed on the South) shows the pssibility of radical openings. Clive used the example of the discussion on obesity, which was a part of the consultation process, but did not make it to the final goals. This discussion explicitly targets the North and would imply questioning the policies of large food producers and the structural conditions of the global food system. However the extent to which ‘northern’ or ‘western’ states would allow themselves to become the objects of UN development is questionable, recently witnessed in another context when in 2014 the UN special reporter on housing released a report calling for the suspension of the coalition government’s bedroom tax, which she assessed as contravening many international treaties. The backlash against the UN from the British government exposed what we should expect when they become the target of development policy and advice. Therefore the openings offered by the SDGs for now remain just sporadic new conversations, but carry within them the potential for future rethinking of development paradigms.

IMG_0562In the discussion following the talk some critical questions were asked regarding the radical potential of the SDGs. Is ‘development’ as conceived through the MDGs/SDGs possible? What is ‘development’ anyway? While the language of the SDGs is more inclusive and comprehensive than that of the MDGs, it is still comfortably situated within a neoliberal discourse. They talk of a concern for ‘access’ to energy, housing or food, but notably don’t refer to ‘the right to’ these things. Access can easily be interpreted as market access, so does this mean that ideas of the right to land or the right to affordable and green energy remain too political to make it into UN discussions?

In many ways, Gabay’s talk and last week’s screening of This Changes Everything formed an interesting balance as both argued attention needs to be paid to the structural causes of both poverty, inequality and climate change. Naomi Klein makes a big step towards a new form of environmentalism by explicitly stating that our economic system is to blame for climate change, and working within the capitalist system will not provide any long term solutions. Instead of despairing when faced with such a great enemy, Klein sees the various local mobilisations around the globe, which have fought against tar sands in Canada, gold mines in Greece, and pipelines in the US, as an opportunity to rebuild our communities away from the global capitalist system. In this reading, the climate crisis becomes an opportunity for a radical rethinking of our way of life and its alternatives.

Whilst global initiatives like the ones advocated by the UN may contain potential radical openings, within them a focus on localised responses to global crises might show us ways to progress that are not necessarily conceived through or in relation to a global growth oriented development discourse. The crucial question then becomes, what is the relation between local practice and agendas constructed at global level? Are local practices aimed at, for example, poverty alleviation, supported and reinforced by global development agendas such as those contained within the SDGs, or do they undermine them? If the latter, then the democratisation of international institutions and their country branches should become an absolute priority.

Gabay, C. ‘The MDG legacy: social, cultural and spatial engineering’, International NGO Training and Research Center (INTRAC), Briefing Paper 36

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Who’s Getting Ready for Zero? Plans for the Paris Summit

Paris“If we can’t imagine a positive future, we can’t create it”, said Paul Allen, Co-ordinator of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ project. This emphasised much of what Paul was arguing at the first EPRG event of 2015/16. Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) is a research project to model what infrastructural and lifestyle changes are needed in Britain to bring carbon emissions down to a level that would avoid dangerous climate change – within a 1.5° to 2° ‘safe’ threshold. Recently, however, the team at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), just a few miles from Aberystwyth, have focused on pooling carbon reduction models and projects from all round the world, on scales from cities to multi-national regions, to demonstrate the collective work being done on how to realistically meet the targets set.

At the end of this month the COP21 will be held in Paris, the next round of
international talks seeking to make an agreement on carbon reduction and climate change. Paul will be taking this research to the Paris negotiations, in order to share the research and the vision for tackling the problem. After the generally failed negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, this year in Paris countries have already published their proposals of what they are willing to do to reduce carbon emissions, and sadly they already fail to reach the target of bringing emissions back to a level that would limit projected climate change to below threshold levels. So what hope is there for the COP21?

This issue, and equally fundamental issues of economic development vs. environmentalism, political will and the corporate lobby, as well as individual behaviour change, were discussed by attendees after Paul’s talk. Some hope, it was argued, comes from the potential of behaviour change; cultural shifts in attitude have happened before, and previously silent voices on climate change are now speaking out from an ethical, environmental and economic perspective, such as Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and the Pope. These opinion leaders, it is argued, could effect the required cultural change. Complex issues such as the increased availability of cheap flights and the continued popularity of meaty diets are potential stumbling points. Is direct governmental action through taxation and regulation a sine qua non? If so, they may prove a difficult political sell.

Discussion then turned to what we could do in Aberystwyth. Representatives from many departments in the room (InterPol, IBERS, Law & Criminimage1ology, Geography and the Business School, as well as Welsh Government and the public) were in agreement that some cross-departmental work is needed to address issues of carbon emissions
and sustainability within the University. A potential future avenue could be the Well-being of Future Generations Act that became law on 29 April 2015. The act could help pressure institutions into doing more. This is particularly relevant for universities in Wales, in light of the impending changes to funding criteria with an eye on long-term environmental sustainability. Now new connections have been made, we hope to work together on these issues in the coming year.

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Rallying for real commitment to a low carbon future

Invitation: Shout for Sustainability! Flyer A5 EngThis space has been a bit quiet, but the Environmental Politics Research Group has been planning an event to raise public awareness of Aberystwyth University’s policies regarding environmental sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. After a film screening of “Disruption” earlier this year, we collectively decided that we wanted to do something that could realise more environmentally sustainable policies at our own institution, Aberystwyth University. After a few weeks of research into current policies and projects, a series of meetings and numerous practical preparations we are aiming to engage a broad public at our stall in front of the Great Hall Bar in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Tuesday 3 March from 10am to 4pm. We have prepared material to inform you more broadly about AU’s sustainability activities and we will also have a copy of our Open Letter to AU management at the stall, due to be posted that day. As a bit of a preview though, you can read a copy of the letter here. Should you be supportive of our concerns, we would welcome your signatures too! Do stop by at the stall at any time between 10 and 4pm to find out about current and future sustainability policies at Aberystwyth University. Hopefully see you on the 3rd ! the Environmental Politics Research Group (envpolrg@gmail.com)

Sustainable Futures!

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“Eating mince pies in the name of research”

newtownfooddrinkfestivalFor some interesting insights into local food research here at Aber and in Wales more generally, please visit the Global-Rural research blog titled “Assembling Newtown” maintained by the WJ Edwards Research Center. The blog is part of an exciting five-year research project (Feb 2014 – Jan 2019) funded by the European Research Council. The project is internativeg-piconal in scope and will draw on field

research in a range of different countries. The first part focuses on practices and experiences of everyday globalization in a rural small town through an in-depth study of Newtown in mid Wales. This episode highlights Newtown’s recently held food & drink festival and focuses on the globalisation of the industrialised food system and the place of ‘local’ food within that. You can find the blog here.

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Agro-ecological revolution in Cuba

In case you missed last month’s talk by Dr. Julia Wright (Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University) you can now watch the talk online and consult the accompanying Powerpoint presentation

Agro revo bannerJulia presents research focusing on the socio-agricultural revolution that took place in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, Cuba lost access to the resources that supported its conventional agricultural system. In order to feed itself, the country had to transform its agricultural system as quickly as possible. The world is now facing many of the very same challenges, in that it cannot rely on a mode of agricultural production that uses large amounts of resources inefficiently. In order to counter environmental degradation other forms of fertilisation must be found without compromising production. What lessons can we learn from Cuba?

You can check out the contents of her book on food security in the post-oil era here or read a shorter article by Julia in the Huffington Post.

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Revolutionary Politics and everyday praxis – Aber Transitions reading group session

Book LoftusThe Aber Transitions Group will hold its first reading session of the year, covering the first two chapters of Alex Loftus’ ‘Everyday Environmentalism’ which should make for excellent discussion. The book is available online through the Hugh Owen library (subscribers). Please contact Sophie Wynne-Jones (sxw@aber.ac.uk) for more information.

The session will take place in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Wednesday 29 October 1 – 2 pm.

” A bold rethinking of urban political ecology –

Everyday Environmentalism develops a conversation between marxist theories of everyday life and recent work in urban political ecology, arguing for a philosophy of praxis in relation to the politics of urban environments. Alex Loftus reformulates—with the assistance of Lukács, Gramsci, Lefebvre, and others—a politics of the environment in which everyday subjectivity is at the heart of a revolutionary politics”

http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/everyday-environmentalism

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