Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Asia’s Quiet Land Transfers

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

January 2015: Indian farmers protest against displacement. Photo: National Alliance of Peoples Movements

The April 2015 issue of Against the Grain, the online bulletin of GRAIN, an international organization that supports small farmers in their struggle for social justice, features a report titled “Reform in Reverse: Laws taking Land Out of Small Farmers’ Hands.” The report details the changes in laws and land policies that in recent years have been gaining momentum in Asia, to the detriment of small-scale agriculture. Traditionally, Asia’s agricultural base has consisted of small farmers, who are among the most efficient and productive in the world, able to produce 44 % of the world’s cereals. This agricultural system, however, is being undermined from within by an agenda that puts the profit of large agribusiness corporations above the well-being of millions of small farmers and the populations they feed.

The changes in land policy discussed in the report testify to the tendency toward concentration in control over the global food system and its transference from the farmers who work the land to business conglomerates that seek profits rather than food security. According to the report, governments across the continent often collaborate in the schemes of dispossession, introducing changes to land laws that are displacing millions of peasants and undermine local food systems. Long-standing government promises to redistribute land more fairly have been broken. The article calls this “reform in reverse.” With scant regard for the people dependent on the land for their livelihoods, governments and corporations have been expropriating farmland for large-scale agribusiness projects as well as for dams, tourism, and mining. Highway construction and real estate developments also contribute to the process of dispossession.

The report contends that governments across Asia are approving legislative changes to remove the few protections that small farmers have traditionally enjoyed, exposing them to the takeover of their lands. The changes differ from country to country, but they are all designed to make it easier for companies to acquire large tracts currently possessed and worked by small farmers. The effect will be to displace millions of peasant families, undermine local food systems, and increase violent conflicts over land.

These legislative changes have already led to the transfer of at least 43.5 million hectares of farmland in Asia from small farmers to agribusiness concerns. The growing adoption of industrial farming systems and increasing corporate control of distribution of food —changes supported by the new land laws— have led to a reliance on expensive inputs, the degradation of land and biodiversity, and volatile price changes for produce. The impact on peasant farmers has been catastrophic, in some places triggering a wave of suicides among indebted farmers forced to give up their land.

The free trade agreements which Asian governments have signedhave accelerated this process, locking countries into policies that favor foreign investors and large-scale agribusiness over small-scale producers. Legislative provisions that prevent foreign and national companies from acquiring large areas of farmland are quietly being removed, to the dismay and destitution of local farmers. We see here still another example of the creeping concentration of power and wealth. In this case, corporate agendas pursued in high-rise office buildings, often on the other side of the world, trump the vital needs and often the very lives of ordinary people on the ground, who find themselves unexpectedly pitted against those driven by relentless greed and ambitions, and equipped with pernicious strategies.

The article distinguishes two types of changes that enable land to be transferred to corporate interests. One involves the enactment of laws or policies that permit governments to carve up large tracts of land into concessions and lease or sell them to companies—the trend in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Thailand. The other involves the creation of new schemes, through law or fiat, that consolidate small farms and transfer the lands to companies engaged in corporate farming. Since small farmers often do not possess deeds to the lands that they have worked for generations, it is relatively easy for those backed by political and economic power to challenge their tenancy and deprive them of their farms.

According to the report, the transfer of land in Asia represents a fundamental shift away from traditional agriculture and local food systems to a corporate food chain supplied by industrial agriculture. If these changes continue, they will have major impacts on everything from food safety to the environment, from local cultures to people’s livelihoods. In a struggle over the future of land and food, elected governments that should be defending the interests of their populations are yielding to the pressures exerted on them by large and powerful business interests.

Rural farmers have not been passively submitting to their fate, but have been launching David versus Goliath struggles to preserve their livelihoods. In unison with civil society organizations across the region, they are building coalitions to defend their interests against sinister trade agreements and national policies that facilitate the privatization and commodification of farmland. People across Asia are making it clear that they want farmland to remain with their farmers. They are demanding that their governments stop facilitating a corporate take-over of agriculture.

The report cites a number of cases that illustrate how such land transfers are taking place. The Government of Burma, in 2012, enacted the the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law – called “the land-grabbing law” by farmers – which aims to make lands the government considers “vacant” or “un-cultivated” available as concessions of up to 20,000 ha for companies.

In Cambodia, only 23% of the country’s 1.5 million small farmers have land. In 2001, the government passed a law that enables private companies to own concessions of 10,000 ha of land for up to 99 years. The law has allowed the transfer of 70% of the country arable land, equal to 2.1 million ha, to industrial agriculture firms and forced hundreds of thousands of farmers off their lands.

Under popular pressure, India adopted a law in 2013 that protected the interests of small agriculturists by requiring a social impact assessment and the consent of 80% of the people affected before land could be acquired for development projects. In December 2014, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a new ordinance that eliminates these requirements and eases land acquisition, including for development of mega-food projects that aim to integrate the entire food chain from farm to plate in the hands of single companies. Mass protests have since broken out, led by farmers and farm workers calling for what they describe as a pro-industry and anti-farmer act to be withdrawn.

Making an Impact in Cambodia

BGR Staff

The following is a letter from Ed Malley, the treasurer of Lotus Outreach International, our partner for educational projects in Cambodia. The letter, addressed to BGR’s ED Kim Behan, was a response to the grant we offered Lotus Outreach for their projects in the coming year (mid-2105 to mid-2016):

Dear Kim and all of Buddhist Global Relief,

Thank you so very much for your generous donation to provide education for the women and girls so in need in Cambodia. It is so wonderful that your funding covers the gamut of our educational initiatives from the Non-Formal Education program where sex workers learn the basics, to GATE where girls can progress through lower and upper grades, to GATEways where a college education becomes a reality for so many who likely never even dreamed of the possibility. Your gift, along with your previous support, will have a dramatic impact on both the lives of each student, but also on her family, her neighbors, her community, and all of Cambodia.

Also, though I suspect you already are well aware, the young women and girls are so heartfelt appreciative. The joy of learning and the determination to help themselves and others through our programs is abundant. And the smiles will melt your heart!

I would also like to mention that your support brings other benefits as well. When I told Glenn Fawcett, our Executive Director of Field Operations, of your continued support this year his excitement was palpable. For Glenn, working for so many years to reach and provide life changing skills through education to the at-risk women in Cambodia, a reaffirmation of his life’s work by organizations such as yours cannot be underestimated.

With warmest wishes,

Ed Malley,
Treasurer
Lotus Outreach International

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Four girls at desks
Two Girls over Book

Glenn with students

A Buddhist Diagnosis of the Climate Crisis

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Here is a video of my presentation at the Buddhist leaders gathering in Washington (on May 14th), “A Buddhist Diagnosis of the Climate Crisis.” I use the four noble truths as a template for understanding the crisis, proceeding from manifestations to causes and then seek a remedy to the crisis modeled on the factors of the noble eightfold path.

For those who would like the Power Point, here is a link:
Presentation-BDCC

And here is a PDF of the same outline:
Long Handout_BDCC_2015-05-09

And this is an hour-long version of my talk, given last August at the Eco-Dharma Conference in Wonderwell, New Hampshire:
http://tinyurl.com/qzcaqw2

To follow this in detail, one also needs to refer to the “Domains of Value” chart:
https://www.dropbox.com/home/Public/Eco-Dharma%20Conference?preview=2014-August-Domains+of+Value-Simple.pdf

A Message to America in the Midst of Our Mourning

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Rev. William Barber, in a stirring sermon on the Charleston killings, reminds us: “We must be concerned not merely with who the murderer is and what makes him tick, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy that produced him and produces others.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber II is the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and the national chair of the NAACP’s Legislative Political Action Committee. Since 1993 he has served as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in Goldsboro, NC. Rev. Barber has also been the spiritual leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, which organizes weekly Monday demonstrations in the state to protest state policies on such issues as voter suppression, discrimination, and government legislation that hurts poor citizens. In this capacity he has emerged as one of the leading moral voices in America today, a powerful voice of conscience in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.

This past Sunday, June 21st, Rev. Barber gave a magnificent sermon on the murder of nine members of the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the previous Wednesday night. The sermon is truly shattering, a stirring call to the conscience of this nation to confront its dark legacy of racism, violence, and discrimination, a legacy that continues today wrapped up in certain code words that advance racist attitudes without violating the conventions of polite discourse.

The following are a few highlights of the sermon. These are drawn from my personal notes, hurriedly taken down as he speaks. They should not be regarded as an official transcript. You can view the entire sermon here.

There is a history in this country whereby racialized political rhetoric and racialized policies spawn the pathologies of terrorism, murder, and violent resistance. What we are seeing is the transformation of the Southern strategy. You don’t have to use the ‘n’ word anymore. You talk about policy, but the policy is in coded language. You suggest that the real problems in this country are being caused by “them”—the lethal word is “them” or “the folk in urban communities.” You’ve got to be willfully deaf to miss the racism.

Some are saying “We have got to move to healing and closure.” Now is not the time for this. Our society needs the healing of truth and change. The governor (Nikki Haley) said, “We’re going to fight this by giving the killer the death penalty.” Giving the perpetrator the death penalty is not going to fix what needs to be fixed because the killer is still at large. You’re not going to kill racism, violence, and poverty by arresting one disturbed young man and then dumping on him the sins of slavery, Jim Crow, and the new racialized extremism that has captured almost every Southern legislature and court house. It will not bring closure and healing. It will simply bring a cover-up.

[By executing the killer] you can’t heal a society that is sick with the sin of racism and inequality, where too many people perpetrate by word and deed the violence of undermining the promise of equal protection under the law. You can’t just say that this is one insane young man—you’ve got to deal with what drove him insane.

This is not a head wound that can be healed with a few stitches, a bandage, and some salve. The unequal distribution of freedom and money and land and dignity in the South has to be addressed with radical surgery. We need change, not closure. We must remember that the perpetrator has been arrested, but the killer is still at large, the killer is still free. We must be concerned not merely with who the murderer is and what makes him tick, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy that produced him and produces others.

Finally, we must understand what happened when the family members [of the victims] said, “We forgive him.” Don’t misinterpret this. Within the nonviolent faith tradition, it has always been clear that hatred cannot drive us to hate, that evil cannot drive us to evil. Their forgiveness is a sign of resistance. It means: “Don’t let the system determine how you are going to act.” When the system says you’ve got to curse, you praise. When the system says you’ve got to hate, you forgive. When the system says you should be angry, you love.

Their forgiveness was a prophetic forgiveness. They’re saying to America: “We’re not going to let you blame all this on that boy. We don’t want the death penalty, because that is only killing the perpetrator, it ain’t killing the killer. If America is serious about this moment, we can’t just cry ceremonial tears, while at the same time refusing to support the martyrs’ fight against racism.”

By refusing to hate him, the families are challenging the schizophrenia of American morality. They are saying: “Are you going to decry the killings, but then support giving people more guns? Are you saying you hate the killer, but then pass healthcare policies that are killing folks? Are you going to wave the Christian flag at the funeral, but keep the Confederate flag up on state buildings? If we can forgive the man who killed our loved ones, America, why can’t you change? If you really want to deal with this, you’ve got to embrace justice, equality, and love, you’ve got to end racism and poverty.”

Racial Hatred Must Cease

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Vigil for the victims at the Emanual Church in Charleston. Photo: Travis Dove for the New York Times

This past Wednesday night (June 17th) nine people, including the pastor, were ruthlessly gunned down at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The murder rips into our hearts and leaves us shocked and speechless. With deep sadness, we extend our deepest compassion to the church’s clergy, its congregation, and the entire African American community of Charleston, who have had to endure a brutal assault on their very identities in their own church, city, state and country.

In this case, the heartrending murder is especially sinister because the attack was clearly a blood-curdling expression of racial hatred perpetrated by a young man who had barely entered adulthood. It’s also shocking because it occurred in a place of sanctity, a place in which the spirit of love and peace should prevail. If murder stemming from racial hatred can occur even in a church, where is safety to be found?

As we convey our sympathy to the survivors, we must call on this country to squarely confront its legacy of racism, a legacy constantly being jump-started by mentally warped radio hosts, news commentators, and inflammatory websites. Even more mainstream news outlets, such as Fox, tried to camouflage the truth, suggesting that the murderer slayed the worshipers because they were Christian rather than because they were black.

Make no mistake about it: The murder in Charleston was only a particularly explosive expression of the hate and paranoia running through huge swaths of White America: the fear that “they are taking over our country,” that we are losing our positions of dominance. Though racism may erupt in gruesome murders like the one in Charleston only on occasion, black people and other people of color have had to endure repeated harassment and murder even by officers of the law, as seen in the spate of police killings that have come to public notice over the past few years. More subtle expressions of racial hatred ripple across social media on a daily basis and in everyday encounters that black people must face on the streets and in the workplace. These can be a frightening and degrading experience.

While racism is deplorable enough, the easy access that racists and other bigots have to lethal weapons sets the stage for tragedy. Both racism and our gun culture need to be squarely addressed, and the efforts to defeat them must be unrelenting. Tackling the roots of racism should begin already in elementary school by making appreciation of diversity part of the curriculum. Courses in basic ethics should be mandatory, and children should be taught to show respect to all people regardless of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity.

It’s also time to push once again for rigorous controls on access to guns and other weapons. Each time this proposal has come up in Congress it has gone down in defeat, sabotaged by the gun lobby and their political lackeys. But we shouldn’t give up. The facts speak for themselves. It may be true that “people kill people,” but when people can easily get guns, the murder rate is much higher than it would be otherwise. Reams of statistics confirm this as fact:

According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third. The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.

Until we wipe out racism, we’ll repeatedly have to lament the killing of innocent black and brown people, whether by agents of law enforcement or by frenzied hatemongers. Until we impose rigorous controls on access to guns, again and again we’ll have to wring our hands over the tragic loss of lives, whether black or white or brown, adults or children, strangers or friends. Talk is cheap and easy. But what we need is action.

Climate Change is a Moral Issue

A Buddhist Reflection on the Pope’s Climate Encyclical, Laudato si’

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On June 18, Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter, Laudato si’ (Praised Be), “On Care for our Common Home,” pointing to climate change as the overriding moral issue of our time. The encyclical boldly proclaims that humanity’s capacity to alter the climate charges us with the gravest moral responsibility we have ever had to bear. Climate change affects everyone. The disruptions to the biosphere occurring today bind all peoples everywhere into a single human family, our fates inseparably intertwined. No one can escape the impact, no matter how remotely they may live from the bustling centers of industry and commerce. The responsibility for preserving the planet falls on everyone.

The future of human life on earth hangs in a delicate balance, and the window for effective action is rapidly closing. Tipping points and feedback loops threaten us as ominously as nuclear warheads. What heightens the danger is our proclivity to apathy and denial. For this reason, we must begin tackling the crisis with an act of truth, by acknowledging that climate change is real and stems from human activity. On this, the science is clear, the consensus among climate scientists almost universal. The time for denial, skepticism, and delay is over.

Our carbon-based economies generate not only mountains of commodities but also heat waves and floods, rising seas and creeping deserts. The climate mirrors the state of our minds, reflecting back to us the choices we make at regional, national, and global levels. These choices, both collective and personal, are inescapably ethical. They are strung out between what is convenient and what is right. They determine who will live and who will die, which communities will flourish and which will perish. Ultimately they determine nothing less than whether human civilization itself will survive or collapse.

Since religions command the loyalty of billions, they must lead the way in the endeavor to combat climate change, using their ethical insights to mobilize their followers. As a nontheistic religion, Buddhism sees our moral commitments as stemming not from the decree of a Creator God but from our obligation to promote the true well-being of ourselves and others. The Buddha traces all immoral conduct to three mental factors, which he calls the three unwholesome roots: greed, hatred, and delusion. Greed propels economies to voraciously consume fossil fuels in order to maximize profits, ravaging the finite resources of the earth and filling its sinks with toxic waste. Hatred underlies not only war and bigotry but also the callous indifference that allows us to consign billions of people to hunger, drought, and devastating floods without batting an eye. Delusion—self-deception and the deliberate deceiving of others—is reinforced by the falsehoods churned out by fossil-fuel interests to block remedial action.

We thus need to curb the influence of greed, hatred, and delusion on the operation of social systems. Policy formation must be motivated not by narrow self-interest but by a magnanimous spirit of generosity, compassion, and wisdom. An economy premised on infinite expansion, geared toward endless production and consumption, has to be replaced by a steady-state economy governed by the principle of sufficiency, which gives priority to contentment, service to others, and inner fulfillment as the measure of the good life.

The moral tide of our age pushes us in two directions. One is to uplift the living standards of the billions mired in poverty, struggling each day to survive. The other is to preserve the integrity and sustaining capacity of the planet. A rapid transition to an economy powered by clean and renewable sources of energy, with transfers of the technology to developing countries, would enable us to accomplish both, to combine social justice with ecological sustainability.

At the very outset, we must start the transition by making highly specific national and global commitments to curb carbon emissions, and we must do so fast. The Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris this December has to show the way. The meeting must culminate in a climate accord that imposes truly rigorous, binding, and enforceable targets for emissions reductions. Pledges and promises alone won’t suffice: enforcement mechanisms are critical. And beyond a strong accord, we’ll need an international endeavor, undertaken with a compelling sense of urgency, to shift the global economy away from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.

Pope Francis reminds us that climate change poses not only a policy challenge but also a call to the moral conscience. If we continue to burn fossil fuels to empower unbridled economic growth, the biosphere will be destabilized, resulting in unimaginable devastation, the deaths of many millions, failed states, and social chaos. Shifting to clean and renewable energy can reverse this trend, opening pathways to a steady-state economy that uplifts living standards for all. One way leads deeper into a culture of death; the other leads to a new culture of life. As climate change accelerates, the choice before us is becoming starker, and the need to choose wisely grows ever more urgent.

The above essay was originally written for OurVoices, an interfaith initiative bringing faith to the climate talks. It may be viewed in its original site here.

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

US Projects

23. Detroit: Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit is a 501(c)3 nonprofit (registered 2014) operating in one of the most neglected cities in the US, where 20% of the residents are food insecure and the city’s jobless rate is 14.3%. Residents have limited access to grocery stores due to an unreliable mass transit system and buy their food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions. The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to promote food sovereign so that the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within city limits. The long-term strategy is to foster healthy relationships with food by increasing knowledge of food and farming, nurturing leadership skills, cultivating community connections and capacity, changing the value of food, and developing food assets.

The goal of this year’s project is to enable urban farmers to increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and to facilitate educational and community events that promote healthy relationships of people to good nutritious food. The first objective is to support more than 1500 family, community, school and market gardens that will produce 150 tons of produce for predominately low-income families. The second objective is to facilitate 19 educational workshops and community events that will engage approximately 400 residents. Annually renewable project.

24. New York City: Feeding Youth Starved for Meaning

Since 2005 the Reciprocity Foundation (RF) has been working to support homeless and foster-care youth aged 13-26 in their transformation from impoverished homeless kids to employed persons playing a leadership role in society. In 2011, Reciprocity opened the first Holistic Center for Homeless Youth in the US, which offers counseling, meditation, yoga, retreats, coaching, college admission support, and digital media training. In 2012, because of food shortages at homeless shelters, students were arriving hungry and unable to focus. To address this need, BGR provided Reciprocity with a grant to enable them to start a vegetarian meal program called “Starved for Meaning” to serve the youth a communal meal. Over the past two years, funding from BGR helped Reciprocity expand its kitchen facilities and double the number of meals served from two to four per week; the number of youth coming to the center for food also increased. In a questionnaire, 100% of the youth said their life improved as a result of the meals. They experienced a greater sense of belonging and felt more optimistic about their life. For 2015, Reciprocity’s goals are to increase the capacity of the vegetarian meal program, start an urban farming project, take the food program to the streets, and provide nutritional education. Annually renewable project.

25. New York: Urban Community Food Project

URI_Greenhouse 1

The Urban Community Food Project was founded in 2011 in the Bronx, New York, under the auspices of the Urban Rebuilding Initiative. Its mission is to create a sustainable food system that is equitable in the production and distribution of food; a system that provides nutritious food to food insecure communities in New York while educating and employing at-risk youth and disenfranchised adults in order to combat incarceration, systematic poverty, and the root causes of hunger. The Project recently acquired a parcel of land in Duchess County, in upstate New York, which it intends to use to increase its agricultural output. In 2015, BGR funding will be allocated to the Staff Development Program. This will enable UCFP to expand its growing efforts in Duchess County, where they will cultivate food and make new community connections. Three to four individuals will be hired to create a core team that will facilitate this expansion.  Annually renewable project.

26. Santa Clara County, CA: Cultivating Organic Home Gardens

The mission of Valley Verde is to develop and support programs that improve the health of low-income residents in Santa Clara County and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to provide locally grown vegetables for their communities. The long-term strategy is to reduce food insecurity by teaching residents organic gardening skills, training gardening mentors, and growing plants for program members. To date, VV has 400  members. 86% of VV gardeners are Latino and 87% are women. Eight mentors have been trained and six gardeners are growing plants for program members and retail sales. The grant from BGR will enable VV to train 60 participants to become successful home gardeners. Ninety VV participants will receive raised garden beds, soil, compost, drip irrigation systems, seedlings and seeds at no cost. Each gardener will attend nutrition and gardening workshops and will have mentoring opportunities. The Super Jardineros Project will be launched by selecting 7-10 experienced gardeners to participate in 3-5 classes where they will learn how to germinate and care for 250 seedlings that will be sold in the retail market. Annually renewable project.

Thanks are again due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Charles Elliott, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts.

Concluded