Improving Crop Resilience and Income for Rice Farmers in Thai Nguyen Province, Vietnam

by Tricia Brick

When a series of tropical storms struck Duong Thi Thanh’s village in northern Vietnam last summer, she feared that her rice harvest would be lost. “I thought we would have nothing to eat and sell for this crop,” she said, noting that a neighbor’s rice fields, grown using conventional methods, were severely damaged by the storms. But Thanh’s crops, cultivated using practices of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), survived the rains and brought a good price at market.

Hoang Van Phu, director of the International Cooperation Center (ICC) of Thai Nguyen University, has been working for more than a decade to bring SRI practices to smallholder farmers in the region, with the goal of increasing farmers’ efficiency, productivity, food security, and income through the use of environmentally sustainable methods. Buddhist Global Relief grants have supported the center’s efforts since 2011.

The BGR grant for fiscal year 2016-17  was used to support training for farmers in SRI methods via the creation of three large-scale collective fields in the Phu Binh district of northern Vietnam’s Thai Nguyen province.

SRI cultivation practices involve the planting of fewer seeds, with seedlings transplanted according to precise recommendations to encourage stronger root growth; fertilization with compost and other organic materials; frequent weeding; and reduced water use. These methods have resulted in more resilient plants and crop yields 20 to 50 percent higher than in traditional methods. Other benefits of SRI include a need for fewer seeds per hectare, a reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and improved water conservation.

While the use of SRI methods has been increasing among rice farmers in the region over the past decade, the fragmented nature of the local farmland has proven an obstacle to maximizing productivity and efficiency. Most farming households in the province raise rice on multiple small plots, with up to seven varieties of rice grown in each field. As a result, farmers have difficulty applying standardized methods across their fields, as the varieties often require differing optimal growing conditions and cultivation calendars. Further, these mixed crops are difficult to market, given vendor demand for single varieties.

This year, in alignment with government efforts to encourage farmers to organize as collectives, the ICC established large-scale fields, each 50 to 70 hectares (about 123 to 197 acres) in area, in three communes in Phu Binh district. A single rice variety was cultivated in each field, enabling farmers to tailor growing conditions to the selected variety and thus optimize labor efficiency.

Supported by the BGR grant, the fields became outdoor classrooms for farmers’ field school classes in SRI methods. More than 200 farmers from nine villages in the communes participated in training courses and field workshops to learn about SRI practices on large-scale fields, evaluate the successes and challenges of the model fields, and consider changes that might improve the next generation of crops. The ICC also provided weeding tools and other materials to farmers using SRI.

The grant also supported conferences bringing together representatives from provincial and district government and other agencies with local farmers to develop plans for the fields and, at the end of the grant period, to study the project’s results. The ICC reports that this cooperative engagement has been key to the project’s success.

Tricia Brick is a volunteer writer for BGR.

A Decision Cruel and Callous

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Much has been written over the last several days about the political and economic repercussions of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out from the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s been pointed out that the decision will diminish our standing in the world and cast us in the role of a rogue state, a pariah among nations. Our economy will languish, overtaken by other countries that make the leap to full reliance on clean energy. The mantle of global leadership will pass to Europe and China, and we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated on the international stage. To be an American abroad will become a mark of shame.

The decision to leave the Paris Accord, however, should be seen not only as an act of foolishness, arrogance, and delusional thinking, but also as an appalling expression of cruelty. The decision is cruel because it reveals a glaring deficit of compassion—a callous lack of concern for the billions of people around the world who are endangered by a more hostile climate. Sadly, it is those nations and peoples with the lightest carbon footprint that are being hit the hardest. Even before freak weather events began to multiply and inflict horrendous harm, smallholder farmers and day laborers in the developing world faced an uphill struggle just to put food on the table and get enough clean water to meet their daily needs. Now, assailed by ever more frequent and destructive climate disruptions, these same people find their very lives suspended over an abyss.

As I write, Sri Lanka, the country where I lived for over twenty years, is reeling from floods that have turned streets into angry rivers, driven half a million people from their homes, and brought hills crashing down on top of the people who lived on their slopes. Parts of Pakistan are experiencing temperatures that have soared past 120° Fahrenheit, heat waves that claim the lives of the poor, elderly, and frail. Large swaths of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been transformed into desert, no longer able to sustain their populations. Four countries border on famine—South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northern Nigeria—partly because of political turmoil, but also because of climate change. In some regions, beset by long droughts, crops shrivel up and livestock drop dead. In others, once lush fields are invaded by hordes of rapacious pests, which find the newly warmer climate a congenial home.

Flooding in Sri Lanka (Photo: Groundviews.org)

When we take in the total picture, the conclusion is clear. Accelerating climate change will condemn millions of people to an early death, either swiftly through sudden disaster, or slowly and painfully through hunger and malnutrition. Fragile countries will be rocked by social instability, giving tyrants the chance to grab power, breeding terrorism, and sending millions in flight across seas and deserts in search of better living conditions. Is this the kind of future we want for the men and women who share this planet with us?

It is the responsibility of the global community, as inherent in our humanity, to protect the poor and vulnerable, to ensure they can live with dignity in their own lands, enjoying an acceptable standard of living. To achieve this goal it’s imperative that we cut carbon emissions as swiftly and sharply as we can in order to prevent global temperatures from rising past 1.5° Celsius above the pre-industrial average, at which point climate calamities will rapidly increase. The Paris Agreement was weak, flawed, and inadequate, and we are already half way toward the 1.5° mark. But for all its shortcomings, the accord has been a step in the right direction. It serves as a starting point that can be built upon and strengthened as the signatories begin to see the benefits of switching to a post-carbon economy and also, hopefully, as their sense of social responsibility extends beyond their own borders to those whose lives are most gravely threatened.

The decision to withdraw, however, turns a deaf ear to the demands of reason and the call of compassion. It even snubs the principle of enlightened self-interest, which tells us that our economy will thrive and good jobs increase with the full-scale transition to renewable energy. Defying the decrees of moral conscience, it imposes a merciless death sentence on the millions who will die because the U.S. denies them the aid they need to adapt to a harsher climate. When it comes to boosting military spending, we have no trouble finding hundreds of billions of dollars to be wasted in fighting futile wars. But when it comes to helping those desperately in need, suddenly our treasury is empty. Yet which policy will make us truly safer: engaging in military operations all around the world or adopting a policy of global generosity by which we share vital resources with others?

The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord may leave those of us who invested time and energy mobilizing for a sane climate policy confused and dismayed about the future—about our own personal futures and the future direction of the planet. While it may take us time to recover from the shock, we should not lose hope. To become disheartened and passively accept the new wave of climate policies would be to play right into the hands of those who  want to force us into submission. It would simply give them a signal that with enough bluster they can get their way. Rather, we must be prepared to stand up even more defiantly, to resist with greater courage. In this we can draw on the strength of our numbers, the righteousness of our cause, and the recognition that the transition to a post-carbon economy is the only way to preserve a natural environment conducive to human flourishing.

While our chances of changing federal climate policy may be slim as long as the current administration remains in power, there are still several lines of action open to us. One is to become more politically aware and support only candidates who recognize the dangers of climate change, make it a pivot of their campaigns, and pledge to act effectively to reverse course. All candidates for office—from the federal level to the local level—must be closely examined and pressed to reveal their positions. Only those who, without deceit and distortion, acknowledge the hard truths of science and endorse the move toward a clean-energy economy should receive our support and our votes.

A second line of action is to actively oppose new fossil fuel projects clear across the country. Such action can take various forms: signing petitions, writing to our representatives, joining protests and marches, and directly obstructing the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. This last option poses risks, since the fossil fuel corporations have been mobilizing police and hiring security firms to attack dissenters, even painting them as terrorists; they have also resorted to severe legal action to discourage those who would oppose their projects. But earlier movements on behalf of social justice—particularly the civil rights movement of the 1960s—also had to face harsh penalties and brutal crackdowns. By pressing ahead, they eventually prevailed. If we have the trust in the rightness of our cause and remain undeterred, we too will triumph and in the process make America truly great again.

To make America great does not mean to abdicate our global responsibilities and close in upon ourselves, self-absorbed and suspicious of others. It means to become a nation great in wisdom, great in compassion, and great in moral leadership. Remaining in the Paris Agreement and strengthening its commitments is essential if we are to rise to this challenge.

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This essay was originally published on Common Dreams on June 4, 2017. t is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

It’s Time to Reawaken the Spirit of Occupy for the Starving Millions

Adam Parsons

04 May 2017

Photo credit: timeslive.co.za

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources in the 21st century? The time has come, the author argues, for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated the Occupy protests from 2011, but now focused on the worsening reality of mass starvation in the midst of plenty.


The world is now facing an unprecedented emergency of hunger and famine, with a record number of people requiring life-saving food and medical assistance in 2017. Since the start of this year, the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war has continued to unfold, while the international community has failed to take urgent commensurate action. The extent of human suffering is overwhelming: more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, including 1.4 million children – a conservative estimate that is rising by the day. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and could soon follow in Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.

In February, the UN launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian funding, calling for $4.4 billion by July to avert looming famines in these four conflict-ridden regions. Yet not even $1 billion has been raised so far, leaving little hope that these vital minimum funds will be raised on time. Last week the UN also sought to raise $2.1 billion for the funding shortfall in Yemen alone – described as the single largest hunger crisis in the world, where two thirds of the population are food insecure. But even this appeal remains barely half funded, which will almost certainly leave millions of neglected Yemeni’s facing the prospect of dying from starvation or disease.

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources, in a 21st century world that is wealthier and more technologically advanced than ever before? It was only six years ago that East Africa suffered a devastating drought and food crisis, with over a quarter of a million people dying from famine in Somalia (including 133,000 children), and millions more left with a legacy of chronic poverty, hardship and loss of livelihoods.

In the wake of this appalling human catastrophe, the Charter to End Extreme Hunger was drafted by NGOs from across the world, calling on governments and aid agencies to prevent hunger on such a scale ever happening again. But the underlying principle of the Charter to take early and large-scale preventative action has essentially remained unheeded. Early warning signs for the latest crisis were visible months ago, yet the international community again failed to respond in time to avert an entirely predictable and avoidable famine. So much for the “Grand Bargain” struck at the World Humanitarian Summit last year, which agreed a package of reforms to the complex international emergency system under the empty slogan: ‘One Humanity, Shared Responsibility’.

This fact should be emphasised, as we always have the power to avert and end famines, which are largely man-made and preventable if sufficient resources are redistributed to all people in need. To be sure, the challenge is now historic with increasing “mega-crises” becoming the norm, mostly caused by conflict and civil war rather than natural disasters. Far from stepping up to meet urgent funding appeals, however, donor governments have not even met half of requirements in recent years, leaving many crises and nations pitted against each other for resources. Meanwhile, wealthy nations are recycling old aid pledges as new money, and the purported annual increase in overseas aid is failing to reach the least developed countries. The Trump administration has pledged no new funding to the emergency famine relief appeals this year, instead announcing plans to dramatically cut foreign aid expenditures and voluntary contributions to UN programmes like the World Food Programme (WFP).

The tragic consequences on the ground are inevitable, as demonstrated in Somaliland where the WFP is providing emergency food aid for a few thousand people at a time, when the need is upwards of 300,000. In South Sudan, nearly one out of every two people are in urgent need of food assistance, yet only $423 million has been received out of a requested $1.6bn. Across North-East Nigeria, where 5.1 million people are food insecure out of a population of 5.8 million in the three affected states, the response plan still remains only 20% funded.

Of course, aid alone is not the solution to extreme poverty and hunger. In the long term, the answers for avoiding hunger crises lie within developing countries themselves, including supporting local food production, enhancing community resilience, and guaranteeing social services and protection for the poorest – all measures that rely on effective national governance. Beyond the need for material resources and financial assistance, there is also a need for long-term approaches towards conflict prevention and peace-building, placing the politics of famine at the heart of any international efforts. A huge part of the battle is not only raising vital funds, but also devising the correct response strategy and securing necessary access in complex, fragmented war zones.

At the same time, addressing the root causes of today’s escalating food crises depends on a turnaround in the foreign policy agendas of competing nations, which are either directly or indirectly responsible for many of the wars across the Middle East and Africa that have led to a record high of global forced displacement. The deadly conflict that is ripping apart Yemen continues to be facilitated by the UK and US governments, who are propping up the Saudi-led bombing campaigns through extensive political and military support, including billions of dollars’ worth of weapons sales that dwarf the amounts pledged in aid.

This is clearly the opposite of policies that can make countries like Britain and America “great” again. The world cries out for a new strategy of peace and generosity to replace the self-destructive policies of “national security through domination”, which urgently calls for a modern global Marshall Plan for investment in education, health, water, sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure across the world’s most impoverished regions. Fully-funded aid shipments in place of arms shipments; an end to drone attacks and military “special operations” within countries like Yemen; the spearheading of much needed diplomacy in all war-torn regions; massive transfers of essential resources from North to South – such is the only way to show true political leadership in the face of entrenched global divisions and escalating human suffering.

As STWR has long advocated, an intergovernmental emergency programme to end life-threatening poverty is the very first step towards achieving a more equal and sustainable world. It must be remembered that the four countries grouped together by the UN as a food security emergency are, in fact, only the worst instances of a wider crisis of hunger and impoverishment. Millions of other marginalised citizens are also suffering from soaring food insecurity worldwide, not only across Africa but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Haiti, the Oceania, and so many other regions. According to the UN’s official statistics, there are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of North America and the European Union. Every day, around 46,000 people needlessly die as a consequence of life-threatening deprivation, the vast majority in low-income countries.

The reversal of government priorities that is needed to ameliorate this immense crisis may never be achieved, unless world public opinion focuses on the worsening reality of poverty in the midst of plenty. Never before has it been so important for an enormous outpouring of public support in favour of sharing the world’s resources, thus to guarantee the long-agreed socioeconomic rights of every citizen, no matter where they live. Against a backdrop of rising nationalist sentiment, anti-immigrant rhetoric and huge funding gaps for humanitarian causes, it is up to ordinary people of goodwill to stand in solidarity with the world’s suffering poor majority.

The time has come for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated Occupy protests from 2011, but now concentrated on one simple and unifying cause: for the rapid implementation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowhere in the world are these long-agreed rights guaranteed for everyone – concerning adequate food, housing, healthcare, social services and social security for all. But there can be no greater example of the lack of these basic entitlements for a dignified life, than the fact of millions of people dying from hunger across vast neglected and conflict-ridden regions. Hence the need for endless global protests to begin with a united call for wealthy countries to redistribute all necessary resources to those at risk of starving to death, above and beyond the UN’s modest appeals for humanitarian funding.

The situation today is potentially even more catastrophic than in the 1980s, when Bob Geldof and Live Aid were at the forefront of a public funding campaign for victims of the Ethiopian famine – eventually resulting in the loss of almost one million lives. To stop a repeat of this tragedy occurring on a potentially even greater scale, it will require much more than one-off public donations to national charity appeals. It will also require countless people on the streets worldwide in constant, peaceful demonstrations that call on governments to massively scale up their efforts through the UN and its relevant agencies. Is it not possible to organise a huge show of public empathy and outrage with the plight of more than 100 million people facing acute malnutrition worldwide? For only a grassroots response of this exceptional nature may be enough to awaken the world’s conscience – calling for food and medicines, not bombs; standing for economic sharing as the only way to justice. Surely there can be no greater cause and priority at this critical hour.


Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources (STWR).

This essay was originally published by Share The World’s Resources under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Buddhists Roll On Together to the People’s Climate March

The scene at the U.S. Capitol building. People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

Stepping off the Buddhist retreat bus in D.C. on Saturday, two things were apparent: the 2017 People’s Climate March was going to be huge, and it was going to be hot. The record-breaking 92-degree heat seemed to enhance the energy of the staggering crowds that had convened to march from the foot of the Capitol Building to surround the White House.

I’d chosen to march with the Buddhist contingent as part of the Faith Bloc, situated between the Science bloc and Fossil Fuel resistance groups that gathered to surge down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Trump’s 100th day in office, and over 200 Buddhists from around the world had shown up to make their voices heard with another 200,000+ people. The common message was clear: we know the climate is changing, and we want to address this.

The 2014 People’s Climate March in New York had been a groundbreaking moment for inter-sangha cooperation. While it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see politically engaged teachers like Bhikkhu Bodhi and Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara at a demonstration, coordinated action was relatively new. Representatives of various sanghas and concerned practitioners stepped up. Bob Kolodny, who practices at New York Insight and coordinates the New York chapter of the Buddhist Climate Action Network (BCAN) would use many of the connections he’d developed at that time to contribute to Bhikkhu Bodhi and Regina Valdez’ vision of a whole new form of engagement for the 2017 version of the march. “We’re seeing people galvanize across the country to face a number of issues. I don’t think the Buddhist community is that different. People are concerned and want to respond,” Kolodny told me. He also credits Bhikkhu Bodhi and David Loy for helping people realize that taking action is consistent with Buddhist principles. “More and more people have been inspired to take action. It certainly seems like a threshold has been crossed,” he said.   What the Triple Gem retreat offered was a space to be in solidarity with other Buddhists from various traditions and take our practices out of the meditation center and into the world.

I found out about the “Triple Gem Rolling Retreat” through a BCAN email. There would be four buses, each led by a renowned Buddhist teacher who would offer teachings and give a sense of ceremony to our trip from New York. I felt motivated to attend the march because I believe it’s important to get out from behind my laptop and be in the presence of others who want to address the huge social and environmental issues of this era. I also try to treat each demonstration, each rally, and by extension each moment of my life as an opportunity to bear witness. The Zen Peacemakers’ three tenets are something I try to live by, where we empty our minds of preconceived notions, bear witness to suffering, and then transform that suffering through compassionate action.

What the Triple Gem retreat offered was a space to do all this in solidarity with other Buddhists from various traditions, so we could share our different interpretations of each principle, and help build a case for taking our practices out of the meditation center and into the world.

Members of Buddhist Global Relief at the Washington, D.C. People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

The bus caravan to DC was organized by Regina Valdez, outreach coordinator for Bhikkhu Bodhi’s organization, Buddhist Global Relief. A practicing Buddhist of eight years, Valdez had become concerned with what she perceived as a need for Buddhists to engage their practice with social and environmental issues. The idea for a rolling retreat, with Buddhist teachers and monastics giving a sense of ceremony to a trip to the Climate March, stemmed from her group Compassion NYC, which she founded to implement the Buddhist Global Relief missions of economic and climate justice on a local level.

“I thought it would be wishful thinking, to have this rolling retreat to Washington, but it’s been a trip! A day and night mission,” she told me over the phone before the retreat, which she had been working on since January.

I gravitated to Buddhist practice to grapple with the despair I felt after learning about climate change. I had studied climate science, the history of its discovery, and its presentation in science journalism as an undergrad at Hunter College. I was left feeling that I’d need not just a meditation practice but an ethical framework to confront my fear about the future. Buddhism offered very practical and elegant tools for this endeavor. Through an understanding of my own suffering, I could connect to others and work to let go of my tendency to project stories of worry into the future. After changing my relationship to myself, I could relate to the world in a way that was less driven by the momentum of anxiety and even work to help alleviate the suffering caused by social and environmental justice.

Carrying the BGR Banner at the People’s Climate March

I gravitated to Buddhist practice to grapple with the despair I felt after learning about climate change. I had studied climate science, the history of its discovery, and its presentation in science journalism as an undergrad at Hunter College. I was left feeling that I’d need not just a meditation practice but an ethical framework to confront my fear about the future. Buddhism offered very practical and elegant tools for this endeavor. Through an understanding of my own suffering, I could connect to others and work to let go of my tendency to project stories of worry into the future. After changing my relationship to myself, I could relate to the world in a way that was less driven by the momentum of anxiety and even work to help alleviate the suffering caused by social and environmental justice.

Climate change is on one hand framed as a problem we can overcome by finding the right solutions and by showing up at protests. On the other hand, the climate is the very thing we live within, and touches every aspect of our lives. It is an intricate network of feedback loops and interconnection. It points to the fact that no issue is actually isolated. In Buddhist practice we call this interdependence. In social theory, the term intersectionality has gained popularity, pointing to the way that no social issue or aspect of identity exists in isolation. What I’m sensing is that we are becoming more able to think in terms of systems, and understanding climate change can be a catalyst for that.

Reverend angel Kyodo williams, the second black woman to be ordained as a teacher in her lineage, led a retreat bus for people of color and accomplices, a word that references more active participation than the conventional idea of being an ally in the struggle for justice. This explicitly intersectional approach to the march and to Buddhist practice took the principle of interdependence and asked us to make it concrete by acknowledging that people of color and indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental racism. The changing climate touches all of us — but some people are more vulnerable to the harm it causes.

The morning of the march we lined up at 6am along 34th Street in Manhattan, checking in with a well-organized team of head teachers, bus captains, and other volunteers. I was assigned to Roshi Enkyo O’Hara’s bus. Buddhist Global Relief provided us with breakfast bags and instructions for what to do once on the ground in DC. After a DVD introduction to the Rolling Retreat featuring Bhikkhu Bodhi’s impassioned plea for compassionate action, Enkyo spoke to the politically engaged nature of her tradition, Soto Zen. Teachings continued throughout the four-hour bus ride, including commentary from Reverend T.K. Nakagaki of the Buddhist Council of New York, Michele LaPorte of the Shambhala and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, and Reverend Doyeon Park of Won Buddhism New York. It was a unique opportunity to hear a number of Buddhist perspectives on the necessity of engaging Buddhist practices to confront what Bhikkhu Bodhi explained as a challenge and crisis that faces the entire global community.

We had the opportunity to share with each other about our own practices and a little about the things that motivated us to participate in the march. Some common themes included a desire to ensure a hospitable climate for future generations and a commitment to being with others who have similar values. As my bus neighbor Marilyn Ivy, an anthropology professor at Columbia University, said, “being around other people makes confronting these challenges seem more doable.”

Many different Buddhist traditions were represented on my bus alone, including Pure Land, Chan, Won, Shambhala, Nyingma, and we were joined by a member of the Baha’i faith. Some wanted to be actively engaged in democracy, and there were monastics on the bus who said that as people of conscience, they wanted to make sure Trump knew that his actions were being witnessed. The common thread was feeling the need to respond to the climate emergency from a place of compassion.

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, with fellow marchers, protecting himself from the hot sun at the Washington, D.C. People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

Heading towards the starting point from the bus parking lot, the sheer volume of the march was striking. The streets and the sidewalks around the National Mall were packed shoulder to shoulder before we began marching. The density of the crowd made it difficult to stay together as a consolidated group so, once the march started, I moved through the crowd, attempting to talk to different factions within the Buddhist contingent. Aside from the participants who’d come from New York, I was told there were over 200 other Buddhists who had come from as far as Japan and Taiwan for the march.

I had the opportunity to ask Bhikkhu Bodhi what he felt the Buddhist basis for participating in the climate march might be. Under the intensity of what felt like a summer sun in August, he spoke about what equanimity means. “Equanimity does not mean withdrawing from all the events taking place in the world and cultivating indifference,” he said. “True equanimity should co-exist with the wisdom of cause and effect. Through wisdom we understand the causes of suffering and out of compassion we are motivated to act in ways that will eliminate those causes at different levels.”

At 12:30, we began marching. Sometimes I’d find myself having fallen behind amongst the Quakers and Mennonites. When I’d try to catch up with the Buddhists I’d go too far and end up in the midst of the Science Bloc. This ended up being a beautiful pilgrimage in itself, a tour of different ways of relating to the crisis of climate change.

At 2 o’clock, we all sat down to perform a “collective heartbeat” by tapping on our chests. Or at least, that was the plan. Due to the size of the crowd and the swiftness of the collective action, I missed that part, but we all managed to get back in synch and let out an enormous roar. “This is a sense of solidarity we rarely experience,” a woman behind me said to her march companion.

A Thich Nhat Hanh-inspired sign at the People’s Climate March, 2017. Photo by Caroline Contillo.

The ride back to New York was more subdued, with chanting at sunset by Reverend Nakagaki, and a reading by Michele LaPorte of the Sadhana of Mahamudra. We talked to each other about action points and next steps, urged by Roshi O’Hara to consider the “bonds of spiritual friendship” forged on our pilgrimage.

In the hopes of stoking the energy of a growing Buddhist climate movement, Bob Kolodny encouraged us to act as point people for our home sanghas. If each of us volunteered to announce information about future actions related to the climate, we could take what Roshi called the good feelings cultivated on this march and integrate them with the necessity for resistance.

Debra Keehn, who practices at Zen Center for Contemplative Care in New York, mentioned the idea of bringing our Buddhist principles with us to other sorts of political action and civil society group meetings. Her feelings about the march captured what many of us felt: “very grounding, despite the heat!” As the motto for 2014’s climate march said, “to change everything, we need everyone.” If Buddhist practitioners and other meditators are willing to bring our practices to meet the crises of this era, I think we stand a chance of meeting this moment of extreme change with a unique set of tools and a grounded perspective.

This article originally appeared on the website Lion’s Roar here. It is posted here with permission of the publisher.

The author, Caroline Contillo,  completed the Dharma Immersion Program at the Interdependence Project in 2011. She has been interested in using the lenses of mindfulness, improv comedy, direct action, and science fiction to see how we might co-create a just and joyous world. She teaches meditation at MNDFL, a new studio in Lower Manhattan. She lives in Queens, and invites you to check out her personal site spacecrone.com or follow her on twitter, @spacecrone.

 

Changing Directions Before It’s Too Late

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

 

Buddhists marching at the People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014

Suppose I was a bus driver driving a busload of people along an unfamiliar route and at a certain point my GPS device showed me that I was heading toward a precipice. I would not assume that the device is mistaken or argue that the accuracy of such devices is a matter of debate. As I got close to the edge of the abyss, I would not jiggle the steering wheel, much less step on the gas pedal. Rather, I would turn away and head in a different direction.

Yet, expand this picture to a global scale, and it shows us exactly what we’re doing with our climate. The climate crisis is probably the gravest danger that humanity has ever faced, the precipice toward which we are heading, yet those in the driver’s seat are doing just what the reckless bus driver does. They’re insisting that the great majority of climate scientists are mistaken; they’re claiming there is still a debate about the causes of climate change; they’re attacking investigators who seek to hold offenders accountable; and they’re stepping on the gas pedal with policies that will push carbon emissions to perilous heights. If they continue to have their way, they’ll drive the bus of humankind over the edge to a fate we can hardly envisage.

As a Buddhist monk and scholar, I look at the climate crisis through the lens of the Buddha’s teaching, which shows that our leaders’ dismissive attitude toward the crisis stems from two deeply entrenched mental dispositions, ignorance and craving. Ignorance is the blatant, willful, and even spiteful rejection of reality, the denial of unpalatable truths that threaten our sense of our own invulnerability. Craving is the voracious grasping after ever more wealth, status, and power, a thirst that can never be satisfied. When the two reinforce each other, what we get is a stubborn refusal to see that wealth and power, no matter how exorbitant, will be worthless on a dying planet.

What makes climate change so insidious—and reinforces the tendency to denial—is the fact that it occurs incrementally, beneath the threshold of perception. The immediate effects strike virulently only on occasion and in limited areas—a drought here, wildfires there, floods in this country or a heat wave in that one. Spared the global picture of the effects in their totality, we can convince ourselves that the extreme events we hear about are merely disconnected vagaries of the weather. And thus we go on blithely living our ordinary lives, thinking we can do so forever.

Yet, while we drift along complacently, climate change hovers over us like an ominous cloud, posing both an existential threat and a moral reproach. It’s an existential threat because, when its full consequences are unleashed, everyone will be affected. Since the climate enfolds everyone everywhere, there is no spot on earth to which one can escape. Human existence itself is in the crosshairs, and if we don’t change course, we may well bring the entire project of human civilization crashing down to a pitiful end.

At the same time, climate change reminds us that, as we procrastinate and backtrack, we are staining our moral record, committing a travesty of justice at multiple levels. At home, fossil-fuel projects tend to strike poor communities—largely people of color—more severely than they hit the rich in their more secure enclaves. On a planetary scale, the disparities are even worse. Over the past few centuries, the industrialized countries—primarily the U.S. and Western Europe—have built up their economic empires by burning fossil fuels, yet it’s the people in the poorest countries—in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Pacific island nations—that are paying the heaviest price. And it is these people again that will face the harshest penalties in the future when whole regions turn barren, when famine and starvation leave behind millions of emaciated bodies, when social disruption erupts in political chaos and regional wars over dwindling resources.

If we’re to avoid such a fate, we must boldly reduce our carbon emissions and hasten the transition to a clean-energy economy powered by renewable sources of energy. This must be done with utmost urgency. What we need is nothing short of a full-scale climate mobilization, as complete as the war effort launched during World War II. This will require changes not only  in our practices but in our attitudes. We’ll have to proceed from the inside out, with transformations in our minds and our values. We’ll have to replace a culture of extraction and endless consumption with one that prizes reverence for the earth and gratitude for the resplendent bounties of nature. We’ll have to reject an economy that thrives on exploitation and competition and enshrine in its place one that gives priority to mutual care, collaboration, and respect for other peoples.

To deal successfully with climate change, we must draw upon wisdom and compassion, the antidotes to ignorance and selfish craving. Wisdom is the calm voice that tells us to take the blinkers off and see things as they are—in this case, to acknowledge the truth that climate change is real, that human activity is behind it, and that the chief culprit is an economic system propelled by the quest for short-term profits. Compassion is the inner force that makes us recognize that others count too, that shakes our hearts with the suffering of others and moves us to act so that billions of people around the world are spared the death and desperation that a hostile climate would inflict on them.

By a tragic twist of fate, just at this critical juncture when fresh initiatives are called for, when bold and determined action has become imperative, our country has handed the reins of power to a president whose administration is doing exactly the opposite of what is needed. We’ve installed at the command center a narcissist who thinks he can defy the laws of nature and come out ahead; we’ve let him appoint a team that denies the hard truths of science, scorns the advice of informed policy experts, and does everything it can to pump new life into the fossil fuel industries. In effect, we’ve appointed a bus driver who is driving the bus of humanity ever closer to the cliff.

On April 29th, along with hundreds of thousands of environmentally concerned Americans, I will be going to Washington to join the People’s Climate Mobilization. I will be marching not only on behalf of people here in the U.S. but for people all around the world, especially the poor and dispossessed, whose own voices will not be heard in the halls of privilege and power. I will be marching to demand an ambitious climate policy, one that meets the severity of the crisis and moves us quickly toward zero emissions. I will be marching on behalf of truth, to insist that we cannot ignore the warnings of our best scientists. I will be marching on behalf of a clean-energy economy waiting to be born, one that is respectful of natural limits and can uplift people everywhere. I will be marching on behalf of the earth, hoping to usher in a new relationship between humankind and nature.

I will be marching to show our government that America must live up to its highest ideals, that we must serve the rest of the world as a model of wise, conscientious, and compassionate leadership. In short, I will be asking our leaders to to turn the bus around and lead us all into a safe and sustainable future.

This essay was originally published on Common Dreams. A shorter version appeared on the website of the Faith Contingent of the People’s Climate March.

Reconnecting Homeless Youth to Food, the Earth, and Spirit

Taz Tagore

Grants from BGR have provided not only food to homeless youth, but opportunities for companionship and a sense of belonging.

For the past 10 years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly to support homeless and foster-care youth aged 13–26 in their transformation from impoverished persons living in a shelter to educated, employed youngsters playing a leadership role in society. With BGR support, Reciprocity is expanding its Urban Food Project, taking youth upstate to spend time working on small organic farms where they learn the basics of planting, harvesting, and cooking fresh organic meals. Below is a six-months report from Reciprocity Foundation co-founder Taz Tagore.

The second half of 2016 was one of the most meaningful and challenging periods in our organization’s history! It has been a year of great change—some of the changes involved loss and others involved finding new inspiration, allies, and community.  While I want to summarize where we have been in 2016, I also want to address the enormous energy building at Reciprocity to invent a more courageous, visionary and loving model for transformation in the world. But first, our work in the past year…

In June 2016, we completed our 2-year project entitled SEE ME—a full-sized, full-color photography book detailing the stories and faces of New York City’s LGBTQ homeless and foster youth.  SEE ME was about more than taking photos—we worked with renowned photographer Alex Fradkin and the Reciprocity team to support a powerful transformation in the lives of 45 homeless youth who participated in this project.  Of the 45, 42 are now employed or in a college program of their choosing.  And more importantly, they are engaged in work that is meaningful to them, engaged in contemplative practice and are feeling seen.

In Spring 2016, we also planted our second Urban Garden in Harlem. Youth learned to plant a garden, grow food, cook meals, and develop their “Recipes for Life.”  And, we continued to transform the lifeless spaces in which homeless youth live in New York into more vibrant, energetic, and healing spaces for both youth and staff.

We also helped youth connect with food in a new way—both introducing youth to vegetarian food and helping them to have a direct experience of the power of food on your mind, energy level, aspirations, and overall well-being.  We helped youth make strong connections between eating wholesome vegetarian food and managing their mental health.

In fall 2016, Reciprocity co-founder Adam Bucko left New York City to pursue priesthood with the Anglican Church.  He will be in seminary for three years.  As a community, we engaged in a deep process of letting go and embracing a new way of being with each other.  I will lead the organization with a team of staff and youth graduates as supporting members of the team.  And we are slowly seeing the possibilities that lay dormant inside this loss—we are taking the time to transform this period into an opportunity for innovation, risk-taking, and building new connections.

Our change also affected our program space.  We left our space on West 36th Street (due to rent increases) and now have a smaller space inside the Good Shepherd Services building on East 17th street.  Our interim space has a large Multi-Purpose room for group workshops, coaching and Career Projects with a beautiful meditation space and meeting room on the third floor.  I believe strongly that we will sign a new lease when we have more fully developed the new vision for Reciprocity.  It may be that we have a retreat center upstate and a small space in the city—or a re-envisioned space in the city.  Either way, we are grateful to be housed in a temporary space for now.

In fall 2016, we launched two new projects—first, to help homeless youth who have been incarcerated or court-involved to heal, find community, and express their gifts in the world.  This program has included food, meditation, and coaching.  Second, we have launched a program to support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth in their gender transition—and, perhaps as important—to transition into a new, fuller, and connected way of being in the world.  I am so encouraged and inspired as I move our organization into a more courageous, visionary, and creative incarnation.

Last but not least, we are expanding our retreat program to include more programming to actively reconnect youth to food, the earth, and spiritual ecology.  The grant from BGR is helping us to take an ever-deepening journey that is about more than feeding youth. Urban youth are finding that food is a powerful salve for their bodies, minds, and spirits.  How wonderful!

Taz Tagore is co-founder, with Adam Bucko, of The Reciprocity Foundation

Improving Nutrition among Children in Korhogo District, Cote d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

Mothers gather to discuss nutrition in Korhogo Health District

Malnutrition is a pressing problem in Cote d’Ivoire, where over 40% of the population lives in poverty. Cote d’Ivoire ranks 172 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, making it among the poorest countries in the world. The country has a population of 22 million, of which 6 million are children under five. Estimated child mortality under five years is 195 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is just 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc being the most important), is a major contributing factor to the high rate of infant mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five years. Micronutrient deficiencies are also widespread.

BGR is currently partnering with Helen Keller International (HKI) to implement a program to improve an understanding of proper feeding practices among young girls and women in Korhogo Health District over the next three years. The primary goal of the project is to decrease the incidence of malnutrition in children during their first 1,000 days of life by training health workers in ENA in the Korhogo Health District. Korhogo Health District, located in the under-served Poro Region in northern Cote d’Ivoire, operates 77 health clinics that serve a target population of around 760,000.

Through this project, entirely funded by BGR, HKI will use the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) framework to reach new mothers and expectant women at the right time with the right message to improve their own health and the health of their children. ENA promotes optimal nutrition practices, among them women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding the sick child, vitamin A, and the integrated control of anemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiency.

Salimata Coulibaly providing ENA training to health workers in Korhogo

The implementation of the project started in September, 2016, when HKI-Cote d’Ivoire contracted Mrs. Salimata Coulibaly to serve as master trainer in nutrition practices in the district. Salimata has a long, impressive history of successful nutrition interventions in the area. She has played a national advocacy role in building awareness of the need to treat childhood under-nutrition in the northern region of Cote d’Ivoire. She was the first person, 25 years ago, to start treating infants with severe acute malnutrition at a center she established in Korhogo in partnership with the Red Cross. She is highly respected, and brings years of experience as she works to reinforce health workers understanding of the Essential Nutrition Actions.

Salimata benefited from special train-the-trainer sessions organized by HKI to build her capacity to reinforce health worker’s understanding of the ENA framework during a regional workshop organized for nutrition experts from French-speaking Africa.

Salimata demonstrating proper breastfeeding position to healthworkers

To date, Salimata has undertaken assessment visits at 29 health clinics in Korhogo district, and has developed plans to reinforce and scale-up ENA practices in the respective communities being served by these health clinics.
As of the writing of this report, Salimata has trained 85 health workers on the following themes: (1) nutrition of expectant and breastfeeding mothers; (2) exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a newborn’s life; (3) appropriate complementary feeding and continuation of breastfeeding for the first two years of a child’s life; (4) feeding the sick and malnourished child; (5) vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc deficiency; and (6) essential actions in hygiene.

Training of health workers to organize community cooking demonstrations are slated to start soon so that women can better understand how to incorporate healthier foods into their diets and that of their children.

This article is based on a six-months interim report on the first year of the project from Helen Keller International.