Sanjay Joshie

Board Member, Home Planet Fund, Head of Agriculture, Livelihoods and Climate Change with ECHO India

In my early days of working in Rajasthan, India, I was eager to learn and make a difference. I visited one village after another and engaged with the communities to understand what they were doing and how I could be of help. One day, the villagers suggested building a water-harvesting structure on the other side of a hillock, far away from the village. I thought, “They must be pulling my leg, since I’m new and naive.”

The residents of the village were determined to build the structure using only stone boulders, without the use of concrete and cement. I watched in amazement as they translated their knowledge and expertise into action. To my surprise, when the rain came, the water was captured and flowed underground, right into the wells on the other side of the hill, just as they had planned. Before this, the community had enough water to grow one crop—maize; after they created a series of these water-harvesting structures, they were able to grow wheat as a second crop.

Witnessing this transformation firsthand was truly eye-opening and awe-inspiring. This was also my first lesson in acknowledging and trusting the collective, Indigenous wisdom of communities, and my appreciation has only grown since.

Alejandro Argumedo

Board Member, Home Planet Fund, and Director of Programs and Andes Amazon Lead at Swift Foundation

Growing up in the Andes, there was one practice related to my Indigenous heritage that I remember seeing very early on—we call it “muyuy.” You use one tract of communal land one year, and then you let it rest for, say, seven years. It’s an element associated with the way we see the life-cycle, as the muyuy organizes communal agricultural work in a rotating system that periodically allocates plots of land to families to maintain, ensuring social relationships and connecting our calendar, our perception of time, to the heartbeat of the land.

When you leave the land alone for many years, you are restoring its full potential, so that it can recover its nutrients and its productive capacity—but it’s not just a matter of restoring “productivity,” as agronomists would describe it; it also has an immense impact on the conservation of the high-mountain biodiversity, maintaining and restoring species, from insects to birds to flowers. It also informs local knowledge, like biocultural indicators that are critical for farming: The fox will howl and tell you when it’s going to rain; the birds will guide you through the uncertainties of the mountain weather; different cactuses will return, and their flowers will tell you when to begin certain farming activities.

The fallow lands are also a place of cultural renewal, where we pay respect to Mother Earth with festivals, music and dancing, where young boys and girls meet each other and fall in love within ceremonies that celebrate our connection to the land. These festivals also reinforce the idea that the land is “owned” collectively by all—humans, wild animals and plants, and the sacred mountains and spirits.

In this time, you may also see wild relatives of the crops begin to grow, like wild potatoes—and evolutionary processes might trigger the creation of new gene traits that will end up in cultivated potatoes, too. It’s a sophisticated evolutionary plant-breeding technique that looks very simple, but it is complex science that can’t be understood without considering its spiritual and ritualistic nature.

Lisa Pike Sheehy

Advisor, Home Planet Fund, Environmental and Philanthropic Advisor, Former Vice President of Environmental Activism at Patagonia

In December 2019, a few months before the world shut down,  I had the opportunity to visit The National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kaua’i, Hawaii, as part of Patagonia’s work with The Breadfruit Institute. They’ve created agricultural forests, or “agro-forests,” that use traditional indigenous methods to grow all sorts of plants at every level of the forest canopy—breadfruit, starfruit, pineapple, spinach, and even flowers for the native pollinators and for their own traditional uses in ceremonies. It’s essentially a wild garden that’s a source of food, and it also creates thriving ecosystems for birds and wildlife, by rewilding land that’s been decimated by climate change and conventional pesticides used in industrial farming.

It was incredible to stand under the forest canopy and see what it looks like, smells like, feels like, and to appreciate the different roles it plays as a local food source while also healing the land—a real, tangible example of regenerative agriculture in practice.  It’s one thing to read about an organization and their work, but to be out on the land and experience it directly takes your understanding to another level.

Masego Madzwamuse

Board Member, Home Planet Fund, Environment Program Director, Oak Foundation

I was in Botswana, researching some of the social and cultural values that affect biodiversity  in my own country, and an elderly woman in Kgalagadi explained that it is taboo for members of the community to collect wild berries that we call rikhezwa in Shengologa, my mother tongue [or “Brandybush” in English], until the elderly women have harvested them first. With most taboos, you don’t ask why, but I probed because I really wanted to understand. Everyone is waiting for these sweet red berries to arrive. We make a traditional brew with it. We add it to cow’s milk or goat’s milk. When it’s dried, it’s like a raisin you can eat as a snack on hunting trips or out on long walks. Young children get very excited about harvesting the berries, but for some reason they’re not allowed to?

And she told me the older women know the landscape, they know the ecosystem and the habitat, so they are able to avoid harvesting the fruits too early, before they are ready. Because if you harvest them before they are ready, there won’t be an abundance of this fruit in the wild, in the future—you will shortcut that process of growth. And that knowledge is gained from experience and repetition—it takes years of observation to know when these berries are ready.

In the Botswana culture, there are folk tales about these sorts of things. As we would say, “Ngwana yo sa reetseng molao wa batsadi, o reetse wa manong.” In English, that translates to “A child who doesn’t take guidance from their elders falls prey to the vultures,” meaning if you don’t take guidance from your elders, you expose yourself to harm and danger.

Ayisha Siddiqa

Board Member, Home Planet Fund, Climate Advisor to the UN General Secretary, Project Manager of Future Generations Tribunal and Fossil Free University

When I was a child growing up in rural Pakistan, my grandparents taught me that the land and its people have a symbiotic relationship. That means when the water is polluted, when trees are cut down, when nature is destroyed, humans experience the same kind of hurt in their bodies, in their lungs, in their blood streams. And when land is gone, when disasters occur, not just the human who experiences the loss, but nature also grieves the loss of her inhabitants, her children; because they come from her, they are her.

Just as animals evolve to live in their specific habitats, so do people; that is why the relationship native people have with the land is beyond the physical—it is spiritual. It is the place where they belong because they’ve grown up, laughed, cried, lived and died with nature over centuries. It is the beginning of life for us.

Dilafruz Khonikboyeva

Executive Director, Home Planet Fund

My mother’s family in Porshinev, Tajikistan, has an orchard with different kinds of trees including a few very old apple trees, which, according to botanists, are indigenous to the mountain of Pamir. The first time I saw the gentle act of paiwand, or grafting a limb from one tree onto another, I was struck by what a joyous occasion it is. This is due to the fact that since it’s the only way these trees produce fruit, it’s considered a truly sacred event. Traditionally, if a young woman were to die before being married, a ceremonial wedding would be held, grafting her spirit onto a tree that had yet to bear fruit. That way, she can also be part of the fruiting of nature, of giving back. For me, it’s a reminder that humans are part of nature, that we are all a part of the regeneration of the Earth.

Learn how Home Planet Fund is supporting the expansion of local and indigenous practices in communities all across the globe.