The need to restore the beautiful dance of life, an interview with Method Gundidza

“When you light up a fire there and you light another fire there and as these fire grow, you will have a systematic change.” Born in Zimbabwe, Method works with passion on the resurgence of traditional seeds, traditional farming practices, indigenous knowledge and sacred natural sites. He advises and helps the farming communities and in particular women to achieve food sovereignty, within Earthlore association.

YPA: Personally, what does well-being mean to you?
MG: My understanding of well-being is that people are healthy in terms of their own bodies living in a healthy environment, in which there is no pollution of water and air, there is enough of other non-human friends to be available to interact with animals, trees, insects, mountains and river. This is a greater and a bigger community than humans only. Well-being is when humans are able to interact with other non-human beings, but also when they interact among themselves in singing, dancing in ceremonies that celebrate life, working together on different issues and talking to each other. Eating food which people like and gives them health and happiness, talking to them culturally, socially and economically.

YPA: How do you conceive of the relationship between people and nature?
MG: The health of the natural ecosystems cannot not be separated from the well-being of human beings because the conception is that human beings are very much part of the natural ecosystem, and that when the ecosystem in which they live is healthy, by implication the health of the people is guaranteed. So human beings are a part of the big system and by implication human beings are happier and more human when they are in a natural environment. For instance, in the background there are sounds of birds and often when we go to a natural environment we feel that we have to activate more of our senses to hear, feel, see and smell. Every part of the being human is activated when we are in an environment that is more natural. Therefore, the connection between humans and the environment is paramount.

YPA:You use the concept Jangano. What does it mean and how does it relate to well-being?
MG: As I said, we (Earthlore) are working both in South Africa and Zimbabwe and the concept of Jangano comes from the Zimbabwean context. In the South African context the concept of Ilima (South African translation of Jangano) is when people come together and work together on different aspects of farming. For example when people are ploughing, trashing, weeding, harvesting; every aspect of the farming cycle. People come together and they work, they sing and dance and they celebrate in different ways, and this makes the work lighter and interesting but it also helps to connect people more to themselves as a community. It also connects them to their crops and to their seeds and I think this is something that’s more connecting in terms of people to themselves and people to their seeds and their crops.

YPA: Can this be applied in globalized context within the current capitalist framework?
MG: When we look at concepts like Ilima, otherwise known as Jangano in Zimbabwe, in the global village it stands in contradiction to what we see in the world currently, where there’s the concentration of ownership and power in the hands of the few, and we see the power and control that comes with small wealthy individuals. That is a system that thrives on how people get separated and broken into units that cannot work together. So if the different households are broken into small units they become vulnerable and they lose their power to do things for themselves, not only as households but also working and counting on the support of the immediate community which is exactly the concept of Ilima, the concept of Jangano. So this concept is exactly the opposite of capitalism, because Jagano is when the power lies within the local context and I think this is what this conference is about, it is about exploring ways in which we take away power from the few and transfer it to the majority and not to let things be decided by the few who are not part of the locality, in order to ensure that issues which matter to people is decided on collectively within the locality. Those local communities, one here and one there, they have the capacity to come together in local communities deciding, working collectively on the things that matter to the communities locally. That has potential to expand outwards into a nation state into a country, but without losing the essence which is that control and power needs to come from the bottom, more than it comes from the top.

YPA:What do you think of agroecology as a component of well-being? And what forms of ownership it should take?
MG: Agroecology is producing food in harmony with nature and here we are talking about pest control, controlling pest naturally, that means if we want to get rid of an access of aphids in the garden, we do not need poison to kill it, we need a family of wasps. So we need a diverse and vibrant ecosystem in which there are wasps, aphids, bees and they interact in a beautiful dance of life with people in producing food agro-ecologically. The ownership of agroecology is a community because agroecology is the community of humans and non-humans interacting to produce food not just for humans but for everybody else, the bees, wasp, aphids, worm, buffalo, (animals) soil and the air. By nature agroecology cannot be owned, it is a community. Well-being is when there is an interaction between different life elements and you can enjoy how the bird walks and the bird is also walking and seeing people and wondering “what are these people doing?” And that is the dance of life, when different elements mix and interact, marvel at each other in amazement or in happiness, whatever it is, that is how I define well-being. And agroecology is a good summary of what well-being is and spaces are created for everyone to participate in the dance of life.

YPA: How do you foresee the transition to a different world, who are the forces that can bring change?
MG: One thing I will say is that power does not give away power. Those who hold power will never give it away and those who don’t have power are those who ask for it. They would demand it and will do whatever it takes to get it back. So what I mean is it would be naive of us to expect the world powers to give away the power to the localities. A writer called Margaret Witley writes about how systems change, she writes about how when you light up a fire there and you light another fire there and as these fire grow, you will have a systematic change. So the work that we do with the communities that we work with feels very local and maybe specific to Zimbabwe and South Africa, but what I know is that there are similar fires elsewhere and I have friends who do similar work in Benin, for example, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and now we are here in this conference and we are hearing even more examples about similar work happening in Asia and perhaps some initiatives are beginning to happen in Europe. These are the fires that I am talking about that are lighting up in different places, and as the fires grow I foresee that this is how the world will change from purely capitalist perspective, where the few own and control, to a more social based economy where the means of production and the power is held by the community, and I see that the coalition and convergence of all these initiatives is what would one day define the systematic change for us.

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