We arrived in Egypt last Thursday and discovered that the next two days were the Egyptian weekend. So we spent time getting orientated on Thursday, took a taxi and walked around Islamic Cairo on Friday and visited the Pyramids on Saturday.
On Sunday morning we went to the Sekem complex on the edge of Cairo. They are developing a University on this site. Here I met with Dr Zakaria El-Haddad, Professor of Agricultural Engineering and Executive Manager of the Egyptian Bio Dynamic Association. This was a very good meeting, with Dr El- Haddad recommending that I go (in fact compelling me) to the Western Desert to meet some people there. He talked about the clarity of thinking of people in the desert.
On Monday and Tuesday we went out to the Sekem farm. We arrived at 10.00am and went straight to a group of senior students and staff from the Sekem school. I gave a presentation on climate change and adaptation, including sharing some of the stories and lessons from our journey so far. Later in the day Angela Hofmann, who established the dairy herd at Sekem, suggested that we be at the main entrance to Sekem just before 5pm. She told us to imagine this place as desert, which it was 30 years ago and to reflect on the transformation. What was 70ha of desert has been transformed to an environment with trees, fields, a school, and several Sekem factories. In all there are about 1600 people who pass through the Sekem gates each day, students, teaching staff, Sekem factory workers. It is a remarkable transformation and clear proof of what human beings are capable of with clear vision and a strong will to turn the vision into reality.
Here at Sekem I was talking to people who are already thinking and acting with a long-term future in mind. On Tuesday we filmed interviews with Angela and Gamal, both of whom have been at Sekem for about 20 years. These were both very good interviews that in many ways drew together different threads from the last 12 weeks. The clear lesson from Sekem is that we don’t need crisis to change. Human beings have abundant capacity to develop positive, strong relationships with the natural environment. The choice is ours.
Tomorrow we leave Nepal after being here for just over a month. Yesterday I gave a presentation to the core climate change group in Kathmandu, with representatives from the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), WWF Nepal, IUCN, Winrock International and Practical Action.
The bulk of our time here has been spent walking the Annapurna circuit and doing what we could to interview local people along with dealing with illness and other challenges. Before we left I shared some information on the Annapurna Conservation Area Programme (ACAP). I think up to about ten years ago this was a very strong programme for protection and enhancement of the Annapurna region.
The disruption with the Maoists and the assassination of the royal family has created greater instability and a weakening of efforts by ACAP and others. Because of associations with the royal family the ACAP presence has been significantly affected, for example the Maoists destroyed the ACAP offices in Ghandruk village three years ago. This political instability along with political and economic pressure from China and India are some of the main reasons why the road is happening in the Annapurna region. My main message to the climate change group yesterday was the need to focus efforts on supporting wise, local leadership in developing and implementing future visions.
As I’ve already said here, we found good local people who simply need more support to encourage reafforestation programmes. In villages like Marpha and Ghandruk there are strong local communities at present, but they are facing challenges. Now is the time to act. We’re not going to solve the major issues of our time sitting around tables. We truly need to get beyond the talk and focus our collective efforts on positive, proactive change. Ecological restoration is a fundamental necessity, everywhere. As Michung Gurung from Thorong Phedi said to me, if we could channel things away from guns and wars into planting trees we might actually make some serious progress towards a truly sustainable future. As simple as it seems I believe it truly is this simple … if only we can get enough people to be more aware and focused on small, simple, practical actions.
Tomorrow we leave for Cairo, via Bangkok. After some days of anxiety I have finally heard from my contact in Egypt. I have been communicating with people from Sekem a very strong and positive initiative in Egypt that I am very interested to learn more about and share. Egypt will be very interesting and another dimension to the story, after 11 weeks in Asia. So far we’ve travelled from the south coast of Thailand, to hill tribes in the north, by the Mekong, to the lowlands, then on to Viet Nam from north to south and the Mekong Delta, and to Nepal walking high into the Himalayas. Now to a desert region and the Nile basin. We only have ten days there, enough to develop some impressions and meet some good people.