(Vyapaka dasa, discing in preparation for spring planting at Prabhupada-seva.)
The Road to Self-Sufficiency
by Vyapaka dasa
Self-sufficiency is the most advanced stage of ecological organization and to evolve to this state will require considerable thought, study and action. Though this goal is highly-respected on every rural project within our movement, each path will be modified according to the specifics of the project's time and circumstance (please refer to the article “Developing a Resource Inventory”). However, what all projects must have in common is a plan of gradually-evolving self-reliance until our goal of self-sufficiency can be firmly realized. Just as a child first learns to crawl before walking, we must develop a course that will gradually deliver us to the final destination. A program where each step provides a firm foundation for the next.
It is important to realize that the current world situation is traveling in an exact opposite heading than that set out by Srila Prabhupada; and as such, we have a clear indication of what not to do. Driven by an attitude of domination over nature, a materialist strives for an opulent lifestyle by exploiting the weaker sectors of creation. This has been accomplished historically by destroying self-sufficient village life, promoting international trade and creating artificial wants. Therefore, in our attempt to fulfill Srila Prabhupada's desire for rural community development, we must reverse this domination and begin to understand our place within Krishna's creation and our relationship to the myriad of living species contained therein.
In order to practically comprehend our place within Krishna's creation, the fundamentals of ecology should be understood. Ecology is the study of how living entities interact with each other and the environment. To understand and respect the structure of the ecological arrangement is a crucial first step because we must be aware that every living entity from bacteria, earthworm and human being has an essential role to play in this drama called self-sufficiency. If any link of the ecological chain is broken the opportunity to develop self-sufficiently could be lost.
PRODUCERS, CONSUMERS & DECOMPOSERS
The defining manner of how living entities interact in an ecosystem is divided along the lines of food production and consumption. Either you are a producer or a consumer. The producer population consists of living entities capable of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process whereby plants use light energy, absorbed by chlorophyll, to convert carbon dioxide from the air and water into sugar. 1. This is the primary process of how energy is captured with these photosynthetic species being generally identified by their green colour.
On the other hand, consumer species derive their energy and nourishment from this same energy captured through photosynthesis, but either through ingesting the plant material (herbivores) or by eating the herbivores (carnivores and omnivores). The next component of this feeding arrangement are the decomposers (still consumers). Their meal consists of fallen leaves, wood and feces (detritus) and their form takes that of earthworms, fungi and bacteria to name a few. And when all of these various interrelationships are viewed together, it is labeled a food web. In reality this food web is incredibly diverse with many species playing a role and with countless numbers of individuals involved within each species.
The role of the decomposers is very important because with their assistance considerable amounts of energy and nutrients are recaptured and routed back to the producers. However at each step there is a certain amount of energy lost (second law of thermodynamics) so the further away one derives nourishment from a vegetarian diet, the less the amount of energy available and subsequently the smaller the size of population able to exist.
So to recap! The energy of the sun enters the ecosystem and a percentage of it (approximately 3-4%) is captured by the process of photosynthesis and this converted energy moves along the trophic (feeding) path to the subsequent levels of herbivores, carnivores and decomposers. During every exchange there is a loss of energy since each living entity requires such for their maintenance which is energy that cannot be passed onto the next trophic level. This is the reason that for every one hundred producers (as measured in biomass) there are ten herbivores and only one carnivore.
As the energy eventually reaches the decomposer level in the form of detritus this organic form of energy and nutrients are gradually recycled through a host of creatures, bacteria and fungi into an inorganic form which is then taken up by the plant roots and converted back into plant (organic) material. It is an odyssey with many twists and turns but not without great relevance to developing self-sufficiently.
SIMPLE LIVING & HIGHER THINKING
Therefore, in the design of our Krishna conscious rural communities, we must evolve a lifestyle that does not consume greater quantities of energy than that captured through the process of photosynthesis, including the energy recycled through our ecological trophic mandala. Our gardening, forestry and agricultural methods must maximize the ecosystem's photosynthetic propensities and encourage its recycling characteristics. In the development of our communities it is obvious that we will alter the biophysical environment in a way that it yields the greatest bounty in the form of foodstuffs to be consumed by our devotee and cow populations.
However, we must be diligent to encourage diversity in all plant, animal and soil life as it is a well-observed principle that this diversity provides ecological stability. If we disrupt too greatly the ecosystem's living diversity or follow a lifestyle bent on consuming or wasting inordinate amounts of energy, then we will be required to import energy in the forms of oil, electricity, fertilizer, etc. resulting in a lost opportunity for self-sufficiency. The irony of oil is that it is also organic matter, but of many ages past. So in any case, all our energy is being supplied either directly or indirectly by the sun through the photosynthetic process. The difference is that oil dependency is based in the mode of passion and ignorance and is therefore unsustainable; while a lifestyle based on simple living, higher thinking and respect of nature is situated in the mode of goodness and can be maintained (i.e. sustainable).
Permaculture advocate Bill Mollison stresses that ‘the characteristic that typifies all permanent agricultures is that the needs of the system for energy are provided by that system (my emphasis). Modern crop agriculture is totally dependent on external energies- hence the oil problem and its associated pollution.” 2. The pollution is caused by current society being organized around linear energy flows which neglect the natural cycling propensities of biological systems. We import immense quantities of energy which exceeds the local ecosystem's ability to consume and recycle so this excess energy transforms into pollution. Therefore it is mandatory that we design biological complexity into our communities' food production with the eventual goal of closing our borders to the import of energy and nutrients.
“However, diversity either of components or assemblies does not of itself guarantee either stability or yield. Where we maintain such diversity, as in our gardens, then this may guarantee yield, but if we leave our gardens, they will simplify, or simply be obliterated by non-maintained and hardy species adapted to that site (as is evident in any abandoned garden).
“Thus, our own efforts are an integral part of maintaining diversity in a permaculture system. Few species grown by people persist beyond the lifetime of those species if we leave the situation alone.” 3. Therefore the:
PRINCIPLE OF STABILITY
It is not the number of diverse things in a design that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between these components. 4.
So as we integrate various living entities into an ecologically-beneficial grouping (an assembly) we must concentrate on this principle of connectivity. Each living entity consumes and produces waste. However, we must be aware that what one considers waste provides another's feast. Our communities must be organized around this principle of the capturing and recycling of energy and nutrients throughout the ecological mandala since it is as integral to self-sufficiency as chanting Hare Krishna is to spiritual life.
To translate this into action will be the responsibility of the vaisya community. It will require the design of comprehensive crop rotations and polycultures; aligning our homes to the sun in temperate climates and ensuring they are well designed in order to capture the maximum amount of the sun's generosity; organizing our gardens and fruit and nut orchards in a manner that ensures high yields with the minimum of inputs; rebuilding and maintaining soils; catchment and responsible use of water; ox-power; development of alternative energy sources; composting; planting of windbreaks, and the list goes on and on.
It must be noted that self-sufficiency is an advanced stage of social development and cannot be achieved overnight. Rather, careful planning is required from the outset so that each new phase is built upon a solid foundation and intent upon the final goal. As we progress through the various stages of self-reliance our confidence and skills will blossom with each new victory. In the end we will have assisted Prabhupada in building a house in which everyone can live and prosper. It will demonstrate that our philosophy and religious process are valid in all areas of life and therefore must be considered the Absolute Truth.
1. Bernard J. Nobel, Environmental Science, The Way the World Works,
(Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1987), p. 27.
2. Bill Mollison, PERMACULTURE: A Designers' Manual, Tyalgum Australia: Tagari Publications, 1988), p.6.
3. Ibid., p. 32.
4. Ibid., p. 32