Caring for the Earth, Transforming Lives:
Linking Faith and Natural Regeneration
World Council of Churches, Geneva
12 May 2023
On 12 May 2023, IEF President Arthur Dahl represented the International Environment Forum at a full day workshop on Caring for the Earth, Transforming Lives: Linking Faith and Natural Regeneration hosted by the World Council of Churches at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, and online, in partnership with Right Livelihood and several other sponsors, with about 200 participants of different cultures and faith traditions from around the world. The workshop explored the role that religions and faith communities could play in addressing climate change and the loss of nature from the perspective of the rural poor, small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples who suffer the most.
The initial focus was the approach developed by Tony Rinaudo in Niger and other semi-desert parts of Africa on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration while he was there for many years as an agriculture specialist and Christian missionary. Rinaudo, from Australia, had been inspired by the work of Richard St.Barbe Baker, the Baha'i forester and founder of Men of the Trees. After many failures in attempting to replant trees in the desert, Rinaudo realised that, when a tree was cut down, its roots often survived and reached deep down to groundwater. By carefully nurturing and pruning a few sprouts, the tree could gradually be restored, which cooled and changed the local climate, and allowed other vegetation to grow as well. Farmers could learn to do this themselves, see the desert turn green again, reestablish food production, and build a better future. This has now been adopted over millions of hectares in Africa.
One panel, on science and faith-based voices, explored caring for the Earth together, learning from deep traditions like those of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that maintains forests around their churches, drawing on the realities and expertise of local communities, Earth trusteeship, and linking livelihoods, sustainability and faith. Another panel shared case studies of agro-ecological communities, with youth perspectives from South Africa, tribal women in North-East India, regeneration in the Niger Delta, community resilience in the Pacific Islands, sustainable yogic agriculture in India, and Baha'i experience from 'Abdu'l-Baha's village and Richard St.Barbe Baker to FUNDAEC in Colombia and youth restoring fisheries in Vanuatu (by Arthur Dahl). There were discussions to share personal experience, and to explore wider cooperation among faith organisations to respond to the urgent need to regenerate and green the Earth in response to climate change and biodiversity loss. The experiences shared empowering local people were very close to those of the Baha'i approach to social action.
Last updated 12 May 2023