The Lost Treasures of Eden
By Arne Garvi, founder and executive director
of Eden Foundation
Whilst travelling through the Sahara in 1975, I came to a place in the middle of the desert where I observed a plant which fascinated me very much at that time although I was told that it was poisonous. I thought it was a pity, a plant growing out there in the sand in the middle of nowhere where nothing else seemed to be able to take hold. Imagine if it could give human food. The plant had a lot of fruits that looked like small balls or small melons and by the time I was there they were dry and very light. Some of them had blown further along the sand dunes and you could really see how the wind could take hold of these small balls and roll them along for many kilometers. There the fruit would crack open and disperse the 200 or so seeds inside. I was no agriculturalist but I could surely see its potential. It stirred my imagination seeing the vastness of the desert. You do not have to be a professional to comprehend the enormity of the Sahara, the gravity, the power of the desert. It also puzzled me how this little pioneer could stick it out in the middle of nowhere. It was mind-boggling and it teased me for many years to come.
It was not until 1980 that I got hold of an article by Dr. Norman Myers about the huge potential of 78,000 edible plants of which probably about 75,000 had never been used for human food. It confirmed my suspicions that there was a solution lying out there waiting to be used. We know from history that in times of drought and times of war, the poor people have been eating what is called poor man's food and it has seemed to be more healthy than the food of the rich. In France, the rich people used to add chalk to their bread to make it white while the poor people did not and I am sure they ate better. During the last war they gave prisoners potato peel soup which just happens to be the most nourishing part of that vegetable. In Sweden and Norway the poor people used to eat herrings which are also found to be one of the most nutritious fishes. It just seems like there is an abundant supply of this type of non luxury but very nutritious food and that the poor have a tendency of ending up with it. Plants that we in the Western world call weeds are actually the fittest to survive. Our lack of appreciation for these plants, many of them giving nutritious food without a lot of labour and chemicals, does not seem to me to be consistent with evolutionist philosophy.
In North Africa today, they eat the white bread from the French; the couscous is processed, probably losing most of its nutrition on the way; sugar is white and rice is also white. A good friend from Pakistan, when encouraged by us to start using raw rice said: "That it is not possible, it is not proper rice, it is not good enough." Another good friend of mine from the Middle East said when he saw bread made from whole grain that it was not properly baked. When I hear these things, I feel a sadness inside me. I also feel a sadness for my brothers and sisters from Europe who eat such an artificial food without raising questions, who live such an artificial life without even wondering how this could relate to the rest of the world. More intuitively, it is not difficult to see that the life style of the West is not something that can be shared by the whole world's population. Even if we in the West went down in life style, it might not really elevate the living standards of the Third World countries. So what is the solution? And is there a solution?
I belong to a generation that has become disillusioned. It used to march and believe in new slogans that were very simplistic - but not any more. Our news is filled with bad news. We love to read about crime, we love to read about corruption. We love to read about the tragedies of the world, but there is one tragedy that we do not really like to read about. That is the tragedy of so many people suffering in a time when we believe ourselves to be civilised. We do not really want to be reminded of this. But one thing I must say to the credit of the human population is that most people really want to do something for the poor. I do not know if they really want to give them their dignity back and as I usually say many of us want to send our money across the ocean, but we would not really like to have these people as our next door neighbours.
Why such a world view? Why are people seen as different? Well, it is not so much their colour any longer, but it is more the way they live and the way they think that we do not understand, their priorities and values. Sometimes we are bothered by the mere thought of them surviving a life without any material pleasures. It reminds us of something fundamentally wrong in our societies where people are jumping off roofs and killing themselves with needles, when people who do not even have the basic necessities of life seem to have joy and laughter, when crippled are happy and spread their joy, when the hopeless are full of hope and confidence and when we who should really believe in the future seem so disillusioned and have totally lost faith. Is the evolutionist thinking becoming devolutionist thinking? Are we really doubting the philosophy behind the survival of the fittest when many of the fittest animals or at least the most important animals and plants are dying out all the time? Is the theory of Evolution giving us contradictions in science and in daily life?
In the area pertaining to the Eden project, the theory of Evolution has brought forth faith in a few species and the improvement of these species into certain super strains. We believe so much in the power of man to change all the factors and control them and then get a good result. We change the environment to suit the plants and a crop might only give high yields when given large quantities of artificial fertilizers, sprayed with polluting and toxic pesticides and irrigated at critical stages of its development. This is a very labour intensive method of agriculture if we count both man and machine labour. It is also very costly for Third World countries and is it a real improvement? The issue is that the so-called super strains only do well when you can control the environment and controlling the environment means importing a lot of machinery and chemicals. These super strains are usually hybrids which means that they cannot even be reproduced by the local people for the next year's harvests. The seeds are actually only good for eating and the people have to import new seeds for sowing every year.
Now science wants to come up with a new super strain of humanity like a new Arian race. Just like Hitler, we kill the weak, the disabled, the old, the unborn and many times we allow the poor to die even when we have the means to help them. As the hair and the skins of the Jews became an industry for the Nazis, so we are presently making an industry out of the brains and other cells of the unborn for so called medical and cosmetic uses. Fetuses are offered on the altar of science to make us more fit for survival but that is not really by natural selection, is it? We spend enormous sums on making artificial hearts, which is quite telling in a time when so many seem to have a heart of stone. It really does not cost much to save a life in the Third World, and one's rate of success is much greater when the need is greater, in a time when success is so important. (Maybe we will have to redefine the word success though!)
Another thing that the theory of Evolution has brought with it is the faith in population control and this also pertains to the area around the Sahara desert. The only problem with this is that the Sahara is the place in the world which has most room for population increase. If we can just find plants able to grow in areas which today are uninhabitable, the population expansion will actually be a great advantage for stopping the desert. People will be able to move out and cultivate fringe areas of the desert with plants that can grow in these areas, so called Radical plants. This will give them a new foothold in the Sahara with the prospect of stopping it.
Furthermore, as these populations increase, they will actually pioneer the desert and that is why so many people are needed, not so many tractors or machines. The Eden project will not only make the survival of the fittest possible, but also the survival of the weakest. Infant mortality will decrease soon after a Dry Farming agriculturalist settles in a village. The main reasons for this is that the food will become more abundant and nutritious. Also the Dry Farming agriculturalist will be trained and able to treat basic maladies that every year kill so many of Africa's young, and we will have quite a population explosion!
There are forces in the West that want to see the reduction of the number of Third World people because they do not value them in the same way. There are many people today who do not have a right to live, especially the weak, and this is so much thanks to the evolutionist philosophy. Anybody has the right to live; the weakest, the handicapped, the blind, the lame, all of them. They have a joy and a happiness that many times are much greater than ours and Eden is not here to stop the population growth in the most depopulated area in the world but is willing to take the consequences and to be there to meet the peoples' needs when the population increases.
So many western aid agencies, influenced by the evolutionist philosophy, are suffering from a give and take policy, a double feeling of wanting to decrease the population growth and at the same time doing things that surely will increase the population. Also Darwinists get a double feeling, knowing that there isn't an increase in the number of the species in the world. This leads them sometimes to do their research in a devolutionist manner. We find this in the popularised trend called saving endangered species. This is a self contradictory thing for an evolutionist, and so also trying to save the people of the world becomes full of contradictions when wanting to decrease the population at the same time. In believing that these people aren't as valuable as the people in the technological advanced society, they often believe in some sort of nature's mechanism of disposing of its own. This is evolution's consequence and this is grave. This is not an attack on the theory of Evolution but on the philosophy behind it and the way that many Western agencies are influenced by it.
Once upon a pre-colonial time in a Sahel country, farmers used to save their grain for 3 years before eating it to protect themselves against years of drought. This practice disappeared with the arrival of the French. Now I think that you can see the heritage from colonialism in the French bread, the white couscous and the white rice. Medicines banned in the West are dumped on Third World markets. These countries are also being made dependant upon our breeds and super strains and we have actually made many of the people believe that they are necessary.
There are countries today in the Third World that are using a lot of money and energy on hybrids when they might as well get as good results from normal varieties within the species, so why aren't these researched more? Well one of the reasons is economic. The commercial seed companies cannot protect seeds that can be reproduced by anybody because there is no copyright on seeds, but in the hybrids the secret of their production is hidden, because they don't yield a consistent crop when reproduced on site. So coming back to the theory of Evolution, we can say that the evolutionists believe that you can take a few of the 78,000 potentially edible plants on the earth, namely 20 of them and improve them to become better than any of the plants that already exist, at the same time controlling the environment which usually means using immoral and costly means like poisons and toxins. Why create new super strains when the grain is burned in order to keep up the world market price? Why have nearly all the West's effective medicine got side effects? Why are so few funds spent on researching medicinal plants naturally occurring in Third World countries? Why, as an American magazine put it just after a nuclear accident, do we have to make a pact with the devil to be able to use nuclear energy? They went on to say that most of us are willing to pay the cost of that pact. Why is it that our search for a super strain of a bomb enabled us to get nuclear power in the first place. Without the bomb, mankind would never have been able to afford it, but can we really "afford" it? Knowing that our industries' pollution adds to the greenhouse effect, (increasing the worlds temperatures making it even more difficult to conquer the desert), we still feel proud of our progress. Our research has become synthetic. It has also become so money and fame focused. Researchers are withholding vital information about the AIDS virus from each other because there is so much money and prestige in developing an AIDS vaccine. French and American researchers are suing each other over who discovered the initial virus and thus owns the patent to the AIDS test, a $100 million annual market. Our lives have become synthetic. Our luxuries have become our basic needs. We take for granted what most of the world never will see except through the Western tobacco and alcohol advertisments.
We also know that species are dying out all the time, species of plants and species of animals, many times because of human abuse. Believing in Devolution does not make one disillusioned because the starting point is 78,000 plants. It gives us a positive and constructive sense of urgency about finding and utilizing key plants before they die out. Otherwise I do not believe that even the fittest of us will survive.
Now to breed a new super strain takes 50 years or so of intensive research. It is a much shorter process to find those of the 78,000 plants that are especially suitable for the arid lands of the world, and these will probably perform better under extreme conditions anyway. Devolution means that everything started from a high and has been slowly deteriorating ever since. So in our research it means finding these plants and the knowledge before it disappears. There are Tuaregs in the desert today who are radically changing their life style, but still are sitting there with a lot of knowledge that the West will never be able to get hold of if we do not hurry up. It could save 50 years of research. There is a need to respect these people and listen to them, get them to show us what plants they use and the way they use them, what ways they have used for survival and what they know about their environment. At least we need to get hold of seeds of all the species that are growing in the desert that have a potential for human food and start to reproduce them in quantities large enough for researchers to get to know these plants. Also the most promising of these should be made available for distribution en masse to interested farmers.
Now discussing the theory of Evolution and Devolution is not the purpose of this project or the purpose of this article. I would just like to explain why I am so positive about the potential for success and how Devolution is the positive way of thinking because it leads to positive action. Man is actually not in control of the environment and does not master it. He has to listen and be humble; listen to the people and listen to what the plants can tell us about their potential and their possibilities for solving the hunger problem of the Third World.
In the West the evolutionists have sort of come to believe in technological progress being the same as civilisation which is people becoming more human. They do believe we are all the same, but at different levels of development. This is like a hidden form of racism, for people of the Third World are left out because they are not able to develop their society in the same technological terms as we in the West, which many times, they do not really want to do anyway. It also leads to the faith that people before were not so intelligent, and that people in the Third World are not so intelligent. This racism is something I actively stand against. The people of the Third World have a different set of priorities. They see their treasures in the amount of human relationships that they have and time is not always equal to money. It is a different set of values. Now Nazism brought forth high technology but not civilization. It brought forth the so called survival of the fittest, of the strong, of those who loved violence and many so called weak people went under. Nazism believed in a certain super breed, a certain super strain of the human race and was very much influenced by the theory of Evolution. But physical or economic weakness is not something to be despised. All humans are important and every individual has as much value as anybody else.
We regret not being able to prevent the death of 6 million Jews during the Second World War but today there is a different kind of war going on in Africa, which is killing 5 million children every year, the war of sicknesses and famines. This is a war that we can win, it is a war that we can fight without hurting anybody, without killing anybody, rather the contrary. We are welcomed by everyone to go in there and help. It is up to the community of the world to do so. Nobody can do this by themselves, economically and practically that is impossible. Now through Nazism we can see that technological progress is not equal to civilization or humanism or whatever you want to call it. There must be other values in life and that is maybe why the poor man is so joyful, why the lame and the crippled laugh.
It is difficult to understand, but just as the rich never found the right food, they never seem to find the right values either. The worst thing we can do is to be contemptuous toward the poor and their lifestyle. Electricity will not solve their problems, neither will cars. The infrastructure that would open Africa for export and import will not solve their problems and it may never even become a reality. By enabling people to produce their own food, so retaining their intrinsic dignity, they are being given a chance not by being told what to do, but by being given multiple options in life. Nature is so rich that it allows us to choose different types of food and different ways of life and Eden will research this thoroughly. We will go into high technology to give a help that is as basic as possible and best adapted to local needs.
Well back to the melon in the desert, it is called a Colocynth melon. It is in the family of the water melon. It is supposed to be bitter, but there are rumors about the seeds being edible, and Eden is presently researching this. In 1986, travelling through the desert again, I saw loads of these melons growing in the most incredible places holding on to the sand and the dried fruits were being blown along the dunes.
Here in Zinder I showed a local person the melon and one day he came with several fruits from around the vicinity of Zinder and showed them to me and he opened one and he started eating it. Now it seems like this was a wild strain of the water melon, which tastes more like cucumber. The interesting thing is that the people here do not eat it even though it grows wild around the city. They do not even know that it is edible and through the last drought in 1984 when people were dying in the streets, they probably did not eat the melons. The reason they give for not eating it is that the flesh is white, not red. But they surely must have eaten it in pre-colonial times. It hurts me to see how people have been led behind the light to believe that the food of the West is better than the local food.
Zinder is not in a very good situation regarding the soil today, which is eroding. The desert is spreading at about 5 km southwards every year. It is possible to halt this process and plants like the Colocynth can turn the trend around. The interesting thing is to see that there are plants today growing right on the doorstep of the people who are hungry, that can actually feed them. It is for us with money, high technology and a conscience to research this, and to pass the information on to the local people in a cultural appropriate way. Eden does not want to research things and create theories, but wants to research things and create a practical choice for the people.
The world is at our disposal. Let us use it with respect and let us take of the solutions given to us so many, many years ago, before these solutions disappear and we are left crying for the poor. There is hope.
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