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How Ireland Banned Fracking – The Importance of Connecting Across Struggles

Global Frackdown 2017 – the international day of action against fracking – has a particular significance in the Republic of Ireland this year.  It will be marked by a huge party in Leitrim in North West Ireland – the centre of resistance to fracking in the country – celebrating the national ban on onshore fracking approved by the parliament on the 28th June 2017.

More on fracking

"Not here, not anywhere": Questions for fracking movements in the Global North

Democracy Center team members Philippa de Boissière and Thomas Mc Donagh were in the Irish Parliament to see the Bill finalised and were later able to sit down with eight people involved in different capacities in the Irish campaign. Our interviewees were Meg Rybicki and Lucy Maunsell from the North West Network Against Fracking; Nuala Mc Nulty, Eddie Mitchell, Scott Coombs, Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan from Love Leitrim; and Donal O’Kelly from Dublin-based NGO, AFRI-Action from Ireland. We discussed many aspects of the campaign and one of the things that came across really strongly in our conversations was the importance of connecting across struggles – a constant conversation in activist communities all over the world.

At a time when it has never been more urgent to prevent the expansion of extractive projects and with our dire international political moment placing renewed emphasis on local action, here we present some of the insight gained from these experienced campaigners about the role and importance of connecting across struggles generally – looking in detail at three examples of how these connections occurred in the context of the Irish campaign, and some of the general lessons that can be drawn for campaigns elsewhere.

Connection 1 – Down the Road – The Corrib

The Scottish moratorium

Interview with Callum McLeod, Our Forth, Scotland

”The first time the word fracking was used in Leitrim as far as I know” recounts Donal O’Kelly “was in the Glens Arts Centre when we showed Risteard O’Domhnaill’s documentary, ‘The Pipe’, and got a few of the people who’d opposed [Shell’s project in Mayo] to come over from Mayo to Manorhamilton to be there”.

After the documentary screening John Monaghan – who features in The Pipe – took part in a post-screening group discussion. When asked about some emerging news of potential gas exploration in the Lough Allen basin in the North West of Ireland, he said “if it’s gas exploration and they’re using hydraulic fracturing – fracking – you need to watch a documentary called Gaslands’.

St. Patrick’s Day parade, Sligo 2012. North West Network Against Fracking.

Monaghan wasn’t just speaking with the authority of a professional chemical engineer, he was also by now a well-known seasoned activist who’d been at the centre of one of the most controversial resistance battles by local communities against the fossil fuel industry in Irish history – The Corrib Gas controversy, about which ‘The Pipe’ was made.

According to Donal O’Kelly, looking back on the event, “if he hadn’t done that, it would have been months before the wheels were turning on resistance to [fracking]…in fact within two weeks a touring cinema was going around towns and villages in Leitrim showing Josh Fox’s film Gaslands and loads of people saw it.”

Although international connections were to prove vital to the successful campaign against fracking in Ireland, it was the connection to this struggle much closer to home that was crucial in not just raising the alarm, but also providing some hard won lessons about community organising and combatting the powers that be.

VIDEO: Risteard O’Domhnaill’s documentary beautifully captures the voices of the community members on the frontlines of resisting Shell’s plans to bring gas onshore to be processed in a remote rural community in the Corrib basin in County Mayo. The resulting conflict saw five community members spend 94 days in prison at the behest of Shell; witnessed police and private security repression and corruption, as well as the infiltration of activist groups by British police. It has also severely damaged and divided the local community. In the words of local resident and campaigner Willie Corduff “it will never be the same, never, never…it left a mark on the community that will never be healed.”

That initial warning from the Corrib campaigners about the prospect of fracking for those in Leitrim in 2011 was followed in 2012 with a meeting in a remote primary school in county Mayo between what Donal O’Kelly described as ‘the luminaries of the anti-Shell campaign’ – including John Monaghan – and a group of Love Leitrim campaigners.

The meeting was facilitated by Leitrim-based artist-activist Sorcha Fox. In O’Kelly’s words “it was Sorcha Fox who had been down at AFRI events in Rossport in County Mayo and got to know people and just said ‘I have to get these people together in the room so they know each other’.”

In the resulting five-hour meeting, in the words of Eddie Mitchell, ‘our minds were opened to a community much further down the track”. Here, Mitchell talks about the importance of that initial exchange between the Corrib/Rossport campaign and the Leitrim anti-fracking campaign and some of the lessons he drew from it.

Learning from this campaign that was much ‘further down the track’ was to prove invaluable. The lessons were myriad and diverse but included three major themes: coping with divisive strategies from without; handling internal division; and messaging and dealing with the media.

A. Divide and Conquer

One of the consequences of the hard fought Mayo campaign against Shell was the division and conflict sewn between members of the local community, and the repression brought to bear on campaigners by police and private security. Promises of ‘development’ and local jobs versus the desire to preserve local farming and fishing lifestyles pitted neighbour against neighbour. And when political avenues were exhausted, direct action tactics were employed to prevent construction works – that were in turn violently repressed, compounding the division and acrimony.

How a ban on metals mining was won in El Salvador

El Salvador – When The Seeds Of Resistance Bloom

Fracking campaigners were acutely aware of what had happened in Mayo and at every step sought to prevent the same thing happening in their communities. Here, Meg Rybicki and Lucy Maunsell, of the North West Network against Fracking, talk about the importance of the connection to the Corrib campaign (known as Shell to Sea) for them and share some of the ways that they incorporated the lessons learned into their own campaigning work.

One of the main reasons that fracking campaigners avoided similar major confrontations was because they weren’t defending a fracking site. Although southern campaigners were present when the threat of drilling was imminent at a site just across the border in Belcoo in Northern Ireland in 2014, there was never actually an identified site to defend in the Republic.  Nevertheless there were other ways in which they needed to show restraint, such as when the offer of €20,000 was made to local community groups by the corporation involved, Tamboran.

Eddie Mitchell again:

Meg Rybicki here comments on the way she handled the same issue:

“Luckily we’ve been told about how Devon Energy operated -the CEO of Tamboran started off at Devon Energy…they’ve got thousands of environmental citations against them. And these are the gold-plated, robust regulations he’s talking about”.  Meg Rybicki

B. Divisions Within – The Futility of Control

While ways of countering external tactics intent on splintering the campaign was an important part of the advice from the Corrib, managing internal campaign dynamics was just as important for our interviewees.

Campaign Poster – North West Network Against Fracking

Donal O’Kelly had witnessed the damage some of these dynamics had caused to the campaign in the Corrib. “With people being squashed under this fist of oppression coming down on them, it’s inevitable that this splintering happens..there is a certain generosity of spirit needed.” He goes on: “Some of the advice that came from the Corrib was not to “try to have one big organisation with a few people in charge – and when differences emerge, let it be and agree to differ…because in the resistance to Shell in the Corrib there were splits into different strands of how you do it, and some of them were pretty bitter, but it’s nearly inevitable that that happens.”

‘It’s inevitable that fracturing happens in community resistance campaigns’ Donal O’Kelly

In this clip Eddie Mitchell shares more of the community organising advice that came from the Corrib, including some reflections on managing splits in campaigns and what, for him, is an essential ingredient for successful campaigning: bringing as many people along as possible.

C. The Mainstream Media – Bias and Manipulation

A third, related lesson for our interviewees taken from the Corrib campaign was the role of the mainstream media in portraying the campaign in a negative light and perpetuating and deepening divisions.

According to Donal O’Kelly, “it was very hard for them to counter the whole media bias against them”. So much so that O’Kelly and others were involved in organizing a series of three major events called Airing Erris – all livestreamed to big audiences and focused specifically on calling out the media bias against the challengers to Shell in the Corrib.

Eddie Mitchell was very aware in the early days of the campaign about “all the bad PR they had got [in the Corrib] and people were already saying ‘that this was another Corrib’” – there was a reluctance on their part to be pigeonholed as protestors.

Here, Love Leitrim fracking campaigners Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan reflect on what they learned from the Corrib campaign and how they incorporated that in to their own campaign strategy, particularly in relation to the media. (RTE is the Irish state broadcaster )

Although the battle against Shell in the Corrib proved highly destructive, and ultimately failed to block gas coming ashore on North West Mayo, in terms of generating community expertise and experience that would then nourish the roots of nascent resistance campaigns elsewhere, it proved to be an invaluable asset.

Connection 2 – Jessica Ernst and the Warnings from North America

The connections between the Irish fracking campaign and both individuals and campaigns in North America were wide-ranging. Some of those connections that stood out most for our interviewees included: the work of Tony Ingraffea from Cornell University – mentioned as being both crucial for conceptualizing fracking and understanding what a solid prohibition must include; the work of Theo Colborn looking at the effects of benzine on public health was also highlighted; the visit to a small Irish town by Greg Palast – award-winning investigative journalist and author of Vultures’ Picnic – was remembered as important; as was the brave work of Dr. John O’Connor on exposing the health impacts of the tar sands in Canada.

Love Leitrim Marchers.

However, it was the connection with former industry insider turned anti-fracking campaigner, Jessica Ernst, that made the strongest impression on our interviewees. Her visits to Ireland and public interventions in the debate in key places at key times bolstered the campaign in important ways.

Turning Point

For Love Leitrim’s Nuala McNulty, there was a precise moment in the campaign, at a meeting in the Rainbow Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarn, when she felt an intervention by Ernst helped the campaign to reach a major turning point.

The importance of having somebody like Ernst with the authority of being a former industry player to convince certain sectors in the Irish political landscape was highlighted by several interviewees.

“That was a turning point in the campaign, we had all of the landowners on board after Jessica spoke”. Nuala McNulty

Local Organising.

McNulty also spoke about some of the advice she took from Ernst in terms of local organizing:

Lucy Maunsell reflected on travelling extensively with Ernst on her speaking tours and hearing the advice she gave in numerous locations, particularly on managing difficult campaign relationships and alliances.

“It’s such an attack on your being”. Lucy Maunsell

Both Maunsell and Rybicki also highlighted the importance of having as broad a spectrum of people involved in as broad a range of campaign actions as possible.

Public Health

One of the major contributions of both Ernst and other North American allies was to strengthen the emerging focus of the Irish campaign on public health.

For Eddie Mitchell “we became aware quite quickly that we needed to re-frame things from our point of view, and eventually we realised that our concern was a public health concern. Although there are a lot of environmentalists, people who think we should be talking about climate change and things like that – but our concern was really about the effect on our community”.

Scott Coombs of Love Leitrim talks here about the importance of the connections made with Ernst and the New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eilish Cleary in the context of re-focusing the campaign on the issue of public health.

The role of Concerned Health Professionals of New York was also highlighted by Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan in strengthening the campaign’s public health arguments.

“It wasn’t scaremongering….we’re going with what’s happening in other places” Jamie Murphy

Ernst’s interventions in the public debates as someone with industry experience, her advice in relation to community organising and campaigning, and the scientific research and quantifiable data on health impacts coming through from Ingraffea, Colborn and the Concerned Health Professionals were just some of the ways that the Irish connections to North America helped to strengthen the campaign and prepare the ground for the national ban.

As well as participating in the celebrations in Ireland to mark the Global Frackdown event, Ernst will also be speaking at locations in the UK this October.

Jessica Ernst returns to Europe for a UK Tour – October 2017.

Connection 3 – ‘The Australian Model’ – Annie Kia and Lock the Gate.

A third international connection highlighted by our interviewees was the one with Lock the Gate – the national alliance of grassroots groups resisting the coal and unconventional gas industries in Australia.

Annie Kia, a Lock the Gate coordinator, visited Ireland in 2013. Both her public presentations on her campaigning experience in Australia, and further research and study of ‘the Australian model’ of community organising, provided useful insights that were then incorporated into the Irish fracking campaign.

Meg Rybicki here reflects on some of the lessons learned, particularly in relation to the challenge of appealing to the wider public and the implications of this for messaging and working with the press.

“They had to realise that backlash could start…the media is so captured” Meg Rybicki

Finally, Rybicki and Maunsell went on to reflect on some of the creative actions they used to recruit supporters – always seeking to appear respectable and likeable, even when camped out at road-side protests.

As well as the three connections covered, there were also a number of other encounters organised by campaigners. They included representatives of mining-affected communities in Latin America, including the Conga No Va campaign in Peru; Nimmo Bassey talking about the destruction wrought by Shell in Nigeria; and family members of the victims of the Bhopal-Union Carbide disaster in India. As well as being inspiring and energising, our interviewees talked about how useful their visits were for sharing stories of resistance in much more difficult political contexts, and for flagging future threats.

Pre-election actions in Sligo/Leitrim. North West Network against Fracking.

Campaigns are complex and multifaceted and there are lots of things that make them successful, not least the persistence and determination of campaigners and the political environment they find themselves in. But what came across really clearly in this campaign was that the connections generated to other struggles contributed in very significant ways to the success of the campaign in Ireland.

At a time when activists and campaigners working on extractive and climate issues are constantly looking at how to make effective connections across struggles and build stronger movements, they provide us with some valuable insights into ways of doing this.

Until We Win

From what we’ve heard there a few things that stick out as being particularly important.

Communities that are further down the track in their campaign experience have a great deal of expertise. Oftentimes this expertise has been developed through hard-fought battles with incredibly powerful foes that have left their communities severely damaged. However that experience, when passed on to others, is gold dust to budding campaigners.

It is the direct contact between frontline communities that is most powerful. In the words of Donal O’Kelly: “I always think that that’s the crucial thing, to try to get people to meet, to talk…The truth and honesty of somebody’s testimony is really apparent in their eyes…that makes a deep impact in the listener…I think it’s the best way to learn”.  Sorcha Fox’ instinct right at the start of the fracking campaign that she had to get the Corrib campaigners in the same room as the fracking campaigners was a seasoned activist putting this important general principle into practice to great effect.

People coming from communities that were fracked, their advice was so different from the NGOs – Jessica Ernst told us that ‘Many fleas make big dog move’ -i.e. you need to have all those people doing all those little things.”  Eddie Mitchell

There are certain phases in a campaign when support and connections across campaigns are particularly important to steady the ship in the face of what Lucy Maunsell described as ‘the trauma of such an attack on your being’.  One of the major benefits of the international networks, according to Maunsell, is that “they can calm you down and tell you what’s happening and tell you what you’ve got to do – you need that because the oil companies have done this twenty times before and they know”.

Connecting across struggles is a powerful weapon against corporate spin and manipulation. Being able to counter the claims from multinational corporations of ‘gold standard regulations’ and ‘jobs and prosperity for all’ with evidence from experiences in other places was another important overall function of connecting across struggles, highlighted by our interviewees and put in to practice to great effect in the Irish campaign.

While NGOs can be allies, they can also be liabilities. Eddie Mitchell captured one of those liabilities succinctly: “the ENGO comes in and it is like a peacock. ‘I know about climate change and I know about this and that’ and then they give all of this advice and then they leave. They might come back in six weeks time but in six weeks nothing has happened. And that is the problem. You can’t build a house without having people there to build it.”  While Mitchell and others agreed that there is a role for NGOs in facilitating dialogue and exchange across struggles, he was adamant that they must also know when to step back and allow communities to develop their own capacities and resilience…”You can’t do anything for them, they have to build it”.

And finally, when communities do develop their own capacities, they are politicised for good.  In the words of Lucy Maunsell, “I’m educated, I can’t be uneducated….that’s the beauty if it…..We are like a standing army.”  This process of politicisation through participation in their own local campaign provides a well which can be drawn upon when the next local battle comes around, or indeed to support battles in other places from afar, such as the other communities (maybe in the global South) where Tamborin might move on to next.  This broadening of perspective and solidarity will be key to building the broad-based social movement we now so urgently need to push for a just transition away from fossil-fuels so that no community has to face such traumatic ‘attacks on their being’.

Thank you to the communities of Leitrim and Sligo and the activists of the North West Network Against Fracking and Love Leitrim for their warm hospitality and collaboration. 

Interview with Food and Water Watch Director Wenonah Hauter – connecting Fracking struggles internationally.

The US fracking experience, according to Food and Water Watch Director Wenonah Hauter, should be a cautionary tale for movements on the other side of the Atlantic. In a recent short interview before the presentation of her book in Ireland, we spoke with the internationally renowned expert on the importance of connecting struggles in different places and learning from examples of successful resistance in order to strengthen the anti-fracking movement in Europe and internationally.

More on Fracking in Europe:

Fracking with the Happy People


Video Conference – International Solidarity Campaign with the anti-mining struggle in El Salvador

Tools for System Change

Friends of the Earth, as part of Friends of the Earth Europe’s School of Sustainability, have produced a series of resources for campaigners to help them focus their work on system change. The resources are categorized into sections on Power and Privilege, People Power, Organizing Trainings and Events, Organizing Projects and Campaigns, Work on Local to Global Issues, Work together Sustainably. They include tools for facilitators, case studies, and diverse articles.

Creative Coalitions – A Handbook for Change

A useful handbook for activists, including chapters on How to Choose Where to Put your Efforts, Staying Behind the Scenes, Creative Tactics, and A Culture that’s Hungry for Impact.

This is a Handbook for people seeking to work with others to change the world. In today’s world, the injustices we’re trying to overcome, the progress we’re trying to realise – they’re too complex to bring about alone: you need other actors in your ecosystem to work well together; you need to overcome vested interests; you need to spark innovation.

This Handbook is to help you unlock effective collective action and secure the systems change that’s needed.’

Jam Facilitation Manual

From the Yes! international social change program. Not recipes for making preserves but a jam-packed (sorry) manual of ideas on facilitation when working with groups of young changemakers, from setting context to discussing power and privilege to what happens next.

“Those who participate in a Jam usually come hoping to find their next growing edge. With Leveraging Privilege for Social Change, they are often pushing the envelopes around power and privilege and their relationships to these issues. With World Jams, they are trying to connect the dots of various movements and issues, hoping to attain greater clarity and engagement in their work, while living more full and balanced lives.

To put it simply, a Jam embodies two core principles: uncompromised truth and unconditional love. A Jam is, above all, a place to be real, to take off masks, to speak one’s truth, and to be fully oneself. Simultaneously, a Jam is a highly appreciative space, where compliments and love are given freely and received with dignity and gratitude, and where the intention is towards healing, learning and growing honest, healthy relationships.”

(Follow the link for the free version of the latest manual on Google Drive, or to order a hard copy. You can also download the 2010 edition.)

More on Yes! Jams and see here for the list of current/upcoming Jams


This toolkit from the Australia-based The Change Agency contains a unique and indispensable collection of more than 1,000 resources for activists and organizers including workshop tools, case studies, articles, and signposts to many other organizations.  

You can explore particular themes such as ‘strategy’, or build your own toolkit by collating and searching specific terms as a group. Highlights include the extensive People Power Manual.

The Change Agency also runs the ‘Community Organizing Fellowship’, plus their website carries lots of great guest content – such as this review by Amanda Tattersall of Rules for Revolutionaries, the book about organizing the Bernie Sanders campaign in the USA in 2016:

“Take the “Rule” – “the work is distributed, the plan is centralised.” This is an argument for highly coordinated campaigns. That makes total sense in an electoral context where you have one objective – a candidate’s win – over a whole nation. It makes no sense, however, when it comes to running the climate movement. Climate issues don’t operate at a single scale – they run from the neighbourhood, to the state, the nation, the global and to corporations– all have potential targets and there are thousands of potential, integrated campaign strategies. If you “centralised” climate strategy you would risk losing many of your leaders (at best) if not totally pissing them off.”

If you’re curious about the Sanders campaign and where it went after the election, also check out ‘These Bernie Alums Think They’ve Found the Secret to Reaching Trump Voters

How to…Get started with campaigning

A handy little guide from UK-based Global Justice Now, a veteran of campaigns and organizing and which has its own network of local action groups. This is one of a series of Activist resources available from GJN.

Make sure each meeting has a purpose: use it to plan something new; do something practical during the meeting; invite a speaker for part of the meeting; show a film or have a social”

This guide was a collaboration with two other UK organizations – Common Weal and Campaign Against the Arms Trade

Structure of a Movement

This is a visualization tool on how movements work from the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) in the UK. It asks the following questions about how the roots of movements function:

1.Common values and principles: what guiding principles do we use to align our different struggles and ensure that we’re meaningfully tackling the root causes of the issues on which we work not just symptoms?

2. Unifying narrative: what story gives us the courage to transform society together?

3.Shared strategy: as a movement, of all the fights that we could pick, where should we be focusing our energy right now to make the most impact given the current context?

4. Active Liberation: we will only have a just movement capable of winning if we look like the society we’re trying to build – how are we cantering the voices of those most marginalised?

5. Strong leaders: if leadership means empowering others, how well are our movements doing at this?

6. Capacity: how do we build the resources we need as a movement needed to take on the fights needed from people to money or institutions?

This is just one of a host of Resources from NEON, which include a power and privilege guide, the Lumen open source group discussion platform, a systemic campaigns framework, and reading lists on things like leadership and neoliberalism.

Saving Water – Saving a Way of Life

Stories of Inspiration and Resilience from Argentina to Peru

by Lydia Caudill

I am an agricultural activist who steers away from the “NO” campaigns (‘Stop this’ or ‘No more of that’). I find strength and much more potential in fostering change by dedicating my energy to the “YES” people and causes, those that are successfully experimenting with diversifying and democratizing their agricultural systems – and I’ve committed myself to sharing their stories so that others can be inspired as well.

With this in mind, one year ago I bought a bicycle and began preparing for my journey home, from Paraguay to the NW United States. I’m giving myself two years to be on the ground, closer to the pace and the people who are producing the food for South America. I want to understand better what’s going on down here.

A home for the night, in front of a farmer’s house in Peru
A home for the night, in front of a farmer’s house in Peru

As an undergraduate student doing research, the challenges of small-scale farmers were always portrayed in such a dry and academic way. I wanted to see small-scale agriculture actually at work, befriending and working next to the farmers who are living this reality. With this driving force I picked up a camera, immersed myself in a teach-yourself- to-edit program, and am now sharing farmers’ stories from the view of my saddle.

I’ve now been cycling for nearly six months, through Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and am now in Peru. I’ve milked cows, butchered goats, harvested corn and quinoa, and celebrated birthdays and closures of community projects. I’m just starting to identify patterns. One of the emerging narratives that I hear from farmers explains why so many are leaving their farms and communities: WATER. The lack of water, disappearing rivers, contamination and the changing weather patterns. The older generations share their memories of how now-empty fields were once so full of farmers that there was no free land to be found. I am amazed by how many of the people I talk to, even those who speak a limited amount of Spanish, are powerfully and consciously using the term “climate change” to explain the altering state of their world.

I had read about climate change, but to hear it spoken about over and over again with frustration by farmers who just want to continue their lives in their homes, has been profound. The responses to it I’m finding have been even more inspiring. Watching their communities disappear, individuals are getting motivated and making changes.

Water projects in Vitichi, Bolivi

In a community with 200 houses, historically very agriculturally based, the disappearance of its river is not a priority on the national level. However, watching 85% of their graduating youth leave for cities is a concern at a very local level, and Vitichi has decided to address it.

A Vitichi youth showing me his goats
A Vitichi youth showing me his goats

In recent years, water had depleted to the point that many households only had water for about a half an hour a day, or every other day. The community and the municipality all agree that climate change and being downstream from the large mines in Potosí are the causes of their disappearing water. Individuals organized and found funds for two major projects: one is a water harvesting project and the other a water treatment project.

Water is now pumped in from a spring 6km away, doubling the quantity and improving the quality for the town. The people also value this resource so greatly that they prioritized being able to process the water and release it clean, back into the river for the communities downstream from them. The capital city of La Paz may not have a water treatment program, but Vitichi does. As it is a recently completed project with an eye towards the future, they are hoping that this improvement will give the younger generations pride in their community and reasons to stay. Here is a link to the video documenting a bit of their story.

Doña Trinidad of San Antonio, Aiquile, Bolivia

While walking through the streets of San Antonio, I asked people how they were doing and many responded, “We would be better with water!” The last five to ten years have seen tremendous, extensive drought, cutting their growing season in half and sending many people looking for jobs in cities. Doña Trinidad lives in a community of 40 houses and it is currently a disappearing community. After my time spent in her home and working with her in the fields, I saw in her an incredible potential for the future of San Antonio. Not only is she overcoming gender discrimination by having risen to be president of a local producers’ cooperative, she is passionate about educating herself and others.

Doña Trinidad has participated in any and all workshops offered to her by various organizations and is well versed in climate change and its effects on her community. She has participated in organic agriculture and international bee-keeping conventions, and women’s leadership development workshops. In her own words, “This information is an inheritance to me. I will share it with my children and grandchildren…. And I will share it with the other women in my community that have not had a chance to learn.”

Doña Trinidad in her tomato field
Doña Trinidad in her tomato field

The workshops and conferences have given her information that she has taken home and uses to better manage her farm and its production. I saw technologies new to her being experimented with, such as clay pots to water her trees. By using porous clay pots semi-submerged underground, moisture is pulled in the direction that it is most needed, effectively eliminating wasted run-off and evaporation, efficiently using every drop. It also requires less frequent monitoring and watering (this is a fantastic link for more information). She did an experiment with two trees planted side by side; the tree with this clay pot was twice the size of the tree planted at the same time and with a traditional bucket watering system.

With a shared larger vision and through their continued education, she and her husband are also saving money from their small budget to buy a drip irrigation hose, which uses less water by slowly and more directly watering the plants’ roots. This will further save the limited water they have. They see no other way and are adapting to the changing world around them.

Doña Trinidad and her husband Don Lionsio, who has supported her and her education along the way
Doña Trinidad and her husband Don Lionsio, who has supported her and her education along the way

Luis de Amaicha del Valle, Tucuman, Argentina

Lydia standing over the dried river bed
Lydia standing over the dried river bed

Luis is another community leader who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my travels, and he shared his vision with me. He is of the original people Amaicha, and told me the story of his ancestry and his land. In a valley high in the Tucuman province, his people flourished for hundreds of years with an abundance of harvest and animals. The introduction of the Spaniards and mining in their region changed the landscape, most notably by deforesting their valley for use in those mines. Hundreds of years later, trees have not reforested the valley. Within the last 50 years, the community has seen their river run dry. As the reducing flow slowly receded up the valley, Luis said his people followed it and left the land as well, until it was completely vacant.

Until recently that is, when their community started drilling for water. Luis moved back to the land five years ago, and he and his community have since developed a cooperative to manage the well, lowering the price of the use of water and improving general maintenance. After nearly 50 years of his community being separated from their ancestral land, the last five years has seen a shift in the opposite direction; 27 families have already moved back to their land and 50 more are on a waiting list, wanting to first have their access to the water confirmed. The community intends to take advantage of their cooperative structure and use it to collectively sell their products.

Luis holding his corn, next to the irrigating water canal that his pump made possible
Luis holding his corn, next to the irrigating water canal that his pump made possible

What impressed me the most was a still greater vision. Luis had heard of communities all together changing their regional climate, such as Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Prize winning reforestation project in Kenya, The Green Belt Movement. This reforestation project brought jobs to people by offering agro-forestry projects, and has actually increased the rainfall in the area. Hearing about the success of another people that were on the verge of losing the strength of their community, Luis and his own people are organizing themselves to create a foundation, with the intention to reforest their valley as well. With this they hope to be recognized on a new level and seek support. They hope to fully bring back their people to their land. Luis spoke to me of this vision with a conviction and an assurance that it will happen. He told me that the river will run again, the trees will hold moisture, the grasses will grow strong, and he and his neighbors will be able to pasture their animals as they traditionally had for hundreds of years.

Lydia in Tucuman, Argentina
Lydia in Tucuman, Argentina

This trip across countries has been an inspiration to me. It is teaching me about resilience in a way I had not imagined. Of course, I’m personally developing a resilience of my mind and body, as I pedal through valleys and mountains. That is such a little thing in comparison to what I have seen from these farmers. These families are watching the weather patterns around them alter, which makes a difficult gamble of a job even more challenging and risky. Many have left their land for the cities. But many others have stayed. These farmers are experimenting with how they can adapt to their new reality and they crave new knowledge, techniques and technologies to continue to live the life they’ve always led, and that they want their children to continue living. This is the resilience that has hopefully taken root in my own life, one that I can take with me and spread to those around me, as we all are learning to adapt to the changing world and climate around us.

PedalPlowLogo-finalLydia Caudill is from Washington State, where her interests began with her parents and their own work in agriculture. She has worked with African refugees in farming projects, as a Peace Corps Paraguay Agricultural Volunteer and on various small-scale farms. She is thrilled to have created a project that combines her passions cycling and food sovereignty and is excited to explore what lies ahead in her path. Lydia is thankful to her Pedal and Plow team for helping make this project possible in the meantime.