Living Soil Saves Lives!

Founders of the American non-profit organisation The Hummingbird Project, Marilyn McHugh and Chris Kennedy, delivered a talk on the topic "Beneficial Soil Microorganisms" at Giri Institute of Development Studies on 8th October 2013. The Hummingbird Project strives to empower communities devastated by industrialized, chemical farming to regain control of their food supply. In their lecture, Chris and Marilyn spoke about the importance of microbial life in the soil, its role in enhancing soil fertility and how the indiscriminate use of chemical inputs on farms obstructs this process by destroying soil life.

They also shared their experiences of travelling around India, conducting 'Living Soil Workshops' in farming communities. In these workshops, they tell farmers about about the diversity of soil life and how soil microorganisms create conditions conducive for the growth of plant life and how in turn plants help fertility-enhancing microbes thrive. They emphasize how preserving this intricate web of dependencies is key to creating soils which are fertile and productive. Through the use of microscopes they allow participants to see first-hand the stark differences in the levels of microbial life in soils which have been treated with chemical fertilizers and those which have been cultivated using organic methods. With an understanding of soil microbiology and specific methods of making compost and compost preps, farmers are given the skills needed to regenerate their own soil and increase fertility.

A husband and wife team, Chris and Marilyn are a dynamic duo with the perfect combination of experience; Chris is a schoolteacher and Marilyn is a biologist. They can be found digging in the dirt side-by-side in East Africa, India, and throughout the United States, where they lead an ongoing series of successful permaculture training courses.

In 2010, the newlyweds left their jobs to take a yearlong round-the-world honeymoon. Halfway through the trip, in East Africa, their lives were changed forever after they volunteered on several development projects and discovered a passion for service. Since then, they have been devoted to assisting and empowering individuals in resource poor locales. In 2012 The Hummingbird Project was officially granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status in the United States.

Recently, Chris and Marilyn have collaborated with environmental hero, Dr. Vandana Shiva, and her organization Navdanya. Together, they established two Living Soil labs for her organization and provided training to hundreds of farmers and farmer trainers in the process. This experience shed new light on the necessity, urgency and demand for such training.  Their collaboration with Navdanya, along with several other Indian NGOs, has allowed them to personally train over a 1000 people about organic farming methods in 7 different states across India including Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

Farmer suicides claimed the lives of at least 17,368 Indian farmers in 2009, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Since 1997 it is estimated that between 125,000-200,000 farmers have taken their own life. While the numbers are debatable the cause is not. Genetically Modified seeds, costly pesticides and high water requirements have placed all farmers just one failed crop away from economic ruin. The Hummingbird Project believes that a transition back to natural organic farming methods is the only way out of this crisis. This begins by regenerating our soils, which have been rendered lifeless by decades of chemical use, which goes against the natural processes which give soil its fertility and life-bearing potential. THP works with farmers, trainers, gardeners, students, development workers and government officials, helping them better understand the biological and chemical processes of the soil and training them in methods which will help preserve and nurture the natural fertility of soil. This results in increased productivity, lower input costs, greater levels of self-reliance and sustainability and a more ecological way of growing food.

Their previous work in East Africa included establishing composting systems, beekeeping and educating about Permaculture at Daraja Academy in Nanyuki, Kenya. They helped construct kitchen gardens at Family Spirit Orphanage in Masindi, Uganda and facilitated sustainable meat production and gardening in conjunction with the Green Warrior Program in Abim, Uganda.

Several distinguished citizens attended this talk of Chris and Marilyn at Giri Institute of Development Studies, including Dr Surinder Kumar, Director of Giri Institute of Development Studies; Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at BHU Indian Institute of Technology; Shobha Shukla, former senior faculty of Loreto Convent and Executive Director of CNS; Surabhi Agarwal, MTech from IIT-Kanpur and editorial coordinator of The Movement of India and Sachchi Muchchi; among others.

Citizen News Service - CNS
October 2013