Regreening the planet – (VPRO documentary – 2012) – John Liu


vpro documentary

Published on May 14, 2017

Regreening the planet looks at the profit that comes from the recovery of ecosystems in Spain, Egypt and India. Restoring ecosystems does not only generate ecological profit but also economic. In Regreening the desert, the makers of VPRO Backlight showed that the greening of deserts is very well possible. They followed the American-Chinese cameraman and ecologist John D. Liu.

He filmed how an inhospitable dry mountain area as large as the Netherlands was transformed into a lush green oasis. The greening caused not only ecological recovery but also economic growth of the region. Since then, John D. Liu has traveled the world to inspire people in other countries to follow this example.

Dutch ecologist Willem Ferwerda was inspired by Liu and decided to work together with him. This cooperation has grown into a new organization, Commonland, a foundation with a clear mission: to restore the ecosystems on a large scale worldwide. The point of departure is that restoring landscapes not only yields ecological profits but also money, work and hope for the people living there.

We can see that this works in Egypt: in 1977 Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish SEKEM, experimented to green the desert at Cairo. In 2014, SEKEM has grown to be the leading supplier of ecological products in Egypt and far beyond. Dr. Abouleish has built not only a flourishing business in the desert but a complete community with schools and their own medical and cultural facilities. A better proof that greening and social innovation go hand in hand is almost impossible to find.

That all areas can grow alive, even if they are completely eroded by erosion, also appears from the special story of Indian Jadav “Molai” Payeng. When he was 17, he worked for a replanting project in Assam province. After the project was completed and the other laborers had disappeared, he decided to continue propagating wood by hand. Now, Molai forest is 300 acres and populated by elephants, Bengal tigers, deer, rhino and numerous birds. Payeng is also called The Forest Man in India because he has been able to create a jungle singlehandedly.

That is something that Spain might well use. Large areas in Spain are dry and abandoned due to misused agricultural subsidies, unintentional water and land use and large-scale erosion. The population is turning its back on the countryside and moves to the cities, but there is also unemployment there. In Ayoo de Vidriales, a graying village in the middle of Spain, agricultural engineer Pedro Alonso Fernandez has begun to recover land. He wants to show that the Spanish silted and eroded soils are in fact Green Gold.

Originally broadcasted by VPRO in 2012.
© Backlight 2012

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