Saturday, February 26, 2011

Food culture [Bayan Ulgii SEAL Project 2011] v1.0

Draft 1.0 of presentation to be used as teaching aid to facilitate learning module on Food Safety and Food Security.

The objective is to equip students with a basic technical understanding of causes and risks to food safety, as well as an understanding of how microbial life can also act as an aid to preserve crop harvest.

This theoretical session will be followed up immediately with a practicum on creating using lactobacilic fermentation to make sauerkraut, safe bottling and storage techniques, and basic food safety procedures in the kitchen.

image: Mongolian Permaculture 2010, we ate this.  I'm not kidding.  see for yourself here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ulaanbaatar departure

Ice crystals dance & shimmer in swirling eddies through the dry, achingly cold air.

The dirty sweet smell of burnt coal dust freezes to the inside of your nose, while the sun blazes through the filmy haze which coats Ulaanbaaar at the end of the Mongolian winter.  Minus 13C days are a far cry from the dusty-hot 30C days of only 7 months ago - it is one thing to talk about the harsh colds of the steppe, quite another to experience it - and the locals tell me it is warming up to Spring!

photo: view from the 'Happyness Hotel' (Voyager Hotel)

The smokey hotel room from which I peer out into the cold feels like home, and I can still vividly remember how luxurious it felt to come back to last year, compared to the spartan (but cozy) ger accommodations in Tosontsengel and the Gobi.  Even the Monty-Pythonesque breakfast shenanigans are comfortingly homely; I don't bother to order because I will be brought whatever the cook feels like making, usually a fried egg, a couple pieces of fried baloney-like sausage, and a salad (garnish) of cucumber or tomato, or both if i'm lucky.

I am waiting for my hosts to pick me up in our brand-new-used 4WD, which has spent the morning being registered, insured, and having new tires swapped in, before we begin the long trek west to Bayan Ulgii; funding was only cleared yesterday for the procurement of our vehicle.  [Special note of thanks here to the Canadian Food Grains Bank, who has generously provided the majority of funding for the Bayan Ulgii SEAL project].  Our support team is determined, have already proven to be resourceful, and are all itching to get started.

photo: friable, unfrozen topsoil full of organic matter

Discovered a minor miracle yesterday, which still astounds me: despite the pervading subzero freeze, the patches of soil underneath the conifer saplings growing in front of ADRA's offices are friable, unfrozen, and full of organic matter.  And here I was, scratching my head about how we were going to find enough un-frozen soil to build a demonstration compost heap during the course - this discovery bodes well and suggests that we should be able to find the resources in Bayan Ulgii to build one, despite the harsh conditions.  Time will tell.

photo: passive solar greenhouse growing vegetables year-round in Ladakh
photo credit:

Another minor miracle yesterday: the Technical Coordinator of the NGO Groupe Energies Renouvelables Environnement et Solidarités (GERES) caught wind of our blog, and invited us to visit their Passive Solar Greenhouse Research & Development Site on the outer districts of Ulaanbaatar (thank you Anne!).  They are working in partnership with the group Caritas France, and are developing passive solar greenhouse designs adapted for the extreme Mongolian conditions, with a target of building 180 greenhouses in the next 2 years. 

Our team is excited about exchanging ideas & resources with this project, because extending the short growing season with solar-passively heated greenhouses will greatly support food security initiatives throughout Mongolia ...and the possibility of growing crops year-round - without having to burn more precious fuel to keep the greenhouse warm enough - could be a game-changing advancement. 

Stay tuned.

Regenerative business v1.0 [Bayan Ulgii SEAL Project 2011]

Draft 1.0, 'Fundamentals of Regenerative Business' learning module for SEAL Project 2011.

This session will be taught to Heads-of-household Beneficiaries and ADRA-Mongolia Field Staff, to lay the foundational understanding of creating and running a business which strengthens its community by cycling energy and money into its local markets.

Concepts are presented and explained via slideshow & lecture, then will explored and discussed during subsequent group activity, in which students will design their own Self-Help Group or Credit Co-operative Enterprises.

The final version will be translated into Russian, as the Kazakh residents of Bayan Ulgii are fluent in this language from 'Socialism Times' (as locals refer to the Soviet regime).

image: Permaculture Principles applied to Business Fundamentals.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Passive solar greenhouse design: Bayan Ulgii v1.0

Slideshow designed to use as basis for session on passive solar greenhouse design.

Hand-drawn images are based on student designs from Mongolian Permaculture Project 2010.

Other images selected from Ladakh to show passive solar greenhouse design successfully operating year-round to minus-25C. Students will apply design principles to explore & discuss what can be improved in these designs in order to adapt to harsher Mongolian conditions.

Glass and plastic bottles are available as waste products that are thrown away in the soum; examples of greenhouse, coldframes and cloches made from repurposed waste plastic bottles are shown.

Finally, images of existing greenhouses in Bayan Ulgii are shown, to be used as a class design exercise exploring 'What is working / What isn't working / How can the design be improved?'

Final version will be translated into Russian language, as most residents of Bayan Ulgii are literate in Kazakh, Russian, and Mongolian languages.

Click here to view presentation on Slideshare.

SEAL Project, Preparations: Ulaanbaatar

photo: Bok Choy gone to seed in ADRA's office plot

Springtime in Mongolia: minus 10C days, minus 20C nights.

Most crops we know in the West will not yield a quality harvest below minus 9.4C(i).  This is only one of the many challenges facing food security efforts in Monglia.

photo:  hands coated with sooty coal grime after harvesting the seedstalks.

A filmy haze of smog glazes the otherwise clear sky above Ulaanbaatar as the sun stubbornly persists in blazing through; temperatures are noticeably lower in the buildings' shade. 

As I navigate the crowded streets, the massive coal-fired power plants we passed on the way into the city center from the airport relentlessly belch clouds of grey smoke, the smell of which mixes with diesel fumes from car exhausts, and burning plastic waste from the ger stoves of Ulaanbaatar's ever-expanding outer settlements.  The rocky sidewalks, which we so carefully picked out way across during the summer, give me grip in the snow-turned-ice which has been trampled into the streets. 

The lush green hedges and trees now stand bone-white, or grey, buds tightly coiled on their branches awaiting warmer temperatures to burst forth again.  It is easy to talk about minus 40C temperature extremes when you are in the midst of summer, and marvel at people's ability to survive such extremes, but to begin to experience what that actually feels like is quite something else - and locals tell me that it is actually quite warm out today. 

I am out of breath just walking from my hotel to the expat cafe where I type this entry, rugged up in 4 layers + a hardy, Swedish-army-issue jacket that feels like I am wearing a dead animal hide turned inside-out; it's 1,500m above sea level in the capital.  Meanwhile, the locals are enjoying the springtime sunshine, strolling briskly without hats or gloves, squinting and smiling into the sun while kids wrestle and laugh on the steps of their schools, waiting for parents to pick them up.

This is a land full of contrasts: blazing sun / cold temperatures; brand-new Hummers pausing for nomads clad in traditional deels (trenchcoats) crossing the streets; street-hustlers hawking wares to suited businessmen; multi-million-dollar mining deals being negotiated in bars while street kids crawl out of manholes outside to survive another day...

In two days time, we will be headed out to the westernmost settlement of Mongolia, nestled in the valleys of Bayan Ulgii province, home of the ancient Kazakh Eaglehunters.  These are some of the most resilient people on the planet, who have learned to live with the harshest forces of nature around them, and while my employer is confident that I have some information to share which will help them, I am sure that there is more for me to learn here than I could ever hope to teach.

photo: Bek and great Eaglehunter Mr. Saylaukhan, utilizing Bayan Ulgii's Biological Resources...

Bek(ii) and I had long conversations last night about what we hope to accomplish in the next 27 days - 'Sustainable Economic & Agricultural Learning' is quite a mouthful, and quite an ambitious goal to achieve in so short a timeframe - so we wrote our introductory speeches to the class:

" 'To educate' means 'to draw from', which means that we are here to help draw out the knowledge & intelligence that each of you has, so that we can share & support each other in learning & growing together.   

As your Instructors, we will function more like Guides, helping you to understand things from new perspectives, giving new information where necessary and drawing from your own knowledge, to help you build a strong foundation to continue your learning journey.

None of us is smarter than all of us."

If we can leave our students nothing else but the mindset and inspiration to ask themselves, and each other, the right questions: 'What worked?  What didn't work?  How can we improve?', than we will have made a positive impact.  And along the way, if we can equip them with a new baseline of skills, knowledge, and perspective, than we might just spark a regenerative cycle of innovation and self-directed, collaborative learning - which can spread organically, virally... and hopefully infect inspire a movement towards securing personal sovereignty and security, in the face of increasing global adversity.

Changing the world begins at home; wherever your home may be.

Wish us luck.

endnote references:___________________________________
(i) 'The Winter Harvest Handbook', by Elliot Coleman

(iI) Tilyeubek Ye, Food Security Director for ADRA-Mongolia

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pattern literacy: Bayan Ulgii SEAL Project 2011 v1.0

Photos and imagery of local examples provide discussion points to explore how pattern literacy can be utilized to inform the design process.

View the complete presentation here.

The Myths of Globalization, Business and Money - Part I Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.

"Everything works both ways." — Bill Mollison

Let’s take a closer look, and explore how we might apply this fundamental attitudinal principle of permaculture to some of the words permaculturists are quite emotional about, and may use frequently in our journey to live happier, healthier, sustainable lives in alignment with our guiding ethics of Earth Care, People Care, and Resource Share.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sustainable Agriculture and Economic Learning (SAEL) Project 2011

...and some background information about SAEL, as described by ADRA-Mongolia, the NGO facilitating the project:

This project proposes an integrated approach to establish food security in one of the poorest and most remote urban capitals in the country, Bayan Ulgii Province. Mongolia has an extreme continental climate, with temperatures ranging across the country from minus 45C in winter to plus 45C in summer. The summer growing period is very short (90 to 120 days for unprotected crops). Traditionally Mongolians have relied on livestock-based agriculture. During the transition from collective socialism to a market economy in the 1990s the agriculture and food industry virtually collapsed. This challenge was exacerbated by three consecutive winter disasters (dzuds) in 1999, 2000 and 2001, when 7.6 million animals (one third of the national herd) died. Mongolia experienced another dzud in the winter of 2009, and over 7.2 million animals died (16% of the national herd) by April 2010. Mongolians experience food insecurity due to seasonal fluctuations in food availability, unemployment and a higher cost of living. There are two difficult periods for food security – between August and October (late summer before harvest) and between March and May (the spring months when both food and employment are scarce). Vegetables are almost impossible to secure at a reasonable quality and price during these times.

Bayan Ulgii province lies in the extreme west of Mongolia, some 1,700 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar.  The province is an ethnic enclave, as the population are predominantly Kazakh.  Kazakh speak their own language and have their own distinct religious beliefs, but otherwise share important characteristics with the Mongolian majority, especially in that they are dependent on nomadic pastoralism as their fundamental livelihood. Under the Soviet period of domination the province was intentionally underdeveloped. Despite efforts by the present government of Mongolia to improve the standard of infrastructure and services in the province, the geographic and cultural isolation of Kazakh Mongolians continues. The combination of linguistic difference and geographic isolation mean that UN and NGO engagement in the province is very limited, despite the fact that Bayan Ulgii is regularly at or near the bottom of the national index of human development indicators.

In the provincial centre, many households (HHs) are by necessity engaged in subsistence living.  Limited employment opportunities in small businesses exist, but overall there are minimal opportunities in Ulgii.  Rate of vitamin A deficiency and anemia among pregnant and lactating mothers are the highest in the nation, at 27 percent.  Similar deficiencies are noted for Vitamin D and iodine. Agricultural activity is among the most limited in the country, with only 6,600 MTS of produce harvested every year across the whole province.

Food insecurity, poor health and nutrition in Ulgii is based on a near constant lack of employment and as a consequence limited circulation of money.  Many residents have no access to their own food and are therefore reliant on purchasing food to meet their basic needs.  As many HHs can only afford the cheapest, lowest quality items on sale, this exposes HHs to food safety risks.  ADRA maintains excellent relations with the local government and is among a very few NGOs which have Kazakh speaking staff in Ulaanbaatar, and as such is uniquely placed to implement projects in the province. 

via GoogleMaps: Ulgii soum, Bayan Ulgii province, Outer Mongolia

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Climate change, vegetable gardens, and sustainable design in Mongolia | The Sustainable [R]evolution

Over thousands of years, Mongolian culture has adapted to their land in a way that has, in turn, reshaped their landscape. The nomads’ herds have gradually nibbled away at the edges of the conifer forests that at one time would have covered the endless hills, until the trees at last retreated to their remaining, precarious holds of today: mostly along the steeper erosion gullies, where animals cannot easily graze. As you drive through the landscape, it feels as though you are tearing around a giant golfcourse, complete with massive sand bunkers and epic water hazards.

However, what looks to be an immaculately manicured golf green from a distance, is in fact an optical illusion of hardy grasses, herbs, and the occasional shrub growing at arm’s length from each other in the sandy beige soils; anywhere the pasture loses its grip on the land, it is likely to be washed away with the next heavy rain. These pastures of the steppe cling tightly to the sandy soil, and as you move further up into the foothills, erosion gulllies twist and wind their way down to the river flats, cutting wide sandy banks that look like beach sand dunes, revealing just how precarious their grip on the landscape really is...

.. click here to read the full article, an excerpt from the upcoming book 'Sustainable [R]evolution', to be released Spring 2012.