Revelations of Nature

1 Heritage economies

“ … It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve its prosperity; how many planets will a country like India require … ?” Mahatma Gandhi, when asked if, after independence, India would attain British standards of living. 

He also said “ “We are inheritors of a rural civilization. The vastness of our country, the vastness of the population, the situation and the climate of the country have, in my opinion, destined it for a rural civilization… To uproot it and substitute for it an urban civilization seems to me an impossibility.

Fig 1 Business creation associated with a UK World Heritage Site

The UK has a dynamic rural economy beyond farming.  Nearly half a million people work on farms. The total income from farming in the UK is over £5 billion. But while agriculture shapes the rural landscape, it is a minor component of the contemporary rural economy. Rural areas support about half a million businesses, mostly unrelated to farming. These are mainly small and micro enterprises that employ about 70 per cent of the workers in rural England. This figure compares with the 15 per cent of the rural workforce employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Social enterprise is a sector growing in importance, as more communities choose to run their own pubs, village shops or other key facilities. Overall, the Gross Value Added from rural areas of England is worth around £400 billion.  Aggregating all activities of England’s heritage sector yields the following macroeconomic contributions: Total estimated GVA contribution to the UK’s GDP of £13.1 billion in 2016, equivalent to 0.75 per cent of UK`s total GVA. The heritage sector in London generated the largest GVA contribution of £3.7 billion in 2016, accounting for 28 per cent of the total heritage sector in England. The South East accounted for the second largest GVA contribution with £2.2 billion. While the heritage sector in the North East had the lowest GVA contribution of £444 million in 2016. Total estimated employment of 196,000 in 2016, equivalent to 0.67 per cent of the workforce of the entire UK. London alone accounted for 41,000 workers in the heritage sector in 2016, followed by South East with 32,000 workers. The North East had the lowest employment with 8,000 heritage workers in 2016. 

In 2018, The British Council produced a report exploring the notion of using cultural heritage to develop an Inclusive growth economy for the future of developing countries.  Inclusive growth means working inclusively with and for all levels of society in order to reconcile the divide between economic growth, and rising poverty and inequality. By working inclusively with communities and wider society the British Council believes that an economy can be grown, that benefits a far wider cross-section of the community, and works to reduce the gap between rich and poor.  This will involve new and innovative ways of encouraging people to engage with, share and manage their rural cultural heritage as an educational/leadership contribution to the local economy. Thereby, quality of life can be improved, value can be created for craft communities, and economic prosperity can be more fairly distributed across urban and rural society and between nations.  

Cultural heritage in this context is used to mean many things, from the built environment through to cultural traditions such as music, gardening and language. It also includes artworks, manuscripts, monuments, archeological sites, oral traditions, festivals, the performing arts and traditional crafts. The British Council’s report was couched in terms of a growth economy. However, all the current major problems of society and their underlying causes can be traced to the conventional way in which the world, and humans’ role in it, are viewed.  We are in ecological crisis. Climate change, over-consumption and inequalities in the use of Earth’s renewable resources compel us to reinvent our economic life on a much more local and regional basis balancing rurality and urbanisation. We also have to forge a global steady-state economy that is socially, ecologically and economically sensible and that locally is ecologically sustainable?  

Claudia Múnera summarises the principles of biocultural heritage in a steady state economy as follows:

 “Protecting the biosphere comes down to making sure enough ecosystems around the globe maintain their structures and functions. A strong appreciation of biocultural heritage is a key to doing this job, especially in the face of pressures from ongoing economic growth. Local economies in which people maintain a sense of place and a sense of their ecological and cultural limits provide an alternative, resilient model to the infinite growth paradigm”.

According to the International Institute for Environment and Development, some 370 million indigenous people in the world depend directly on natural resources — they rely on their local biocultural heritage for survival.  Ecological economics is essentially a rethinking of this fundamental relationship with our natural resource base. It is a working out of the implications of a new way to manage our lives and our planet so that we become embodied in Nature as a process of self-education This perspective is the basis of education for sustainability where the outcome is an awareness of the learner’s greater self in the grand scheme of things set within a cosmic heritage of  time and space. In other words, education for sustainability has to develop new models of humanistic education that bring species evolution, and our part in it, into our environmental thoughts and acts with a sense of wonder. Technology-mediated instruction strategies have been found to be effective in skill acquisition of reading, writing, communication, collaboration, and negotiation. Examples of technology-mediated pedagogies that embed people in Nature are appended to this document..

Embodiment in Nature is all about feeling our own symbiotic relationship to Earth’s natural resources and ecosystem services where both heart and brain can understand the movements of our fellow creatures We are as one with the planet.  We are interconnected with the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we walk upon. Earth and our survival depends upon the ability of future generations to ensure a steady supply of resources from global ecosystems in which we express our greater selves as committed conservationists for carbon-neutral, one-planet living.  Biocultural heritage also influences religious beliefs, sense of place (especially sacred places), and sense of self. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the tangle of connections when considering the biocultural heritage of a good or a service. But an astute observer can recognize that other goods and services, such as medicinal plants, tourism, or even health services, also flow from managing a rich biocultural heritage.

Therefore in  these days of climate change ‘biocultural heritage’ is a useful all embracing concept because heritage is about relationships between people and the natural environment, including biological resources, from genes and fossils to landscapes. Biocultural heritage also draws attention to the use of natural resources in the context of human history, from practices to pools of knowledge about the way humans shape their surroundings for survival and vice versa.  Cultural evolution involves changes in ideas, knowledge, morals, minds and technology within society

2 Things that will change

Fig 2  An educational  mindmap developing the concept of change

.All things evolve with time and must be fundamentally understood by their history, their biological evolution as well as their cultural development. The 6th Century Chinese Philosopher Confucius writes;

“Study the past if you would define the future. .. Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart. .. I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there. .. If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand”. (Confucius, Analects)

As technology is rapidly changing the world around us, many people worry that technology will replace human intelligence. Some educators are concerned that in the near future, as technology takes over, tasks and abilities that we have been teaching our students for decades. Education will never disappear. It will just take up different forms. Here is a list of nine things that elearningindustry says will shape the future of education towards 2050.

  1. Diverse time and place.
    Students will have more opportunities to learn at different times in different places. eLearning tools facilitate opportunities for remote, self-paced learning. Classrooms will be flipped, which means the theoretical part is learned outside the classroom, whereas the practical part is taught face to face, interactively.
  2. Personalized learning.
    Students will learn with study tools that adapt to the capabilities of a student. This means above average students shall be challenged with harder tasks and questions when a certain level is achieved. Students who experience difficulties with a subject will get the opportunity to practice more until they reach the required level. Students will be positively reinforced during their individual learning processes. This can result in positive learning experiences and will diminish the amount of students losing confidence about their academic abilities. Furthermore, teachers will be able to see clearly which students need help in which areas.
  3. Free choice.
    Though every subject that is taught aims for the same destination, the road leading towards that destination can vary per student. Similarly to the personalized learning experience, students will be able to modify their learning process with tools they feel are necessary for them. Students will learn with different devices, different programs and techniques based on their own preference. Blended learning, flipped classrooms and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) are important elements within this change.
  4. Project based.
    As careers are adapting to the future zero growth economy, students will adapt to project based learning and working. This means they have to learn how to apply their skills quickly to a variety of situations. Students should already be acquainted with project based learning in high school. This is when organizational, collaborative, and time management skills can be taught as basics that every student can use in their further academic careers.
  5. Field experience.
    Because technology can facilitate more efficiency in certain domains, curricula will make room for skills that solely require human knowledge and face-to-face interaction. Thus, experience in ‘the field’ will be emphasized within courses. Schools will provide more opportunities for students to obtain real-world skills that are representative to their jobs. This means curricula will create more room for students to fulfill internships, mentoring projects and collaboration projects (e.g.).
  6. Data interpretation.
    Though mathematics is considered one of three literacies, it is without a doubt that the manual part of this literacy will become irrelevant in the near future. Computers will take care of every statistical analysis, and describe and analyse data and predict future trends. Therefore, the human interpretation of these data will become a much more important part of the future curricula. Applying the theoretical knowledge to numbers, and using human reasoning to infer logic and trends from these data will become a fundamental new aspect of this literacy.
  7. Exams will change completely.
    As courseware platforms will assess students capabilities at each step, measuring their competencies through Q&A might become irrelevant, or might not suffice. Many argue that exams are now designed in such a way, that students cram their materials, and forget the next day. Educators worry that exams might not validly measure what students should be capable of when they enter their first job. As the factual knowledge of a student can be measured during their learning process, the application of their knowledge is best tested when they work on projects in the field.
  8. Student ownership.
    Students will become more and more involved in personalizing their curricula. Maintaining a curriculum that is contemporary, up-to-date and useful is only realistic when professionals as well as ‘youngsters’ are involved. Critical input from students on the content and durability of their courses is a must for an all-embracing study program.
  9. Mentoring will become more important.
    In 20 years, students will incorporate so much independence into their learning process, that mentoring will become fundamental to student success. Teachers will form a central point in the jungle of information that our students will be paving their way through. The teacher and educational institution are vital to academic performance.

Added to this list is the future need of an outcome that embodies humans with nature’s production.  The process of embodiment is described by Jamie McHugh in his essay,

‘Embodying Nature, Becoming Ourselves’, as follows. 

“We are elements of nature: our soma and psyche are reflections of the planet. This relationship between the inner and outer ecosystems is key to any discussion about ecosomatics. Many conversations about ecology, with all of the doom and gloom statistics, often overwhelm people with despair. It is hard to hold a space for hope when fear arises. Returning to a direct sensory encounter with the natural world, though, can awaken a powerful passion and connection. As a faculty member at Tamalpa Institute, I have been taking groups to Point Reyes National Seashore for the past 20 years and have witnessed this in action. As we go to the beach each day, we open our senses and re-organize our civilized bodies to creatively embody our primal nature. Breath, sound, touch, movement, and stillness are the preverbal somatic languages of the organism. Their use creates the inner conditions for spontaneous responses to the outer environment. I can feel my breath, my solidity and fluidity, and am aware of the universe in me. I know where I am so I can give over to nature. The somatic elements give the organism security to abandon habit and try something new. Alternating between eyes closed and open, the inner meets the outer, and all of it becomes a resource for response”. 

Many would say the embodiment with nature as a process of self-education lies in new approaches to humanistic education to bring species evolution and our part in it into our environmental thoughts and acts. Embodiment in nature is all about feeling our own symbiotic relationship to our world. We are interconnected with the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we walk upon. Our Earth and our survival depends upon our ability to protect global ecosystems in which we express our greater selves. Examples of school projects for self-education to embody studenrs in nature are outlined in Appendix 1-2.

3 Our greater self

Fig 3 The starting point for creating a personal body of knowledge 

 In the future a great part of learning will be to satisfy some level of curiosity and learning occurs naturally when there is curiosity. This means that people will be motivated to learn and will acquire much more knowledge when the drive comes from within rather than from outside sources. Building a personal body of knowledge becomes an adventure and capabilities are expanded each time something new is learned. Whatever the technology brings to bear, the  greatest change in the outcome of future education systems will be the development of the learner’s greater self. Humankind has evolved within Nature and a greater self ultimately depends upon a wider but finite Nature for survival. Until we understand what we are as humans, i.e. what living matter is, and how we are connected ecologically to the universe, from the Big Bang to Earth’s solar system, it is impossible for humanity to evolve deep cultural knowledge to live in harmony with Nature. As the ecologist Freya Matthews writes;

“What is wrong with our culture is that it offers us an inaccurate conception of the self. It depicts the personal self as existing in competition with and in opposition to nature. …..if we destroy our environment, we are destroying what is in fact our larger self”.

This larger self is a product of a cultivated sacramental imagination that allows us to see beyond the physical to contemplate the tangible mental realities that surround us conveying something of deeper meaning and purpose. This is an incarnational perspective of the world and human experience, which runs wider than religion.  Our sacramental imagination moves us beyond signs and symbols to the deeper spiritual meaning conveyed by everyday experiences, situations, objects, and persons. These deeper spiritual meanings have been called “revelations of secular grace” and connect us firmly with the survival strategies of all living things. 

In Christanity, grace is believed to be a divine influence acting within a person to make the person morally strong. For the non-believer, secular grace defines grace as the expression of a mental capacity to integrate the various components of an experience; the human with the non human, the physical with the mental, the unconscious with the conscious. 

Secular grace is not regarded as an expression of the divine.  Attaining secular grace is a mental process of creating a personal body of knowledge triggered by an object or place that fulfills the very human need to experience connection, belonging, awe, wonder and most of all love. The attainment of secular grace asserts human worth, dignity and rights and attempts to ethically follow all the implications from these assertions. It expresses a prescription on how to live life well and thrive as a human being in all of its diverse expressions.   Corixus has produced a series of microblogs exploring the attainment of secular grace through art at  Arts and culture provide intangible value to society; they transcend monetary values just as they transcend history. In a future clouded with economic and environmental uncertainty, subsistence endeavors such as the crafts should feature more prominently in society as we move towards a steady state economy with more time to build a deeper links between culture and ecology.  Hopefully, the pervasive notion that the arts need to be assigned a monetary value in order to be legitimized will be seen as quite simply misplaced in a future perspective of living well with less stuff. 

In a zero growth decluttered economy It is the responsibility of both the artist and the average person to understand the socioeconomic contributions of the arts. Understanding and enjoying the arts is a lifestyle choice that will sometimes require us to step away from the television and into art galleries, music and dance halls, places of worship, and libraries. The process has the positive side effect of building stronger relationships and communities. Not everything we experience will be perfect but that’s part of the adventure to build a greater self because every once in awhile we will come across something that changes our perspective a little. And there’s never been a better time to start thinking, seeing and doing things a little differently.   In this connection, the main goal of this blog was to verify how the activation of different socioeconomic roles (traditional or non-traditional) and different values placed on natural resources (utilitarian or aesthetic) may be reflected in financial and consumer choices.

As early as 1948 The Indian philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti proposed:

 “Because we do not love the earth and the things of the earth but merely utilize them…we have lost touch with life…We have lost the sense of tenderness, that sensitivity, that response to things of beauty; and it is only in the renewal of that sensitivity that we can have understanding of what is true relationship.”

In his essay, ‘On Nature and the Environment’ he eloquently explains how ‘true relationship’ is brought about by knowing how our inner world of thoughts and emotions is inextricably linked to the outer world of humanity and the environment.  According to Ken Winograd, what is distinctive to the Krishnamurti pedagogy is the patience to allow time for awareness and sensitivity to places to grow, and for senses to become alert and attuned to quietude, intricacies, the tiny and delicate as well as the vast and awesome. We are very aware that through no fault of teachers, such patience is in short supply in the condensed, fast-paced world of many schools..  .  

4  Seeking grace with other species

Fig 4 Biodiversity in the Cambrian seas 

In search of grace

We are in an age of environmental instability requiring new forms of economics, radically efficient methods of production and cheap renewable energy.  In addition to practical action, a significant global change toward sustainability needs a new account of human identity, and a fundamental shift in our sense of who we are in relation to the planet that sustains us.  Life began its evolution some 2-3 billion years ago and it is possible to see this story as one of human irrelevance today; the outcome of random physical processes on a small rocky planet circling a minor star in an insignificant galaxy. Or we can see that human emergence, with reflective consciousness and intellectual, emotional, aesthetic capabilities are an outcome of an evolutionary, self-generating universe. Peter Reason in his book ‘In Search of Grace’ takes the latter view.


“We are part of the community of life on Earth, an aspect of the universe aware of itself, reflecting on itself, and celebrating itself. In this view, the human presence brings both enormous creative opportunities and alongside these substantial threats to the well-being of life on Earth. Part of the problem is that our reflective consciousness is so thoroughly self-absorbed: our interest and attention is focussed almost exclusively on ourselves and those close to us. At our best, we may feel part of a fellowship of humanity or a human family. While our understanding of evolution and ecology tells us that we are also part of the community of life on Earth, we rarely feel that in our bones or our hearts. However much we may assert that we are all part of the same universe, that we are part of the evolution of life on Earth, we still find it difficult to overcome a sense of estrangement, of otherness”.

Our greater self expands from our beginnings as animals without backbones that took the evolutionary leap that birthed the first fish-like vertebrates in salty coastal waters. Fishes first appeared as shallow swimmers around 480 million years ago and stayed in the shallows for about 100 million years, diversifying into many different forms. Here, a selection of illustrated ancient fishes is shown.  An illustration of what the sea creature Tiktaalik may have looked like.Tiktaalik bridged the gap between sea living and land living creatures, and played an important evolutionary role on our journey to becoming human.

Bivalves and corals

Our journey from coastal waters began during the Cambrian period around 500 million years ago. At that time, along with the fishes, lived corals and marine molluscs.  The latter two groups live on today largely unchanged. They are still part of our greater selves and require nurturing. 

Amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds evolved after fish. The first amphibians had a lobe-finned fish ancestor about 365 million years ago. They were the first of our vertebrate ancestry to live on land, but they had to return to water to reproduce. It is in a context of 500 million years of Earth’s history that this blog exemplifies the attainment of secular grace through a biocultural project that addresses the very human need to experience connections with animals which long ago shared a marine community with us, all of which humanity is currently driving towards extinction.  The animals chosen to establish these connections are the bivalve molluscs (clams) and hard corals. These groups are getting closer and closer to extinction whist we fret over climate change, which our growth economy is driving relentlessly towards a global disaster.

The time perspective is that molluscs have inhabited the Earth for over 500 million years. They first appeared in the Mid Cambrian, about 300 million years before the dinosaurs. A small bivalved fossil, Fordilla troyensis Barrande, from New York State is the oldest known bivalve dating to about 540 to 570 million years ago.  

Evidence for the recent decline of bivalves comes from the harvests of soft-shell clams along the coast of New England, where the shellfish are embedded in the regional food culture.  Soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria), also called “steamers” or “longnecks,” are one of the northeastern U.S.’s most sort after seafood items, delighting shoreside diners in fried clam rolls, clam strips and clam chowders. But the nationwide harvest fell to a little less than 2.8 million pounds (1.2 million kilograms) of meat in 2016, the lowest total since 2000, and there are new signs of decline in Maine which produces more of the clams than any other state.  Government regulators there say clam harvesters collected a little more than 1.4 million pounds (0.64 million kilograms) of the shellfish in 2017 the lowest total since 1930, and less than half of a typical haul in the early- and mid-1980s.

Corals are also around 500 million years old. Evidence from fossils suggests that they started as simple, solitary organisms but, in response to changes in their environment, later evolved into the colonial coral reefs we know today. Although corals first appeared in the Cambrian period, some 535 million years ago, fossils are extremely rare until the Ordovician period, 100 million years later, when rugose and tabulate corals became widespread.  

Now a fifth of the world’s coral has died in the past three years. There is now just half the amount of coral that was in the oceans 40 years ago. The northern third of the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than a third of its coral since 2015.

Our cultural interaction with fossil coral, found today as geological deposits of limestone, is exemplified by the industry of Nelson Fisk, who was Vermont’s lieutenant governor from 1896 to 1898.  He was the owner of a quarry on Isle La Motte, in Lake Champlain. Fisk limestone was loaded onto boats and floated down the lake to the Hudson River and points south, where it was used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and, in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Art, among other structures. Stone from the quarry was covered with odd swirls and blotches, and therein lies a strange tale of geology, climate change and the history of life on this planet.

The “flaws” in the stone are fossils, evidence of sea creatures of stunning antiquity, some dating back nearly half a billion years, when the only existing animals lived in oceans. And what incredible animals they were! There was coral, of course, but also large, tentacled ancestors of squid; trilobites, arthropods related to horseshoe crabs; and spongy, cabbage-shaped animals called stromatoporoids. Indeed, Isle La Motte, which is some 175 miles from the Atlantic Coast, is the best place to see one of the oldest coral reefs on earth.  When the reef began to form, 450 million years ago, it lay in warm waters in the Southern Hemisphere. It thrived there for about five million years. Some 250 million years later, rotating tectonic plates deposited the fossilized reef where it is today. Other parts of the reef, which originally stretched a thousand miles, can be found all the way from Newfoundland to Tennessee. But it is in Isle La Motte where the reef best opens itself to scientific study.


How the vegetable kingdom first emerged on Earth and became established is mysterious. Plants have been evolving for many hundreds of millions of years.  One of the oldest fossils of any living form appears to be a microscopic single celled plant, trapped in a type of black chert rock in Swaziland, Africa, and reckoned to date back over three billion years. A simpler colonial relative of blue-green algae is dated at 2.8 billion years. Flowering plants suddenly appeared approximately one hundred million years ago towards the latter half of the Cretaceous Age. Now, we take it for granted that plants are essential for maintaining our ecosystem, for producing oxygen, and providing the primary human food source in a vast chain to which all humankind belongs.

Across the globe, and particularly in tropical regions rich in biodiversity, in villages, on farms, in homesteads, forests, common pastures, fields and borders, it is women who manage most of the semi wild plant resources that are used by humans. This means that women have the greatest local plant knowledge and are mainly responsible for the in situ conservation and management of useful plants, whether domesticated or wild. The simple explanation for this is that, throughout history, women’s daily work has required more of this knowledge. Globally speaking, it is women who predominate as wild plant gatherers, home gardeners, plant domesticators, herbalists and seed custodians. In several world regions and among many cultural groups, they also predominate as informal plant breeders and farmers. 

In many cultural and economic contexts, local wild and cultivated plant varieties are considered to be ‘minor’ resources, secondary to major staple crops and forest products; women are also seen as ‘minor’ actors, secondary to men who are presumed to be the knowledge holders, managers and preservers of most plant resources that are thought to be ‘valuable’, particularly to outsiders. However, because most plant biodiversity use, management and conservation occurs within the domestic realm and because the principal values of plant genetic resources are localised and non-monetary (use values and cultural values), they are largely invisible to outsiders and are easily undervalued.

With respect to the British Council’s Kenyan heritage project, the banana may be singled out as a significant plant of home gardening that played a substantial nutritional role in the early settlement of West Africa and is therefore an important part of the country’s food heritage to express engrained human attitudes towards plants that give agency to plants.  We first need to explore the philosophical underpinnings of our varied relationships to flora. This need is especially evident in the branch of ecological philosophy known as ‘environmental aesthetics’. 

Flowering plants as human companions have been represented textually and visually with vocabularies inherited from the appreciation of artistic objects. Plants have been objectified, dismissed or aestheticised in representation, depending on their adherence to traditional ideas of beauty. A more enlivened writing about plants emerges from new conceptualisations of the human perception of flora. The act of writing itself becomes a form of enquiry into the human-plant relationship, particularly in relation to the idea of plants providing a show. 

Ethnobotany is the study of relationships between people and plants in different cultural contexts and inside the framework of biocultural ecology where both natural and cultural dimensions are thought together. From a theoretical standpoint, ethnobotany is mainly based on the comprehension of the local botanical knowledge that guides the people’s actions regarding to plants, e.g., the selection of plants to cultivate or consume. In a methodological sense, the knowledge guides diverse actions (discourses, practices), and through analyzing these actions, it is possible to reformulate the knowledge that generated them.

Applying these principles to the context of showy plants, we might ask: Why we consider that a plant is ornamental? What botanical knowledge allows that consideration? What effective actions trigger that knowledge? What meaning have these plants in people’s lives? And also, in a reflective sense: What meaning have ornamentals for the ethnobotanists? What is the place of ornamental plants in ethnobotany?

Read more:

Appendix 1 Sisterhoods for crafting economies

Fig 5  Jaipur Rugs Company wins Eropean product design award for ‘Artisan Originals’ design by a rural home weaver

Human communities are microcosms of economic survival in which people can express themselves creatively in the context of the local biocultural heritage.  It was in these social microcosms with local natural resources such as wood, fibre and clay, that ideas and practices of craft permeated the very fabric of everyday life in the nineteenth-century and were central to professional and personal masculine identities As a material category, craft encompasses a diverse range of objects, produced within or outside of the art academy or studio.  Made singly or collaboratively, craft objects as artifacts were used to express both public and private selves. Indeed, craft provides a compelling metaphor for thinking about how masculinity was itself ‘made’ On the other hand, household crafts were created in the domestic sphere by a wide range of women in both Britain and America. In recent times, the changes occurring in the social roles of women and men have taken centre stage in political discourse. Traditionally, the dominating social role of women was as housewife, and that of the man was focused on work and family maintenance. Nowadays, the social role of women is evolving in the direction of taking a profession, while increasingly men are taking care of the household.  Although sometimes neglected by historians and viewed as frivolous and oppressive by some feminists, household crafts played a very important role in many women’s personal lives, and also played an important social role in family and community. They provided women with a form of self-expression, gave women more opportunities for social activities outside the home, and increased women’s social influence as educators in morality and science, and as contributors to the arts. This is the basis of modern sisterhood in the developing world, which can be the foundation of an inclusive local growth economy.

Women, who make up half of the world’s population, have benefited more than men from the progress in economic and social development in the last three decades.  Gender equality is a goal in its own right but also a key factor for sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ajectory by world leaders in 2015, embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and leaves no one behind. Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each of the goals.  In this trajectory the economic goal has to be a zero growth steady state planetary economy.

Numerous social and anthropological studies have investigated gender in art and aesthetics. To narrow the area of study, the relationship between crafts and gender (especially women) has been widely studied in worldwide anthropology and social sciences literature.  Such work indicates that cultural heritage, in its widest sense (as a sector, physical space and intangible practice), can be the mainstay of an economy that is inclusive and sustainable if approached in a person-centred, creative entrepreneurial way. The British Council believes that this approach can particularly benefit emerging economies, which otherwise risk excluding individuals and communities from society and the economy.  An initiative in this direction to promote Kenya’s cultural heritage has been launched by the British Council. The British Council Kenya Country Director Jill Coates introduced the ‘Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth’ two-year pilot programme, which is being rolled out with local partners in the country.

“The programme aims to promote both social engagement and a wider understanding of the key role that Kenya’s diverse cultural heritage can play as a valuable contributor to economic growth, stimulating tourism, creating jobs and enhancing the investment climate,” Coates said.  In addition, Ms Coates explained that the programme will offer seed grants and skills training to individuals, groups, communities and organizations which are working in creative enterprises in order to support cultural heritage, in the fields of music, film, fashion, crafts, gaming and performing arts.

Kenya was chosen for this pilot programme because a demonstrable need for the initiative was identified along with there being opportunities for strong partnerships.  The British Council has the capacity and infrastructure on the ground to deliver the programme in a people-centric way. Columbia and Vietnam have also been selected for the pilot programme which is designed to promote local cultural heritage as an important contributor to social cohesion and economic growth across all levels of society.

As a follow up to the 2018 launch, a British Council survey looking into how Kenyans engage with their cultural heritage was released on the World Day for Cultural Diversity, May 21 2019.  The overwhelming majority, 98.8%, of the 519 respondents agreed that it was important to preserve Kenya’s cultural heritage with over half, 53%, agreeing it was important to do so because, they said, ‘it defines us’.  But while Kenya’s cultural heritage sector boosts economic growth by supporting creative industries and the people working in them, only 1.7% of respondents recognised this. More regular cultural events throughout the year was the most popular solution to improving engagement with cultural heritage, with 60% of people opting for this choice, while 34% thought a single major annual cultural festival would be the best way for people to engage more deeply with it. 48% of people wanted cultural heritage added to the school curriculum. (People were able to give more than one answer to this question which is why the percentage rates exceed 100.)

The sample survey is part of the Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth programme, known as #CultureGrows, run by The British Council through its East Africa Arts programme, in close collaboration with partners Heva Fund, Book Bunk Trust, Chao Tayiana, writer and Founder of African Digital Heritage, and Mount Kenya University in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most people surveyed said they engage with their culture primarily through parents or grandparents, and then through the media, museums, cultural events (fashion shows, music concerts, etc.), and finally through libraries and schools. Oral traditions and language emerged as the most highly valued part of Kenya’s cultural heritage closely followed by music and dance. 

Architecture and artefacts together were in third place, a fraction ahead of those saying that Art and Photography was the part of culture they value the most. In fifth place it was fashion and national dress followed by books and libraries in sixth place, and finally food.

April Kamunde, Project Manager, East Africa Arts, British Council said: “People engage with their culture in different ways and Kenya’s very rich and diverse cultural heritage has an important role in creating jobs and improving livelihoods. We are delighted to be working alongside our partners in supporting Kenya’s creative economy through providing skills training and grants. And we’re keen to recognise and appreciate those figures who have played a vital role in inspiring others about culture and in promoting and preserving Kenya’s rich cultural heritage. So, over the next few months we’ll be looking at who those ‘Cultural Heroes’ are and celebrating them during Heroes’/Mashujaa Day on 20th October.

The survey findings will inform the British Council’s activities on how to engage the youth in promoting Kenyan cultural heritage.

This perspective is the basis for exemplifying the concept of an inclusive sisterhood for crafting sustainable local economies (Appendix 1).

The British Council’s 2018 report was couched in terms of a growth economy. However, climate change and over-consumption of Earth’s renewable resources compel us to reinvent our economic life on a much more local and regional basis. But how do we forge a steady-state economy that is socially, ecologically and economically sensible and locally sustainable?  In particular, is there a role for women in leadership. There is much evidence pointing to the importance of craftswomen in finding the answer.

The role of women participating in what are usually considered as “male crafts” (hard crafts) was investigated in an anthropological study, “Craft Development and Development Through Crafts,” which was conducted by Szala-Meneok and McIntosh. Predominance of any gender in certain types of craft was also explored by Jennifer McDowell, when she examined women fighting to get their position in the Japanese craft movement. Furthermore, evaluating craftswomen’s contribution to the economy is a major part in craft anthropological studies, and the issue of craftswomen’s skills and specialization was explored by Clark and Houston in their work “Craft Specialization, Gender, and Personhood.” To investigate gender as a subject in “crafts enterprises,” it is worth mentioning the contributions of Alila and Pedersen who investigated the socio-economic consequences of women’s domination of craft enterprises in South Africa, using the case study of Eldoret town.  The study of Clare Wilkinson-Weber focused on commoditization and commercialization of the craft industries in South Asia, and the study of Rogerson and Sithole investigated the small enterprise economy, in South Africa as a whole, and explored variations between groups of male wood carvers and women grass weavers in craft enterprises.

Example 1 The feminine economy

In 2015 Jennifer Armbrust, founder and director of Sister gave a talk entitled “Proposals for the Feminine Economy” outlining her holistic vision for a new economic paradigm, founded on what she called feminist principles. In fact she set out a leadership framework for the practical application of the tenets of a sisterhood economy distinct from the current brotherhood economy.   

Fig 6 The masculine and feminine economies are distinctly different 

The sisterhood economy is about a radical social transformation to make a future where women’s leadership training can bring about a new economic order.  In particular, women have the opportunity to agitate the current social, political and economic order by experimenting with new business models that redistribute power and resources based on the principles of sisterhood.  Ambrust’s principles are as follows.


Create structures that support and nourish your body and all the other bodies you know.


Cultivate loving, healthy relationships with plants, animals, people & the earth. Commune. Think about our shared future.


Gather all your parts. Reclaim the pieces you have lost or forgotten. Forgive yourself. Come home to Your body. Own your skills, talents & abilities. Step into wholeness.


As we learn to empathize with ourselves, we naturally begin to empathize with others. Attunement to feelings guides us to the fulfillment of needs. The regular fulfillment of needs is the foundation of a sustainable life.


Cultivate your inner authority. Act with intention. Innovate new business practices rooted in your principles. Making choices in alignment with your values is the root of healthy self-esteem. Thriving economically while living your values is deeply disruptive to the current social and economic order.


Release the life you were told you would, could, or should have and imagine anew. Seek happiness, pleasure, & the fulfillment of your needs. Move towards the things that bring you nourishment and joy.


—Sister Corita Kent

Do not wait until you know to act—anything you don’t know you will learn in the process. Improvise. Iterate. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Explore! Give yourself permission to not know and to make mistakes. Find freedom in uncertainty. Be receptive and responsive instead of predictive and protective.


There is no earning. There’s no deserving. There’s no reward. Divest your ego of the want to prove itself through struggle, sacrifice, and hard work. Become attuned to your needs and honor them as they arise. Feel into your body. Let inner wisdom be your guide. Go where you are called. Eat when you are hungry. Rest when you are tired.


We are being so thoroughly lied to it’s an epidemic. Say how you’re feeling. Admit when you don’t know. Speak your truth. Repudiate lies, deceptions and misrepresentations. Hold yourself and others accountable. Own your talents and abilities. Advocate for the people and things you believe in. Use your voice.


Feel your deep connection with the earth—nature is abundance embodied. Scarcity teaches us gratitude and responsibility. Be grateful. Remember, wealth has nothing to do with money. Practice radical self-love. Nourish, nurture, savor. Feel how rich you are already.


Everything that you are needing, someone else is needing, too. Everything you are healing for yourself you are healing for someone else, too. Make your business a medicine, a salve

Example 2 Artisan originals

The social venture Jaipur Rugs Company Pvt Ltd, was founded in 1999 as Jaipur Carpets by Nand Kishore Chaudhary who through this commercial venture has impacted the lives of 40,000 rural artisans spread across villages in North and West India. Over 80 percent of the artisans are women and about 7,000 are tribal untouchables. The company has built a profitable business from the export of hand-knotted carpets produced by these artisans. Its biggest market is the US where it serves 5,000 customers that comprise small retail stores and interior designers.

In 2015, the company expanded its women empowerment outreach by partnering with the government of Bihar to train women from the Maoist-hit areas of the state in rug-weaving. The aim was to skill the women so that they could earn a living working at home.  Chaudhary also built his social venture in a bid to remove the middleman and connect artisans directly with the end customer. The benefit is that artisans get paid their rightful dues and aren’t cheated.

“In a lot of these villages that we work in, you will see that women today don’t consider themselves inferior to men as many of them are running their households—they are the breadwinners of the family,” says Yogesh Chaudhary, the fourth child of Nand Kishore Chaudhary.

Impact investor Nagaraja Prakasam, part of the Indian Angel Network, narrates one such story of Chaudhary’s impact on women empowerment in rural India. When he visited the artisans of Jaipur Rugs in 2015, Prakasam met a girl at her home in Achrol, Rajasthan. He asked her why she was not studying to which she said her family could not afford to send her to college. “But she was doing a correspondence course, which she paid for from the earnings she made from knotting carpets for Jaipur Rugs,” says Prakasam.

Through a grassroots network that requires specialised logistical support, raw material is dropped off at an artisan’s home where they work on the product and pick up the finished rugs. To ensure customers receive high quality products, quality supervisors inspect looms to help ensure a consistent output while tracking progress. These supervisors also ensure artisan service to ensure they are not interrupted by the shortage of yarn or any other such disruptions to earning capacity. When completed, the rug is picked up at the weavers doorstep and sent on to the next stage of the rug making progress. These visits also ensure that weavers are paid every month at their home looms.

These networks stretch across 600 villages in India through an intense grassroots network to connect 40,000 artisans

Artisan Originals at Jaipur Rugs set out to accomplish two very different but equally important types of sustainable economies. As the world becomes more populated and the supply of resources shrinks, Jaipur Rugs are determined to ensure that every centimeter of yarn is utilized. Artisan Originals uses whatever yarn is leftover from our more prevalent consumer-facing lines to craft these one-off pieces. The weavers are given complete freedom in terms of patterns, intricacy, inspiration, and time to completion. Due to the materials being leftover from other lines, the colors and textures provided to the artisans are as diverse as their designs. The second sustainability goal is to revive and maintain the centuries-old domestic craft of hand-knotting rugs in India, which has traditionally been in the hands od women. Through financial empowerment, proper training, and a constantly available support system, Jaipur Rugs keeps the skills of hand weaving are kept alive as an important economic activity of female family members, for both present individuals and future generations.

For weavers in rural Rajasthan, to create something entirely of their own on an unassuming loom was something they never imagined would happen. This initiative has been introduced by Jaipur Rugs which taps into the untamed fashion from the villages of India. It experiments with the originality of rural craftswomen to nurture their creative potential, which is unexplored at a global stage. For the first time ever, village weavers get to be the designers of their own rugs. Each rug in the collection is a masterpiece for the design inspiration it weaves. It is imbued with the individuality of its artisan evident in unique artistry.

The U.S. textile industry, which includes the carpet industry, is expected to continue to consume a large amount of energy and generate a large amount of carbon emissions. Since the environmental impacts of the carpet industry are expected to grow in the next decade, it is necessary to estimate the energy consumption and carbon emissions generated at each stage of the entire life cycle of carpet to mitigate these environmental impacts. Thus, this study conducts a life cycle assessment of energy and carbon emissions on two types of carpet – a wool carpet and a nylon carpet – from raw material production to recycling and disposal, along with transportation activities. In addition, this study utilizes a system dynamics approach to investigate the impacts of the uncertainty of market share on total energy consumption and total carbon emissions. The results of this study indicate that the production of 0.09 square meter of a carpet tile requires 20.42 MJ of energy and generates 6.35 kg CO2-e of emissions for the wool carpet, and consumes 25.42 MJ of energy and produces 4.80 kg CO2-e of emissions for the nylon carpet. To reduce energy consumption, the use stage of a wool carpet and the raw material production stage of a nylon carpet need to made more efficient, while to reduce carbon emissions, the raw material production stage of a wool carpet and a nylon carpet need to be improved.

Producing the fibre, dying it, delivering it to the weavers home weaving the 

Appendix 2 Plants; survival and ornamentation

Fig 7 Diversity of house leek (Sempervivum)

There is increasing evidence that exposure to plants and green space, and particularly to gardening, is beneficial to mental and physical health, and so could reduce the pressure on health services. Health professionals are therefore encouraging their patients to make use of green space and to work in gardens.  Studies show that gardening promotes physical health, mental health through relaxation and satisfaction, and better nutrition.  

It is reasonable tp assume that our affinity toward nature is genetic and deep-rooted in evolution. For example, consider why most people prefer to book accommodations that have a great view from the balcony or the terrace? Why do patients who get a natural view from their hospital bed recover sooner than others? Or why does it happen that when stress takes a toll on our mind, we crave for time to figure out things amidst garden plants and woodlands?  The pioneering architect, Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature. It will never fail you.” Wright originally coined the phrase “organic architecture” before the word ‘organic’ came to be associated with everything from juice and dry cleaning to farming and makeup. The architect is famous for designing structures that blend into their natural surroundings in ground breaking, innovative ways.

The latest research in cognitive science is revealing that cognitive phenomena such as spatial navigation, action perception and emotional understanding all depend on the human body: not only the body’s morphological, biological and physiological make-up, but also how it actively engages with a structured natural, technological or social environment. Meanwhile, an increasing number of studies in cognitive neuroscience suggest that brains are ‘protean’, continuously adjusting their functions in response to physiological and environmental changes. In a very profound way, it appears that human cognition is shaped and structured by the body and features of our socio-cultural environment.  This is why the starting point for an educational engagement with nature is the theory of embodied cognition in neuroscience.  

It is argued that explicit learning is actively supported by bodily involvement with the environment. This argument is placed in the context of ‘nature-based therapy’, which can be perceived as a generic term for treatments with therapeutic use of activities and experiences in natural environments.   How do our bodies work with our brains to generate patterns of creative thinking? Students who complete a task while sitting or walking outside a box think more creatively (“outside the box”) than those who sit or walk inside it. How can this finding be explained? The emerging viewpoint of embodied cognition holds that cognitive processes are deeply rooted in the body’s interactions with the world.

Gaining grace from plants is about assembling a personal body of knowledge about a species or group that enables you to embody them into your day to day life as a process of enrichment. Examples of this process are given in the following sections.

Example 1 Plants: the show-offs

Ornamental plants are plants which are grown for display purposes, rather than functional ones. While some plants are both ornamental and functional, people usually use the term “ornamental plants” to refer to plants which have no value beyond being attractive, although many people feel that this is value enough. Ornamental plants are the keystone of ornamental gardening, and they come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours suitable to a broad array of climates, landscapes, and gardening needs.

Some ornamental plants are grown for showy foliage. Their foliage may be deciduous, turning bright orange, red, and yellow before dropping off in the autumn.  Some ornamental foliage has a striking appearance created by lacy leaves or long needles, while other ornamental are grown for distinctively colored leaves, such as silvery-gray ground covers and bright red grasses, among many others.

Other ornamental plants are cultivated for their blooms. Flowering ornamentals are a key aspect of many gardens, with gardeners preferring to plant a variety of flowers so that the garden is continuously in flower through the spring and summer. Depending on the types of plants being grown, the flowers may be subtle and delicate, or large and showy, with some ornamental plants producing distinctive aromas which paint a palette of scents in addition to colours. This approach embodies sensory and cultural richness in human/plant companionship as the following account of its impact on John Ryan.

“In Kojonup, a small Western Australian town and regional hub for the wool industry, on an early winter afternoon, I decided to seek contact with a local expert to learn about native plants. The staff at the tourism office brusquely told me: ‘The show hasn’t started. The wildflowers aren’t out yet, you won’t see anything’. Nevertheless, venturing into the small bush reserves around town, my guide and I uncovered a world of sensory and cultural richness. Selecting nuts from the base of a quandong (Santalum acuminatum), we cracked open the convoluted outer shells to expose the crisp, white inner flesh tasting of macadamia. We then scrambled across the highway to a marri (Corymbia calophylla) to taste the medicinal kino, or gum resin, oozing from the bark. Back around town, we spotted a plant with distinct cylindrical fruits. My guide coyly told me that varieties of this plant with white flowers are known locally as a remedy more effective than Viagra! As the sun began to set, we discussed a species of gum, which can be used to assuage the sting of an ant bite, as we crushed the fragrant leaves in our hands and rubbed it all along our forearms. Whilst there were few flowers in Kojonup that day, there were instead a myriad of textures, tastes, smells and sounds emanating from the plant life. In fact, the show had never stopped”. John C. Ryan

In his essay entitled ‘Plants That Perform For You’? From Floral Aesthetics to Floraesthesis in the Southwest of Western Australia’ John Ryan explored a performative model of aesthetics, which develops the concept of ‘plants performing’ in a dynamic of spectatorship between plants and people. In other words, the catchphrase originates in the relation between an artistic botanical object and a rational human subject who probably starts from a utilitarian point of view. Flowers dominate our aesthetic sensibilities and are responsible for popular human imagining of nature, but natural cycles of growth, such as decay and the dehiscence of fruits, are always part of a post flowering show. In this sense plants are always on show. The relationship between plants and the human audience requires a gardener or wildlife conservation manager as puppeteer.  These directors ultimately point to a possibility of deeper human engagement with a more-than-human holistic spiritual dimension of the plant/people interaction. Ryan argues for this embodied aesthetics of plants distinct from traditional concepts of plants as objects of vision, objects of art, objects of disinterestedness and objects of scientific discourse. This emphasis on the faculty of vision enables disembodied apprehension of plants to be the basis of scientific knowledge production. A perspective based only on sight involves contact between the scientist/artist and the plant through the recognition of form, colour, symmetry, exposure, vista and other visual qualities. This detaches the audience from what Ryan conceptualises as the ‘intimate spheres of bodies’. He leaves us with the question, what if an aesthetics of flora situates the nexus of perception in the tissues and fibres of people and plant life as a multi-sensorial experience?  Such a script for the plant life show at Kojonup, which activated Ryan’s faculties of smell, taste, touch, hearing and movement, would close the perceptual gulf between the appreciator and appreciated. Alex Rhys-Taylor’s thesis ‘Coming to our senses: a multi-sensory ethnography of class and multiculture in East London’ gives an appropriate quotation from Juhani Pallasmaa 

“A particular smell makes us un-knowingly re-enter a space completely forgotten by the retinal memory; the nostrils awaken a forgotten image, and we are enticed to enter a vivid day dream. The nose makes the eyes remember.” 

Rhys-Taylor points out that Pallasmaa’s observations are echoed in Marcel Proust’s literary meditations and explored sociologically, demonstrating how the encounter with even the most diluted of smells or flavours from an individual or culture’s past or elsewhere, a biscuit, a fruit, a herb, an aftershave, a spice, enable the body to rekindle entire lifetimes of experience around the faintest ember in the present. No doubt their ability to awaken deeply embodied affinities and associations with cultural heritage is one of the reasons that the senses of smell and taste are, transculturally, the most important socialising sense modalities embodied in reinforcing  everyday life, particularly with respect to the preparation and eating of food. What follows develops these two kinds of cultural attachment, as food and ornament.

Example 2 The banana show

In a globalized world, we routinely move enormous quantities of food around the planet in trade and for aid. Many countries, including the U.K., would struggle to feed their populations without food imports. Most people are used to being able to buy a wide range of produce that domestic farmers would struggle, or find impossible to grow. A typical example is the banana, once a prized exotic novelty, but now a staple in many countries’ supermarkets.

Bananas are one of the most widely grown, traded, and eaten of all the crops, an essential and much-liked part of the diet for many people around the world. Modern bananas are sterile, containing only tiny residual seeds, so new banana plants are propagated from cuttings. Bananas are ranked 4th after rice, wheat and maize as the world’s most valuable crop consumed for their high nutritive value. It is an important crop in East Africa, a key staple food in the region and is a source of income to many households. Apart from being a staple food, it is also used to make puree, flakes, wine, jam, powder, and beverages.

Wild bananas can be found in the wet, hot forests of New Guinea and South and Southeast Asia, but for many years the origin of domesticated bananas was a complete mystery. Now, the sterile domesticated banana is believed to be the result of ancient crossbreeding between wild species which evolved in the biodiversity hot spots of Malaysia and Myanmar. Wild bananas are packed full of bullet-like seeds and contain very little edible fruit.  

East Africa is among the world’s leading countries in terms of banana production and consumption. Bananas occupy the largest cultivated area among staple food crops in Uganda and are primarily grown on small subsistence farms (plots of less than 0.5 ha). In addition to being a major food staple, bananas are an important source of income, with excess production sold in local markets. Average per capita annual consumption of bananas in Uganda is the highest in the world, estimated at close to 1 kg per person per day. Bananas are consumed as fruit; prepared by cooking, roasting, or drying; and fermented for the production of banana juice and alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and gin). Most of the banana varieties grown in Uganda are indigenous to the East African highlands, a region recognized as a secondary centre of banana diversity. The East African highland banana is a unique genomic group, selected over the centuries by farmers. As many as 84 distinct varieties of endemic East African highland bananas, classified into five clone sets, are grown by farmers in the region.

The biological diversity of bananas in Uganda is well understood at the taxonomic levels of genomic group, use group, and variety. This diversity is impressive at all geographical scales of analysis—the household, farm, the village, and the region. Although banana specialists in East Africa have long made this observation, recent survey data confirm the high level of banana diversity both in the country as a whole and on individual farms. A total of 95 banana varieties are currently grown among the households sampled in Uganda, with the majority (86 percent) consisting of endemic types. Banana varieties, which are locally named and differentiated by characteristics that are observable to farmers, were classified in this research into synonym groups according to established banana taxonomy, resulting in five groups or types defined by use (cooking, beer-making, sweet, roasting, and multi-use).

The tissue culture banana (TCB) is a biotechnological agricultural innovation that has been adopted widely in commercial banana production. In 2003, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International initiated a TCB programme that was explicitly developed for smallholder farmers in Kenya to help them adopt the TCB as a scalable agricultural business opportunity. At the heart of the challenge of encouraging more widespread adoption of the TCB is the question: what is the best way to introduce the TCB technology, and all its attendant practices and opportunities, to smallholder farmers. In essence this is a challenge of community or stakeholder engagement

Banana production in Kenya has gradually changed from subsistence back garden cultivation to a cash crop as demand rises. Many farmers especially smallholders, apart from growing the native varieties. have embraced TCB farming.

Kenya is one among the world’s leading countries in terms of banana production with an estimated annual production of 1.1 million metric tons. On a daily basis, one can easily spot trucks on Kenyan highways ferrying bananas especially to Nairobi.  The main Counties where Bananas are grown includes; Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kirinyaga, Muranga, Kisii and Nyamira. Jackline Kemunto a banana farmer in Kisii County avers that the crop is one of the best known food crops in the region. Women in her locality use bananas to diversify the types of food consumed in their homes.

In Kenya, the general decline in traditional cash crop production has contributed to a major shift to other subsistence crops from the mid-eighties. A majority of small scale farmers have replaced the cash crops with banana farming. Previously, banana was considered a semi-subsistence women’s crop. The shift of banana farming from subsistence to commercial production has attracted many men and women into the industry. However, this has changed gender relations in the households and banana farms thereby generating gender concerns. Women have control of bank accounts, banana income and are renting land to plant bananas. However, this has brought intra-household gender conflicts especially in resource poor households further disempowering men who have resulted to drinking local brew and burdening women more. The potential of bananas to raise the standard of living among the resource poor is thus not being realised. A recent study signaled a need for awareness creation among stakeholders on gender mainstreaming which will lead to policy formulations. Such a move will assist in defining ways of introducing any technology that changes a woman’s subsistence enterprise into a commercial undertaking. The study further recommended empowerment of men and women in resource poor households through formation of gender responsive farmer groups.

Apart from its value as a food crop in Kisii, sales from banana production provide the much-needed income. There is a large and rapidly growing market for bananas due to the surging population as well as changing consumption habits and lifestyle.

Despite the sector being a banana stronghold, it faces a number of challenges that tend to hinder its progression. Jane Njeri a farmer from Gatundu says that brokers are to blame for the low prices they sell their bananas.

“We lack ready market for our bananas and the middle men usually take advantage of the situation to give us low prices while they themselves sell at better prices sometimes triple the buying price,” she lamented.

In addition, farmers lack access to key inputs such as quality planting materials, fertilizers, pesticides, farm machinery and tools among others. Farmers usually have a tendency of obtaining planting root stems from neighbour’s plantations through plucking suckers. This archaic method has greatly contributed to the spread of pests and diseases.  Farmers lack knowledge on the best variety to choose. Most opt for the big ones which demand more water and may not do well in certain areas. Introducing, developing and promoting pest and disease resistant varieties and use of integrated pest control technologies are the best options in developing the cultivation of bananas in Kenya.

Despite women claiming to have been empowered by banana income, some are more burdened instead. Out of frustrations from failure to control banana income, men are spending their time idling and taking local brew. Wives in these households are further burdened by performing reproductive and productive roles. In households where men are forcing their wives to surrender the income, it has led to separate banana farms for the wife and husband hence, causing conflicts in the household. 

For example, Oral Informants have indicated that they save banana income in bank accounts without their husband’s knowledge. A survey respondent had this to say concerning banana income: 

We own separate bank accounts. Our children no longer ask for school fees from their fathers. Our husbands drink the money they get from bananas. They spend their time at local markets playing the “Maune ”.

A recent development of banana cultivation is to plant them as an ornamental addition to temperate zone gardens.  They have to be protected against frost damage, but gardeners are now emboldened to invest in bananas because of the milder winters resulting from climate change.. The leaves are the main ornamental feature of the banana plant and impart a bold tropical look to the garden. The smooth, waxy leaves are generally quite large, reaching up to 6″ wide by 2′ long on dwarf plants, and up to 2′ wide by 9′ long on large ones. The leaves are normally dark green colour, but variegation is quite common. Variegation appears as white, red or purple/maroon splotches or sectors on the leaf blade. The leaf midrib may have a contrasting colour, which is usually red contrasting with the green leaf. Often, the color of the reverse side of the leaf contrasts with the front side and on windy days viewers are treated to flashes of colour.  Adding this aesthetic/protectionist dimension to the banana show provides a deeper sense of presence with the world against the bigger picture of widespread ecological disaster. 

Example 3 The Sempervivum story

Charlemagne, first Holy Roman Emperor and unifier of a large part of northern Europe, issued the following decree (circa 795) to all villagers on his Crown lands “Et ille hortulanus habeat super domum suam Iovis barbam” , which is translated as; ‘and the gardener shall have Jove’s Beard growing on the roof of his house’.  Jove’s beard refers to the common houseleek, Sempervivum tectorum. This plant is native to the Alps, the Rhine Gorge and the Pyrenees. The name Jove’s beard reflect the plant’s ancient association with the Roman bearded God Jupiter. Hence names such as “Jupiter’s beard” and the German Donnerbart (“thunder beard”),  the latter a reminder that there was a cultural shift in mythology from the Roman pantheon to that of the Nordic peoples.  Although the reasoning behind Charlemagne’s decree is not known it is taken as evidence for peasant’s roof gardens being the precursors of contemporary green roofs movement. 

The earliest documented roof gardens were the hanging gardens of Semiramis in what is now Syria, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today, similarly elaborate roof-garden projects are designed for high-profile international hotels, business centers, and private homes. These green roofs, known for their deep substrates and variety of plantings as “intensive” green roofs, have the appearance of conventional ground-level gardens, and they can augment living and recreation space in densely populated urban areas. Intensive green roofs typically require substantial investments in plant care. Furthermore, they emphasize the active use of space and carry higher aesthetic expectations than “extensive” green roofs, which generally have shallower soil and low-growing ground cover. 

Sempervivum is an example of a typical extensive green roof species,  The name has its origin in the Latin semper (“always”) and vivus (“living”), because this perennial plant keeps its succulent leaves in winter and is very resistant to harsh conditions for plant growth.The common name “houseleek” is believed to stem from the traditional practice of growing plants on the roofs of thatched houses to ward off fire and lightning strikes. Some Welsh people still hold the old folk belief that having it grow on the roof of the house ensures the health and prosperity of those who live there.  The plant is not closely related to the true leek, which belongs to the onion family. It is not approved by the European Medicines Agency for Traditional Herbal Medicinal use and is for the most part grown in domestic gardens for its ornamental qualities.

Extensive green roofs  typically have shallower substrates, require less maintenance, and are more strictly functional in purpose than intensive living roofs or roof gardens. In their simplest design, extensive green roofs consist of an insulation layer, a waterproofing membrane, a layer of growing medium, and a vegetation layer. This basic green-roof design has been implemented and studied in diverse regions and climates worldwide. The modern green roof originated at the turn of the 20th century in Germany, where vegetation was installed on roofs to mitigate the damaging physical effects of solar radiation on the roof structure. Early green roofs were also employed as fire retardant structures. There are now several competing types of extensive green-roof systems, which provide similar functions but are composed of different materials and require different implementation protocols. In the 1970s, growing environmental concern, especially in urban areas, created opportunities to introduce progressive environmental thought, policy, and technology in Germany. Green-roof technology was quickly embraced because of its broad-ranging environmental benefits, and interdisciplinary research led to technical guidelines, the first volume of which was published in 1982 by the Landscape, Research, Development and Construction Society. Many German cities have since introduced incentive programs to promote green-roof technology and improve environmental standards. Building law now requires the construction of green roofs in many urban centers. Such legal underpinnings of green-roof construction have had a major effect on the widespread implementation and success of green-roof technology throughout Germany. Green-roof coverage in Germany alone now increases by approximately 13.5 million square meters (m2 ) per year. Approximately 14% of all new flat roofs in Germany will be green roofs; the total area covered by green roofs is unknown. The market for sloped green roofs is also developing rapidly, and accessible green roofs have become a driving force in neighborhood revitalization.

Rooftop conditions are challenging for plant survival and growth. Moisture stress and severe drought, extreme (usually elevated) temperatures, high light intensities, and high wind speeds increase the risk of desiccation and physical damage to vegetation and substrate. Plants suitable for extensive green roofs share adaptations that enable them to survive in harsh conditions. These plants have stress-tolerant characteristics, including low, mat-forming or compact growth; evergreen foliage or tough, twiggy growth; and other drought-tolerance or avoidance strategies, such as succulent leaves, water storage capacity, or CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) physiology. However, frequent drought-related disturbance to green-roof vegetation also favors some ruderal species that can rapidly occupy gaps. Green-roof communities are dynamic, and with time, vegetation is likely to change from the original composition. Since then, researchers have tested many herbaceous and woody taxa in different rooftop conditions compared combinations of various Sedum species, grasses, and herbaceous perennials, planted at two substrate depths in simulated roof platforms. Sedum species outperformed the other taxa, except in consistently moist substrate deeper than 10 centimeters (cm). In these conditions, a taller grass and herbaceous canopy layer created shaded conditions that proved unfavorable to the Sedum species. Other studies support the suitability of low-growing Sedum species for use in green roofs because of their superior survival in substrate layers as thin as 2 to 3 cm. Physical rooftop conditions, suitability for plant growth, and the cost of various substrates have also been examined.  Sempervivum comes second Sedum in popularity. Both are members of the Crassulaceae or Stonecrop Family Worldwide, there are 35 genera and 1,500 species, including 9 genera in North America. Many are cultivated as ornamentals, including: Aeonium, Cotyledon, Crassula, Dudleya, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedum and Sempervivum.  None are grown for human food and have suddenly emerged as human/plant companions as components of the extensive green roof.

Green roofs represent a class of technology that can be considered bioengineering or biomimicry: the ecosystem created by a green roof’s interacting components mimics several key properties of ground-level vegetation that are absent from a conventional roof. Green roofs, like other constructed ecosystems (e.g., sewage treatment wetlands, bioswales for storm-water management, or living walls), mimic natural ecosystems to provide ecosystem services. In particular, extensive green roofs represent the potential for the establishment of shallow soil habitats and their accompanying biodiversity: in temperate ecosystems, some of the highest rates of plant species diversity and endemism occur in relatively unproductive habitats such as rock pavements, scree slopes, and cliff faces. Plant selection is not limited to any particular habitat, however, and the potential diversity of green-roof habitats—as well as their potential for supplying goods and services, such as herbs and vegetables or other crops—awaits further research. The beneficial functions of green roofs, and their economic and environmental costs, require more investigation. Their functioning as biological systems, and the interaction of the organisms that inhabit them, represents a frontier in applied ecology and an opportunity to put interdisciplinary research into practice at the interface between constructed ecosystems and the greater urban environment.

SEMPERVIVUM plants for sale at Rumsey Nursery a UK garden centre.

Species are listed in bold text.


– ‘Alpha’


– arachnoideum subsp. tomentosum ‘Minor’

– arachnoideum subsp tomentosum Schinz  & Thell (‘Laggeri’)

– ‘Black Knight’

– ‘Blood Tip’


– calcareum ‘Mrs Giuseppi’

– ‘Commander Hay’

– ‘Corona’

– ‘Engle’s’

– ‘Flanders Passion’

– ‘Gamma’

– ‘Granat’

– ‘Hey-Hey’

– ‘Icicle’

– ‘Jewel Case’

– ‘Jubilee’

– ‘King George’

– ‘Lilac Time’

– ‘Lipari’

– ‘Mahogany’


– marmoreum ‘Ornatum’ 

– ‘Mercury’

montanum ‘Rubrum’

– ‘Mount Hood’


– octopodes var apetalum

– ‘Patrician’

– ‘Pekinese’

–           ‘Pseudo-ornatum

– ‘Pilatus’

– ‘Pseudo-ornatum’

– ‘Red Mountain’

– ‘Red Wings’

– ‘Reginald Malby’

– ‘Reinhard’

– ‘Robin’

– ‘Rosie’

– ‘Royal Ruby’

– ‘Rubin’

– ‘Ruby Star’

– ‘Silver Jubilee’

– ‘Spring Mist’

tectorum ‘Nigrum’

– tectorum subsp tectorum ‘Triste’

– tectorum subsp tectorum ‘Violaceum’

– ‘Topaz’

– x calcaratum

Crassulaceae, the stonecrop or orpine family, has about 30 genera of perennial herbs or low shrubs, in the order Saxifragales, native to warm, dry regions of the world. Many species are grown as pot plants or cultivated in rock gardens and borders. They have thick leaves and red, yellow, or white flower clusters. Sedum (stonecrop), Sempervivum(houseleek), Kalanchoë, Monanthes, Umbilicus (pennywort), Bryophyllum, Echeveria (seephotograph), Crassula, and Cotyledon are well-known members of the family.Houseleeks belong to the stonecrop family Crassulaceae, also known as the the orpine family, They are a group of dicotyledons with succulent leaves. They are generally herbaceous but there are some subshrubs, and relatively few treelike or aquatic plants. They are found worldwide, but mostly occur in the Northern Hemisphere and southern Africa, typically in dry and/or cold areas where water may be scarce. The family includes approximately 1400 species and 34 or 35 genera, although the number of genera is disputed and depends strongly on the circumscription of Sedum (stonecrop).

Aeonium, the tree houseleek, is a genus of about 35 species of succulent, subtropical plants of the family Crassulaceae. Many species are popular in horticulture. The genus name comes from the ancient Greek “aionos” (ageless).[1] While most of them are native to the Canary Islands, some are found in Madeira, Morocco, and in East Africa (for example in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia).



What is it we want really? 

For what end and how? 

If it is something feasible, obtainable, 

Let us dream it now, 

And pray for a possible land 

Not of sleep-walkers, not of angry puppets, 

But where both heart and brain can understand 

The movements of our fellows; 

Where life is a choice of instruments and none 

Is debarred his natural music, 

Where the waters of life are free of the ice-blockade of 


And thought is free as the sun, 

Where the altars of sheer power and mere profit 

Have fallen to disuse, 

Where nobody sees the use 

Of buying money and blood at the cost of blood and 


Where the individual, no longer squandered 

In self-assertion, works with the rest, endowed 

With the split vision of a juggler and the quick lock of a 


Where the people are more than a crowd. 

So sleep in hope of this — but only for a little; 

Your hope must wake 

While the choice is yours to make, 

The mortgage not foreclosed, the offer open. 

Sleep serene, avoid the backward 

Glance go forward, dreams, and do not halt 

(Behind you in the desert stands a token 

Of doubt — a pillar of salt). 

Sleep, the past, and wake, the future, 

And walk out promptly through the open door 5 

But you, my coward doubts, may go on sleeping, 

You need not wake again — not any more. 

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