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Settlements on Mars? Start in Earth’s deserts

Elon Musk’s introduction of SpaceX’s plans to go to Mars was long on the how to get there, but short on the “now what?” once passengers land. What would cities on Mars look like, and how would they solve the material and social challenges they would encounter from the moment they arrive at their destination?


    OXO Architectes “Tour des sables” concept

A practical place to start looking – and planning – would be Earth’s driest deserts. It’s not by whim that scenes in the 2015 movie The Martian were filmed in the barren Wadi Rum of southern Jordan. While no place on Earth is really comparable to Mars, the most arid areas are as close as one can get in many respects.

Urbanization in sparsely populated “deep deserts” – areas away from water sources where most ancient and modern desert cities are located – is a path we will have to consider in the wake of population growth and environmental change. But such urbanization will need to be much more concerned with water conservation and efficient protection from the harsh climate than say Las Vegas or Dubai.

The technologies necessary for creating sustainable communities in these harsh arid environments exist, such as solar and wind power, water recycling, thermal insulation, and food production in controlled and even vertical environments. Their combination and application in deep desert cities would have benefits for humanity on Earth – and potentially on Mars.

In fact, if SpaceX’s (or any other) Mars venture really is to take flight, its organizers would do well to have first collaborated on development of cities in deep deserts. Many technical issues could be worked out which could both be scaled on Earth and implemented in Mars colonies.

Examples of potential candidates for such collaboration might include the French architectural firm Manal Rachdi OXO Architectes which has a concept for a city-in-a-tower in the Moroccan Sahara, and Masdar in the United Arab Emirates which has a plan for a sustainable city in the desert there.

Beyond the relatively straightforward (which is not to say easy) engineering problems of getting to Mars or creating a sustainable built environment, are a range of social, cultural, linguistic, health, and governance issues that will arise where hundreds or thousands of people are housed in a more-or-less self-contained habitat. Better to have a practical experience dealing with such issues closer to home before attempting to do the same on an another planet.



Biofuels reconsidered

CPL Press, Biochemical routes to liquid biofuelsBiofuels – fuel derived from organic matter – are generally considered to be more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels in that they are renewable and, in theory at least, “carbon neutral.” However there are downsides to biofuel, such as the energy and resources to produce them, and in the case of fuel produced from food and oil crops, potential impacts on food markets. The picture is more complex.

Are some biofuels more environmentally friendly and beneficial to the socio-economy than others? What is the place of biofuels in the overall energy equation of the future? Without going into a long discussion, here are a few proposed maxims that may be useful in considering such questions. These are derived from some discussions a few years back and intended as relative measures rather than absolute binary choices:

  1. Gathered is better than purpose grown. For example deadwood chopped into firewood is less costly to produce (land, water, inputs, energy) than crops grown for biofuel. Waste matter is a potential energy source that could be “gathered” for that purpose, although requiring processing. Jatropha seeds collected from hedgerows costs little in land compared to a plantation of jatropha created for seed production. Production of algae for conversion to biofuels requires infrastructure and much water. One problem with gathering biomass suitable for energy from nature or human activity is that it tends to be diffuse and limited (with the possible exception of human waste products). For example wood waste as a byproduct from logging and sawmills is a source of energy but the volume produced (which can be collected) is a function of other activities and not one easily increased.
  2. Less processing is generally better. Processing does have the advantage of yielding a more concentrated and often more portable energy source, but it has energy costs and externalities. A simple example is turning firewood into charcoal, which involves burning off the volatile constituents (energy generally wasted) but yielding a lighter and more concentrated energy source. Towards the other extreme, fuel ethanol production from corn (maize) is a multi-step process. The energy balance (output from a given input) of such processes is a matter of some controversy, but probably all would agree that if it were possible to produce a given unit of biofuel with less steps and inputs, the outcome would be more positive.
  3. Less distance is generally better. Getting firewood locally (as we do in our home for a fireplace insert) involves less cost, and in theory at least, more potential for responsible management, than shipping firewood around the world. Of course no one proposes import-export of firewood, but other diverse biomass is exported for production of biofuels. One example is palm oil from Southeast Asia to make biodiesel in Europe. A big part of this is transportation, which of course is part of the fossil fuel market too, but with less flexibility in the case of biofuels (one can find petroleum sources in various locations, but some types of biomass inputs like palm oil are very region-specific and possibly not substitutable).
  4. Small is beautiful. Smaller scale production of biofuels has less of an impact on the environment and economy than larger scale operations. A big issue is use of finite land and water resources. Some years back I worked on a project in Mali which had as a major goal promotion of planting woodlots with villages which could then, so the thinking went, harvest wood from those lots for their their cooking needs. Small and local, this might seem to make sense, but in fact it meant taking land out of agricultural rotation for an uncertain future outcome. An even smaller and apparently more successful approach in another region of the same country a few years later was planting of jatropha in lines along roads and field boundaries – no lot required. Contrast with large plantations of annual biofuel crops which can have enormous impact in an area to serve needs far away (impacts being potentially both positive and negative, but with clear opportunity costs for types of land use and agriculture).

Another perspective on biofuels is worth adding to the mix here. Generally biofuels are considered along with technologies such as solar, wind, and wave energy as cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels. However biofuels work on the same paradigm as fossil fuels – burning something to release energy (with byproducts such as carbon dioxide). It can be argued therefore that biofuels are actually more like fossil fuels except for the premise that they are carbon neutral, and the fact that diverse biomass sources for biofuel production are arguably less substitutable than say crude petroleum from diverse locations.

Again the picture is complex, and all this is not to say that biofuels as a whole are bad. Rather there may be some types of biofuel and approaches to incorporating them into the larger energy equation that make more sense than others. Conversion of waste into fuel would be elegant – turning a problem into a resource. On the other hand, devoting land and water to growing crops or other biomass specifically to process and ultimately burn doesn’t seem sustainable in a world faced with a growing population and impending climate changes.

Longer term, the energy market will certainly follow Buckminster Fuller‘s observation about the “ephemeralization” of technology, which we see the beginnings of already with advances in utilizing solar and wind power. Eventually the burning of substances for energy will become marginal in the global energy equation.


Terralingua’s Langscape, CFP extended

Terralingua has extended the deadline for submission of proposed articles for the next edition of its Langscape magazine until 1 August 2016.

Terralingua's Langscape logoThis is for a second issue on the theme of “Voices of the Earth” (Vol. 5, #2, Winter 2016). See earlier post on this blog about the previous issue for discussion of the theme.


Mountainbiking in the Futa Jalon, 1986-87 (a Peace Corps retrospective)

A recent story in Wired magazine, “The Roots of Dirt: How Mountain Bikes Went From Clunkers to Global Phenomenon,” brings to mind a brief personal experience with the genre in Guinea, West Africa in the mid-1980s. Since bicycling in the Vienna, Virginia area was a topic on this blog previously, I thought it would be interesting to recount this rather different bicycling scenario. And because this also coincided with the restarting of Peace Corps in Guinea, it additionally provides an opportunity to relate some of that history, which I did not find elsewhere on the web.1


In January 1986 I brought a new BMX Mongoose ATB Pro (picture on left from the BMX 1985 catalog, via VintageMongoose.com) to my new Peace Corps post in Pita, a town in the middle of the Futa Jalon2 highlands – perfect country for cross-country biking.

At the time, this Mongoose had very favorable reviews. I purchased mine in suburban Chicago for something on the order of US$300, including a rack for the back (this was to be used for work) and mud guards (I knew the roads & weather). Before discussing how I got it there, and used it, here is some context on how I came to Peace Corps Guinea and had the opportunity to choose a bicycle to take along.

Peace Corps’ return to Guinea

map-africa-guinea-EBIn 1984, following the death of Guinea’s long-time dictator, Sékou Touré, that country’s government requested that Peace Corps be re-established in the country. (The story I heard was that this interest was first conveyed to then US Vice-President Bush during the latter’s short visit to Conakry for Touré’s funeral.) Peace Corps had been in Guinea during two brief periods in the 1960s, and despite having to leave due to political issues related to Touré’s rule, had apparently retained a positive image.

So the Peace Corps administration fast-tracked its return to Guinea. The normal Peace Corps procedure for (re)entering a country, as I learned much later, was to first have a team evaluate the potential based on several criteria, and then to bring in limited staff to set up an office and identify volunteer work assignments and posts, and then to bring in new Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs). In this case the sequence was sort of reversed, bringing experienced PCVs in first.

Carroll Bouchard, who was at about this time transitioning from serving as Peace Corps Country Director in Burkina Faso to filling the same position in Senegal, was asked to lead the process. Somewhere along the line, a specialist named R.J. Benn was brought in to research and report on aspects of getting Peace Corps going there again, including specifics of the volunteer assignments. Chris Kopp, the Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) for forestry in Senegal also participated in the process.

So, sometime during the rainy season of 1985, four volunteers responded to the internal Peace Corps offer to extend their service to go to Guinea – three from Senegal, and me from Mali. We were convened for a week-long orientation in the beginning of October at the PC/Senegal training site in Thiès. The plan was for two of the group with more agronomic background to work with a USAID-funded agriculture research station in Faranah, and the two others with reforestation background, including me, to work with a “community forestry“/agroforestry project in Pita, whose USAID funding was coming to an end. Prior to the conclusion of the orientation, however, the two scheduled to go to Faranah dropped out, each for their own reasons.

The two remaining – Phil Comte and I – then went to Guinea to start work with the USAID “Projet Forêts Communautaires.” The plan was to meet all the principals in the forestry service (including the director, Kalidou Diallo), USAID (including Mark Wentling and Bob Hellyer), the US Embassy, and of course the project in Pita (including David Laframboise, the outgoing USAID project head, and M. Sangaré, the Guinean project director). After 6 weeks there was a break – the home leave given extending volunteers plus vacation time to cover from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day – and then return to Guinea.

The mountain bike idea

Personally I was primed to the idea of a bicycle even though I enjoyed the dirt bikes that we rural development volunteers were assigned in those days. When in Djenné, Mali, I fixed up the unused bicycle of the neighbor family I ate with (the household of Madani Koné in Kanafa), and and used it from time to time to go to work in the project nursery on the other side of town (rather a long walk, but also kind of short for a motorcycle every day). Also, there was a PCV in another part of Mali – Koulikoro as I recall – who brought a mountain bike back from a US vacation break. It should be noted that PCV teachers based in towns were assigned bicycles as a matter of course, so volunteers on bikes was by no means a novelty, but mountain bikes were.

I do not recall any specific conversations on the topic with Phil or anyone else at the end of 1985, but two main factors made bringing mountain bikes back to Pita an attractive idea:

  • the Futa Jalon, a beautiful rolling plateau region, was ideal for that kind of biking – all roads off the main highway from Mamou to Labé were unpaved and unimproved, but mostly hard clay as opposed to sand or other loose material, and there were not nearly as many thorny tree species as in the Sahel; and
  • the project’s CJ-7 and CJ-8 Jeeps were a scary proposition to run on a regular basis – despite their image they were not built for rough roads, and needed frequent repairs often without proper parts or “Jeep special tools” (one of the vehicles with brake problems was involved in the death of a child before we arrived).

So Phil and I each decided to bring mountain bikes back with us.

International travel with bicycles

My return flight originated at Chicago O’Hare airport o/a January 2, 1986. The procedure for traveling with a bicycle, in those days at least, was fairly easy and straightforward. Narrow bicycle boxes were available from the airline, and to fit one in, it was necessary to loosen and turn the handlebars. Fortunately the airline (which one, I forget now) had tools available for the latter task when people forgot to bring their own.

I met up with Phil at JFK International in New York for the flight to Dakar and then Conakry. At Conakry airport we actually had to go out onto the tarmac to call the baggage handlers’ attention to the bike boxes that hadn’t been offloaded.

Mountain bikes and Peace Corps/Guinea

We were met in Conakry by the new Peace Corps Country Director for Guinea, Jerry Pasela, who was already busy finding an office and residence location. It was during this time that the formal agreement was signed to re-establish Peace Corps in Guinea after a 19-year absence.

On my first spin on the Mongoose in Conakry I shifted gears and something unexpected happened. The rear rack had been retrofitted with the screw in such an orientation that it would snag the chain, in this case pulling the derailleur and bending the flange on which it was mounted (that was done at the shop, but I should have checked). Fortunately it was possible to bend it back without the alloy cracking, so the bike needed no serious repair and worked fine.

Before going up to Pita, Phil decided to terminate his stay for personal reasons. (He sold his bike – as I recall, to one of the Marine guards at the embassy in Conakry.) That meant that for the next nine months or so, I was the only PCV in country.

Mongoose in Futa Jalon

In Pita, a small upcountry town in a nation that had been largely closed off for years, no one had seen a bike like this. But then, folks were already used to seeing things they hadn’t before. Still, an obvious foreigner on a bike of novel design naturally got attention.

It was probably not just coincidence that shortly after moving in, a nice thin-tired racing bike appeared briefly on the streets (I never met the owner – probably the father of the rider I saw from a distance – who must have had it in storage).3 The Mongoose, however, was made for all the unpaved sidestreets of Pita and roads beyond.

I took the bike on several trips related to work, the longest of which was to Timbi Madina about 30 kilometers to the west. It was a really nice experience taking roads on bike that I had previously taken in a Jeep – with the slower pace you take in a lot more of the nature, visually as well as aurally. A totally different appreciation of the environment. And of distance and terrain. These were not easy jaunts as the terrain is mostly hilly. I remember one road to a village whose name I forget being basically a series of hard climbs and careful descents. The way to Timbi Madina was more like the top of the plateau, or perhaps it seemed more level because the route chosen for that frequently-used road minimized steep passages.

The main problem with using the bike, however, turned out to be that as a mode of transportation it did not facilitate involvement of my counterparts in field visits.

Honda vs. BMX (vs. Jeep)

Not too much later, my Peace Corps issue motorcycle – a Honda 125cc dirt bike – was delivered.4 This changed the transportation and work equation. The Jeeps in theory could now be reserved for instances involving transport of multiple staff, materials for nurseries, or seedlings for outplanting. For regular extension and monitoring of activities, I could go with one of the Pita-based staff on the moto.

So, soon after the moto arrived, the mountain bike was relegated mainly to in-town travel.

As a practical matter, my work as the only PCV attached to the project (instead of one of two) expanded over a wider area than originally foreseen. That territory, as it were, then expanded further with site selection in preparation for a new group of volunteers, and my subsequent decision to stay on as volunteer-leader when they were posted in September 1986.

Jerry was during this time building the Peace Corps administrative staff with local hires from Guinea – including an APCD for administration, Tafsir Thiam, and at least one third-country national – but there was no programming APCD until after I left in July 1987, so in some ways I served as kind of a brevet APCD.

On to other roads

All in all, this BMX Mongoose was a worthwhile investment. Even with regular use only on the hills and unpaved roads of Pita, and a limited number of trips out of town, it was a nice way to get around. And often the best way to do so.

On leaving Pita, I sold it to Jan Cerny, a Czech forestry expert with the FAO project also based in Pita, who apparently had done bicycle racing in the past.

Much later, Peace Corps worldwide moved in a big way to mountain bikes for volunteers as it scaled back use of motorcycles. I have not seen any documents about that decision or ensuing transition, which was well underway by the time I joined the Peace Corps staff as an APCD in Niger. In any event, Peace Corps’ use of mountain bikes fits in a less-noticed utilitarian dimension of the “global phenomenon” that the Wired article alludes to.

My next bike was in East Lansing, Michigan a few years later, when my wife and I bought a pair of used bicycles for use on Michigan State University campus. The next one after was a hybrid that I purchased to take to Niger, which got minimal use in Niamey then went into storage when we relocated to China (in Chengdu I borrowed my wife’s bicycle sometimes to commute to work). I’m still using that same bike that went to Niger – with a couple of new wheel rims to replace the ones bent in the Vienna accident.

(Thanks to Carroll Bouchard, Bob Hellyer, and Mark Wentling for their help with information. Needless to say, any errors in this blog article are mine.)

1. Other accounts of PC/Guinea history, such as on the Friends of Guinea site, do not go into any detail about this period. This blog article is not intended to fully cover that gap.
2. The region name is also spelled Fouta Djallon or Fouta Djalon in French, and Fuuta Jaloo or Fuuta Jalon in Pular.
3. It is tempting to make a superficial comparison with Conakry for the occasional out-of-the-ordinary vehicles one used to spot on its streets back then.
4. This was planned, and typical for rural development PCVs in that era. Many Americans familiar with motorcycles scoff at a 100cc or 125 cc, but this size and power was ideal for rural development work. Even carrying a passenger. I hope to discuss Peace Corps and motorcycles in depth at another time.


Sumbala, and the shifting worlds of locust beans & soybeans in West Africa

One of the two foods highlighted in my chapter about soybeans in Africa in The World of Soy (published already 8 years ago now) was a pungent West African condiment, traditionally made with “African locust beans” but increasingly with soybeans, and known by various names such as: sumbala, sunbala, or sungala (in Manding); daddawa or dawadawa (in Hausa); iru (in Yoruba); netetu (in Wolof); and ojji (in Fula). The other food was tofu, which is also an interesting development, but here I’ll focus only on the condiment, and the ongoing natural resource issues behind a shift in its main ingredient.

Increasing use of soybeans is a good story, but the decrease in use of locust beans is not, reflecting declining numbers of African locust bean trees due to loss, low regeneration, and little planting, and decreasing production by existing trees where rainfall levels have gone down.

What is sumbala…?

Sumbala – I’ll use the term from Manding here, although I used the Hausa term in the book chapter – is widely used across West Africa to season sauces. The process of making sumbala centers on fermentation of seeds, most commonly those of the African locust bean tree, Parkia biglobosa (among the traditional alternatives is a close relative of the more humid tropics, P. bicolor). More about the tree and what’s happening with it in a moment, but about its seeds – evidently they are quite nutritious. Locust beans have high protein (like distantly related beans) and various other nutrients. The fermentation process, aside from changing taste, also affects the profile of available nutrients.

Production of sumbala – generally done by women as a home-based industry – is a multi-step process from preparing the seeds to boiling them to setting them aside in the proper conditions to ferment (without innoculent to get the fermentation started). The bacteria of the fermentation are in the Bacillus group, primarily Bacillis subtilis (a variety of the latter is also used to ferment soybeans in a somewhat different process to make a Japanese food called nattō  納豆).

The final sumbala product can be seen in local markets as a ball or patty. These may be traded at some distance within the region. Nowadays it is also packaged in a crumbled form for sale in urban markets and for export.

African locust bean tree, or nere

Parkia biglobosa, often called in English African locust bean tree, or more rarely African carob, is common in Africa, and especially West Africa, roughly between 5°N and 15° N latitude – from the edge of tropical forests to the edge of the desert (“mean annual rainfall” of 400-700mm). The tree of course has names in the various languages of the region such as: nɛrɛ or nɛtɛ (Manding); ɗorawa (Hausa); irugba (Yoruba); uul (Wolof); and nareewi or netehi (Fula). “Néré” in French and English comes from the Manding, as evidently do the Fula terms.

The tree is valuable for its seeds, of course, and also for other products, such as the nutritous yellow pulp of the pods. Lost Crops of Africa, Vol. IIThe Lost Crops of Africa (vol. 2) chapter on the African locust bean tree discuses some of those uses. In terms of traditional medicine, bark and leaves are apparently effective in treatment of some infectious diseases.

Due to its value, the locust bean tree is usually conserved in fields when most other woody plants would be cleared. However it has been noted for a while that natural regeneration is apparently not sufficient to replenish the population – which recent studies from Burkina Faso and Nigeria confirm. Reasons given for this include the harvest of the seeds for sumbala, and loss of seedlings to drought or browsing livestock.

Efforts to plant African locust bean trees are apparently few, even though it is simple to seed directly or produce in nurseries.* One example of planting in southern Burkina Faso is interesting but seems to be limited in scope. It is not clear whether planting this species is part of any large scale project or extension effort, although it was mentioned in a 2010 recommendation of species for the Great Green Wall project.


Pods, yellow pulp & leaf (Source: Anthony Simons via World Agroforestry)

Another challenge is lower rainfall levels, which aside from affecting survival of seedlings also lower production of seed pods – as observed in another example from Burkina Faso.

Soybeans to the rescue?

It is in this environment, with generally declining availability of locust beans but increasing markets for sumbala, that soybeans emerged as an alternative. This substitution is described in more detail in the book chapter, but it appears to have been an innovation by Nigerian women in the 1980s. I am not aware of any studies of its dissemination – by local networks or projects, nor whether it may have been an innovation in several locations experiencing the same shortage of locust beans. I first learned of this substitution in 1999 while in Mali, and it  was treated as a new development – indeed a project had introduced the use of soybeans for sumbala a couple of years earlier.

Soybeans have a couple of advantages for making sumbala, notably as a field crop they can be produced quickly enough to respond to demand, and having thinner seed coats, require less boiling time (hence less firewood in typical production) to prepare for fermentation. On the other hand, soybeans as a field crop require more labor to produce than locust beans, which are simply harvested from trees, and the soy sumbala deteriorates faster in storage.

In terms of taste, opinions I heard were that soy sumbala was comparable to that made with locust beans. However Margaret Shao, in a master’s thesis referencing her research in northern Ghana, found that locust bean sumbala was preferred. And further that because of this, soybeans were sometimes used as filler with locust beans in making sumbala to combine the advantages of both. Beyond that, I have not seen any studies of preferences.

Looking to the future

The Africa locust bean tree is valuable in many ways, of which the use of its seeds for making of sumbala is particularly important. Soybeans are established as a valuable crop and food in West Africa, and have added an important option to producers of sumbala in the face of increased demand for their product and decreased supply of locust beans. The two – soybeans and locust beans – are in a substitution relationship that is relatively novel. But the emergence of soybeans and decline of locust beans does not mean that the former should be expected to supplant the latter as the main ingredient of this West African condiment.

Use of soybeans to produce sumbala, by helping meet demand for the condiment, may actually help reduce pressure on supply of locust beans, thus perhaps indirectly favoring regeneration of the African locust bean tree. However, various factors make reliance on natural regeneration of the African locust bean tree unrealistic. The main hope for maintaining this tree as a component of African dry forests and sustainable source of seeds and other products will have to be its deliberate production and planting both as a tree crop in reforestation projects and as a “food tree” crop in community-level agroforestry.

In memoriam

I would like to add a brief remembrance of Prof. Sidney Mintz, one of the editors of The World of Soy, and of course a distinguished scholar whose work profoundly influenced his field of anthropology, as well as the lives of many. Prof. Mintz passed away last December after an unfortunate accident. The New York Times obituary called him the “father of food anthropology” and indeed his work on the project that resulted in The World of Soy was in this vein. According to his website, his next project was “looking at fermentation, a too little-noticed subject, when we consider that as much as one third of the food we eat is fermented.” He had a tireless intellect and genuinely inspiring approach to scholarship and to life.

My only connections with Prof. Mintz were as an undergraduate student years ago in an intro to anthropology course he taught at Johns Hopkins entitled “Human: Being and Becoming,” and of course in the soy project, including a panel presentation at the 8th Symposium on Chinese Dietary Culture in Chengdu. There are many more fitting tributes to his life and work. I can only say I was privileged to have learned from him.

* The thick seed coat may require some treatment – “scarification” – to facilitate penetration of water and germination. Manuals recommend several methods including boiling briefly, soaking in sulfuric acid, or physically nicking the seed cover (one study, for example, compares methods).  For a moderate production, on the order of 100 as I recall, I used the following simple method in Djenné, Mali during the early 1980s: Soak seeds in water overnight, remove swollen seeds for planting (we produced them in plastic pots in the nursery for later outplanting), return non-swollen seeds to fresh water to soak, with option to nick the outside of the seeds with a pocket-knife to hasten the process.


Terralingua “returns to its roots” (a CFP)

Terralingua's logoLangscape, the magazine of the NGO Terralingua, just extended the deadline of the call for abstracts for its spring issue. Extracts from the call (with February 7 deadline!) are copied below, but what caught my eye about this particular issue was how its theme, “Voices of the Earth,” was framed as “going back” to Terralingua’s roots.

I first learned of Terralingua shortly after it was founded in the late 1990s when its slogan was “Partnerships for Linguistic and Biological Diversity” (the call copied below explains how the organization’s name comes from linking those two concepts). Its active concern with connections between languages and biodiversity was, if not unique, certainly uncommon. At the time I found it a source of inspiration for some of my evolving thinking about connections among agriculture, language, environment, education, and technology.

Terralingua and its director, Dr. Luisa Maffi, have continued to do interesting research in the area now known as “biocultural diversity.” Langscape is one of the organization’s activities.

In any event, it is good to see the focus of the upcoming issue of Langscape on the linguistic diversity/biodiversity links within the larger system. The following is adapted from the full call for abstracts (refer to the full call if you are considering submitting).

Call For Abstracts

Langscape Volume 5, Issue 1, Spring 2016
“Voices of the Earth”

Abstract Submission Deadline: EXTENDED TO February 7, 2016

This year, Terralingua turns twenty!  We came into the world two decades ago, with a unique mission: to sustain biocultural diversity – the interconnected and interdependent diversity of life in nature and culture.

To celebrate this milestone, we are “going back to our roots” with the theme for the next issue of Langscape Magazine (Spring 2016):  “Voices of the Earth”.

In 1996, we chose the name Terralingua to suggest two things at once: the language of the Earth – the voice of Mother Nature; and the languages of the Earth – the many voices of the world’s diverse peoples, which have evolved through intimate interaction with the Earth in particular places.  When that bond is strong, the Earth is healthy, and so are we.  When we lose that bond, the Earth is weakened, and we are weakened with her.

Here are some possible (but not the only!) questions for the “Voices of the Earth” theme:

  • How are language and the environment connected?  How is language shaped by human relationships with nature, and how is nature shaped by language?
  • How does each language reflect the specific natural features of the place in which it evolved?  How does it express people’s relationship with nature in that particular place?
  • How do words, stories, myths, oral histories, and other verbal expressions convey traditional knowledge and wisdom, cultural values, and spiritual beliefs about the link between people and nature?
  • Is there an “inner language” that connects us to the Earth and bonds us to specific places?  What happens to our individual and collective well-being when that bond is broken?
  • How does language loss affect our relationship with nature?  And how does environmental change affect the resilience of languages?
  • What do we do to reawaken a language when its voice is fading?
  • What is the voice of the Earth telling us about our environmental predicament?  And what are the voices of the Earth saying about it?

Contributions to Langscape may take different forms, either text-driven or artwork-driven…

Please submit your Abstract – your idea for a contribution, in 1-2 paragraphs maximum – NO LATER THAN FEBRUARY 7, 2016, using the submission form accessed through the “Submit Here” link below.  Please attach your document in Word .doc or .docx formats only.
After reviewing all abstracts, we will let you know by February  9  whether we would like to invite you to submit a full contribution.

PLEASE NOTE:  An invitation to submit a full contribution does not mean that your contribution is already accepted for publication. It means that we are interested in your idea and would like to see your full submission.

IMPORTANT: Be aware that Langscape does not publish formal scientific or technical papers.  We seek contributions that, while based on solid scholarship, express concepts in accessible language and in a literary rather than academic style.  Tell a story!

[Full call for abstracts]  [Page for uploading submissions]