Pierre Rabhi leaves no stone unturned when addressing the multiple flaws of our current economic and societal model. This self-taught and self-made man (the French word ‘autodidact’ better captures the true meaning though), whom I recently met in his house on a hill in the Ardèche, is the modesty himself.
In French he is often described as a ‘paysan-philosophe’, a countryman-philosopher, referring to the combination of practical know-how and understanding the bigger picture. This gentle-man, now in his early seventies, has proven throughout his life that more humane, responsible and healthy ways to relate to our mother earth – ‘notre terre nourricière’ – (the very basis for our life), and to each other is possible.
We live in boxes …
He says that the concept of growth is a problem, not a solution. The current model has proven to be inadequate. In a quiet and determined way, without any hesitation while building his argumentation, he unravels the semantic used in the language of the current economic model. “There is no real freedom (‘liberté’), despite what commercials or politics try to make us believe”. He tells me about his first working experience as a young man in a factory. Back then he already realised “we are there to serve a productive system, not to use and develop our multiple capacities”. Similar in our educational system, which prepares us to be useful, but as he experienced: “it doesn’t help us to discover who we are as a human being and is too often not a place of initiation of life (see also the way the school at Les Amanins works).
And then we go to school, live, study, work, spend our old age, and, eventually, are even buried in boxes. (In French the word ‘boîte’ is also used when referring to working in a company.). This is one of the reasons he moved to the countryside.
He continues. “We spend most of our modern lives indoors with no real connection to earth or nature and many products (be it food or other) are disconnected from nature as well.” (By the way, going on holidays into nature does not make up for that loss either!) Not surprisingly, in this frantic world of the progress, production and performance logic of economy, the true ecological questions have disappeared from the political agenda. He points out that the very meaning of the word economy is not even applied. Instead of saving resources, materials etc., this economy is only wasting (in French the verb ‘économiser’ means saving). “On économise pas du tout, mais on gaspille” – we do not save at all but we waste, as Pierre Rabhi said.
Real change is therefore, according to Pierre Rabhi, not coming from politics as most of our leaders are not up to the task of governing. Change will come from civil society and from citizens. “People need to take life in their hands and use the multiple capacities we each possess”.
What we can learn from nature
To Pierre Rabhi food sovereignty is one of the fundamental principles of live. He applied his whole life the agro-ecology (also see my article on Terre & Humanisme on this blog). He bought as a young man this farm in the Ardèche. Even some people of the local authorities thought this was a crazy idea; the soil was of very poor quality, there was not enough water, the farm house was old … But Pierre Rabhi proofed otherwise. He learned to work and improve the soil and his small farm became one of the most productive in the whole region. “The Earth is very generous; every grain put in gives plenty of other grains, which in turn can be sown, etc. And earth teaches us patience, he says smilingly. You cannot sow and harvest at the same time!” I saw two enormous water reservoirs on his land. “Collected over many years and we have never had any water shortage”, he adds when he sees the surprise on my face. This again shows that we can produce food and create rich soils providing us with plenty of food, while using far less water.
La sobriété heureuse
Conversations with Pierre Rabhi are very rich and this is only a small extraction of the things we have shared. Of course I cannot leave out his view on what he calls ‘la sobriéte heureuse’ – happiness in simplicity. Real freedom, as he says, is about modesty, simplicity, and soberness. His concept of OASIS is also about mutual help, sharing and solidarity (‘solidarité’) between people.
O : ouvrons nos consciences – opening our minds
A : au respect de la terre nourricière – acknowledging respect for Mother Earth
S : soutenons des pratiques solidaires – supporting cooperative practices
I : initions la création de lieux de vie – initiating the creation of living space
S : semons des graines d’espoir – sowing the seeds of hope
No guru, but a very inspirational man!
In a recent post on his blog, Pierre Rabhi states that he is not and certainly does not want to be a guru. As I came to know him, this small and modest man with his twinkling eyes has both feet firmly on the ground and does not have anything of a guru. However, he inspires so many people as he is not just telling a (‘hear-say’) story, but everything is based on a critical mind-set, curiosity, solid knowledge of and a clear vision on agro-ecology and humanism. But most of all: he put all this into practice all his life.
The fruits of that (hard) work cannot only be seen in the many organisations and initiatives he set up together with others, both in France and in Africa, but also in the minds of many that have picked up on and further elaborated his ideas of creating Oasis’. And as is the aim of his organisation Colibris he wants to facilitate and support the abilities in everyone to embody change into concrete experiences and collective practices.
As were his final words to me: “ On est libre arbitre” – we have a free will!
Pierre Rabhi and everything that this man has done and stands for is summed up in a quotation from David Orr (Professor of Environmental Studies and politics in the USA): “The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.”