CURLS: Neoliberalism and the food System

„You hum something, a tone or a sound and the rest of the group is following you!“

A sound is coming from one corner, gradually the rest of the group adopts this sound. It becomes louder and louder, like a swarm of busy bees flying towards you. The sound stops and after a while also the last imitator fell silent. A new tone is hummed, everyone listens carefully, searches for the right tone and joins in.

In the end we were even able to hum/ sing songs and melodies by simply following the improvised tune of the person who is leading the song.

This morning we spend an hour that we only dedicated to our voice. Where does our voice come from, how does it feel like, can we follow a sound from another person, how can we modulate our voice. Not only was this a perfect start into the day, it is also something very important when you are an activist who wants to promote change. Alok Ulfat, who is a trainer for theatre, expression, voice and appearance from India holds one hour of “mind & body movement”- workshops every morning. He is convinced that there is a voice in every person that has the right need to be heard and especially for a group of changemakers it is of utter importance to bring the message across to other people, to speak out loud and to use emotional and convincing body language.

After this very active start in the day we dived into the matter of political economy, the concept of neo-liberalism and the impacts of the agenda on South East Asia. The short lecture, followed by a lively discussion, was held by Surat Horachaikul who is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University. After a journey starting from A. Smith and J. Locke, via role of the state in neoliberalism and a discussion on populism, we ended up talking about possible paths out of the neoliberal agenda. What´s the role of the individual in this process? What´s the role of companies? Maybe this system is too adaptive and powerful that there won´t ever be any change? No, says Surat Horachaikul. There is hope! The small steps towards Right Livelihood each of us goes every day, from buying organic food, to campaigning have an impact on the system that is not to be underestimated. And as long as we live in a system that is shaped by supply and demand, we can have an impact on that “demand” side. But can we really change a company that is already deeply embedded in the current system, thinking about increasing the profit margin rather than mother earth? The discussion reached long into the break…

The break was followed by a presentation by Ong Kung Wai, board member of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) who focussed more on the economical, systemic and technical arguments in favour of a shift toward organic agriculture.

The afternoon was all about food systems and supply chains where we used the method “World Café” to find out more about what food means to us, why we think the current food system is not sustainable and how we can work towards a more sustainable way of producing and consuming food.

A brief summary of the discussions and outcomes is soon to follow but one thing can already be said: for every participant producing, cooking and consuming food is something precious and the current system disconnects us from the roots of the food system. Fast Food, Take Away, far distance between production and consumption and the destruction of soil (and many more of course) are all aspects of the food system that create an imbalance and disharmony. We need to find ways to appreciate food again, to take time to cook properly, we need to support local markets and to see food not only as a means to appease one´s hunger but as a gift and our basis of life. If we keep on destroying traditional knowledge of farming, if we keep on spraying chemicals on our vegetables and if we keep on putting profit over people and the environment we will eventually not only harm humankind but damage the whole environment.

A first glimpse of the Right Livelihood Summer School in Bangkok

A first glimpse of CURLS

I open the windows to let in some fresh air and get hit by a wall. I immediately decide to shut the windows again. Air conditioning? Really? I turn it on and it´s a relief. I still need to adjust to the completely new climate, everything smells different, looks different and is organized in a different way. Speaking of differences, since today I also know that in Thailand you should avoid pinpointing or stepping with your foot at or on something, as the foot is regarded something unclean and dirty (in fact my feet were quite dirty..). So when I wanted to show another participant something on a poster that was lying on the floor and I used my foot to point towards the issue, I raised some indignant looks. First cultural brick dropped.


Since Friday a group of young adults is gathering at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. They are all participants of the Chulalongkorn Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS), a joint event of the Right Livelihood Colleges (RLC), the Chulalongkorn University, the Wellbeing Studies Programme and several other organisations which is taking place in and around Bangkok for the next two weeks. The aim of the summer school is to get familiar with the concepts of Right Livelihood, Participatory Action Research and link this to current urban and rural food challenges. The participants´ backgrounds and interests are diverse and range from work with single women in India to Ecotourism in Vietnam to environmental education with Buddhist values in Thailand. We have representatives from the Royal University of Bhutan and PhD students from the States. I am representing the Youth Future Project, the youth association of the RLAF and I will mainly be responsible for feeding this blog.

After a rather official first day with introductory key note speeches, we got into a familiar working atmosphere today. The main focus was on introducing the concept of participatory action research and to listen to some greetings from Right Livelihood Award Laureates. With interactive and creative methods the participants were then asked to first get to know each other and then present their own field of study/ work and their visionary initiative for right livelihood action that will set the base line for the next days. At the end of this summer school we will come back to these initiatives and ideas and see how we can turn them into action. The first attempt of visionary work lay an inspiring and hopefully fruitful foundation for the participants of the summer school.

During the next week we will try and make as many voices from the Summer School get heard as possible. Through interviews or articles by participants we hope to let everyone become a part of this amazing process full of inspiration and hope, participation and action, reflection and solution seeking.


A question on impact and travelling across the globe

It is the first time I travel outside of Europe, the first time I set foot on another continent. So far I have been active on a rather local or at least national or European level, where travelling by plane wasn´t necessary. When I received the invitation for the Summer School, one of the first questions that came to my mind was the question on how I could justify such a long and climate damaging flight to attend such a meeting and I still haven´t solved the question.

It feels ambivalent that there is a group of young changemakers already active in their home countries, conscious about the environment, aware of climate change and its consequences, who nevertheless easily put up with something like flying to attend a two week long gathering in Bangkok. If an event is happening in South Asia, do we need participants from Europe to attend and in return accept flying?


I can only ask this question for myself as I guess each individual has to make their own choices and decisions, but I will personally follow this question very closely during the next weeks. Can you countervail the damage of flying with the positive impact this gathering of changemakers will have on each individual or the world? How can you measure impact and can you measure it at all? Can you argue the plane would have flown anyway?

Take Bill McKibben as an example (laureate of the Right Livelihood Award 2014) who decides to rather send video messages than actually flying to a conference! In a world with increasing possibilities of technology this is no longer a problem. Will he miss out on something or was his impact as intense as those of the lecturers who personally attend the Summer School?

I personally already see the possibilities and chances deriving out of such an intercultural group, how we learn from each other, take other views into account, different ways of living, seeing and dealing with problems. I cannot deny that. But is being aware of your impact, thinking about it and appreciating this unique experience enough? tbc


Soil Not Oil: Right Livelihood Laureate Vandana Shiva to speak in Port Harcourt, Bori, Erema and Abuja

On July 23, to mark the UN International Year of the Soil and the decades long struggle against oil extraction in the Niger Delta, 1993 Right Livelihood Award Laureate, Vandana Shiva, gave a lecture at the Right Livelihood College in Port Harcourt. The event was organized in collaboration with Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate, Nnimmo Bassey.

The UN has chosen 2015 as the International Year of the Soil with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of soil for human life, food security, climate change adaptation and sustainable development. In the Niger Delta, oil extraction has severely contaminated the soil. A 2011 the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Report assessing the environment of Ogoni found that, in over 40 locations tested, the soil is polluted with hydrocarbons up to a depth of 5 metres and that all the water bodies in Ogoni land are polluted.

“With oil spills occurring with a disturbing frequency of almost one a day, the soil and waters of the Niger Delta are being severely degraded, thus raising challenges for production of wholesome food,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF. “Vandana Shiva’s visit is timely and she raised critical issues on the need to preserve our soils, seeds and food systems, rather than allowing them to be destroyed by the irresponsible activities of oil companies in their bid to extract resources of diminishing value.

Vandana Shiva, a physicist, philosopher, feminist, activist and author, has dedicated her life to defending small farmers’ rights and the rights of people to forests, biodiversity, water, seeds and land. Her organization, Navdanya, which means “nine seeds,” has been actively involved in rejuvenating indigenous culture and knowledge, and setting up seed banks across India, training farmers in sustainable agriculture and seed sovereignty. Dr. Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmentalist.



New Webinar@AIMS, 23rd of July about AJFAND_Open Access Publishing of African Food Information


A new webinar entitled “African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND): Disseminating African Food and Nutritional Information through Open Access Publishing” [1] took place on the 23rd of July 2015, hosted by The Agricultural Information Management Standards (AIMS) Community [2] .

It was presented by Mary Karanu, Assistant Editor at African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) [3].


This webinar represented the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) and the webinar addressed publishers, librarians, information management specialists, software developers, (agricultural) journal editors, related data providers and other interested people.

AJFAND is an Open Access, scientific, peer reviewed, scholarly journal with a global reach, published in Kenya since 2001. AJFAND was founded in 2001 by Hon. Prof. Ruth Oniang’o who is the Editor-in-Chief, to provide an avenue for publishing scholarly works by African scholars and others who share an interest in topics related to food and nutrition security, agriculture and development; and also to give visibility to budding academics in Africa.

AJFAND has been published by African Science Communications Trust (ASSCAT) since the year 2009. The goal of AJFAND is to provide a platform through which food and nutrition issues and information concerning Africa and its unique problems can be effectively disseminated and addressed.