A Double Wealth

A Double Wealth

While in Haiti a few years ago, I was struck by how many savings groups and their members, there called Mutuelles, were able to set so much money aside. Members stepped forward to tell their stories, most matching my mental checklist of answers that corresponded to what we evaluators always like to hear: couldn’t save on my own, neighbors not reliable, credit unions fail, banks unfriendly, and so on and so forth. In short, “I need the group – I cannot live without it.”

An old woman spoke up. Her story varied from the norm. “Fifty years ago,” she said, “we would not have needed such a group. We would have been able to walk about and see how nature had saved for us.” She went on to describe how she would gather fruit from her orchard or harvest coconuts from wild palms. Corn was plentiful.

Behind the old woman in the distance I could see pale stripes crisscrossing barren folds of land. Cows and smaller livestock were kicking up dust as they roamed the faces of the hills, making the ground brittle. She went on: “today, the land provides no savings. We must save in our group.” Others joined in and agreed, especially older members. They talked of a time when their land was not bare, how fodder was abundant and the hills green. Sure, their group was an essential vessel of savings today but decades ago would have been unnecessary.

I assumed that more people and more livestock ultimately meant the inevitable browning of pastureland until it turned to its end-state: desert. In fact, livestock are banned in many parts of the world, including feral sheep on the channel islands in my home state of California. The purpose of such banning is to let the land rest from the hooves and the teeth of cattle and smaller livestock. Yet, the problem with resting the land is that decay, a part of nature, still takes place. In the absence of biological decay, however, oxidation, a chemical process, fills the breach. Oxidation can lead in a downward spiral to desertification. Indeed, permitting herds to run wild can be a problem: grazing animals will eat young shoots while ignoring leafier, taller grasses, with higher stores of sun-soaked energy.

Allowing herds to pick and choose where they want to graze is clearly not the answer. But, neither is banning them. There is a different take on transforming fragile land into a savings vessel, where increased livestock might actually help reverse the problem. Rotated properly through pastures, even once tropical ones, livestock can nurture soil (assuming cutting is managed as well) back to a fertile state. Grazing animals churn the ground and pack fallen seed into it, their dung fertilizing it. Grasses, shrubs and trees take root trapping carbon and moisture deep within the soil. In the process, aquifers become replenished.

Perhaps, with proper grazing, part of Haiti’s land could be returned to its legacy as a natural saver. If that were to happen, Haitian mutuelles, could add their savings in cash to their savings in nature and enjoy a double wealth.

For more on rotational grazing see thisthis, and this, a few posts and videos to get you started.


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Reader Comments (4)

Very interesting topic: I've been working with Mapuche people of Chile for a decade. We are currently working to establish a community-managed financial model that is responsive to culturally-specific asset-building priorities and strategies. So far, seems that trade-offs between building monetary assets and physical ones (including soils and ecosystem-based management mechanisms) is inevitable. Can we somewhat have a win-win, and really doubled?


Mon, February 25, 2013 | Ignacio Krell

Crop rotation is great and one reason is becuase it returns so many of the valuable nutrients that the animals consume in their grass diets - especially nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium - right back to the pasture.

Unfortunately, the nutrients in the plants and meat consumed by humans are usually lost (and often washed out to sea where they cause dead zones and deplete fish stocks.) In Haiti, SOIL - that's Sustainable Organic integrated Livelihoods - is reversing this trend. Not only are these Haitians providing for their toilet needs, they are restoring the soils, planting trees, and creating community gardens. There's good information about this productive, restorative sanitation on their website. http://www.oursoil.org

Thu, February 28, 2013 | Carol McCreary

Thanks Carol for reminding us of the importance of sane use of resources, including resources that we habitually and unthinkingly call "waste". I hope others will check out the SOIL website you mention.

Reading your comment reinforces what I was saying above in the post with the devil and the angel whispering in our ears (http://savings-revolution.org/blog/2013/2/27/the-very-essence-of-savings-groups.html). The Angel is telling us to save, and that means saving resources of any kind, now more important than ever.

Fri, March 1, 2013 | Paul Rippey

Dear Kim:
I find your reflection very interesting. I am workingwith MAPLE Microdevelopment and indigenous Mapuche communities in Chile in designing a community-managed, savings-based banking alternative that incorporates mapuche priorities, traditions and values. The direction our work is taking -we are conducting preliminary work at a distance- is leading to the issue of physical assets, including soils, water, and biodiversity, and how these stand in relation to finances and money savings and loans. I've been looking at this relation as a trade-off between building physical and financial assets -and teh communities so far tend to save the little they have in physical assets that normally play a role in quality of life. But in reading your post, I wonder: It is possible to really "doubled" asset-building processes into monetary and physical realms? Do you know of existing community-based mechanisms for generating soil returns por instance, from money saving and lending? 
Thank you!

Sat, March 2, 2013 | ignacio krell

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