School children take part in Nendo Dango in Argentina´s Rio Negro Province, Patagonia.
As part of a reforestation program around Argentina´s Eco Capital, El Bolsón, 21 schools have transformed their assembly halls into assembly lines for the production of over 25,000 seed clay balls utilizing the ancient technique of Nendo Dango. The method, re-invented by the ´father of natural farming´, Masanobu Fukuoka, was taught to the people of El Bolsón 3 years ago when Panos Manikis, Fukuoka´s most learned disciple, came to hold a series of workshops. Today, led by an inspiring group of permaculture activists, the technique is being used to do more than just rejuvenate the 1,200 hectares of forest that was incinerated in a 3-day fire earlier this year.
“Children represent the seeds of humanity”, says Pastor Alvarez, permaculture expert, teacher and activist, “so they are one of the best multipliers of ecological consciousness”.
Bureaucracy aside, the project is remarkably simple. The children are asked to collect as many seeds as possible over the space of a few days. Pastor and a small team of volunteers arrive at the school bearing dry powdered clay and big plastic tubs. As the children watch an introductory video to Nendo Dango, Pastor and volunteers sort through the labeled bags of seeds and separate the native plants from the exotics, as well as throwing in a few of their own. The seeds are then stirred in with the dry powdered clay by hand at a ratio of about 5:1. Lukewarm water is added and in a kneading motion a dough-like mixture is formed. These heavy chunks are torn apart and passed out amongst the eagerly awaiting children, who in a frenzy of excitement roll them into sausages and break them up into seed clay balls approximately 5cm in diameter. These are laid out to dry on sheets of cardboard and in the space of three fun hours, weeks of potentially arduous work has been accomplished.
However it´s not just about using the children for their high energy and plentiful hands, Pastor is sure to point out. “It´s about involving them directly in the shift to a sustainable planet”, he says. “It´s the beginning of a movement to teach the children that through action and participation they can make the difference…. These experiences — of collecting seeds, making the clay balls, throwing them into the burnt forest and watching them grow — will mark their lives forever. In this sense, we are planting seeds of consciousness.”
Blanca Rosa, a permaculture expert from Chile, is also passionately involved in the project. “At first the council was reluctant to give us support.” She explains. “They had their own ways of reforestation and Nendo Dango wasn´t one of them. So we invited the Mayor to come along to a school workshop one day and from then on he´s been a great enthusiast.”
Fukuoka´s technique has proven to be effective. The clay absorbs humidity and helps the seeds to germinate, as well as providing a protective shell from animals and other external threats. It requires no soil cultivation, or prepared fertilizers, weeding or application of pesticides or herbicides.
Fukuoka liked to call it ´do-nothing´ farming. On top of that, by mixing all types of seeds together, trees, shrubs, fruits and vegetables, in a diverse jungle-like habitat, is given the chance to grow.
“We know that the system works”, says Julian Torres, ranger of the Lake Puelo National Park, “because in the past two years we´ve watched it rejuvenate another burnt forest. Because of this we have contacted various institutions and requested more detailed information regarding the technique.”
“Discovering this project has given me a light of hope.” Matias Peralta, a travelling volunteer from Argentina´s Mendoza province says. “It´s showed me that nature can be totally destroyed by a bush fire, yet in time, it can be resuscitated back to life. It´s showed me that life moves in cycles.”
An estimated 1,000 volunteers, mostly children, showed up to help throw the seed clay balls in the forest of El Ollo. “This event represents a part of the social change that is growing in South America” says Blanca Rosa.