Scentient Cultures: rebuilding, rewilding, enlivening, creating local prosperity

Since the early 2000's, a good friend from studies days started small scale rebuilding projects in some rural areas of his native Afghanistan. With all the geopolitical turmoil, wars and migrations since the late 70's most of the rural areas were in pretty bad shape, and that's euphemism.

A few years later, he started to involve me, to add an anthropological / systemic approach to the projects, and also outreach & fundraising about them In Switzerland, EU and beyond. We started by working on different small scale projects, trying to contribute on local and regional scales.

To give just one example of our approach: we realized that in many rural regions, several problems were recurrently occurring: largely broken roads, transport means for fresh merchandises in the hands of unscrupulous non local traders mostly, taking advantage of the fact that in season all fruits come at the same time, no refrigeration available, etc. Often locally people stop harvesting their orchards, because it wasn't worth the work. They ate their fill "in season", as all comes at the same time,  and as there is no refrigeration systems around, people suffered from serious vitamins deficiencies for more than half the year. So we started small local units of processing fresh fruits in many regions, allowing both for longer storage and added resale value, but also for use all year round (pasteurized natural juices, dried fruits, fruit pastes etc.)

And so, over the years, we kept collaborating with people and communities, assessing their needs with informal discussions, collaborative focus groups, fieldwork observations, etc. From those insights, we tried imagining simple but multi-layered and mutually reinforcing positive practices, etc.



 It is a story for another post (or another place) but over the years we got progressively disillusioned with the "development" framework.

From this point onwards, we started to imagine different collaborative projects, and different modes for collaborating, with the same core vision: local projects that are based around values, and not articulated for profit maximisation, but for shared prosperity, with the priority focus on local rebuilding and local prosperity, both socially and ecologically.

The social aspects have been for example fostering cooperatives of production, mutualizing tools, knowledge, production, etc  (for saffron) and for our own estates, priority on local reinvestment with the incomes generated, providing stable employment to otherwise vulnerable people, a majority of whom women, good pay, constant formation and skill expansion, job security, etc.

On the ecological side we develop organic / natural / wild sustainable projects, rewilding initiatives, we develop new timber, fruit and floral orchards, etc. We also work with knowledge, skill and equipment reciprocal transfers, the idea being to merge Swiss standards for quality, hygiene & local knowledge and traditions.

We try to produce as many things as possible locally up to the stills for distillation, (here also stories for other times), and offer complete traceability of what we sell, as we are present at all stages, from conception to production, to wholesale or retail sales and perfume creation.

Our rose orchards used to be dried parched earth, and now they are green. fragrant buzzing with life and pollinators. They are no monoculture either, as we protect the rosebushes by cross planting other plants who repel their predators.

We hire around 40 people all year round to work on the primary orchard and do associated work (like cultivating garden vegetable foods for consumption and market resale, etc. In season we hire around 300 people, also with excellent conditions for both working conditions and compensation. Around 200 work in the new orchard that we are currently developing (since 2021, on a new terroir) in harvest season, and around 20 year-round. We hope to create a new one in a couple of years. dedicated to other botanical species. Most of the people we employ have vulnerable backgrounds, a majority of them are women, many widows. Our project is essential for their livelihoods, and a feeling of reciprocal gratitude abounds, from us for their incredible dedicated work, their humour energy, presence, resilience and incredible spirits.  

We face many challenges, from fragile political situations, earthquakes, floodings, droughts, etc. but we try our best to keep the projects running and for expanding with new ideas and initiatives. Many beautiful ones are in progress, but as it is very difficult to master their rhythm of development, I mention them here when they are ready or near completion only. But if we meet, ask me about them, I share with pleasure informally.

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