In an age of rising populations and climate change, global food security is a major concern. New farming technologies and market-based agriculture provide one answer while traditional farming practices and natural resource management provide another.
A Thousand Suns, filmed in Ethiopia, New York, and Kenya, tells the story of the Gamo Highlands and the unique worldview held by the people of the region. Perched high above the African Rift Valley in southwestern Ethiopia, this isolated area is one of the most densely populated rural regions of Africa. Its people have been farming sustainably for 10,000 years. It has remained biologically and culturally intact because of a unique traditional food system that interweaves a diverse number of tree, root, cereal, and vegetable crops with forestry and livestock production.
The defining aspect of land use in the Gamo highlands is a set of intricate and well-enforced traditional laws called Wagas. These laws stem from the belief that everything is connected and bound in a delicate balance. Together they form a natural resource management system that dictates everything from interpersonal relationships to the conservation and preservation of pasture, forest, soil, and water. Because the Wagas are interconnected, if one aspect is denied or imbalanced, the whole system is at risk.
Threats to the Gamo include outside religions and the “new” Green Revolution. The Evangelical Protestant Church is changing the traditional animist social structures that have, until now, bound the people of the Gamo to each other and the environment. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative is moving farming away from household food security and into an external market-based agriculture. The Gamo’s unique agricultural system and the worldview that sustains it provide valuable clues as to how it may be possible to support a growing human population while coexisting with the natural environment.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.11-12.1.b. Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Geo.9.9-12. Evaluate the influence of long-term climate variability on human migration and settlement patterns, resource use, and land uses and local-to-global scales.
Next Generation Science Standards. HS-LS2.6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.