Gandhi and the Wool Spindle ... Palestine and Agroecology
By: Saad Dagher
Women in Hebron area are spinning wool- by Saad Dagher
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
India’s independence was achieved when the Indian struggle against British colonialism, accompanied by an insightful and fixed vision led by Mahatma Gandhi, culminated in the disintegration of English imperialism over Indian lands. It was the active practice of the philosophy that small actions can accomplish big goals. In this case, the goal of liberation. But what is this philosophy and what is the small movement that led to freedom?
Gandhi's entire philosophy of liberation was based the “wool spindle,” which weakened the foundations of British colonization in India and eventually led to freedom. The “wool spindle” was not the weapon itself, but the philosophy behind it, which led to independence. This philosophy is based on the fact that each large goal is the sum of many small interrelated parts, all of which must be taken into account in full detail because of the strength of the small parts and how they impact the strength of the larger whole.
An actual wool spindle is made of three pieces of wood, easily put together by any simple person. This is the first secret of its power, it is easy to make, everyone can build it, and all its necessary materials are available - just some pieces of wood. What it needs to work is only some sheep wool, which is also available locally.
Gandhi had his goat, who gave him milk. He went to an elderly Indian woman who knew how to turn goat hair threads and when she taught him how to do so, he sewed his clothes. With the spindle, he could "manufacture" without the need for factories, energy, or technology controlled by the British colonialism.
The power of the “wool spindle” philosophy and practice lies within two concepts. First, simplicity. One can easily make wool spindles and learn how to use them. Obtaining everything needed to build the spindles and get them started is an easy task, as the components are available locally and within easy reach of every human being. Second, is the ability of repetition by the poor and rich masses. Looking at the case of India, once Gandhi learned to use this tool, the Indian masses began to repeat the work, because they build the spindle and they had the sheep to produce wool.
This philosophy has made every Indian aware of the importance and strength of his own local resources, and how they can be transformed into instruments of self-reliance and independence. This “wool spindle” philosophy and policy have awakened the Indian citizens’ ability to recognize the importance of small things that can create a foundation upon which the achievement of great goals can be built, represented in defeating colonialism and getting freedom. It also led to the realization of the power of the individual and to their small work, led by the spirit of group work to achieve great goals.
Along with the “wool spindle,” the Indian population had a policy of ending the salt monopoly, which was produced by the British factories and sold in India because Indian citizens were forbidden from producing salt themselves. Gandhi walked to the sea, and when he reached its shores, he dug a small hole in the sand and put a cloth that he had on his shoulders inside the hole. He began to bring water in his hands from the ocean to the hole and pour the water over the cloth inside. The surrounding people and press looked at him in surprise. Gandhi sat down for a while and waited until the cloth was dry, then he gathered the salt that was left on the cloth from the sea water. He said to the onlookers, "this is the salt we can produce ourselves, without factories." A week later, three thousand Indians were producing salt in this way, thus breaking the colonial salt law. The small efforts of individual citizens combined to form a powerful action.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, about 80% of agricultural holdings are small holdings of less than ten dunums. While some believe that small holdings are a hindrance to development in agricultural production, we see the opposite. These small holdings, if turned into productive holdings that collaborate and work together, can generate a powerful and large movement. They can work together to provide food to their owners and others. Small holdings give an opportunity for every owner to work in with his family and produce what is needed. The question remains, “how can we promote this production and why should we?
The sum of small holdings can be transformed into a massive production force if they are exploited with the same philosophy of the “wool spindle,” the whole is only the sum of small parts. But to become strong, the small parts must be strong. How can small agricultural holdings become strong?
Small agricultural holdings can become strong if "self-reliance" approaches to production practices are adopted. All we need for production must be available locally. This process can begin by raising the fertility of soil and reviving it, while next paying attention to the free and available water sources, such as rain. No one can prevent precipitation from falling on our land, or from its effect of turning our land into soil and keeping the rain in the soil for as long as possible during the year to benefit from it in production.
Raising soil fertility is possible and easy through proper management of agricultural residues. As it stands, crop residues can amount to about one million tons annually, most of which are disposed of through burning, are thrown on the outskirts of the fields, or are thrown in the nearby valleys. If we add animal waste, it becomes clear that an enormous amount of wealth can be accumulated and used to fertilize the soil. In the absence of one or the other, the continued cultivation of beans can play the required role in maintaining and increasing soil fertility.
Residues from agricultural and bean crops can be used to make soil cover to reduce water evaporation, whether through rain water or irrigation water from different sources, it can improve soil fertility.
The issue of seeds can be solved when we begin to rely on seeds that can be produced locally, through the farmers themselves.
If we adopt the right practices for agriculture, many pest problems will be solved through diversifying agriculture on the farm itself. In turn this can improve soil fertility and enhance the ability of plants to cope with pests, as well as adopting Baladi seeds adapted to local conditions.
All of these small practices form the basis of environmental agriculture. When put together, it forms the strength of the agricultural sector. Just as Gandhi’s goat produced milk and wool, that worked in the hands of the Indians as a tool of liberation. Environmental agriculture can be a tool of freedom for Palestinians.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh