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SEKEM ADDRESSING SOCIETAL CHALLENGES

The societal challenges of Egypt described earlier (see Chapter 21) – such as climate change, resource scarcity, population growth, extreme poverty, absence of food security – need innovative, problem-solving solutions. In that context it is important to realize that the Energy-Water-Food nexus represents a huge challenge for sustainable development in Egypt and agriculture is strongly related to that. Sustainable desert reclamation plays a key role in addressing those challenges and therefore contributing to political stability and the related transition towards an authentic form of democracy. This is not only relevant for Egypt but for the region as a whole.

It is within this context of food insecurity and social and environmental challenges that Sekem represents a viable economic – if not also "polity" – alternative, one that builds upon a praxis of sustainable agriculture that resonates strongly with Muslim insights and teachings.

THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT FLOWER

Sekem's model for sustainable development integrates different spheres of life to a holistic whole where all parts are at the same time independent and interconnected, as seen in Figure 22.2 (4).

Natural and Economic Realms

Sekem's vision states:

• we establish biodynamic agriculture as the competitive solution for the environmental, social and food security challenges of the 21st century.

• we build successful business models in accordance with ecological and ethical principles.

• we want to provide products and services of the highest standards to meet the needs of the consumer.

Sekem's Sustainability Flower

Figure 22.2 Sekem's Sustainability Flower

The intertwined natural and economic realms of activity within Sekem's group of companies begins on a practical level by healing the soil through the application of biodynamic farming methods. Biodynamic agriculture stands for a self-containing and self-sustaining ecosystem without any unnatural additions. Soil, plants, animals and humans together create an image of a holistic living organism. Sekem's approach of sustainable agriculture includes the regenerative powers of agriculture.

The very fact that Sekem's approach turns desert into living soils through the application of compost and biodynamic methods shows, that desert land can be reclaimed and thus regenerated. For more than 35 years, Sekem has been building up living soils in desert land and implementing closed nutrient cycles with livestock integration and a diverse range of crops, plants and trees. By farming without chemicals, the health of the farmers and the consumers who eat organic products regenerates. The returning wildlife also benefits, which in turn gives back to the farm by helping to keep down insect pests.

Sekem's approach to agriculture stands in direct contrast to business-as-usual industrial agriculture. The latter relies heavily on external inputs, spreads vast areas of monocultures over the planet and even changes the plants' genetic source codes to increase resistance to pests and adaptation to climate change. Numerous scientific studies have, however, shown that industrial agriculture and the application of genetically modified organisms (GMO) affects the ecosystems negatively and in fact rather degrades than regenerates them.

The Socio-political Realm

Sekem's vision states:

• we create workplaces reflecting human dignity and supporting employee development.

• we locally and globally advocate for a holistic approach to sustainable development.

• we build a long-term, trusting and fair relationship with our partners.

The circle is the characteristic shape for many gatherings in Sekem, from the daily start of work to the end of week assembly. In the morning the employees of each company meet in a circle for a communal start. At the end of the week all businesses and pedagogical institutions gather together. The circle is a symbol of social equality. In fact Ibrahim saw the creatively shaped living form of a community of people as a kind of "life fabric". During the first years he was responsible for the weave of the fabric. But over time, the interweaving threads became the tasks and responsibilities of many people, whose efforts all contributed and continue to contribute to the success of the whole venture.

The "Co-operative of Sekem employees" (CSE) was founded to addresses all questions concerning civil society in the workplace. It is their objective that all members of the Sekem community grow towards taking responsibility for the community. Ibrahim and Helmy are convinced that an initiative like Sekem can only survive over a long period of time with the help of local, regional, national and international networks.

In 1994, Sekem helped form the Egyptian Biodynamic Association (EBDA), which conducts research on sophisticated biodynamic cultivation practices and increases awareness of biodynamic agriculture through mutual collaboration with other institutions. Up to today, the EBDA has supported the transition of over 400 farms with more than 8,000 acres to organic farming practices, including some 4,500 acres on 120 farms that were reclaimed from arid land. The EDBA was also a global pioneer in growing and producing biodynamic cotton. The presence of the EBDA helped in solving many challenges Sekem was facing. The training that EBDA provides to farmers in the international methods of biodynamic agriculture was able to raise awareness of this method of agriculture and facilitate the acquiring of organic products certification in order to open up new market channels.

The Cultural and Educational Realm

Sekem's vision states:

• we innovate for sustainable development through research in natural, human and social sciences.

• we support individual development through holistic education and medical care.

The cultural realm is nurtured and cultivated by the "Sekem Development Foundation" (SDF). It has the never-ending task of educating Sekem's children, youth and adults, consolidating both their cognitive and practical skills, while enhancing their command of free will.

The SDF, more specifically then, is Sekem's way of reaching out beyond its commercial activity in pursuit of its goal to contribute to "the comprehensive development of Egyptian society". It employs 200 people in four main fields:

• a kindergarten, primary and secondary school, and a special needs education programme for the children of employees and the community;

• a work-and-education programme for children from poorer families in need of further income, a vocational training centre, literacy classes, and a training institute for adults;

• a medical centre providing modern medical services, and an outreach programme for some 30,000 people in the local area;

• an Academy for Applied Arts and Sciences for scientific research in medicine, pharmacy, biodynamic agriculture, sustainable economics and arts.

Since 2012, as we shall see, Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development has become a leading part of Cultural Development. But before we introduce Heliopolis University we again turn back to the grounding of Sekem in Islam and reflect how Sekem's approach to sustainable development is implementing the underlying Islamic values and concepts as brought up by Sardar (Chapter 19) and Jayyousi (Chapter 21).

 
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