Earlier this year Jesuit Social Services’ Ecological Justice Policy Officer BRONWYN LAY joined experts in Switzerland to deepen her understanding of the links between land degradation and human security. She reflects on her experiences and Jesuit Social Services’ journey of reconciliation with creation.

In July this year I helped organise the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security near Montreux Switzerland. It’s one of the conferences held by the international organisation Initiatives of Change and is supported by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCCD) and conservation group IUCN. Its purpose is to link up policymakers, investors and businesses with project developers, campaigners, farmers and local communities working in the areas of land restoration and peace building. The conference deepens understanding of the links between land degradation and human security and builds the trust needed for effective collaboration on the ground and in ‘land-peace’ partnerships. This year the focus was on building up business initiatives that support such partnerships.

It may seem like a world apart from my role as the Ecological Justice Policy Officer at Jesuit Social Services but the connections between land restoration and community trust building resonate with our work in building communities of justice with ecological justice. We too seek to build relationships between social justice and ecology, and due to our wider Ignatian connections are sensitive to the global context and relevance of reconciliation with creation for communities and policy makers the world over.

For five days there were presentations, dialogues and workshops on topics ranging from building cultures of peace along the Nile, scaling up of successful restoration projects in Kenya and Somalia, analysis of sustainable governance in the Mekong and how to shift investment and policy towards supporting communities and land in trust building with each other and ecosystems.

The program emphasised similar values of Jesuit Social Services’ commitment to reflection, discernment and personal transformation as essential components of building a just society and social transformation. Built into our days were moments of reflection, personal stories, lots of laughter and friendships formed.

As an Australian at a very globally diverse conference, a powerful moment was a morning reflection lead by David Kennedy, a young indigenous leader from Melbourne and the organisation Indigicate. Before commencing a full day of vital conversations and presentations, David introduced diplomats, activists and scientists to whole body listening (Dadirri). Standing barefoot on the grass overlooking the lake and Alps served to centre and remind us of the deeper purpose of the conference.  Personally it confirmed, despite grave injustices, the continued unique relationship Indigenous Australians have with land calls us all to nourish our collective intimate relationship with land: because this is the foundation of ecological justice everywhere.

There were many results from the Dialogue including a powerful communiqué from world leaders in land restoration policy where it was noted:

“Restoring land can restore hope. It increases food production and incomes, reduces conflicts because there are more resources to go round, and combats climate change by sequestering carbon. It is central to implementing the universally agreed sustainable development goals and to enabling countries to fulfil their pledges under the Paris climate agreement. It is becoming increasingly clear that transformational change is necessary.” 

Delia Paul from Initiatives of Change Australia reflected on the final plenary where the head of a domestic reconstruction agency in South Sudan highlighted his conviction that ‘we must restore our broken relations with the land.’ This theme threaded through the conference where regeneration, restoration and reconciliation were reiterated as essential to all initiatives and policies. These values were present as we engaged with the difficulty of restoring land in post conflict regions such as DR Congo, the struggle of farmers and pastoralists with land grabbing and the inspiring young emerging leaders from around the world who presented their innovations for land restoration and trust building.

Within our vocational path of creating a just society Jesuit Social Services is also on the journey of reconciliation with creation. As we face challenges particular to our work, Australia and our region, the Dialogue confirmed that there are many others in diverse contexts and cultures across the world following the same journey and we’re part of a wider cultural and practical transformation. I returned home to Australia aware that ecological justice is a global concern, asking for localised practises of trust building with our communities and the places we live: be it urban or rural.