A farmer in Burundi shows off a young sapling.

What is environmental freedom?

Environmental degradation rids farming families of their ability to make choices

The connection between people’s freedom and the environment isn’t one made very often. For an overwhelming part of the world’s population, however, the ability to make decisions hinges on the health of their ecosystems.

Freedom is the ability to manage the gifts you’ve been given.

Whether it’s a farm, a sum of money, or a skill, the ability to make the most of a gift you’ve been given is one of the most enriching parts of life. Looking at the way God has endowed us each with our own unique abilities, stewardship is as much of a gift as it is a calling. To know that God has entrusted humankind with the care of vital resources is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

When environmental systems are unhealthy, however, we lose the ability to manage these gifts. When Andres in the Dominican Republic saw coffee rust disease appear on his crops, he immediately began to grow concerned about the farm that was providing for his family.

Environmental degradation can work like that. It starts gradually, but over time, your choices become fewer and fewer. When farmland in Mexico is no longer producing enough food, farmers migrate in search of better opportunities to feed their families. Leaving one’s farmland isn’t a desirable choice, but it’s one that reflects a lack of ability to manage a resource depleted by environmental degradation.

Participants in Oaxaca make decisions for their community.
Participants in Oaxaca make decisions for their community.

Freedom is about making choices.

Imagine a mother in the Democratic Republic of Congo on her farm, where all trees have been cut down except for one. Imagine that one of the few things she has to feed her family is a small amount of beans, which she needs firewood to cook. Does she cut down the tree to feed the kids? Of course.

Was that a choice? Perhaps only technically. Is choosing between your children and your farm much of a choice at all?

At the very least, it’s a choice that no farmer should be forced to make. Farmers should make decisions between crops to invest in, animals to raise, or ways to diversify their crops. These decisions, however, require a healthy environment with sufficient tree cover, land productivity, and soil health.

When these things are restored, farmers are able to make more choices for themselves and their families.

Creation care offers new opportunities.
Creation care offers new opportunities.

Creation care offers freedom to farmers around the world.

In Thailand, a fear that the ethnic minorities living in the northern hills would damage the environment prevented many from being able to use their own natural resources. The local government would often disrupt farming activities.

When these farmers were able to demonstrate effective environmental restoration. They started with projects in their own backyards and things began to change.

Ja Buu recalls when that started happening:

“Some students from cities showed up and they taught us about how to protect this area. They said if we managed the forest well, the government people wouldn’t come and disrupt us, and if we do it well, we’ll be able to live in this area for a long time. I’ve been on the forest management committee for eight years. I’ve started networking with people outside to learn from them.”

Creation care has helped to bring environmental freedom to so many farming families and communities around the world. As people’s soil health increases, so do their crop yields. When they grow more crops, they earn a higher income. When incomes rise, the ability to make choices also expands.

Plant With Purpose seeks to continually help people move towards greater environmental freedom. When people can make more choices, they need greater spiritual leadership to guide healthy decision-making. To date, we have partnered with 615 different churches. To learn more about how you can support our work, become a Purpose Partner.

Philippe Lazaro

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