“It’s Possible For Human Beings and our Natural Environment to Co-Evolve."
Felipe Tavares is the founder of the Institute for Regenerative Development in Brazil, designing regenerative agricultural methods based on the the interconnectedness of all living systems.
Felipe Tavares is an expert in regenerative design and co-founder of Instituto de Desenvolvimento Regenerativo, a Brazilian education and consulting organisation for how to live in a more reciprocal relationship with nature.
This interview was recorded in Rio de Janeiro before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. It is perhaps even more relevant now. In this interview Felipe speaks with Maria Clara Parente about degrowth economics, shifting to a regenerative paradigm and the interconnectedness of all living systems on planet earth.
This interview has been translated and edited for clarity and meaning.
The first line of work for the regenerative practitioner is personal development.
Maria Clara: How did your interest in regeneration begin?
Felipe: Working on land-based projects, I always had this feeling that something was missing and I didn’t know exactly what it was. When I became familiar with regenerative design methodology such asagroecology, permaculture and agroforestry systems I fell in love, and I was able to translate this conceptual framework to human projects, too. This methodology has been worked on for over 20 years by the Regenesis group.
Maria Clara: What are the lines of work of the Institute for Regenerative Development?
Felipe: The first line of work for the regenerative practitioner is personal development. It is a job that requires a new perspective, and that perspective is grounded in overcoming current cultural attitudes towards nature. We come from the understanding that we are nature, and we create our projects as parts of nature.
This requires a lot of personal work, first of all unlearning some things to make room for new understandings of reality so that we can gain important skills to work on projects, then skills of communication, phenomenological observation, being able to see the land as a living system, knowledge of landscape - all this is part of this personal development to become a regenerative practitioner.
Maria Clara: The word regeneration is increasingly entering the mainstream space, sometimes as a “brand new solution to sustainability". What is regeneration to you?
Language is always built and developed according to the dominant worldview.
Felipe: Regeneration is now becoming a trend. Those working in the field of sustainability have done years of work to define the term and give it the meaning it has in mainstream culture today. Regeneration is still at the beginning of this process, so you still have several understandings about what it is.
A regenerative initiative acts as a catalyst for local evolution. It works as an initiative that promotes the integral health of the land, and for that we need to create a holistic and systemic understanding of relationships, creating appropriate points of relationship so that we can identify a role for our project that works as a leverage point for the transformation of the community.
Maria Clara: There is a lot of criticism about the word development in recent years and we see movements such as economic degrowth emerging. What do you think about this?
Felipe: Nowadays the word development is associated with the profit motive. Development has always been the villain of conservation. It is often synonymous with degradation because it is a product of a worldview that is destructive and not in harmony with the land. However, development is a principle of life, all living things grow and develop. Regenerative development has a lot to do with the idea of revealing the essence of things. If we look at the etymology of the word ‘development’, it has to do with unwrapping, removing the wrapping to reveal the essence. Using this definition, ‘to develop’ is to reveal the essence of our land so that it can reach its greatest potential through synergistic, healthy relationships.
Part of our challenge is to deconstruct language and gradually understand new ways to fit into the world. Language is always built and developed according to the dominant worldview, and sometimes we end up using words that have a meaning based on another worldview. When we talk about regenerative development we are reframing the word development based on the idea that we are not, in fact, separate from nature and that it’s possible for human beings and our natural environment to co-evolve.
We are made of stories. We build on narratives. And the history of separation offers us a narrative that we know.
Maria Clara: Author Donna Haraway says "It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledges. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories." What do you think about this?
Felipe: We are made of stories. We build on narratives. And the history of separation offers us a narrative that we know. A narrative that priorities competition, scarcity, distance between people and relationships. But there are other possibilities and stories. The author Charles Eisenstein is one of the people who writes the history of a new and ancient worldview and promotes the idea of interbeinginstead. Interbeing states that “I am because you are”. This implies that we live in a large living web built on relationships, but within that there are different types of relationships. Some relationships are synergistic, beneficial to both parties, but there are also interference relationships - where people or projects engage in activities that are harmful to themselves and the whole system.
When we recognise the interconnectedness of things then we can choose to engage differently, but it’s also important that we recognise that our participation is not a choice. From the moment we are born we are participating in the world, and how we participate matters.
Words by Maria Clara Parente
Maria Clara Parente is a Rio de Janeiro based journalist, artist and documentarist. She is the co-founder of This is not the Truth, a platform for Emerging Narratives that explores possible futures in the present.
Lucas is a Rio de Janeiro based photographer and film director.