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SEKEM‘s Journal for Economy, Culture, and Society in Egypt

SEKEM Insight Nr. 82 - June 2009

Dear Readers, the natural biological, social, and material wealth of SEKEM was not created overnight. It took over 30 years of steady and gradual development by the hands of many co-workers, friends, and selfless supporters to grow to its present state. It may well be that this slow growth is a key to its secret of sustainability - and possibly to its replicability, too.




SEKEMs Soil and Water Laboratory

Annual Meeting of SEKEM Friends

Barack Obama speaks in Cairo

How SEKEM‘s Soil and Water Lab Helps Greening the Desert

For years this quest for SEKEM’s ability to “relaunch” itself elsewhere has not only puzzled the leaders of the initiative but has also been of great interest to outside donors. Which are the best conditions to further another “miracle in the desert” elsewhere? Is it possible at all to repeat SEKEM under different circumstances? It is in SEKEM’s own interest to further growth with practice-oriented, usable tools. In this issue SEKEM Insight will report on approaches to conquer even the most challenging natural environments like the Egyptian desert through means based on scientific analysis and practical trials. They can be employed by any kind of organisation in any country and offer tangible tools to replicate SEKEM’s success in other locations.

Your Editors

One of the lab‘s co-workers examines the equipment of the new soil and water laboratory

SEKEM inaugurated its new soil and water laboratory on the Adleya Farm, 4km from its main farm grounds, in January 2009. The laboratory is supposed to provide the scientific tools to allow the more systematic and more widespread employment of the initiative’s approach to greening the desert. In the new lab scientists carry out analyses in microbiology and examine the various soils, waters and composts used by the hundreds of SEKEM farms in Egypt. In the area of scientific research various kinds of microorganisms are grown under controlled circumstances to serve

as the basis for so-called “starters” that are being used in professional composting. They accelerate the decay processes in the raw materials used. Other microorganisms have the ability to bind nitrous oxide in the soils. Trials are currently being carried out to find out which “mixture” of microorganisms is the most appropriate for which soils and the preparation of compost to be used on them. Again other microorganisms are being grown to serve as bio-fertiliser and are being sold to bio-dynamic farms. These have the ability to provide nutrients to plants from the air or the soil while oth-

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ers are useful as helpers to protect plants from other, harmful microorganisms. They can also inhibit their growth in the first place. Soil analysis is performed in the appropriate area of the laboratory. This includes a physical and a chemical analysis as both are elementary for the growth of living plants. The results can then be employed in cultivation in the field to influence the plants’ growth and counteract unwanted development. The final compost product is an object of analysis, too. This includes the pH-value, salt content, density, organic matter content, and humus - all variables that aid in understanding the compost’s quality, both for the eventual farmer and its producer. Eventually any specimen taken is analysed microbiologically for bacteria and fungae. It is imperative to know about any components in the soil with a potentially harmful impact on the cultivation process. In the water laboratory water samples from all of SEKEM’s artificial fountains are analysed regularly for their purity. In case elevated salt levels or pollution with bacteria are detected countermeasures can be carried out quickly and efficiently. For 6 months a sampling station for soil humidity has also been installed as a pilot project. Sensors have been placed close to the roots of plants that remotely report the water content of the soil to the computers at the lab. By collecting detailed data on the different environmental requirements of plants ie. regarding water supply the irrigation process cannot only be monitored but also influenced accurately. This makes it possible to save approximately 30% of water used for watering the seedlings and grown plants. Additional tests on desalination are also currently being carried out to test options for applying the technology in Egyptian agriculture. A weather station is also carrying out long-term monitoring of temperature, rainfall, and wind speed. Mariam Abouleish, Angela Hofmann

SEKEM Day Draws Visitors to Stuttgart On 23 May the German SEKEM support association had again invited friends of the Egyptian initiative to the German city of Stuttgart. Many friends, members, and visitors had come to the Rudolf-Steiner-House this year to listen to the guest lecture of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish „No sustainable development without art“ on comprehensive approaches to human and societal development, the single most central goal of the SEKEM initiative. Numerous reports at the event proved the portfolio for achieving this goal at the hands of SEKEM’s co-workers: Dr. Roland Schaette, chairman of the German association, introduced participants to the achievements of the now completed „13-Villages-Project“ injecting the social development efforts into the Egyptian society over the course of three years. These had been financed with the support of the European support associations and of the European Commission. The SEKEM Development Foundation (SDF) is currently developing new ways of continuing many of its activities on a lasting basis. Christina Boecker, co-worker of SEKEM, reported on developments on the three new farm grounds of SEKEM in the Sinai, in the Bahareya Oasis in the Egyptian Western Desert, and in Minya, Upper Egypt. By employing bio-dynamic farming in these ecologically hazardous environments development is carried to a new level by proving that a agriculture is possible beyond monoculture even under challenging circumstances. Visitors to the event were fascinated by the pictures showing first successes in cultivating herbs and feed crops in places where there where wide stretches of sand only a year ago. All necessary formal topics on the agenda such as the financial report,

report of the cashier, and acknowledgement of the board were quickly completed. A new element was introduced as an opening of the SEKEM Day: Tobias Bandel, former co-worker at the initiative, offered an introduction into the work of the initiative aimed at those not yet familiar with it. The event itself was accompanied by the musical performances of Gideon Schirmer and Tobias Strenger; additionally the artists Harthwiga Schwabe-Defoy, Isolda Sagristano and Marco Bindelli contributed an artistic performance from the oriental wealth of legends and fairy tales. The annual convention also served as the appropriate frame for the farewell ceremony for Renate Raubald. Mrs. Raubald has served the German association for 26 years on its board as cashier. Initially she had been involved in the foundation of the association together with Elfriede Werner. With the election of Stephan Rivoir to the board she symbolically transferred her post by handing over a “cashbox” to Mr. Rivoir and through a heartfelt speech to the co-workers and friends of the initiative. She thanked all contributors of the past years for their donations and the trust she had received for her work. The day was rounded off with the presentation of a movie on SEKEM, several public exhibitions and opportunities to purchase SEKEM’s products and meet the association’s senior representatives. Christina Boecker

First Concerts of SEKEM Peace Voices In summer 2007 Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt, visited the SEKEM farm. She was particularly impressed by the work that the initiative was carrying out in favour of the children of the rural population in the surrounding hamlets. The idea of a “peace choir” was subsequently developed during a conver-

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sation with Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish that should facilitate intercultural encounters involving practical artistic interaction. It was also meant to project a more nuanced image of art and culture in the Middle East different from the stereotypes predominantly seen on European TV screens and publicised in the news that focus on terrorism, Islamism, and violence. The initial idea had to be developed further in several ensuing conversations. Specifically the support organisation from Austria engaged in advancing it and facilitated a contact between the choir director and conductor Bernhard Sieberer from Innsbruck, Austria and SEKEM to begin with the practical planning. Since autumn 2008 he has been at work to make the first public concert of the “SEKEM Peace Voices” a reality. Several groups of talented youngsters have been created that meet regularly for rehearsals and small performances. Particularly the work with a dedicated children’s choir has proven to be promising: the children learn to sing in a

The SEKEM Peace Voices Choir

relaxed, open, and highly motivated atmosphere while working diligently on pieces of a variety of cultural traditions. In April 2009 members of the Ensemble Vocapella from Innsbruck, Mr. Sieberer’s earlier musical troupe, visited SEKEM to contribute to the work of the choir through a week of intensive rehearsals. The visit lead to vivid musical encoun-

ters between the proponents of the two highly different musical traditions. Most likely for many of the Egyptian participants in the choir this was the first time they may have heard occidental recitals for multiple voices that may have turned out to be an entirely new aural experience. Through several rehearsals performance programmes were studies in various combinations of singers that were eventually performed in several locations under the name “SEKEM Peace Voices“. Some performances by students were given at the International Language School as well as the German School in Cairo, two concerts in front of children, teachers, and co-workers from SEKEM’s firms at the SEKEM School, one concert at the Heliopolis Academy, and one concert as a contribution to an open-air music festival in Alexandria. The programmes were comprised of a broad collection of, among others, folk music from Tyrol, pieces from the European renaissance and modernity, and international songs accompanied by drums and tablas. An ad-hoc group encompassing clarinets, celli and guitars further enriched the events and offered listeners an additional dimension of specifically Austrian music. It was an unforgettable and astonishing opportunity for all contributors to witness the impact the uncommon musical experience had on the audiences who initially reacted surprised and cautious but gradually opened further and eventually applauded the performances with great enthusiasm, laughter, and appreciation. Thus, music does reach hearts and indeed builds artistic bridges. The singers from Innsbruck felt like “Ambassadors of Music” and expressed their confidence that their music has aided in reducing prejudice and furthering mutual understanding. Christina Boecker

For trips to SEKEM visit:

President Barack Obama Speaks in Cairo Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish was among the invited guests to the speech at the University of Cairo when the American President Barack Obama arrived in Egypt on 4 June. The President of the University, Prof. Dr. Ali Abdel-Rahman Youssef, and Mohamed Tantauwi from the Al-Azhar University, had invited him. „His honesty and love and the commitment with which he searches for truth and what makes us work together in partnership - not what holds us apart - bring peace to my heart. Through these qualities and his courage I was able to see in him a brother whose work all of us at SEKEM would like to encourage and support.“ Dr. Abouleish said, deeply moved by the speech. Dr. Abouleish has launched the first steps to establishing a committee aimed at creating favourable conditions in Egypt to foster Obama’s visions for cooperation with the Middle East. Dr. Abouleish has also addressed the President of the United States in two personal letters to express his thanks and his gratitude for the openness and the intercultural understanding he has demonstrated. During his one-hour speech Obama stated that “... So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end. I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share

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common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.“ However, he also stressed: „I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight... I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America.” The speech in which the President addressed with stupendous clarity and frankness the most pressing questions of the divide between the West and East - Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Iraq, the Middle-Eastern

Young Egyptians listen to the speech by President Barack Obama at the University of Cairo. Source: flickr user kabul_pd

Conflict, and the responsibility of both the US and the Arab World, Iran, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights, economic development - had been long-awaited by the peoples of the Middle East. It met with great sympathy among the colleagues and co-workers at SEKEM. It was perceived as a first step long overdue and everyone seems to be awaiting the deeds said to follow the words. President Obama added: „All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort - a sustained effort - to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human

beings... We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.“

Impressions from SEKEM

SEKEM has consciously chosen its place „between the worlds“. Partnership among the peoples from the West and East, North and South, from different religious backgrounds, languages, countries, traditions, and of different colour of their skin is the only reliable ground for the creation of a new and better future for all. The speech by Barack Obama has been an unexpected pointer into the right direction - powerful and not to be underestimated. Possibly millions of people worldwide share Barack Obama’s hope for a “new beginning” that only yesterday has seemed utopian for most of them and now seems to be within reach. It is almost as if Victor Hugo’s claim has become a reality: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea the time of which has arrived.” Obama’s speech in Cairo seems to have been the first step towards a new mutual understanding that may find an appropriate counterpart in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s vision as it was expressed in his writings: „That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.“ The speech is available in its entirety on the ie. at com/watch?v=ANk9qydfGe4 Christina Boecker, Konstanze Abouleish

Communal successes are celebrated in community at SEKEM - wherever possible in the presence of everyone concerned at the initiative. The annual SEKEM Celebration lends an appropriate surrounding to present the fruits of the work of individuals and groups of co-workers to a public comprised of colleagues, partners, and friends. The event is always a festive opportunity involving students, pupils, and adults alike. It encourages the awareness of everyone for the others efforts to bring about sustainable development in a challenging environment. In our picture co-workers from one of SEKEM’s firms allow more than 1.000 of their colleagues a glimpse on their daily work, their achievements - and their pride.

Imprint: Publisher: SEKEM, Egypt The editorial team of SEKEM Insight would like to thank all correspondents who have contributed to this edition. Editors: Christina Boecker Bijan Kafi Contact: SEKEM-Insight c/o Sekem Holding P.O.Box 2834 El Horreya, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt

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SEKEM Insight  

SEKEM's monthly journal for economy, culture, and society in Egypt. English edition.