React – Respond

Why reflection is a crucial part of Action Learning

I am of the generation that experienced the introduction of the computer, mobile phone, email and social media. My Master’s thesis on Ahold as a Learning Organization was written on my first computer, a large grey-green machine. Before I had that computer I was writing my papers on a typewriter, using white ink to correct spelling. Sometimes I had to rewrite whole pages because I’d changed the structure of a chapter or paragraph. Having a computer saved me much time and effort; time I could use for other things. The computer has made my life easier in that perspective.

Working at Twynstra Gudde, the largest Dutch independent consultancy company, I build a reputation with Competency based Human Resource Management (HRM). Together with colleagues I wrote a book on Competency based HRM that became a standard work in the Netherlands and we wrote the chapter on Competency based HRM in a standard HR toolkit book used on most Dutch universities. The computer and email made some aspects in the process of writing much easier and faster.

Everybody in the company knew me as “Mr Competency Management”. I introduced the theme when not too many had yet heard of it and it became popular because of collaboration with my colleagues and clients. For 10 years I was able to deepen my knowledge, skills and competence as expert and to share it with colleagues/clients in assignments and with a broader audience in articles, training and as speaker on stage.

Human Resource Management is a profession and Competency Based Human Resource Management is a specific expertise. However both, in general, are considered as something one could also do without having the specific training or experience. When Competency based HRM became popular and became a ‘cash cow’ colleagues of mine who were trained in complete different areas took up assignments in this field of practice. One consequence of this was that I, more often than I liked, became involved in assignments at a stage that already a lot of ‘damage’ had been done. A part of my work became to repair mistakes of others. I was doing that on the side of my own assignments.

Competency and competence

At that time I was working about 60-70hrs a week; also in writing the articles and in further development of the expertise. The topic of ‘clearing other peoples mess’ was addressed in my performance appraisal and it was heard by my management. I did not have a mobile phone yet and my managers suggested I should have one. At that time a mobile phone was only for partners in the company and I was a medior/senior consultant. It would be useful because colleagues could reach me by phone for consultation. I was already spending an hour an evening replying emails other than those that were functional for my own projects and rejected the idea to be available in daytime as well. In hindsight this looks rather strange, because nowadays I use my mobile phone quite a lot and not only for calling.

In the early days of email and mobiles I did not only see the advantages of it. I also felt and addressed a few peculiarities of these new technologies; peculiarities that I did not experience as positive. My workload increased because of them and I noticed that people started to spend less time for conversation. Email is a one way medium and I noticed that most people expected to receive an answer on their mail within very short notice after them pressing the send button. I also saw email correspondence getting out of hand and turning into disputes, simply because there was no time taken to ask “what do you mean?” Email introduced a lot of space for interpretation and diminished the time taken to check those interpretations with purpose to de-escalate exchanges that seemed to get out of hand because of misinterpretation.

Internet Bully

Both technologies have brought elements that make professional life easier; they are contributing largely to a significant improvement of efficiency. At the same time, with the pressure on efficiency and the convenience of texting, the level of communication went downwards. Instead of looking up from their desk and speak with each other, people sharing a desk were emailing each other. Emails were not only about work, but also about something as lunch. A colleague of mine and I always made fun of these “are you joining for lunch?” emails by saying “In the old days we used to speak with each other at the office, now we do not want to be disturbed by those talking.” I was in my early 30s at that time.

Another time consuming e-HRM tool was the introduction of intranet. Where we used to have support staff for certain tasks. I now had to complete these tasks myself using the intranet tool. It took me an average of 4 extra hours a week in my already packed agenda. And it confused me.

This long introduction on how technology entered my professional life brings me to current times. I do not know if what I write above is recognizable for others my age. I do see that with introduction of social media and e-HRM tools these patterns have increased intensely. The pressure on speed, efficiency and quick reply has grown and now it is not only email or voicemail that need attention.

When I travel I see a lot of people staring at their cellphones, checking their Facebook messages, Instagram accounts, scrolling through Twitter, LinkedIn etc. What I also see is that there is a strong decrease of genuine contact between people. The algorithms of Facebook and LinkedIn are set to confirm what people believe and create virtual flocks of like minded and increasing gaps between different opinions.

Social Media tree

Texting is not the same as talking. It is interesting to see how fewer of my friends call me to ask me how I am doing, partly because they think they know because they follow my Facebook or other social media accounts. But Facebook is not my life; it is just a small part of it.

I also notice that the quality of conversation is decreasing; the span of attention is low, there is little listening and instead of responding many conversations are a rapid flow of reactions. Don’t get me wrong, internet, email and social media do have enriched our lives and I could not do my work without it. But the ‘dark sides’ of it in terms of decreasing social cohesion, lack of time for reflection and the addictive element of them is hardly discussed and young people are not educated how to use the tools without losing, well basically, without losing themselves. It has a deep impact on human to human relationships with negative consequences for society.

This time of rapid change, fast business and global connectedness asks for specific skills that are not part of traditional learning programs. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) social emotional skills are critical components of 21st century skill framework but not a core focus in today’s curriculum. WEF has identifies 16 skills most needed for students to learn (see figure). Besides 6 foundation literacies, competencies as communication and collaboration have become increasingly important. Among the 6 most significant character qualities are curiosity, adaptability and social/cultural awareness.

WEF 21st century skills

Looking at the top 10 skills defined in the WEF “Future of jobs” report one can see a shift towards inter-relational skills. I notice a huge paradox here; in my opinion social media is actually creating a decrease of the skills mentioned and technology will not teach people these skills. Yes, one can design a computer simulation program, but human beings are irrational and unpredictable. A machine can come close to reality, but it can’t replace real time human to human communication.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organization with 35 member countries. Its mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world (source; OECD website). This organization also refers to oral communications, written communications, teamwork/diversity and diversity as 4 of the 11 most crucial skills for 21st century employers and leaders. Two other interesting skills mentioned there are ethics/social responsibility and creativity/innovation. I could mention a few other reports from acknowledged institutes, but most mention the same or similar skills.

Those skills are not learned when the people we communicate/collaborate with are people who have the same view, opinions or background. As an expert in group dynamics I know that even without social media confirming what I already know and believe it is difficult to teach and learn those skills. Most people have the tendency to mix with like minded and selection processes by companies do not filter these biases.

WEF future of jobs skills

One can read a book or go to a course, but these skills can best be learned in real life situations. And even then it is quite difficult to change the tendency to mingle beyond ‘people like us’. It needs practice, practice, and practice. And even then the experience of this practice will only be integrated when time is taken for reflection. And it requires honesty towards one self and one’s own biases.

My point is that pressure on efficiency and speed in jobs and society, in combination with the pressure of the bleeps and notifications from social media push people deeper into reactive behavior where capacities to respond are required. But what is the difference between reaction and response?

A reaction is unconscious behavior in which we focus our energy towards the world around us in an attempt to protect ourselves or to attack someone else. A reaction actually is an act with the purpose to control or eliminate the cause of unpleasant experiences.

The process of reacting is actually a very subtle one; most people don’t even notice that they are reacting. And it is a violent act that comes from feelings as blame, accusation and revenge. Something is done to us, at least that is what we believe. In reality this is not the case.

Buddhism knows a principle called “Second arrow”. In my understanding this is a synonym for reaction. But the teaching of Buddhism is that there is no first arrow. The irony is one is reacting to something that is not actually there, but perceived a real. You are literally chasing a ghost of your own mind, a fantasy.

React and Respond

A response is a conscious choice to experience the unpleasant feeling we are sensing and to transform the information it brings into constructive action. Instead of pushing that unpleasant feeling away, one takes responsibility for it and literally feels the emotion. The hard part of responding is not only the feeling part, but also to be able to recognize the negative label we unconsciously give to the sensation and the ‘story’ we have built around it blaming the other as the cause of that negative sensation.

To respond instead to react is not easy, not something one can learn as a trick. It is a practice that, for most people, takes years to comprehend, let alone to become competent. We have the strong tendency to embrace emotions we label as pleasant (joy, happiness, love) and to reject emotions we label as unpleasant (anger, fear, pain). And we have the tendency to take ownership of the feelings we like and to judge others for things we feel and dislike. Those are subtle processes most people go through unconsciously on a daily base.

A practice in Shambhala Buddhism is one called “Basic Goodness”. The teaching is that Basic Goodness does not push and does not pull. I will be honest with you; I have been trying to integrate this practice in my daily life and I am more often than I’d like not very good at it. But at least I see myself fail. And that is just as important to me as I want to master this this practice. Because if I see myself fail, I can always try again. If I am not aware, I will make the same mistake over and over without even knowing it.

Now I am not saying that everyone should become a Buddhist or practice Basic Goodness. But what is important is that we – looking at the qualities needed for success in business and school – learn to acknowledge our own reactive patterns and practice to change those into responsive behavior. Another point that I am trying to make here is that, though these skills are acknowledged as crucial, business and society are taking us away from practicing them. That is where a big gap is between what is needed and what is stimulated. It is this gap that creates more tensions; within people, between people and in groups (teams) and society.

White Tara Alain

An alternative for a spiritual practice like Basic Goodness is Action Learning; at least when it is framed and facilitated in a proper way. Unfortunately most meditation practitioners are ‘enlightened’ on their meditation cushion and end up in (their car towards) work full of tensions because of traffic or what others ‘do to them’. And unfortunately most of these skills needed to respond instead of to react are taught in classrooms and not on the job. Most Action Learning programs on the job focus on more technical skills, not the social skills. I do not believe this is effective and can be done differently.

To conclude I will give a small practice one can easily apply in any situation without other people noticing it and without too much knowledge of social psychology. You can do this at work in a meeting, in your car or in public transport or in basically any common situation on ordinary life when tensions arise.

When you feel tension rising, do not look outwards to find the cause of that tension. Just be with it and notice it. Then ask yourself “when did I feel this tension before?” to see if you can discover a pattern. If you have not yet pushed the sensation outwards you can look at the ‘story’ your mind has made of what is causing this sensation. You will notice that the sensation might first grow stronger, but if you can hold it, it will relax. Once you get more advanced in this practice you can look at patterns from your early childhood that have imprinted these stories in your mind. The latter is transformative, it is much cheaper than going to the psychologist and very effective.

If you want to learn more about these forms of Action Learning you can go on the internet or buy a book in the shop. If you want to work with it in your professional life or with your team I am happy to support you as individual coach or a team facilitator. By no means I am an enlightened teacher that has surpassed all these patterns, but as an experienced practitioner/student I can relate and facilitate.


Posted in action learning, Business, leadership, leadership development, learning, management development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why it is unwise to discuss climate change

and why it is wise to act like it is real and caused by human behavior

Climate change is a popular topic in a sense that is currently is under a lot of attention. It is also a topic on which one can find a huge range of information from many different perspectives. Despite the attention and the information one can find, for many climate change is an abstract concept. It is something not everybody thinks of on a daily base and those who do seem to be more in dispute than in dialogue.

The key questions on climate change are:

  • “Is climate change a reality or a phantasy?”
  • “Is climate change caused (or accelerated) by human behavior?”

Most people do not have an opinion at all about climate change OR they have a very strong opinion about it. It seems to be hard to find something in between, a more balanced perspective that goes beyond the two key questions above. For every research paper that shows that climate change is reality and accelerated by human behavior, one can find a publication that proposes that the impact of human behavior on climate change is minimal to zero. For every newspaper article that expresses why it is important to take climate change serious, one can find an article that propagates climate change is a hoax. There are governments combining their actions to have a positive impact on climate change as well as governments that withdraw from these initiatives. And if you want to spoil the good atmosphere at a party, it can be very effective to bring climate change up as topic of conversation.

For many people climate change is abstract and something far away from their own perception of reality. But every time there is a major disaster like a serious drought affecting food crops or a hurricane destroying houses and infrastructure, the topic of climate change comes up, causing serious discussions and intense disputes. The discussions don’t help the average person to understand; it doesn’t make anything concrete at all. It confuses, irritates and enables people to find information that supports their opinion (downloading) or encourages people avoid the whole ‘issue’ of climate change (ignoring).

In this article I will explain why the whole discussion about climate change is irrelevant and obsolete. At the same time I will share why ignorance isn’t a proper thing to do, but very unwise instead.

Let’s assume we do not know anything about climate change and that we do not have an opinion at all about climate change. If we can postpone our judgments and if we can ignore all the information, four options remain:

  1. Climate change is a reality
  2. Climate change is a hoax
  3. Climate change is caused by human behavior
  4. The impact of human behavior on climate change irrelevant, to zero

The 4 options seem to hold 2 opposites; A: climate change is either ‘real’ or ‘fake’ and B: climate change is caused by human behavior or it is not. But let’s translate these into a more workable construct. ‘Real or hoax’ and caused by human versus not caused by human are two of a kind. What is relevant is: should we do something or not?!? A much better quadrant to approach this question with is one holding two questions:

  • Is climate change caused by human behavior or is it not?
  • Should we take actions on climate change or not?

The image below shows these questions in a 2 by 2 table we can work with.

Climate Change - quadrant empty

Now, let’s look at this table from a rational perspective to find what is wise action. We can choose to do something or we can choose to do nothing. When we are able to keep our open mind installed and to ignore all the information, all four possibilities have an equal chance to be real. That means that – no matter if climate change is real or not – we have a 50% chance to do the right thing and a 50% chance to make a mistake.

It would be a wise decision not to do anything about climate change if it would not be caused by human behavior. But if climate change is not caused by human behavior and we do take a lot of effort to change our behavior, one could say that would be unwise. When climate change is accelerated by human behavior, it would be very wise to take action. Not taking action would increase the negative effects with consequences we do not know; it would be very unwise.

Climate Change - quadrant percentage

More interesting than the discussion above it would be to look at the consequences of making the right or wrong decision. What are they? We will look at this in a few steps.

When we decide to take climate change seriously and to act accordingly, we will have to transform our societies in many different ways; we have to change the way we live and work together. The whole cycle of how we produce food and goods should be transformed; we should change individual consumption patterns of food and materials; we should rethink a whole economy without fossil fuels and reinvent our use of water, land and resources. We should be very creative and we would have to spend billions in money.

But what if we take something seriously that is not real and never will be? In that case we have spent billions of money; we will have used many resources and hours of creative thinking on something where we could have spent all that time, money and resources on better things. If we succeed to transform our economies and our patterns of behavior we might have created a whole new economy and society, but the costs of it would have been far too extreme. We have spent our money, time and efforts to ‘heal’ something that didn’t need healing.

When we do nothing and the impact of human behavior on climate change is limited to zero, we are good. We can continue with what we are familiar with and continue to improve what we are good at now. All models for economy and society we have now are functional and – though with ups and downs – the global economy will continue to grow in the long term. Next generations will live in more prosperity and harmony, just like this generation lives in more peace and prosperity than the ones before us. We didn’t waste money, time, creativity and resources on things where it could have been used in a better way. We haven’t gone through the tensions come along with a process of transformation and we haven’t changed something that didn’t need change.

But what if we do nothing and climate change is caused by human behavior? Tensions will rise to an extreme on social, economic and ecologic level. There will be an increase of heavy droughts and heavy rains destroying our food crops. The intensity and frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis will increase causing much more destruction than we have ever seen. There will be wars over territory and over clean water and air. The amount of people on a drift, leaving their homes to find a safe place for survival will explode causing more tensions between groups and nations. Many species and many people – if not all will – die. And, with today’s technology and interconnection, it is not very unlikely that we will destroy all life on Earth; maybe even Earth.

Climate Change - quadrant images

If you would be a decision maker and want to act wisely, there is a choice. Basically we are all making decisions and we are all making choices. It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the ‘elite’ and have the position to make choices that affect many, or if you are a ‘common’ member of society, making decisions that only affect your own life and that of your family. The impact is different – yes – but numbers count as well and one small action can have huge impact. We all know stories of a little boy raising awareness on national level for a rare disease by polishing nails or of a little girl ending up on the front cover of Time magazine by telling her personal story of life in a country far away from our homes. It is not about them reaching the headlines in media, they had impact and brought (a movement for) change.

Most of us do have children and most parents want their child to have a bright future; we want our children to have a life as that is good as our own or better than we ever had. If we would replace “climate change” for “my child”, would you accept a 25% chance for your child to die? Would you even allow yourself choosing for something that will cause a certain death of your child of you had any other option? Wouldn’t you do everything that is in your possibilities to prevent that from happening? Most parents would. Even if the alternative doesn’t give any guarantee for a better result, most parents would choose for ANY other option than the one that of certain death. This is a reason why people in deprived areas and war-zones risk their children’s lives to send them on a dangerous trip to the unknown. There is hope that the alternative and unknown is better than the chance-less situation of the known. Even if the child doesn’t survive, the parent at least has tried everything in her/his possibilities to have saved it’s life.

If you are a business person with responsibility for the continuity of the company you work in, would you accept a 50% chance of certain failure with a 25% chance of certain bankruptcy? Good governance includes scenario planning and risk management, and most companies rather prevent risks than take them. When you would be in the boardroom and would have to make a choice from 4 options and one of these options is a certain elimination of the company and its business; what would you do? Most successful business(wo)men would make decisions to prevent that scenario ever becoming reality. The scenario leading to sure bankruptcy would be a definite ‘no go area’. If there are alternatives to choose from, the manager who chooses for liquidation will be blamed and shamed for bad governance. If there are options to choose from they must be taken seriously and explored. Even when they fail, at least everything has been tried to prevent.

Yet with climate change this all seems to be different. The logic in the examples above doesn’t seem to count. That is actually very strange. We do accept a 50% failure in our decisions and we do accept a 25% chance of certain death. But the stakes are much higher at the same time. We are not talking about the possibility of one or few children dying, but of billions and maybe all. We are not talking of one company going bankrupt, but of whole societies collapsing and maybe even destruction of Earth. And yet we accept 50% failure. It is gambling, not governance, nor making a smart individual decision.

Climate Change - quadrant earth

The matrix I present shows we have a 50% chance to make a proper decision. The decision is either to act or not to act. The worst thing that can happen when we act is that we have transformed a world (economy, society) that didn’t need transforming. Yes, we have spent a lot of time, thinking, resources and money that we could have spent otherwise, but the future for our children is bright and the opportunities for business have changed, but are still there. The worst thing that can happen if we do not act is destruction and death. Even if you are one of the few who would survive, life will never be the same as it was before and, for sure, it will not be better than it was before.

This is why the only logical thing to do is to invest in society and in economy as if climate change IS real and IS caused by human behavior. Any other choice would be illogical and – I even dare to say – unethical. This is why the whole discussion doesn’t matter. There are no prizes for predicting the weather forecast, the only wise thing we can do is bring an umbrella just in case it might rain.

It might be easier not to anything and to rely on the 50% chance you have – to gamble – that all will be well or the ‘issues’ will be solved by others. It will be much more effective to do that (one little) thing you can do.

But what can one do? That, of course, is depending on where you are and what position in society you are in. But that you can do something is for sure. I will not give a list of tips here, you can find many on the internet. And it doesn’t need to be big, as long as it comes from certain awareness. Some decide to eat less meat, others not to let the tap running while brushing their teeth. Some decide to reduce their consumption and to buy less in the store (how many pair of shoes can you wear at the same time and how many do you need?) others decide to buy organic. A ‘tipping point’ can only be reached by a group of many, all doing a small thing.

No transformation has ever started from the top by those in ruling positions; it has always come from ordinary people like you and me doing simple or extraordinary things. Governments search for new ways of governance because citizens pressure them to; companies invest in ‘greener’ and ‘more sustainable’ products and in ‘fair trade’ because consumers pressure them to. You are that citizen, you are that consumer, and you have that capacity for change.

In this context, leadership isn’t about position or power. Leadership is to take lead by example, to take responsibility by action. Words don’t count and talking about climate change doesn’t do us well. Let’s do something!

Posted in Business, Climate & Climate Change, leap into life, politics, sharing economy, Social Entrepreneurship, Spiral Dynamics integral, Theory U | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leap into Life – Deel Economie en Projecten 2017/2018

Stichting Leap into LifeConcept logo Stichting Leap into Life Nederland

Stichting Leap into Life zet zich in voor een Deel Economie. Delen is een principe dat in traditioneel Afrika meer gebruikelijk is dan in moderne Westerse samenlevingen. Wij werken met klassieke waarden van de Dagomba stam in noord Ghana én met moderne, holistische principes voor samenwerken en bedrijfsvoering.

In Ghana werken we met vrouwen en boeren die in extreme armoede leven. In plaats hen te leren hoe ze anders moeten omgaan met geld en hun traditionele waarden, ondersteunen we ondernemerschap dat de Dagomba traditie van delen en gemeenschap versterkt. We brengen waardigheid en welvaart vanuit traditie. Momenteel Werken we aan twee projecten; “Buy a Brick” en “Share with a Sister”.

Een deeleconomie vraagt van mensen de bereidheid om te leren en het vermogen om het aangeleerde los te durven laten. In Nederland vertalen we onze ervaringen in Ghana door op een eigen, specifieke manier samen te werken met onze partners en donateurs. Daarnaast delen we de ervaringen en principes van onze deeleconomie – het business model – via lezingen, coaching en training.

Buy a Brick

IMG_3694Dagomba vrouwen leren al generaties lang om Sheaboter te maken. Sheaboter is een basis ingrediënt dat in cosmetishce crèmes zit en in chocolade. Wij werken met Dipaliya Womens’ Association, een groep van 1.000 vrouwen die ambachtelijke Sheaboter maken. Dankzij dit werk hebben de vrouwen economische zelfstandigheid en eten voor hun gezin. We hebben een aantal investeringen kunnen doen die het inkomen van de vrouwen verviervoudigd heeft.

IMG_3491Op dit moment bouwen we een Sheaboter centrum in Sakuba. Het gebouw is nog niet af en we komen geld tekort om de bouw af te ronden. Met een eigen gebouw kunnen we het netto inkomen van de vrouwen nog eens vergroten. Minstens zo belangrijk is dat we met een eigen centrum veel effectiever de gemeenschap bijeen kunnen brengen voor overleg en opleiding.
Voor € 2,– kan je een baksteen kopen. Deze wordt ook lokaal gemaakt. Met jouw bijdrage help je ons niet alleen om het centrum af te bouwen; je geeft enkele gezinnen de gelegenheid om inkomen te verdienen met werk dat ten goede komt aan de hele gemeenschap.

Share with a Sister

Woba 02
Dagomba hebben een traditie als akkerbouwers en veehouders. De relatie met het land is belangrijk; Dagomba geloven traditioneel niet in bezit van land, maar in beheer van land voor de volgende generaties. Een traditionele Dagomba chief is geen eigenaar van het land, maar beheerder namens de gemeenschap.

Mede als gevolg van Westerse invloeden zijn veel landbouw projecten gebaseerd op het gebruik van chemicaliën. Boeren wordt geleerd om met kunstmest en chemicaliën te werken. Resistente zaden moeten ze kopen van een Westers bedrijf. Het zorgt voor oogsten die weinig inspanning vragen van de boer, maar het land wél uitput. Ieder jaar neemt de vruchtbaarheid van het land af.

Wij hebben een organic seedbank opgezet met lokale zaden en zijn een landbouw project gestart waarin we boeren leren om lokale, natuurlijke pesticiden en in Ghana geproduceerde, biologische mest te gebruiken. Zo brengen we traditionele kennis terug in de gemeenschap en leren we boeren om het land te verzorgen met oog voor de volgende generaties.


Voor jouw donatie van € 250,– krijgt een Dagomba vrouw in Ghana een stuk land, oorspronkelijke zaden, biologische mest en biologische pesticiden. Haar wordt geleerd hoe deze te gebruiken en de opbrengst van het land is voor haar. Jouw donatie is éénmalig, het gebruik van het land door de vrouw die je hiermee steunt is voor langere tijd. Zij kan daarmee haar gezin voeden of de oogst verkopen op de lokale markt.

We registreren het land en de gebruikers; jij ontvangt een certificaat met daarop de gegevens van de vrouw die van jouw geld een eigen bestaan kan opbouwen en de GPS coördinaten van het land dat met jouw bijdrage aan haar is gegeven.

Alain Volz


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Leap into Life – a new business model for a Sharing Economy

Based on traditional values of the Dagomba tribe in Ghana Northern Region and 21st century Holistic principles we are developing a Sharing Economy called Leap into Life. The last 2 years we have been working from grass root level in Ghana and The Netherlands on the design of an informal economy where people and planet are more important than profit.

Key principles Leap into Life Business Model

The Leap into Life Sharing Economy is to preserve traditional values in Ghana by creating life conditions for a flourishing local economy; to create resilient communities. In Ghana we have been working with a Cooperative called Dipaliya Womens’ Association to create an informal economy where 1.000 women at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ benefit from. The Social Economy System in Ghana is based on the family sharing tradition of the Dagomba tribe.

Dagomba family sharing - informal economy

With Dipaliya Womens’ Association and members of the local traditional Dagomba community we have started initiatives to create a local economy based on traditional local principles that is resilient to grow into 21st century; we stimulate local entrepreneurship. Focus of our activities is in production of traditional handcrafted Sheabutter and in organic farming.

LiL - creating life conditions for local entrepreneurship

In the Netherlands we are applying the principles developed in Ghana by the way we collaborate and do business. We use other principles for economy and business than those common in Western society. Instead of doing trade only we share resources and money. We also provide in lectures and consulting/coaching in how to apply the principles of sharing in business. We do individual coaching and support teams to become more congruent and resilient with engaged team members. Payment is not always in money; it can also be done by sharing.

Concept logo Stichting Leap into Life Nederland

A foundation is setup in The Netherlands to catalyze Sharing Economy initiatives in The Netherlands and to strengthen the Sharing Economy in Ghana. The purpose in The Netherlands is to help create more engaged communities.

LiL - towards engaged and resilient communities

In the Leap into Life Sharing Economy there IS actual money flowing round; we do not only share as an alternative for money. However we apply totally different principles for money and have completely different rules for cash-flow than those common in global economy. Money is shared. This is more common, but declining in African tradition. But for a Westerner this is a complete different mentality that needs to be ‘learned’. That is not about technology, but about consciousness and willingness.

Leap into Life - action learning and sense making

We have developed purpose and principles of our Sharing Economy by using Chaordic Design (Dee Hock), Spiral Dynamics integral (Dr. Don Beck) and Theory U (Otto Scharmer/Peter Senge). Some key elements in the Leap into Life Sharing Economy are:

  • WE is more important than ME
  • Employment is more important than efficiency
  • Prosperity is more important than profit
  • People are more important than money
  • Planet is more important than wealth
  • Abundance is there but the divide is not fair.

LiL - Key principles for a Sharing Economy

Though we work on a local scale in Ghana and The Netherlands, we are bending and changing the rules for economy and business on a larger scale. Actually by working on grass root level in both countries and by working bottom up we are very effective to reduce the pain of global issues as global warming; poverty and migration; and exclusion by social and economic divide.

Dynamics and effects of Global Economy

Alain Volz

Social Economy Entrepreneur – Leap into Life Foundation

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7 Vragen voor de Nederlandse samenleving

Over ongeveer 2 maanden zijn er verkiezingen voor de Tweede Kamer. Voor mezelf heb ik 7 vragen opgesteld die ik belangrijk vind voor Nederland. Ik deel ze graag. 
Een oplettende lezer herkent de kleurcodes van Spiral Dynamics:
1. Wat verbind ons als natie en in historie? 

– Hoe is Nederland ontstaan, wat is onze verbinding met het land waarop we staan, en welke waarden zijn in de loop der eeuwen daaruit voortgekomen?

2. Wat wordt gevraagd van iemand die hier woont? 

– Hoe hebben mensen ons land opgebouwd, wat is de rol daarin geweest van migranten en nieuwe groepen?

– Wat moet iemand nu doen (en laten) om een bijdrage te leveren aan de welvaart en het welzijn van Nederland?

– Welk gedrag kan wél en wat kan níet? Wat dwingt respect en gezag af in onze samenleving? 
3. Wat zijn de belangrijkste regels waar iedereen zich aan dient te houden? 

– Hoe maken we afspraken, waarover, hoe zien we toe op naleving daarvan, en hoe sanctioneren wij? 

– Wat zijn de pijlers van onze samenleving in termen van bestuur en recht; welke instanties zijn daarin bepalend, met welke rol? 
4. Welke mogelijkheden bieden wij aan inwoners om succesvol te zijn in de samenleving? 

– Hoe zorgen we er voor dat mensen bijdragen aan de samenleving; wat maakt iemand succesvol? 

– Wat vraagt de samenleving van mensen van verschillende achtergrond en/of verschillend opleidingsniveau en welke kansen wordt hen geboden?
5. Hoe zorgen we voor een goede balans tussen welvaart en welzijn? 

– Hoe zorgen we voor een eerlijke verdeling van de welvaart; op grond van welke criteria? 

– Hoe gaan we met elkaar om als buren, hoe gaan we om met de ‘zwakkeren’ in de samenleving, hoe zorgen we dat de stem van de minderheid gehoord blijft en hoe vangen we mensen op die buiten de samenleving dreigen te vallen?
6. Hoe zorgen we ervoor dat de diversiteit die Nederland kent tot haar recht komt in beleid dat ten gunste is van de samenleving als geheel, zonder mensen of groepen uit te sluiten? 

– Welke processen, procedures, netwerken en relaties zijn cruciaal voor de samenleving als geheel; hoe daar sturing in te geven in onzekere tijd?

– Welke subculturen kent Nederland, wat kenmerkt hen, en hoe zijn hun onderlinge verhoudingen? Hoe gaan eigen identiteit en eenheid samen? 
7. Hoe doen we dit als speler in een internationaal krachtenveld waar Nederland sterk mee verbonden is? 

– Welke unieke kwaliteiten heeft Nederland als Natie, wie zijn onze belangrijkste medestanders, en waar liggen onze mogelijkheden; hoe komt dat tot uiting in beleid/functies, resultaten, en internationale rankings?

– Welke rol wordt van Nederland gevraagd door de wereld/aarde, de internationale handel en de geopolitiek; hoe komt dat tot uiting in beleid/functies, resultaten, en internationale rankings?


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License to kill

Introducing Organic Farming in Ghana, Northern Region.

During my first visit to Ghana I saw, traveling through rural Northern Region, many pieces of land burning. In my naivety I asked if the burning was because of drought. I then learned that it is usual practice among farmers to burn the land after harvesting. “Why?” I asked. The answer wasn’t a direct one, “because it is tradition.” I did some research on the advantages and disadvantages of the burning of land for agriculture. Below are some things I found.

Agricultural burning (slash and burn) is carried out to clear the land for planting, and control pests, disease and weeds. There are few advantages to burn the land. Burning reduces pest invasions after planting. The reason is that the weeds that may have attracted the pests are killed. Weed seeds are also destroyed and do not rejuvenate. The ashes from the residues are rich in potassium and calcium; this adds value to the soil and benefits the crop.

However these advantages don’t weigh up to the disadvantages of agricultural burning. It’s true that burning kills pests and disease-causing organisms in the soil. But it kills the beneficial and important organisms too. This reduces the biological activity in the soil. The consequences of slash-and-burn techniques for ecosystems are almost always destructive.

Though burning crop residues and grasses is an organic practice, it is not safe. Farmers must be cautious with this practice. Burning damages soil and eventually ruins it. When soil is left bare after burning, there can be a lot of soil erosion. Also, burning residues and grass releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

The principal vulnerability is the nutrient-poor soil, pervasive in most areas of Ghana Northern Region. When biomass is extracted even for one harvest of wood or charcoal, the residual soil value is heavily diminished for further growth of any type of vegetation.

The nutrients that are released after burning are usually washed away or leached by rain, or eroded by wind. Soil declines in productivity after burning because its nutrients are depleted. Because of this, the ancient farmers who practiced slash and burn had to leave the land for five to 25, even up to 40 years before they could farm the land again.

Using fire to get rid of agricultural debris causes special problems because noncombustible and toxic materials are often burned along with the vegetation. This includes tires (used as fire accelerants) and plastics. Burning toxic materials can release very harmful emissions.

I didn’t take any pictures of the land burning, but on the picture below you can see the black landscape it leaves behind, smoking after the fire has tempered.

Village with burning of the land

The practice of burning crop residues and grass should not be encouraged. There are much better alternatives, but they are more labor intensive than the burning of the land. One is to spread crop residues on the land. Spreading residues in the field stops weeds by a combination of shading and smothering. The residues also stop the sun from drying out the ground. This keeps water in the soil so it’s available for crops.

Mulching improves the soil by attracting and feeding earthworms and other living organisms. The organisms “till” the soil, and their feces are among the best fertilizers and soil conditioners. So, spreading mulch or crop residues instead of burning them should be encouraged. It builds the soil, and improves its structure and fertility.

Farmers can make holes in the residue layer and plant their crops. Or they can simply spread organic mulch by hand around plants after they emerge. The crops get nutrients from the decaying leaves.

When we went to Zabzugu last year, a friend of us wanted to show us his store there. The store was full of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Instead of receiving our admiration, both Umar and I frowned and looked at the store with some disapproving look. “Why?” our friend asked. “Oh, we are against chemicals” Umar replied. Our friend didn’t really understand.

I asked him why he was selling the chemicals; “it is poison, don’t you know that?” “Yes, but it is good business.” he said. “So you know it is poison and that you are killing the land and your people by selling it, but you still sell it because it is good business?” His reply was “But I have a license …” I couldn’t stop myself and said to him: “So you have a license. Does that make it less worse what you are doing? You are still killing your land and your people! But because you have ‘a license to kill’ it is okay?”

We discovered that there were no alternatives in Zabzugu area for the chemicals sold there, so we asked our friend if he didn’t want to become the first in the area to start selling organic products. It could also make him good business and at least he was selling something positive; something that would not kill his people nor the land, but would actually do something good for them.

Chemical shop

Not only in Zabzugu, but actually in whole of Northern Ghana chemical farming is the usual practice. There are hardly any alternatives, nor organic seeds or crops for sale. One of the farmers we are currently working with is a brother who I met two years ago. At that time I asked Umar what was wrong with his brother and advised him to go to hospital with him. In hospital they found out that he was actually ill and the farmer himself believes it came from spraying his land with Glyphosate based pesticides. This is not illogical, because the spraying does not happen with the protection required to do it safely. (Also see my writing on Glyphosate).

Most aid programs in Ghana are chemical based and the World Health Organization doesn’t oppose to chemical based farming. There are two possible reasons I’d like to address: 1. Chemical based farming can lead to quick short term positive effects and 2. The fertilizer market is a multi-Billion market – primarily for Western companies – of which organic fertilizers occupy only a few Million.

Last year the farmer who became ill due to chemical farming came to us, sharing that he wanted to stop using chemicals, but didn’t know how. He was desperate and asked us for advice and help. This was how we started to get involved in organic farming.

We did field research in Ghana and the Netherlands and I did some research on chemical/organic pesticides (See the article on Glyphosate) and chemical/organic fertilizers.

A chemical fertilizer is defined as any inorganic material of wholly or partially synthetic origin that is added to soil to sustain plant growth. Organic fertilizers are substances that are derived from the remains or byproducts of natural organisms which contain the essential nutrients for plant growth.

There are few advantages of using chemical fertilizers and I will mention those below. However our conclusion still is that use of organic fertilizers is much more sustainable. We believe that organic farming actually is the only realistic option for the future of farming in Ghana Northern Region in the long term. If you wish to live in harmony with nature and make a lasting improvement in your own patch of earth for generations to come, organic fertilizers outweigh chemicals by far.

“When you view soil as a living organism, (it is and we should), you can easily see why it might matter what type of fertilizer we choose to use: Chemical fertilizers, in effect, “kill” the soil while organic fertilizers improve and sustain the soil.” ( )

One of the distinct advantages of chemical fertilizers over organic fertilizers is that chemical fertilizers are rich equally in all three essential nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. In the short term one needs more bags of organic fertilizer than one needs bags of chemical fertilizers to bring the necessary nutrients into the soil. However there is a large risk of adding too much when using chemical fertilizers and, when using organic fertilizer, in the long term one needs to add less and less fertilizer because the fertility of the soil is growing in a natural way.

One of the main disadvantages of chemical fertilizers is that, in contrast to organic fertilizers, several chemical fertilizers have high acid content like sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid. This high acid content results in the destruction of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which is helpful in supplying the nitrogen to a growing plant. In contrast, organic fertilizers support the growth of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

A few rarely known disadvantages of chemical fertilizers are that chemical fertilizers encourage plant disease and that they produce fruits and vegetables with lower nutritional value and less flavor. Citrus grown with large amounts of soluble nitrogen has lower vitamin C than those grown with organic fertilizers. Corn grown with the soluble nitrogen of chemical fertilizers contains less protein.

Organic fertilizers have many advantages. With organic fertilizers soil crusting is reduced. Organics may improve water movement into the soil and, in time, add structure to the soil. Organics feed beneficial microbes, thereby making the soil easier to work.

Chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers - advantages and disadvantages

Organic farming in general is more labor intensive than using chemical pesticides and fertilizers while farming. This is also a reason why chemicals are so popular in Ghana Northern Region. One needs to sow only once and after there is little work needed to maintain the crops because the chemicals do all the work. But, as one can imagine, the price to be paid in the long term is high. Recurrent drought in Ghana Northern Region severely affects agricultural activities and is worsening; soil erosion is increasing rapidly; water pollution has serious impact on farmer’s health; and supplies of potable water are inadequate and decreasing rapidly.

But we had more practical reasons to get involved into organic farming.First of all several farmers in different communities approached us with the question how to return to farming without the use of chemicals. We also realized that the food we are eating ourselves most likely is produced using chemicals. We wanted to produce, eat, and supply our communities with food that makes our people more resilient and less prone to diseases such as cancer, strokes, and skin disorders.

We were also thinking of the future generations in the region. With the land becoming less and less fertile and the increase of large scale (chemical based) farming next generations will not have a better future than the current one. This also is one of the reasons why more and more young people move away from the area and try to find a better future in Accra or abroad.

ATMA Farm - weeding the land

Chemicals might be cheaper in the short run, but on the longer term it actually is more expensive for many reasons. Organic fertilizers ensure that the farms remain fertile for decades and a farmer who practices organic farming for many years will require far less fertilizer, because his soil is already rich in essential nutrients. And chemicals contaminate the land and the water, which is a major cause for diseases, poverty and the extinction of a number of plant, animal, and insect species. Organic fertilizers are easily bio-degradable and do not cause environmental pollution.

And finally an important reason for us to start organic farming is that it creates employment within our local communities. Since we don’t use chemicals, weeds and grasses are also growing on our land. It needs to be removed at least twice during the growing period of the crops. That is labor intensive because we have it done by hand. It costs us some money and some food, but it also provides a growing group of farmers income, food and skills.LiL Purpose and Principles - june 2015

Leap into Life is about preserving nature, tradition and at the same time building a future for next generations by introducing change mechanisms and social dynamics that strengthen the communities to become more resilient in the 21st century. The production of organic fertilizers and pesticides brings employment into our communities; because the land needs extra attention and weeding, more farmers have work and farmers have more work; the organic seeds we have found and some of the technologies we use are original and local; and the seeds and crops we produce can be shared to provide healthy food to a growing group of people and/or to scale up the practice of organic farming in the region.

“License to kill” is becoming a well-known term in the region and is used by a growing number of communities to address their desire for more long term solutions that bring both health and wealth for their community members.

So how did we start with organic farming and where are we now? Our first priority was to find proper seeds. The land wouldn’t be so much of a problem for us, since we are well connected and deeply integrated in the traditional Dagomba communities. That actually also ‘saved’ us with the seeds. There wasn’t a place where we could find proper organic seeds, meaning seeds with an official certification as organic. I tried finding them, using my international network of experts. But even within the diverse group of people I know in Ghana who are involved in sustainable landscape development, organic farming or community development I couldn’t find the seeds for the crops we wanted to grow. We wanted to start with mais (corn), but the seeds we did find were either grown with chemicals or were treated with chemicals, probably GMO. The latter is extraordinary because Ghanaian government officially has banned GMO seeds and GMO crops from Ghana. But they are here and used by both local farmers and international companies.

Chemical seeds Pannar

We did find the organic seeds by going deep into the rural areas, there were the farmers are very remote from external influences and are too poor to purchase seeds or chemicals for fertilization or pest control. We did find the seeds we wanted, organic mais, though without a certificate.

Our first plot of land was a small plot of 6 acres close to Tamale. It was offered to us by the farmer who we had helped when he was ill and who had come to us with the question to help him getting off the chemicals. We planted mais, but the crops failed. Not because of the organic techniques or because of pests/insects; it was the effect of Global Warming that made them fail. The rain came 3 weeks later than it normally does and I learned through research that it was partially caused by El-Nino, the change in current in the oceans that brings extreme drought to Africa. Eastern Africa (Somalia/Kenia), Central Africa (Sudan), Southern Africa (Zimbabwe and South Africa) and the Savannah area (Ghana Northern Region) are according to analysts the most affected by this year’s El-Nino. (

A second sowing also failed because of the same reason. Since water is scarce and we do not have any form of irrigation available, we are completely depending on Mother Nature and natural rainfall. This time there was too little and it came too late for our first attempts as organic farmers.

It didn’t stop us, on the contrary. In agreement with local chiefs and in collaboration with several farmer communities in Yendi area we ‘knocked down’ around 40 acres of land to start farming on a new plot. The land there is more fertile than where we first started and the rain started to come. On this plot we have planted mais again and that is growing now to become a good harvest. The 6 acres near Tamale we are now using as a ‘practice field’ to gain experience with new crops. Currently we have black eyed beans, soybeans and tigernuts growing there. Again we are using seeds from remote areas of which we are sure that they haven’t been affected by chemicals. Though our first sowing of black eyed beans failed – this time due to extreme heavy rainfall that washed away the whole field – the crops there are now growing well and can be harvested soon.

On both plots we work with local community farmers and we do that in a specific way that is aligned with the ancient traditions of farming and the Dagomba tradition of Family Sharing. We have given the farmers some of ‘our’ land and provided them with seeds, manure and pesticides to work with. The harvest is theirs to keep and in return they help us to maintain the land where our crops are growing. That is the basis from where we work with most communities – the sharing principle is important to us – but not sufficient to cover for all the work that needs to be done. We also pay for the work in food and with cash money.

The local farmers in Tamale area were curious to see how we preserve and plough our land in a different way. Instead of burning the failed crops we had left them there as manure to feed the land. We also waited a bit longer than the other farmers with sowing, which gave them the opportunity to see the difference in fertility between our land and theirs. The difference already is significant; some farmers approached us to ask if they could use our land for their crops.

The farmers that are helping us on the larger plot had automatically concluded that we were going to use chemicals on the land. Normally a plot of the size we have – or any size above 3 acres – is used for chemical farming, so they were assuming that we were going to do that too. When they learned that we were going to use a different approach, they were surprised and curious. Now they are inspired by our approach and very happy with our presence there. We not only provide extra work, food and resources. We also help them to rediscover older techniques for pest control they can also apply to their own land.

We use organic manure and Neem based pesticides; partly purchased from our business partner in organic products, partly hand made from Neem leafs and Neem seeds from the trees that grow there in abundance. We have been trying to setup an infrastructure for the collection of Neem seeds that provides the women direct income for each bowl of Neem seeds they bring to our office and are still working on improvement of that. It is not running as we would like to, partly because the women are unfamiliar with the qualities and value of the Neem seeds.

We have learned how to make manure from cow feces, rice shells and a mixture of other local ingredients and we apply that in combination with certified organic manure. A few weeks ago we had some trouble with insects eating the roots of our mais (corn) and cutting our crops down. Fortunately we found a traditional natural medicine (a leaf powder) that kills the insects and protects the crops and the land for more than one season.

guide to nutrient value of organic materials

We expect to have good harvest on all our current plots. But we also expect to have inspired others for organic farming. Since there are hardly organic seeds available we have decided to provide them ourselves. We are sharing not only our gained experience with the communities; we will also provide those who want to farm without chemicals in the seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. We are preparing to open a small store in Tamale and we have found several people in the communities who want to sell the products in their region. Ghana northern Region has a short time where farming is possible, it is very seasonable, so we expect to start slow and small with the objective to expand our activities next season.

In future we also want to grow vegetable crops, but irrigation – or better: access to water – is a serious problem for all farmers in Northern Region. In order to be able to grow vegetables we need a borehole and a form of irrigation that makes us less depending on natural rainfall.

Our next step is to expand the growing of organic tigernuts. Experts from Louis Bolk Agro Eco will be visiting Tamale soon and will be joining us to the communities we have chosen to work with for that project. We are excited about the invitation to become part of the tigernut program and thrilled by how we see the farmers and communities grow in health and wealth. We have thrown a little stone in the lake and are grateful to see the circles it has created expanding.


Alain Volz

Tamale, August 2016


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Glyphosate; what is it and how harmless or harmful is it?

Results of my research on Glyphosate

In preparation of an article on farming in Ghana, Northern region – with the name “License to kill” and to be published yet – I got quite deeply into research on Glyphosate, the basic ingredient of practically all chemical pesticides.Glyphosate in food chain e1424980143336As many of you know, I am not without prejudice on the use of chemicals in farming and of processed food in general. However, I tried to look at the different perspectives, including those of the producers of chemical pesticides and advocates for chemical based farming.

It is interesting to find that in March 2015 the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A, see below) and that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in November 2015 concluded that “the substance (Glyphosate) is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA) or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans.

Glyphosate is widely used in farming all over the globe and there is a huge market for seeds and crops that have been altered (Genetically Modified or Genetically Engineered) to be resistant of Glyphosate. With these seeds and crops, the pesticide will kill everything except for the crops. But in most cases the crops/seeds either hold the toxic in it or have been produced in such a way that they can’t reproduce.

Not only Monsanto, but also companies like Bayern, Dow Chemicals, Wienco, Pfizer and others use Glyphosate in their pesticides and other farming products. The conclusion of the EFSA brings a huge question mark with me, knowing that Bayer is preparing to buy Monsanto.

Before my research my logical thinking was: “Why use Glyphosate; it is a chemical; a toxic that kills weeds and animals eating the farmer’s crops. It is poison that kills, so why should one use it on food crops or in food? And how can it be harmless for us humans, when it kills other organisms?” I still prefer to eat food that is not intoxicated by any form of chemicals or poison.

Glyphosate - europes-top-5-glyphosate-pesticide-toxic-countries-21728434

Below I give a summary of the reports I have found. To be honest, it has shocked me and only made my belief stronger that organic farming is the most plausible future for humanity to survive and to overcome global issues as food security, hunger and disease.

I’ve also found articles on the relationship between the use of chemicals in farming and the increasing rate of arsenic in rice. Especially rice is vulnerable for intoxication. Especially rice grown in areas where cotton is planted is highly toxic. It would be too much to take these reports into this article, but I couldn’t leave mentioning it here.

Brown rice is more toxic than cleaned white rice. Wash your rice carefully with at least 6 cups of water before cooking. And don’t use the water you washed the rice in for the cooking of it.

This article might be difficult to read because it contains a lot of information and harsh conclusions.

Draw your own conclusions.

Tamale, July 2016


Glyphosate; what is it and how harmless or harmful is it?


Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant. It is an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate. It is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops.

It was discovered to be an herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought it to market in 1974 under the trade name Roundup, and Monsanto’s last commercially relevant United States patent expired in 2000.

Glyphosate - chemical formula

In March 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A) based on epidemiological studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies.

Original WHO publication:

In November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority published an updated assessment report on glyphosate, concluding that “the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA) or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans.

Original EFSA publication:

Monsanto website:

 What is Glyphosate?

All Roundup® brand herbicides contain glyphosate as an active ingredient. Roundup® brand herbicides were developed to control a wide variety of weeds. A majority of Roundup brand herbicides contain three components – the active ingredient glyphosate, water and a soap-like surfactant blend. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning that care must be taken to protect desirable plants and vegetation from contact with the herbicide. Apart from the three ingredients identified, some Roundup brand formulations may have additional active ingredient(s). In addition, there are many glyphosate-based products with other brand names, both from Monsanto and other manufacturers.

Is Glyphosate Safe?

Glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential to plant growth; this enzyme is not found in humans or other animals, contributing to the low risk to human health. Comprehensive toxicological studies in animals have demonstrated that glyphosate does not cause cancer, birth defects, DNA damage, nervous system effects, immune system effects, endocrine disruption or reproductive problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified the carcinogenicity potential of glyphosate as Category E: “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.”

EPA, which reviews extensive toxicological and environmental data before registering an active ingredient, classifies glyphosate as “practically non-toxic.” That is the most favorable acute toxicity category possible based on single–exposure oral, dermal and inhalation studies. In addition to studies with the active ingredient of herbicide products, regulatory agencies also require specific toxicological studies with the full formulation.Glyphosate - Monsanto website

National Pesticide Information Center on Glyphosate:

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill most plants. It prevents the plants from making certain proteins that are needed for plant growth. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimic acid pathway. The shikimic acid pathway is necessary for plants and some microorganisms.

How might I be exposed to glyphosate?

You can be exposed to glyphosate if you get it on your skin, in your eyes or breathe it in when you are using it. You might swallow some glyphosate if you eat or smoke after applying it without washing your hands first. You may also be exposed if you touch plants that are still wet with spray.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:

Human poisoning with this herbicide is not with the active ingredient alone but with complex and variable mixtures. Therefore, it is difficult to separate the toxicity of glyphosate from that of the formulation as a whole or to determine the contribution of surfactants to overall toxicity. Experimental studies suggest that the toxicity of the surfactant, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), is greater than the toxicity of glyphosate alone and commercial formulations alone.

Elizabeth Grossman – National Geographic:

It’s probably in your garage and on your lawn. And it’s used on nearly every acre of corn and soy. But what risks does it pose?

Chemical pesticide - Glyphosate (Wynco)

An international agency declared glyphosate, the primary ingredient in the popular product Roundup,  a “probable human carcinogen.” The weed killer also has made recent headlines for its widespread use on genetically modified seeds and research that links it to antibiotics resistance and hormone disruption. Several national governments are planning to restrict its use, and some school districts are talking about banning it.

Its use skyrocketed after seeds were genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical. Because these seeds produce plants that are not killed by glyphosate, farmers can apply the weed killer to entire fields without worrying about destroying crops.

USGS researchers found glyphosate in the majority of rivers, streams, ditches, and wastewater treatment plant outfalls tested. Glyphosate also was found in about 70 percent of rainfall samples. It attaches pretty firmly to soil particles that are swept off farm fields then stay in the atmosphere for a relatively long time until they dissolve off into water.

Since about 2005, pre-harvest use of glyphosate results in very high residues in food crops. Traces were found in 90 percent of 300 soybean samples.

Glyphosate - GMO Soybeans

Despite its widespread use, USGS hydrologist Paul Capel said there is “a dearth of information” on what happens to it once it is used.

Glyphosate is not included in the U.S. government’s testing of food for pesticide residues or the monitoring of chemicals in human blood and tissues. As a result, there is no information on how much people are exposed to from using it in their yards, living near farms or eating foods from treated fields.

UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared in March 2015 that glyphosate probably raises the risk of cancer in people exposed. The UN agency based its decision on human, animal, and cell studies, says National Cancer Institute scientist emeritus, Aaron Blair who chaired the IARC review committee. The studies found glyphosate in farmworkers’ blood and urine, chromosomal damage in cells, increased risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in some people exposed, and tumor formation in some animal studies.

One study suggests that glyphosate may affect pathogens such as Salmonella in ways that can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Other recent research suggests it can interfere with hormones.

The EPA is reviewing its approved uses of glyphosate and expects to release a preliminary assessment of the human health risk later this year. This is expected to include new restrictions.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka, alarmed by suspected links to human kidney disease, has banned it. Brazil is considering a similar move. Mexico and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions, and Canada has just begun a process to consider new rules.

Dr. Mercola – Roundup and Glyphosate Toxicity Have Been Grossly Underestimated

A study, published in the journal Ecotoxicology, (2013 March; 22(2): 251–262) found that glyphosate is toxic to water fleas (Daphnia magna) at minuscule levels that are well within the levels expected to be found in the environment.

According to regulators, glyphosate is thought to be practically nontoxic to aquatic invertebrates. The water flea is a widely accepted model for environmental toxicity, so this study throws serious doubt on glyphosate’s classification as environmentally safe. The original publication can be found here:

Back in Feb. of 2012, the journal Archives of Toxicology published a shocking study showing that Roundup is toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications.

(Archives of Toxicology 2012 May;86(5):805-13 –

This effect could not have been anticipated from the known toxicological effects of glyphosate alone. The likely explanation is that the surfactant polyoxyethyleneamine within Roundup dramatically enhances the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue,” Sayer Ji writes:

“If this is true, it speaks to a fundamental problem associated with toxicological risk assessments of agrichemicals (and novel manmade chemicals in general), namely, these assessments do not take into account the reality of synergistic toxicologies, i.e. the amplification of harm associated with multiple chemical exposures occurring simultaneously.”

Glyphosate - spraying II

A study published in Scientific American (June 23, 2009) found that liver, embryonic and placental cell lines exposed to various herbicide formulations for 24 hours at doses as low as 1 part per million (ppm), had adverse effects. The original article “Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells“ can be found here:

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the researchers claim that cell damage and even cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated crops, as well as lawns and gardens where Roundup is applied for weed control. They also suspect that:

“Roundup might cause pregniony problems by interfering with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal fetal development, low birth weights or miscarriages.”

Miscarriages, fertility problems and abnormal fetal development are all problems that are skyrocketing in Argentina, where many are exposed to massive spraying of herbicides. More than 18 million hectares in Argentina are covered by genetically engineered soy, on which more than 300 million liters of pesticides are sprayed. In the village of Malvinas Argentinas, which is surrounded by soy plantations, the rate of miscarriage is 100 times the national average, courtesy of glyphosate.

But even if you don’t live in an agricultural area where you might be exposed to Roundup directly, you’re still getting it through your diet if you’re eating non-organic foods.

The EPA standard for glyphosate in American water supplies is 0.7 ppm. In Europe, the maximum allowable level in water is 0.2 ppm. Organ damage in animals has occurred at levels as low as 0.1 ppm, and in the study on cell lines discussed above, liver, embryonic and placental cell lines were adversely affected at doses as low as 1 ppm. The fact that genetically modified corn can contain as much as 13 ppm of glyphosate has staggering implications for Americans who eat an average of 193 pounds of genetically engineered foods each year! (Source Environmental Working Group October 15, 2012)

A German study, published in 2013, looked at glyphosate’s role in the rise of toxic botulism in cattle. This used to be extremely rare, but the incidence has become increasingly common over the past 10-15 years. ( –  US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health)

As for its effects on humans, the Samsel – Seneff study, published in the journal Entropy in April 2013, suggests that glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm.

Dr. Stephanie Seneff has been conducting research at MIT for over three decades. She also has an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT and a minor in food and nutrition. The report argues that glyphosate residues, found in most commonly consumed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar, corn, soy and wheat, “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.” (Original article: Entropy 2013, 15(4), 1416-1463 –

Glyphosate and autism

Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function and lifecycle. What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease.

Dr. Seneff identified two key problems in autism that are unrelated to the brain yet clearly associated with the condition—both of which are linked with glyphosate exposure; 1:) gut dysbiosis and 2:) Disrupted sulfur metabolism / sulfur and sulfate deficiency.

Certain microbes in your body actually break down glyphosate, which is a good thing. However, a byproduct of this action is ammonia, and children with autism tend to have significantly higher levels of ammonia in their blood than the general population. This also is the case for those with Alzheimer’s disease. In your brain, ammonia causes encephalitis, i.e. brain inflammation.

Former US Navy staff scientist Dr. Nancy Swanson has meticulously collected statistics on glyphosate usage and various diseases and conditions, including autism. A more perfect match-up between the rise in glyphosate usage and incidence of autism is hard to imagine. To access her published articles and reports, please visit Sustainable Pulse, a European website dedicated to exposing the hazards of genetically engineered foods.

As discussed above, glyphosate has a number of devastating biological effects. So much so that it may very well be one of the most important factors in the development of a wide variety of modern diseases and conditions, including autism.

Glyphosate and Alzheimers-GMOIt’s important to understand that the glyphosate sprayed on conventional and genetically engineered crops actually becomes systemic throughout the plant, so it cannot be washed off. It’s inside the plant.

The answer, of course, is to avoid processed foods of all kinds, as they’re virtually guaranteed to contain genetically engineered ingredients, and center your diet around whole, organic foods as toxic pesticides are not permitted in organic farming.

Last but not least, do not confuse the “natural” label with organic standards.

People generally tend to believe that the word “natural” refers to foods grown “in a natural way,” which really amounts to organic farming methods, or close to it; sans harsh chemicals, and most definitely not something that has been genetically engineered. Unfortunately, that’s not what the “natural” label represents at all. In fact, the “natural” label is unregulated, and companies can define it as they please. The natural label is not based on any standards and is frequently misused by sellers of GE products.

Growers and manufacturers of organic products bearing the USDA seal, on the other hand, have to meet the strictest standards of any of the currently available organic labels. In order to qualify as organic, a product must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity. Crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

Caroline Cox. Journal of Pesticide Reform, Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 1995.

In animal studies, feeding of glyphosate for three months caused reduced weight gain, diarrhea, and salivary gland lesions. Lifetime feeding of glyphosate caused excess growth and death of liver cells, cataracts and lens degeneration, and increases in the frequency of thyroid, pancreas, and liver tumors.

Glyphosate-containing products have caused genetic damage in human blood cells, fruit flies, and onion cells.

Glyphosate causes reduced sperm counts in male rats, a lengthened estrous cycle in female rats, and an increase in fetal loss together with a decrease in birth weights in their offspring.

It is striking that laboratory studies have identified adverse effects of glyphosate or glyphosate-containing products in all standard categories of toxicological testing.

Two serious cases of fraud have occurred in laboratories conducting toxicology and residue testing for glyphosate and glyphosate-containing products.

Glyphosate in urine and organs

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