Jesuit brother addresses psychology class

By Frank Flegel

REGINA — What does psychology have to do with organic agriculture as practiced in Zambia? Quite a lot, according to Katherine Arbuthnott. She teaches Psychology 340, the Psychology of Environmental Issues at Campion College, University of Regina, and she asked Jesuit Brother Paul Desmarais to address her class on how and why he changed his views from traditional agriculture practices to organic.

Desmarais has for 40 years lived and worked at the Jesuit Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre (KATC) which he founded in Zambia. Raised on a farm near Chatham, Ont., he began by introducing western traditional agriculture practices of tilling the soil and using fertilizers, but that didn’t work, he told the class, and at the urging of a visiting Jesuit priest, David Shulist, he investigated organic methods which thus far have proven to be more productive.

“The people used to eat just one meal a day,” he told the class, “but now eat three meals a day and the food is healthier.” The organic conversion includes no tilling, use of natural fertilizer provided by farm animals, planting of certain trees and bushes which add organic material and nitrogen to the soil.

Arbuthnott said it was a great opportunity for her students to hear about the social/psychological aspects; what was it in his interactions that caused him to change his view?

“He talked a lot about that, basically their empathy for not foreclosing on farmers who couldn’t make their payments opened him to recognizing the problem, so that’s a psychological thing, which we don’t have over here because banks foreclose because there’s no relationship. So relationship was important, empathy was important. And being an open and observant man to notice results that were different from what he expected.”

She described his talk as very inspirational. “I didn’t expect him to target those things. But if you’re listening with a psychological or social ear you hear how all of that is threaded through, and in many ways, policy and agriculture is so depended on relationships and psychological factors and that’s the point of psychology being involved in environmental issues.

Desmarais is on a tour to raise awareness and funds for the centre. Besides the morning class lecture he gave an evening talk at Holy Child Parish.

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