Influencer Benjamin Visser: regeneration promotor

Interview November 2021

A passionate sustainability advocate

Could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Curaçao in the “barrio” Brievengat, in a house just behind Bon Bini Supermarket. I have 4 brothers and one sister. My father and my mother were both teachers. My father was a very good math and physics teacher, and I still meet some of his ex-students that share with me how good a teacher he was. Both were very socially involved persons and they stimulated all of us to be the best we could be. My mother loved agriculture, from her I have this love for agriculture. They were active members of the Church, too, and would always swim against the current of the church. Both my parents were also very actively involved with the youth movement of the church. In the afternoons, we would study the Bible and at the end of the afternoon we would play music and all this has impacted us very much in a positive way.

My partner is Esperanza Copini, we don’t have children. I partially live in Scharloo and also in Sint Joris.
Esperenza once suggested that we start with creating food forests in Scharloo, afterwards we start expanding on that idea in other neighborhoods as well. She works at Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and with my background in Sustainability, we have a match made in heaven.

Esperanza Copini and Benjamin Visser interpreting Redemption Song (the song of freedom) in three languages at Landhuis Bloemhof in 2020.

How important are your parents in who you have become right now?
They are unimaginably important for who I and also my other siblings have become. I am immensely grateful for the zest in life I have and all of us have grown up to become very independent and fulfilled children.

Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
After I finished high school at Radulphus College, I studied Latin American & Caribbean studies for my Bachelor’s and got a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Energy, at the University of Utrecht. I enjoyed the diverse subject matters that I was studying during my Bachelor’s like Arabic, Development studies, finding my way but as I had a Beta background, I was missing that abstract part, so I took a radical turn and started my Master’s in Renewable  Energy Resources (RES)which  was fascinating. I studied all the different aspects involved around sustainable energy, like solar panels, biofuels, windmills, policy development, climate change, the socio-economic development involved in RES and I loved it. I wrote a thesis on “Re-introducing sugarcane as a sustainable biofuel resource in Puerto Rico. I was always involved in the subject matters to the Caribbean area where I grew up, be it Seawater Cooling, wind energy, 0-emission housing or whatever, always wanting to go back.

After my studies, I founded my own consultancy firm Samyama Transition Consultancy, and have worked it for 7 years already. Since 2016 I’m back in Curaçao, focusing mostly on sustainable agriculture (permaculture), consultancy and teaching/researching.

Where did you get your interest in agriculture?
My parents were very progressive people. My mother was involved in church, Amnesty International and Amigu di Tera with Lloyd and Yvette Raveneau, and a broad range of volunteering work. The charm of self-sufficiency and producing our own food was engrained early in our life. From her my passion for human rights and sustainable development stems from.

We know you to be involved in some agriculture projects to enable people in the barrios to take their destiny in their own hands. Can you expand a little on this initiative?
When I came back to Curaçao, I approached the Ministery of Planning for a piece of land of between 2 to 20 hectares, to start a permaculture farm. While still looking actively for land for my farm, I am now into consulting and advising people on the planting of typical Curaçaoan, drought-resistant trees and herbs using mostly permaculture principles, like which plants grow excellent together, what to do with water supply and storage etc…

As mentioned before, we started with a food forest in Scharloo for and by the neighborhood, which is open and easily accessible and where we plant local fruits, vegetables, and trees. We asked for funding and got the funding to create food forests in the 4 barrios of Scharloo, Koraal Specht, Soto, Brievengat. In Scharloo we are talking about a plot of 200 m2. The latter planned barrios are all to be about 5.000 m2. I believe in more scaled-up projects. We work with students, people from the barrio, volunteers, and generating lots of social media coverage. We also started in Brievengat and everybody is welcome to come and eat and drink, you can find us the whole day on Saturday.

The food forests are now like physical examples of a harmonious, abundant community of living organisms, humans included.

The gardens we implement are all permaculture based. Bill Mollison, the Australian founder of permaculture promotes permaculture as based on the abundance principles in nature. Mollison derived 13 principles from how nature works and subsequently how indigenous cultures interpreted those workings. If you plant your trees and make your food forest based on these principles, the probability of success will be very high, especially in our semi-arid climate. These principles are also applicable in society at large, e.g. use slow and simple solutions; value ,stimulate diversity; inclusiveness, redistribution, regeneration. By implementing our neighborhood food forests along these principles, we aim to ‘rub-off’ those principles on society herself, too. Neighbors are joining in the work, and while working the information transfer takes place. By following these principles, we create an increasing wealth in the forest and this can also happen in the barrio, ultimately leading to lower levels of entropy with less envy, jealousy and poverty, and more syntropy and abundance. The food forests are now like physical examples of a harmonious, abundant community of living organisms, humans included. We noticed an average participation of ca. 20-30 people per workday (on Saturdays), which is now lowering because the implementation phase is over.  Now mostly children and teens join in the work and chatter of the day.  We’re also extending some volunteer compensations for the work, enabling the youth to earn some money and become more responsible on that issue as well.  

Also we have noticed lots of interest from people living outside the barrio and as Brievengat is a very busy neighborhood, this food forest has created so much new interest. Especially with the recent documentary “Rauw Curaçao”, the ‘neighborhood food forest’-phenomenon got a real boost. People from other barrios come and visit us in Brievengat and the word is spreading out. But it is also so logical: If we were to establish more food forests, this would easily cover our fruit & herbal intake. For example, a mango tree could produce 20-100 kilos of mangos per year, enough for everyone. Dancing on nature’s laws only means abundance.

We are now preparing ourselves to go to other barrios like Soto where Plataforma Banda Abou found herself ready to collaborate with us. The collaboration with Unidat di Bario is also excellent, our foundation partner, with longstanding experience in the neighborhoods of Curaçao. They are e.g. involved in the distribution of food packages during the Covid19 pandemic. Food forests are an excellent way to fix the scarcity problem at the beginning, solving the ‘end-of-pipe’-solutions that food stamps really are.  

Do you have other projects that you are involved in?|
Another project that I am involved in is teaching at the University of Curaçao (UoC). I recently started with a research function, investigating the impact that Covid has had on our food (nutrient) intake, agricultural self-sufficiency, and on the economic diversity sprouted from there. This study entails the combined involvement of the universities of the three islands Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten. This study will give a big boost to the grassroots sector of sustainability and agriculture that I am involved in. I am extremely happy to be part of this study.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now?
When I was 18 years old, I went to attend Brahma Kumaris courses. It is a branch of Indian Philosophy and they also elaborate and explain on the catastrophic and mundane nature of (material) society. It therefore is important for humans to become aware of their Divine Being within. This reflects the core of what I am and working for. To teach people self-sustainability, to have more equality in life. Why? Because the wider the gap between the wealthy and the poor (like for example in South Africa and Venezuela) the higher the crime rates, the bigger the distrust against police and politicians, etc…I can see this gap also widening in Curaçao. That is why I am working hard to achieve more equality and sustainability and convince people, that we need to address the inequality by returning to nature’s laws of abundance. 

I want to start a permaculture farm that also functions as a training and knowledge center on sustainability and self-sufficiency, based on the laws of nature…

What are your plans for the coming years and when do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
I want to be a farmer. I have had this dream to start a permaculture farm my whole life. All I need to start with is one to two hectares of land (that can become up to 20 hectares, God willing) to scale up. We as human beings don’t spend enough time in nature, so we have created a dis-balance between the mind and the heart, nature and abstract thinking. This makes us unhappy. We have to return to the heart. This permaculture farm would also function as a training and knowledge center on sustainability and self-sufficiency, based on the laws of nature. I would continuously invite local farmers to come and learn and practice inspire them to integrate more trees (i.e. perennial systems). The more trees we have, the more those trees will keep the warmth out, cooling of neighborhoods, the island and the planet as a whole. I can see myself doing this, 5, 10, and 20 years from now. Permaculture is a science that can have a valuable contribution to the society of Curaçao.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with?
The availability of land is the biggest challenge, every piece of land for agricultural purposes has already been given out, while most of them are not in production at all. I believe that it is about time to implement an island wide land reform. There actually is a policy to take back land if the conditions of cultivation are not met. I know tens of young farmers that are eager to start but don’t have land. What is needed is a sustainable vision where within 10 years or so our self-sufficiency is increased from 5% to 50 %.

How are you dealing with these challenges?
By continuous dialogue, with government, Ministries and private sector. For the time being, I started food forests in barrios. We need to protect the so-called commons like the wind, water, land and nature. The community needs to manage these. If not, all commons will be destroyed, as conventional business models exhaust these commons in a race to the bottom, converting common goods to private gain for shareholders. Therefore, I keep on promoting communal wealth creation and sharing. Regeneration, inclusion and redistribution are the 21st century some measures indicating if an idea, policy or measure will be future-proof or not.

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
In meditation, we learn to find that space where we can re-energize ourselves. In that place, where we can sense inner feelings. It is from that place it gives us access to knowledge. It gives us equanimity and a place where we can access higher energies and it is the source of all creativity. Uncertainties dissolve and it energizes you to take on whatever challenges that there are and to do the things, small micro-steps at the time, that you came here on earth to do.  This is the place also to solve dilemmas.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
To put experience and knowledge to a good practical us, I am trying out different avenues to assert influence on my surroundings, changing society for the better. An example is our preparatory work on time-banking, a system that is complementary to the money system, and trades in time as currency. A simple 1 credit means 1 hour work done. I fix your car for 5 times credits (= 5 hours), you cook for your neighbor for 3 time credits etc…the reality that an economy stops turning when there is no money flowing (like we see in this covid pandemic crisis) is absolutely horrifying, inefficient and destructive. Necessities are there, but also capacities are there (still). We should try to combine these to whatever it takes, bypassing the inefficiencies of money where we can, providing and flourishing even in times of crises. These are the pillars of the true modern society that we need to transition to. This is what Samyana Permaculture Transition stands for, transitioning towards a permanent culture that is resilient in the face of external shocks.

What are your strengths?
I have all three aspects in me, I am a Beta person but also a Gamma, as I am socially very much engaged. But I am also an Alpha type of person that loves reading and writing. It is this unique combination of all three aspects, that makes me multidisciplinary. With the Beta, I can make very sophisticated calculations. Via my Alpha skills, I can explain in an understandable language a complex subject matter as Climate change, to a very broad audience.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
Yoga, salsa, music, YouTube and love to debate.

If you as Benjamin would meet a stranger on the bus (let say in New York or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
A farmer, teacher, and scientist. A guy from the Dutch Antilles.

How would you describe Benjamin in one word or one sentence?
Regeneration promotor.

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My mother, Tito Puente, 2 high school girlfriends, IKTaïmni, Patanjali, and Geoff Lawton a permaculture expert.

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
To be freely improvising on a guitar.

What was a defining moment in your life?
When I switched from an Alpha-based Bachelor study to a Beta-based Master’s study. That was a defining moment in my life.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
That I have built a beautiful permaculture farm, that is also training and educational center to help and teach people in the permaculture principles.

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
All the issues we have in the world and also in Curaçao are due to disobedience to Mother Nature. If we would listen better to Mother Nature, we would have an inclusive, regenerative society, where we would get everybody to join. I firmly believe in this and this is what I work for. That is why I am optimistic about the future of Curaçao. Exclusion is degenerative and this is the wrong direction our society is moving towards. There is so little needed to choose another lifestyle to make everyone happy. Nature is already abundant. If we only returned to it.

More info and connect

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao

Benjamin Visser is a multi-faceted, music-loving, energetic, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, making him multi-disciplinarian with excellent skills. As a farmer, teacher, and scientist his background gives him a fit to become a passionate advocate of a complex subject matter as climate change and the need for sustainability. Tapping into his internal core through meditation, not only re-energizes him, it gives him access to knowledge, needed to implement his WHY. He wants to teach people permaculture and self-sustainability, creating more equality and sustainability in Curaçao by taking small micro-steps at the time. Although he is still looking for land large enough to start his own beautiful permaculture farm, that is also a training and educational center to help and teach people in the permaculture principles, his sheer vision, his continuous dialogue with relevant stakeholders, and his steadfastness will make him succeed in his endeavors.

For all this, we deeply love and respect Benjamin, and we consider him one of the 250 influencers of the islands representing the sustainable agricultural sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

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