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Yemen: On the Permaculture Map

The view flying into Tarim

The country of Yemen has not been featured much on the PRI blog page. It has only been mentioned briefly in some articles discussing water shortages in the region and it has made the list of exotic destinations to apply knowledge gained in a PRI Aid Workers course. I think this is about to change.

The last days in Tarim, Yemen have uncovered a real treasure of permaculture potential. I anticipate that natural building techniques, still widely used in Yemen, will no longer be the only reason for Yemen to be on the permaculture map.

Three finishes on a mud brick home

Geoff and Nadia Lawton are here after having been invited to teach the country’s first PDC — to a hand-picked audience of 30 students. Five of these students have been sent by the government. Organized by Dar al-Mustafa for the Traditional Islamic Sciences, it would make this blog far too lengthy to accurately portray the ripple effect this course could have. Understanding that we live in a world where conservative estimates say one in five people adhere to the Islamic faith and that Tarim, Yemen is one of the academic hubs of the Islamic world, you might start to get the picture. This is quite an exciting trip for my wife and I to assist with.

Hi Tech classroom

On Monday morning we were welcomed to a classroom like no other. Banners, lights, two video cameras, two roaming photographers and translation equipment in addition to the usual projector and whiteboard. This PDC is taught in English, translated into Arabic and broadcast through the radio. The students in the class are all Arabic speakers. They listen to the translation over the radio as well as any one else who is tuned in to that station. The AV recording will go to post production and be rebroadcast through the existing, vast network of Dar al-Mustafa.

PDC student

This is my first experience in Permaculture aid work. It has been interesting to see that even in a very conservative and traditional setting, there is such eagerness to learn a different way of doing things. This impression is compounded by the aged faces of educated agriculturalists who continually nod in agreement with the content delivered. The same industrial agriculture problems exposed in any Permaculture Design Course are being confirmed here by academics and farmers alike, who have been experiencing a decline in soil quality and farm profitability. Not that I doubted these things, but it is strangely impelling to see the problems confirmed on the front lines and it is galvanizing to see such receptivity to the solutions permaculture offers. It seems as if the Hadramaut region of Yemen, which quite possibly has the oldest compost toilets in the world, is beginning to come full circle. Having strayed from traditional sustainable practices, there is visible excitement to apply all that is being learned.

I should also mention there is a growing wait list of 25 for the next course.

To be continued….

Oh, and here’s a video that gives you an idea of this amazing place:


  1. Hurray for Yemen! I’ve lived in the north, central, and, lastly, the south (the village of Shihr, somewhat near Tahrim) for the last ten years. I wish I’d known about this PDC!! I agree wholeheartedly- the country has so much to offer and so much to gain from a permaculture approach- the sooner the better. As it is now, the country relies more and more on imports, using much of its resources for the production of the non-food crop of qat. I would love to see Permaculture take off there, and would be in the forefront of bringing it if I could!

  2. I am very excited to see this. My wife and I (from California) spent two years in Tarim. There are many international students and scholars from around the Islamic world who visit and admire the scholars/educators from Tarim and Dar al-Mustafa. Dar al-Mustafa and Tarim produce Islamic scholars and Imams of the highest caliber. Those scholars and Imams become teachers to communities (large and small) throughout the world. Now integrate a PDC into the curriculum and the yields become countless.

    I hope and pray we can one day return and aid in this development. All the best to you, Geoff, Nadia and the new PDC students!

  3. Nice work Sam.

    Sounds like you are going to keep yourself busy! I look forward to your next installment…

  4. Great work guys! So glad to see you guys keeping it up in the Middle East. Best of luck on all your efforts.

  5. Instantly in love with the earthen structures. “Nodding in agreement” gives me the strong feeling there are elders that need high respect -they already know much of what they need to. The video makes it so intriguing -wish I could go there want to see more.

  6. CONGRADULATIONS, so proud of you guys been missing you heaps. get in touch as soon as your back on aussie soil.

  7. Absolutely stunning! If I have the opportunity to visit Yemen I will certainly do so to learn Arabic and enjoy the rich culture and history this amazing place has to offer.

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