72h Permaculture Design Course: Permaculture for the Rural African Environment, Konso, Ethiopia

This 13-day practical and demonstrative PDC will take place in Konso, south Ethiopia, from 7th – 19th, 2012, at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge. It will have a special focus on the application of permaculture to communities in the developing world. It will involve practical demonstrations both form Strawberry Fields’ own model permaculture site and from schools sites in the area which are participating in the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project. There will also be the chance to do field trips into other climate zones in the Ethiopian highlands.

Facilitators: Alex McCausland with local assistant trainer, Asmelash Dagne, and guest appearances from local elders and intellectuals.

Dates: May 7th to 19th, 2011
Location: Konso, South Ethiopia
Venue: Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge
Cost: US$850 ($500 for Ethiopians)
Includes: course fees, food and accommodation for the period of the course
Excludes: Transport, accommodation en-route, travel insurance etc.

The Course

This PDC will be lead by Alex McCausland, Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge’s founder and director, assisted by Mr Asmelash Dagne, a local science teacher and trainee trainer who has excelled in implementing permaculture in his school site over the last three years. This PDC is of particular relevance for those interested in rural development and indigenous communities in Africa and the wider 3rd world. The focus is on appropriate technology, soil and water harvesting, indigenous knowledge systems and permaculture in schools. Schools are a key focus point for communities and a chance to influence the coming generation to shift away from the mentality of dependence on aid towards self sufficiency and sustainable resource use.

The Facilitators

Alex McCausland is an ecologist by background, and has developed as a permaculture practitioner and trainer over the last five years. He graduated with a BSc (2.1) in Biological Sciences in 2003 from Oxford University, but at that time became disillusioned with reductionist science and turned his back on academia. He then spent two years to travelling the world, WWOOFing, working on farms and learning about cultures and languages, during which time he became interested in development and food-security issues. In 2005 he heard about Permaculture and realised it combined holistic ecology with the practical action and community orientation that the academic approach completely lacked. He then dreamed up a plan to establish a project which would promote permaculture as a means to achieve sustainable development in the third world.

The next year he came across Ethiopia.

Seeing a land of great ecological wealth and yet economic poverty and food insecurity, he resolved that this would be the location for the project. He took his first PDC later that year in Catalunya, Spain. In 2007 he returned to Ethiopia to establish a viable permaculture–based business which would facilitate the local community to learn about and practice PC. It ended up being an Eco Lodge in the South of the country, which went on to become the site for Ethiopia’s first model PC farm. The model farm has developed with input from a number of volunteers, interns and PC practitioners, such as Guy Rees, Dan Palmer and Tichafa Makovere. Working alongside these people Alex has developed and honed his skills as a PC designer and practitioner over the last 3 years. During this time the project has hosted a total of 25 PDCs, to date, two lead by Rosemary Morrow and 19 by Tichafa, one by Steve Cran and one by Rhamis Kent and two lead by Alex himself. Alex has co-facilitated on many of these while maintaining his role as administrator.

Asmelash Dagne was one of a group of three primary school teachers first trained in permaculture in March 2009, during the pilot phase of the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP), by the veteran Zimabwean trainer and consultant Tichafa Makovere. Asmelash has gone on to excel his peers in enthusiasm and achievement in the field, consistently showing the best results on the ground in his school at Debena Village. He has participated in various workshops and trainings acting as a translator and assistant trainer on PDCs for Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge, as well and the Slow Food Foundation’s 1000 Gardens in Africa Project. Since October 2011 Asmelash has been transferred to Karat Konso Secondary School, where he has been single-handedly driving the school community and administration to implement permaculture on their school grounds, and with some success. It is fitting therefore that Asmelash will be a co-facilitator on this workshop, as is intended to formally initiate Karat Secondary into the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP) by training more teachers from the school and producing a site design for the school during this course.

The Venue: Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge (SFEL)

The venue for the PDC will be Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge, the first working PC demonstration site in Ethiopia, where a model design has been established over the last 3½ years on degraded land to incorporate elements such as drip irrigation, grey and black water re-use, composting toilets, hot composting, tree nursery and solar fridge, solar power, solar shower and much more.

SFEL integrates an Eco-Lodge, model PC farm, an organic restaurant, a PC design training facility and runs a program of trekking and community based cultural activities in Konso. SFEL’s project objectives are to promote alternative livelihoods for the Konso community through facilitating community inclusion in eco-tourism activities, and to promote food security locally and more widely in Ethiopia, through Permaculture. SFEL employs 20 permanent staff and up to 30 temporary workers seasonally.

Location: Konso, SNNPRS, Ethiopia

Konso Woreda is in the South Ethiopian Great Rift Valley (situated at 5’15’ N 37’30’ E). Konso’s capital, Karat-Konso, is at 1600m altitude, located 85km south of Arba Minch, and around 590km south of Addis Ababa. The Konso people have a unique culture, based on sedentary mixed agriculture, which distinguishes them from their neighbours in the lowlands to the east and west who are pastoralists. Their intensely social mode of life and love of hard physical labour is unique in Ethiopia. Their villages are remarkable for the beauty and simplicity of their workmanship, constructed entirely of natural materials, cultivated or gathered from the surroundings, and ringed by massive dry-stone walls, at least a meter thick and two meters high. Stone-lined pavements run between the housing compounds and the stones have often become polished to a shine by long years of service in the village’s transport system.

Konso’s agricultural system is renowned for its terracing, which has been constructed over large areas of the rugged landscape by centuries of communal labour. The terraces are crafted to balance maximum infiltration of rain water, with adequate drainage in times of deluge so they don’t collapse. They are planted with sorghum, intercropped with a range of other species; including trees, Moringa stenopetala (also called the cabbage tree) Terminalia birowni, and Cordia africana; shrubs such as pigeon pea, coffee and chat (Catha edulis) (a cash crop) and annuals including sunflowers, maize, millet, chick peas, various bean species, cotton and cassava. The terraces are fertilised with wastes from the villages including partially burned plant residues mixed with animal dung, which acts to keep the soil fertile.

The Permaculture in Konso Schools Project (PKSP)

Nowadays Konso suffers increasingly frequent food insecurity due to climate change. The UNDP’s Rapid Assessment Report: Konso Special Wereda, SNNPR (1999) states that; “since the 1950s, drought induced famines have hit Konso and the immediate area almost once every ten years.” “Konso was devastated by the droughts in 1973/74 and 1983/84”. In 2008/9 Konso was again suffering food shortage due to droughts.

The PKSP aims to promote permaculture practice in the Konso community as a means of empowering them to address the issue of food insecurity themselves, rather than continually relying on food aid from the other side of the world. Permaculture in this context seeks to preserve aspects of the indigenous (agri)culture which benefit the local ecology but fill gaps in the traditional system by incorporating new practises, ideas and resources to increase production from the same resource base. Since the coming generation always shows the best potential to adapt to new ways of thinking and practicing, working with schools is the most effective way to positively influence the whole society for the future. But, the school community, of course, also encompasses parents and teachers and who are also actively involved in the project along with the school environmental clubs.

To date teachers from 10 schools have been trained in permaculture and produced PC designs for their school compounds. From those, five schools have produced impressive model PC sites under phases one and two of the project. The PKSP is now expanding to include 12 schools and teachers from two more schools: Jarso Primary and Karat Secondary will be trained during this PDC alongside the international participants. Design exercises during the course as well as some of the practical demonstrations will be conducted on the school compounds in Karat and Jarso. By participating on this course you will be directly contributing to the PKSP.

For enquiries and course registrations, please email: info (at)

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