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A Maasai Tribesman Brings Permaculture to Kenya

On my last visit to Zaytuna Farm, in May 2012, I had the great pleasure of meeting Joseph Lentenyoi, the lead person behind the establishment of PRI Kenya. We sponsored Joseph by covering his flights and putting him through our 10-week Internship, to help him get permaculture systems on the ground in Kenya and beyond. You’ll meet Joseph and hear this thoughts and learn a little about some of his work in the video above.

Joseph has a very interesting background, coming from a Maasai tribe. The Maasai are nomadic pastoralists that traditionally have no knowledge of agriculture. It’s ironic that, through learning about permaculture from a PDC that Geoff Lawton taught in Tanzania back in 2007, it’s a Maasai tribesman who is the leading force to bring permaculture demonstration sites and education to Kenya.

Kenya itself has a long history in sustainable agriculture, but like far too many places, the traditional knowledge is getting sidelined and lost as the globalised agricultural model tries to take over, getting farmers into the fertiliser/pesticide and seed-purchasing treadmill that is doing what it does so predictably everywhere — i.e. degrade land and undermine the viability of small-holders, causing land consolidation, monopolies and economic vulnerability. With deforestation, erosion and climate change thrown into the mix, along with global financial meltdown, Kenya has its work cut out to improve the situation it now finds itself in.

Agriculture dominates Kenya’s economy, although more than 80 percent of its land is too dry and infertile for efficient cultivation. Kenya is the second largest seed consumer in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nairobi is a well-known hub for agricultural research. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, farming is the largest contributor to Kenya’s gross domestic product, and 75 percent of Kenyans made their living by farming in 2006.

Half of the country’s total agricultural output is non-marketed subsistence production – meaning farms like Kiambaa’s, where nothing is sold and everything is consumed.

On top of that, the country is still reeling from the worst drought in half a century, which affected an estimated 13 million people across the Horn of Africa in 2011. Kenya is home to the world’s largest refugee camp, housing 450,000 Somalis fleeing violence and famine, increasing the pressure to deal with food security challenges.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga recently called on parliament to assist the estimated 4.8 million Kenyans, in a country of about 40 million, who still rely on government food supports, as analysts predict that this year’s rainy season will be insufficient to guarantee food security.

"The situation is not good… Arid and semi-arid regions have not recovered from the drought," Odinga said. —

Joseph Lentenyoi
Photo: PRI

Thankfully people like Joseph, with the support of the PRI network, are taking strides towards creating a movement of people who appreciate what they’ve lost, and are giving them the motivation and tools to reclaim it.

It is exactly this kind of positive result that keeps myself, Geoff, Nadia and all of the PRI team doing what we do. While the challenges to reverse society’s trajectory sometimes seem insurmountable, it can be done. Increasingly, as the global economy continues to tank, people in places like Africa, Asia and South America will realise that chasing the western dream is not at all wise. We in the so-called ‘developed‘ world have spent decades selling these people on utter nonsense, whilst vacuuming up their resources to enrich ourselves, so it feels good to be able to offer them help towards applying appropriate solutions. We appreciate all support towards this end!

Below you’ll find some reports from PRI Kenya about their work.

PRI Kenya Newsletter December 2012

As the year draws to a close we look back at an incredibly eventful 2012. Our organization which was registered in July 2011 got off to a flying start for the first of the year, on the back of the incredibly successful PDC that was held in December at Nyumbani Village with Warren Brush [see here and here]. During 2012 we have really got the organization off the ground, we have formed some exciting partnerships and we’ve run another couple of successful courses alongside many shorter trainings upon the requests of other NGOs. We feel proud of what we have achieved so far and we hope to continue growing and learning in the new year. One of our aims for the next year is to train more trainers so that eventually we will be running all East African pemaculture courses. We’re starting off by what we think is the first ever PDC held in Swahili, planned together with Food Water Shelter in Arusha in April, with PRI-Kenya teachers Joseph Lentunyoi and Nicholas Syano.

Below are a few of the stories of what we have been up to in the last few months. We hope to see many more exciting events and projects during the new year. We are very grateful to those who have made our work possible during 2012 — Segal Foundation and SLUSH Fund as well as private donors who have contributed to our work.

Many solstice blessings to all of our members, partners and supporters.

Permaculture Training in Laikipia

The work on the Laikipia Permaculture Centre, brainchild of PRI-Kenya consultant and trainer Joseph Lentunyoi started with a permaculture workshop in November. Eighteen participants, community members, local authority and representatives from the local primary school attended a three day workshop which covered ethics and principles, methods and techniques of permaculture. The workshop also took participants through a visioning exercise where they envisioned what they wanted their permaculture site to look like. Participans were so thrilled with the course that they decided to donated an extra one acre piece of land for indigenous tree propagation and demonstration of good farming practices.

The aim is for the centre to be the permaculture demonstration site for the region, teaching local farmers and school children good farming practices and how to produce healthy and nutritious food whilst also making an income. 500 indigenous tree seedlings were planted to mark the launch of the Laikipia Permaculture Centre.

Designing a Real Impact model farm

Real Impact is a Kenyan NGO working to promote good nutrition through nutrition gardens. Their demonstration farm and kitchen at Kichozi farm in Thika hosts a variety of training programmes and they are working to build a network of over 40 Nutrition Gardens in schools, hospitals, women’s groups, youth groups, self-help groups, orphanages and prisons in the Thika region. When Real Impact shared a space with PRI-Kenya at the Christmas Trust Faire in December 2011 their interest in permaculture was tickled. Finally in October 2011 a three day training was run at the Thika farm with Real Impact staff and representatives from Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. The result of the workshop was a design for the 2 hectare nutrition farm as well as a design for a model 1/2 acre small holder permaculture farm, showing how a family of four can be easily sustained with healthy and nutritious food and surplus to sell.

We’re looking forward to further collaboration with Real Impact on developing this model and researching the results.

Rangi Permaculture Schools

Friends of Rangi is an organization working to support schools in Rangi in the Homa Bay area. FOR is a sister organization to Happy Villages who work in Lieta, where PRI-Kenya did a training in May as the start of a permaculture schools kitchen garden project. The trainings went very well and it Rangi were keen to implement the same in their schools. In October PRI Kenya consultants Joseph Lentunyoi and Evans Odula ran a workshop for 30 participants with representatives from 5 of Rangi schools as well as local authority and local women’s groups. The workshop is intended to be part of a series of workshops with follow-ups. A permaculture design was developed for the school together with the participants and a compost heap and two banana circles implemented. The workshop will be followed by a follow up session in January 2013.

Happy Villages six months on

In April this year PRI-Kenya conducted a workshop for Happy Villages in Lieta as part of a schools kitchen garden pilot project. Happy Villages staff members, school teachers and community representatives attended a three day workshop to kick start the project. After the workshop five staff members from Happy Villages attended a full three week PDC at Nyumbani village and purchased a bunch of seeds and seedlings from PRI for their school gardens. Six months later PRI-Kenya visited Happy Villages and some of the schools again and were pleased to find that in six months the schools were growing productive banana circles, making sure that all the valuable water from kitchen and hand-washing stations was taken care of and converted into food. The most impressive school was Lweya Primary which had also invented their own rainwater gardens, harvesting all the water from the roof of the classrooms.

PDC on Rusinga

Thirty local farmers alongside 15 participants from outside of Rusinga – project managers from Kenyan NGO’s and international students, participated in a two week PDC at Badilisha Ecovillage on Rusinga Island. The course was part of the reforestation and land regeneration efforts on Rusinga from PRI-Kenya and was led by international teacher Lesley Byrne. PRI-Kenya spent many months working with Lesley to develop a course that would be more suited to the local context and environment. The result was a resounding success.

At the end of the course the participants presented five different designs- two designs for two different local farms, two designs for the Tom Mboya Health Clinic and one design for the Kaswanga Primary School. The participants were so inspired that they already have nominated local project managers for implementation of the designs at the health clinic and the school and a couple of the international participants are keen to come back to help. Joseph Nyandiga, local extension agent from the Ministry of Forestry attended the whole course and expressed the support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for the continued efforts for permaculture and FMNR in the area. The last day also saw the District Commissioner of Mbita together with the Chairman from the Tom Mboya Health Centre present as participants together with Elin Duby from PRI-Kenya looked at the way forward. A talk was also held by Dan Maingi from Kenya Biodiversity Coalition on GMO’s. Certificates were presented by the DC of Mbita himself and then a celebratory luncheon was held.

The course was made possible thanks to funds from LUSH Cosmetics who funded bursaries for local participants as well as teacher fees and infrastructure development to prepare for the course.

Funding for the implementation of the design at the Health Clinic and one of the local farms has already been committed by KASI- the non profit of lead facilitator Lesley Byrne. We hope to continue our work on Rusinga with a longer project to support the development of demonstration sites and training of trainers.

A new partner demonstration site

Ferdinand Wafula runs BIOGI — Biogardening Innovations in Emuhaya, Vihiga District, Western Kenya. He’s trained at Manor House in Biointensive Agriculture and has worked hard the last three years to bring sustainable livelihoods to the farmers in his area. In May 2011 PRI-Kenya offered him a full scholarship to attend a Permaculture Design Course with John Sheffy at Nyumbani Village. Coming back from the course he has transformed his demonstration site with a variety of permaculture technique and has started a project teaching farmers groups about food forests. In December this year PRI-Kenya visited his site and were very impressed with what he has achieved.

Ferdinand has adopted several key permaculture techniques, amongst them the idea of the banana circle. Here banana circles are used both as greywater systems and as water harvesting systems.

Rows of banana circles growing a vast range of crops, including coffee, capture water flowing down the slope. The mulch in the pits is left to break down and then used for compost. A banana circle by the kitchen ensures that the kitchen wash water is converted into nutrient rich water for pumpkin, sweet potatoes and bananas below. Ferdinand is also developing a food forest and has made his own design of an eco toilet and a low cost aquaponics system.

With an already established network of farmers who regularly come for trainings or receive trainings out in the field, BIOGI is set to become a hub of permaculture activity in the region. We’re pleased to welcome BIOGI as one of our new partner demonstration sites!

What next for PRI-Kenya….

The new year is coming up with a lot of exciting opportunities and projects for PRI-Kenya to grow and expand its work. A collaboration with Food Water Shelter in Tanzania will hopefully see us co-running what we think is the first PDC in Kiswahili in April! A handbook and handouts in Kiswahili are being developed for this. We are also looking at several exciting partnerships with some great organizations for developing joint, integrated agricultural programmes to include permaculture and FMNR. We are also working on developing our trainer of trainers programme to continue training our great team of trainees.


  1. Craig,
    Like so many people you are not distinguishing between real, true economics and the modern financial system. You show that you don’t separate the two in your mind by your words, “along with global economic meltdown”.

    It wasn’t an economic meltdown. it was a financial collapse as a result of criminal activities by bankers and financiers. Nature (including real economics) knows nothing of a financial system.

    A money system is a man-made system and has one long sorry history of fraud, corruption, etc. A study of the Money Changers (bankers, usurers) throughout history will give you a better understanding of why the world and its people are in such a sorry state and a financial mess.

    An interesting manuscript dealing with such a study is found here…“Usury and the Church of England” by Rev. Henry Swabey,

    Best wishes, Betty Luks

  2. I had the great pleasure of working with Joesph last time I was up at Zaytuna while he was doing his internship, and all I can say is, kenya you are lucky to have such a passionate and resourceful hardworking person

    All the best mate

  3. Hi Betty

    I fully understand what you say. Don’t worry, the difference between the real economy and the arbitrary financial systems imposed on us is not at all lost on me (here’s a little evidence). I’ve changed the words to ‘financial meltdown’ to keep you happy, but please recognise that we are, in point of fact, having an actual economic meltdown. Watersheds are being overpumped. Forests are still coming down. Soil humus content is diminishing year by year. Fish stocks are plummeting. The very basis of all economic activity is being undermined in all areas at every level. In other words, we’re having a financial meltdown, and an economic meltdown.

    Thanks for the recommended read (Usury and the Church of England). I’m having a look already, and it looks like one I’ll keep reading. I love these historical examinations!

  4. I am Vincent Okoth Musiko I live in Western Kenya and train farmers in sustainable farming systems. I am a graduate of University of London and also trained in the permaculture and practised. Would like partners who can join us in permaculture trainings in western Kenya.

    Please call me for more information on +254 728 146 536

  5. Hi Vincent, I live in London at the moment and will start a full PDC soon. But I am also already looking for opportunities in the future. And as I am just back from a trip to Kenya and loved it, I am very interested in your comment. Is it possible to get an Email address of yours?

    Best wishes,

  6. I’m so pleased to see Permaculture Principles – protective life principles – growing in Africa. I believe it will keep spreading through the country! Thank you***

  7. all said and done what is permaculture is it inter-cropping trees with food crops or raising kitchen gardens ,flower gardens ,afforestation…..may someone help

  8. Peter,
    Definitions vary somewhat but “The development or maintenance of an ecosystem intended to be self-sustaining and to satisfy the living requirements of its inhabitants, esp. by the use of renewable resources.” comes close or “the production of permanent, integrated, self-reliant ecosystems to fulfil human needs for food, energy, shelter, clothing and education”.

    Permaculture is not a particular technique or cropping system but a *design* system based on three fundamental tenets – Earth care, people care, and fair share – and 12 design principles which are nicely outlined here:

    I would also warmly recommend watching Geoff Lawton’s video (link on the right sidebar of this page near the top) to get an idea of how permaculture-style farming systems are planned and implemented and how they differ from conventional systems. Be prepared to be inspired big-time!


  9. Thankyou Ute for your clear response.Indeed the twelve design principles are quite exiting and i fully subscribe to them.

  10. Hi Permies,

    The challenges inthe world are enormous and becoming difficult every other day, but the solutions are becoming embarrasingly simple.

    Bill Mollison.

    This is so true in Kenya and East Africa, lets all connect and solve our problems.

    While my email is [email protected]

    Lets empower our communities through permaculture, as its possible.

    Joseph Lentunyoi

  11. Keep up the good work, Joseph! I have had the pleasure of his tutelage since 2007. He has worked with my KEST travelers from America, teaching them the basics of permaculture, as part of their educational service trips to Kenya. Of all of the places my travelers go and all the people they meet, Joseph stands out as the future of Kenya. Many American travelers have built strong bonds with Joseph and are following his professional path with great pride! It was a honor doing business with Joseph when he was head of the sustainability program at Nyumbani Village. Best of luck dear friend, with your new career path!

  12. Greetings, I live in the countryside of limuru in Kenya, majority of the land here is dedicated to tea plantations. Im not in an org or ngo. I’ve tried partnering with PRI-kenya but they have not communicated as yet…but im still waiting. Im fascinated with permaculture; food forests and sustainable living. i have a small farm with my mum and i need consultation on designing a food forest, minimizing on top watering the plants, building swales, harvesting honey, since we have bees but they’ve been living inside our roof for the past 20 years or more and we can’t it break down just for honey :)
    How can i get help and how can i get involved?

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