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Report on the Permaculture Design Course – Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge (Ethiopia, September 2013)

Introduction to the Permaculture Design Course

Most of the group (mainly the foreigners) arrived at Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge with the preconception that it was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but, what we call in Kenya, the Bundu (i.e. the wilderness). We were pleasantly surprised to find that the lodge is located just downhill from the bustling little town of Konso – made up of one main road, a roundabout, and various local kiosks. The town even contains a cultural centre which boasts a broadband connection; though the reality is that the connection is tenuous at best. This was, however, a blessing in disguise as during the two week PDC we focused more on the concepts and activities than updating our Facebook pages.

Our group was made up of 5 ‘firenge’ (the Amharic word for foreigner) – consisting of two Canadians, a German, a Frenchman, and myself (an American/Brasilian born in Kenya) – and six Ethiopians coming from Hafto, Hawassa, and even the local school about a forty minute drive from Konso itself. The group reflected one of the major principles of permaculture; diversity.

Week 1

The majority of week one was spent in the classroom learning and discussing the principles of permaculture in the morning and doing a group activity in the afternoon that reinforced what we learnt in class. We started off learning about the ethics of permaculture; namely Earth Care, People Care and Return of Surplus; and then moved on to various topics including the Principles of Permaculture (e.g. Energy, Diversity, Function and Scale etc.). As the weeks progressed we learnt more specific topics which one should incorporate into their own designs – such as time-stacking, in which different species are planted over a long period of time to enrich the fertility of the soil, which begins with pioneer species such as weeds and then can move on to legumes and finally fruit trees (all the species are ‘stacked’ on top of the previous one).

Group activity – Making compost

Theory lessons in the classroom

From mid-week onwards the focus was more on the group activities than the theory lessons of the classroom. The more interesting activities, in my opinion, were setting up the grey-water system, the making of raised beds and the drip irrigation system, swale digging, and, probably most relevant to my own design, nursery and propagation techniques – in which we learnt the most useful methods to develop and plant seedlings of various kinds for the greatest benefit to our system. This is not to say the other topics we covered were not interesting, on the contrary, the course on the whole was extremely engaging.

Group activities: Top left — Mixing soil and compost for the tree nursery. Top
right — Making rain gutters. Bottom left — Making a vermiculture raised bed.
Bottom right — Swale digging.

The greatest thing about the course, I feel, was the fact that the material was delivered in such a way that the education level of each person taking part in the course was irrelevant. I think this was particularly useful considering that one of the Ethiopians on the course, a farmer from Hafto, had little more than a primary education. Regardless of this he understood all the key concepts, and by the end of the course was incorporating many of the principles into his own design. It was encouraging to see how individuals from all walks of life can benefit from all we learnt on the permaculture course.

Week 2

After a much needed day of rest on the Sunday we were back in the classroom. This time, however, we were discussing the actual design process while still covering the key concepts in the PRI-accredited syllabus. We were then given the task of individually designing our own systems in which to incorporate the attitudinal principles and the varying techniques we learnt in the previous week; such as establishing guilds between elements we wished to use in the system and how it was necessary to have elements which served more than one function. Alongside conducting our individual designs the group was taken on a field trip to visit two local schools which have employed elements of permaculture within them. Three of the Ethiopians on the course are teachers at one of the schools – Debenna Primary which is about a forty minute drive from the eco-lodge.

Debenna Primary School: Left — Entrance to permaculture site.
Middle — Zone 2 (food forest). Right — fruit beds near the classroom.

We were split into two groups and then we conducted an audit of the schools to determine how well they have incorporated permaculture techniques. The audit included filling out an assessment form and employing a SWOC (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Constraints) analysis. Once this was completed we separated into our two groups and completed a site survey — which involved determining the land uses around the school and drawing up the topography of the land — and a micro-climate study of the various zones which were in the school. Once these were completed we left the school, and due to time constraints returned back to the lodge. As there was no one at the second school the next day (as it was the Ethiopian New Year Holiday) we used the time to continue working on our individual designs; and those of us that had them completed presented them to the rest of the class to get feedback.

The next day we visited the second primary school located about a 10-15 minute walk from the eco-lodge – Karat Primary School. We conducted the same analysis as we had at the previous school and then returned back to the lodge. The rest of the group that hadn’t presented their individual designs did so, after which we were divided into the same groups as when we were at Debenna Primary School. We were then given the task of updating their current permaculture design. On the final day, each group presented their designs for Debenna, after which we then conducted a SWOC analysis on each one. Once this was completed we finished off the course material in the PRI syllabus. After the completion of the course we were presented with our PDC certificates and we celebrated with a magnificent dinner; which was a great way to conclude the two-week Permaculture course.

Top — Presentation of individual designs.
Bottom — Field trip to Karat primary school

Presentation of a few certificates

The permaculture design group (September 2-14, 2013)

Editor’s Note: If you would like to take a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course, why not head to Ethiopia to take yours? As well as having the experience of a lifetime — both in terms of the course and the sights and experiences of visiting this amazing country — you’ll also be supporting permaculture aid work. Click here to book the 2nd December, 2013 PDC at Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge, or browse for other dates here.


  1. Asalaam brother, i would like say thank you for introducing a such a great project, amazing. I am from the naibouring country somalia. Although we have this great greenary serounding us we dnt use it enough. I would like to be part of this growing project, how could i do that, i would also like to visit there so how could i do so? Please srnd me more info. I have 3 children that would love to be part of this as well. Are any children aloud if so is there an age?
    Jazzakallahu qeyrun.

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