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The Benefits of Permaculture Education and Sack Gardens in Kenya, East Africa

You may have previously read about the work of FoodWaterShelter in Tanzania, East Africa, where they use permaculture solutions to provide the food, water and energy needs of the vulnerable women and children at the Kesho Leo children’s village. And you may have heard about the successful English and Kiswahili PDCs that they have hosted with almost 90 graduates. Well now read a story from one of the world’s first Kiswahili PDC graduates who began small to improve livelihoods. Mary Mbugua is based at the Jamii Learning Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, and is working to improve food sovereignty of local famers in schools in her community.

When I came back to my country Kenya after the April 2013 PDC in Arusha, Tanzania, I was fully energized and looking forward to initiating a process that would make good use of my newly acquired skills in permaculture.

My organization being a new one, I thought the first beneficiaries of this learning would be my family, who were also eagerly anticipating hearing what I learnt in Tanzania. Everybody was very enthusiastic and ready to support me to achieve my dream of growing safe foods for the family and beyond. Permaculture has various principles and I applied one of them within one and half months of returning home: starting small. Bearing in mind the distance and size of our land back at our rural home I decided to figure out how I could start with a kitchen garden in an urban area set-up.

During the first week after the training I approached my eldest sister whom I knew too well where she used to buy vegetables and the price at which she used to get them. I managed to demonstrate to her how she could put up a kitchen garden at her homestead and how she would save time and energy going to the market all the time, as well as money. I showed her how to prepare manure from readily available products which were previously household waste — peelings of carrots, potatoes, vegetable leaves and ash.

Several weeks later I went back and found some manure which we used to plant our vegetables. We prepared a pocket garden using a plastic paper that remained after her construction. It was in the rainy season hence we left it at that for the rains to soak the soil. After one day, I checked the soil and it was good enough to plant some vegetables and so we planted some kale, amaranth, and Solanum nigrum. We made some small holes on the sides of the plastic paper to enhance soil aeration and drainage.

However, all was not perfect. Some of the vegetables were attacked by aphids after just a few days! I have since looked for Lantana camara leaves from the neighbourhood which I am drying to prepare some repellent. I will be spraying this in a few days time. I also spread some of the leaves on the garden and we are finding that the aphid attack is reducing. In a few days the family will be consuming those safe vegetables from their own garden. This story will be shared with the neighbourhood as a way to mobilize towards local food production.

For my part, this first practical experience out of the training centre in Tanzania has given me confidence and the zeal to continue on the path of holistic regeneration of our farming ecosystems. In the coming years, permaculture will be my contribution to recreation of resilience for Kenyan communities that I will work with.

Advantages of a sack garden

Space management

Sack gardens (PDF) are very effective gardens since the space used is small. One can grow various food varieties with high nutritional value. It’s also easy to manage when it comes to watering the crop variety and weeding.

Cost effective and time management

This kind of farming ensures that the family saves instead of going to the market to buy food, thus boosting the economy. It provides fresh supply and it’s readily available at any given time. It saves on time as well because everything is within the compound. The farmer can use readily available materials to grow his or her crops such as broken basins and tins. This will also ensure improved environmental protection as the air is not polluted from bad gases from burnt plastic basins and littering. If commonly practiced, this we can save the ozone layer thus controlling climate change which is posing as a great threat all over the world. Children also get to learn about crop production at an early age.


An example of a sack garden demonstrated by Global Service Corps in Arusha, Tanzania

Meeting held at Ngenge Primary School on 7th June 2013

As an addition to the above, I spent the World Environment Day (also known as Eco Day) with a school in Embu discussing permaculture and the whole-school approach to environmental conservation. Jamii Learning Centre (JLC) decided to visit one of the target schools that we are willing to work with. The Coordinator of Jamii Learning Centre was accompanied to Ngenge Primary School by Ms. Rita, who worked as head teacher at the same school for 25 years. She is also the Chairperson of Witeithie Women Group, which is one of the community groups targeted for Permaculture training. Ms. Grace, who is the current head teacher, was at hand to welcome us.

The purpose of the visit was to establish a working relationship with Ngenge Primary School, which is located on the lower and drier eastern side of Embu. Our discussions with the head teacher centered on water harvesting from the roof catchment to help irrigate seedbeds, trees as well as a permaculture demonstration garden. The discussions concluded on the following:

  • The school will start a Young Environmentalists’ club
  • Jamii will work with the club to set up seedbeds to raise seedlings for planting on the school compound
  • The school will set aside a portion of land to set up a permaculture learning centre for the school and surrounding community.

This will be the pilot project from where JLC will catalyze wider action on permaculture in the region. With this positive response from Ngenge School Community and the neighbouring women farmers, JLC looks forward to an exciting launch of its permaculture and food sovereignty activities in the coming months.

3 Comments

  1. Thankyou it touched my heart to read your story all people will head the permaculture way eventually keep hope near to you and lots of love

  2. Great work Mary, it is women like you who are changing the world. One home at a time if need be. I wish you the best of luck, may your work bring prosperity to all of Kenya’s people.

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