GeneralWhy Permaculture?

The African Permaculture Movement

Young girl planting mtondo (Calophyllum inophyllum) near her home on Pemba Island, Tanzania. Photo Zach Melanson

Some ideas change how we see the world, and then we change the world. I think this is the case for many people who catch the permaculture bug. I have a lot of hope for permaculture. I hope to see the movement continue to grow and mature because I think the basic premise that nature is the best teacher has a lot to offer, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Most of all, I hope to see the movement continue to spread around the world so that the valuable knowledge and design techniques that it carries may reach as many people as possible – because some of those people will change their world for the better. That’s certainly the case for my friends and colleagues in Tanzania and it’s a pattern emerging throughout the African permaculture movement.

Nowhere do I find more inspiring permaculture at work today than in Africa, where the practice is quickly spanning the entire continent. Kenya, Ethiopia, Botswana, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique – all can now boast permaculture centers, many of which did not exist a mere decade ago . Several of the core permaculture teachings and techniques have been in practice throughout Africa for centuries, so it’s no wonder that the uptake is so strong.

Farmer saving seed from her crop of locally adapted rice – Minyenyeni, Pemba.  Photo Zach Melanson
Farmer saving seed from her crop of locally adapted rice – Minyenyeni, Pemba. Photo Zach Melanson

A direct and urgent need for the solutions that permaculture design offers, especially for small-scale agriculture, is yet another strong driver. Smallholder farmers make up 73% of Africa’s rural population and these farmers not only ensure the continent’s food security but also contribute a whopping 21% of the GDP . For this reason a truly permanent agriculture is needed in Africa as much as anywhere else –maybe even more so.

What makes Africa’s permaculture movement so special though is the fact that it’s being advanced largely by and for the most vulnerable segments of the population. You won’t find leading models of African permaculture at government research centers or in coffee table books adorned with the latest eco-celebrity. The best examples are to be found in low-income households, orphanages, and isolated rural communities – places where the people have a very real personal stake in the undertaking. Seeing these tools working in the hands of the people who need them most lends a level of validation to the discipline that my own experiments in backyard poultry keeping just can’t match.

Community Forests Pemba’s Agricultural Officer, Siti Makame, has helped hundreds of women grow food for their families and restore the environment at the same time using permaculture techniques.  Photo Zach Melanson
Community Forests Pemba’s Agricultural Officer, Siti Makame, has helped hundreds of women grow food for their families and restore the environment at the same time using permaculture techniques. Photo Zach Melanson

Take for example the work of my colleague Siti Makame, an agricultural extension worker who became the first resident of Pemba Island, Tanzania to be certified in permaculture design two years ago. Siti now works with Pemban women across the island to address food security using home-scale permaculture techniques. To date she has trained over 150 women throughout 20 different communities in design and maintenance of permaculture kitchen gardens – a solution especially valuable for households with no access to traditional cropland. Throughout Africa, women contribute 60-80% of the labor to produce food but receive very limited agricultural training and support . By focusing on empowering women with her teachings, and helping them to apply permaculture around their homes, Siti is strengthening both the most underserved and the most important players in her island’s food security network. Now that’s stacking functions.

To champion the great work of African practitioners like Siti and to support the continued growth of Africa’s grassroots permaculture movement, Community Forests International is launching two new initiatives this month. The first is a ‘how-to’ video series featuring Pemban experts and covering topics including: compressed earth block construction; agroforestry; natural beekeeping; and fuel efficient cookstoves. The videos are freely accessible, suited to the DIYer, and delivered in Swahili with English subtitles. There are very few Swahili language resources like this, and the hope is these videos will help spread positive solutions peer-to-peer. Not just throughout Swahili speaking Africa, but anywhere that permaculture is needed. Check out the first video and please share widely!


Pemban stove making expert and trainer, Bimajo Massoud Juma, explains step-by-step process for making your own fuel-efficient cookstove.

The second effort is a crowd funding campaign to provide more hands-on, Swahili language permaculture training to Pembans. Building on Siti’s great work – the results of training just one individual – the campaign aims to bring expert instructor Joseph Ntunyoi from nearby Kenya to the island so that he can train more local staff, key farmers, and even government decision-makers.

Joseph is gifted teacher who studied under Geoff Lawton before co-founding the Permaculture Research Institute of Kenya. Supporting permaculture practitioners in Africa like Siti and Joseph so they may share their knowledge and continue to build local expertise strengthens the permaculture ecosystem in Africa and ensures that these valuable tools continue to reach the people who need them most. Crowd funding will make this training possible, so please consider lending your support! Indiegogo: Pemba Permaculture. Some of these students will change the world.

Community leader Asha Yussuf Hassan of Maziwa Ng'ombe, Pemba surveys her budding Permaculture Kitchen Garden. She, and hundreds of other women like her, have benefitted from Siti's permaculture training.  Photo Zach Melanson
Community leader Asha Yussuf Hassan of Maziwa Ng’ombe, Pemba surveys her budding Permaculture Kitchen Garden. She, and hundreds of other women like her, have benefitted from Siti’s permaculture training. Photo Zach Melanson

References:

1. Greenblott, Kara, and Kristof Nordin. 2012. Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Programming: Low-Cost, Sustainable Solutions for Food and Nutrition Insecure Communities. Arlington, VA: USAID’s AIDS Support and Technical Assistance Resources, AIDSTAR-One, Task Order 1. pp. 3
2. Women, agriculture and rural development: a synthesis report of the Africa Region. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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