Permaculture design course
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Exploring the food forest at Sabina school. A diversity of plants has created a lush and productive landscape around the school where 6 hours ago there was only hard flat dry ground. When the food forest was originally proposed there were doubts from many sides that the soils could even support life such as this. However as the should build and come alive with microbes, worms and everything else that comprises healthy soil it can hold more water, more nutrients become available and the whole ecology develops.
The idea tha chemical farming can feedn the world is a huge mistake, enormous damage has been done and huge debt created in the process. Debts to banks is one thing but debt to the environment is far more serious. Permaculture teaches us that nature will rebuild, will heal if only we let it. Embracing the diversity of species and moving away from simple monocultures is the key as demonstrated so clearly here.
A wonderful diversity of people have come together to deliver this course. From Uganda, Kenya, Wales and England. Actually 8 of the team come from the same small area of Wales which we are very proud of but really it is permaculture and a love of practical solutions that has drawn us all together and it was a proud moment to stand in line as part of the amazing team of people.
The pace of the PDC has picked up and suddenly there is very little time to reflect and write about each day. With 42 participants the dynamics are very busy indeed, so many enquiring minds, so many people connecting with these important ideas.
The world is facing huge and complex problems, yet the solutions must come from millions of small and slow solutions.
The key to permaculture seems to me to be about staring small, creating a model, an initiative that works at a manageable scale and then allowing it to grow and evolve. The ethic of re-investment of surplus gives the key to this process. Sustainability is about meeting needs whilst saving a surplus of some kind to be returned to the system. this constant reinvestment allows the system to grow, In turn something that is effective and grows tends to inspire others to copy and replicate it.
Instinct may tell us that in these challenging times we need big solutions to turn things into a new direction but I remain convinced that attemtoing to create change at scale runs the huge risk of creating even migger ploblems through making big mistakes. Feeding the world, from the bottom up by creating food security, fertile soils and a strong environment creates aberock on which many further and perhaps less basic achievements can be made.
A healthy eco-system is built on mutually beneficial relationships and it is these connections that build resilience and bio-diversity. Permacultureʼs 8th principle is integrate rather than segregateʼ which speaks to the importance of seeing how all aspects of a natural system support the health of the whole and its ability to regenerate and prosper. When we fail to equally honour the contribution each organisms makes, we break away from the wisdom of nature and start to loose our understanding of the symbiotic bigger picture life requires to thrive.
As part of the current PDC being facilitated by Sector 39 at Sabina School,
Uganda, we linked the understanding of integrated rather than segregateʼ to the 7
principles that established the ethical and functional guidelines for setting up a co-operative. The founding co-operative principles were established back in 1800 by Robert Owen from Newtown, Wales and in some ways relate to the logical and empowering principles of permaculture if applied to a social-economic enterprise.
Humanity initially evolved from a tribal culture where each member of a community had a significant role that supported the whole. Both permaculture
and the co-operative model can be connected to the understanding that it truly
does take a community to meet humanities physiological, psychological and aesteemedʼ basic needs to have a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. When humanʼs are able to recreate a symbiotic community it establishes a diverse, creative,rewarding and meaningful infrastructure where everyone is appreciated for their contribution.
So what causes us to asegregateʼ? When economy becomes the driving force of a
system, the life enhancing behaviour of co-operation is quickly killed.
Compartmentalizing life for profit has enabled rapid destruction of the precious
eco-systems that provide a hospitable environment for us to live. Segregation has enabled the earthʼs finite resources to be abused for the gross profit of a few. No system in nature survives with the ongoing practice of segregation.
When we work with the permaculture ethics of Earth care, People care and Fair
shareʼ we inspire creative, solution focused approaches that look at how the end
for economy can be integrated into a symbiotic relationship with community and ecology. So, as our PDC group begins the design process to see how
permaculture can best support the evolution of Sabina School, it feels like an
exciting challenge to develop both a near future and long-term plan of action that can integrate the social, ecological and economic needs of this beauty rural community, full of potential and fertile soils.
A CARROT A Day – UGANDA PERMACULTURE DESIGN COURSE. .. You can see the joy in this photo as some of our students harvest carrots for our meals. Every day there’s a range of practical tasks to be done from harvesting to weeding to topping up the compost loos with dried coffee bean husks – a waste product that can be used as carbon rich ‘soak’ to balance the high nitrogen content of the loo contents! These essential jobs are accompanied by chat and laughter as friendships are made and experiences shared. Daily practicals are also hugely enjoyable, breaking up the classroom learning about all aspects of sustainable systems from food to funding to organisational structures. Everyone’s getting more and more excited as they progress in anticipation of applying all this when they get home. And there’s a serious side of course. Yesterday I sat down with a Kenyan lady who seemed upset – she told me that there were floods in her district , with people losing their homes and huge amounts of soil erosion. She was sad but also grateful to learn about alternative practices that nurture the earth and people whilst also mitigating climate change – and to know that we are all in this together and will support each other however we can. It was very humbling.
It’s a brand new week at the PDC and we are ready, energized and full of excitement to start the new week…. But before we do, we would like to reflect a little on the previous week and our “time off” during the week-end…
Last week we had the introductory phase covering Holmgren’s first six permaculture principles where we learned to observe and interact, catch and store energy, how to obtain a yield, about the different ways to apply self-regulation and accept feedback, how to use and value renewable resources and lastly, produce no waste. We rounded this week up with a very exciting week-end during which we had a ground visit with our Honourable Mathias Kasamba, the Republic Member of Parliament of Uganda and legislator in the Parliament of East-Africa. His farm is about 300 acres with a variety of crops, mainly practicing conventional farming with a little bit of permaculture.
The crops he is growing on a large scale are coffee, passion fruits (which is his main income generating crop), banana, maize, eucalyptus and pine. From there, he is generating wood for selling and his personal use for his house and farm construction. In addition, he also raises animals which includes cattle, pigs, poultry and will soon be introducing rabbits with an aim of producing meat in order to feed the growing Ugandan population as rabbits produce so fast and multiply quickly. We ended our tour by suggesting to the minister that he may want to practice permaculture and still get yields but minimize the use of chemicals, produce no waste and find more environment friendly ways to feed his animals. He seemed quite open for the suggestion, having visited our course last week. He is also going to launch an institute for further agricultural research with an aim of transforming lives. Hopefully this will lead useful cooperation and who knows, some change on a larger scale.
Otherwise our group is getting tighter together, people are loosening up, sharing and we were enjoying playing games like volleyball, we danced with the kids in the school. Some people went to church for their Sunday prayers and others just took advantage of the week-end to catch up with some highly longed for sleep. We were a smaller group as some of us left for the week-end, either going home or visiting the area a bit, which made it quite nice and peaceful to remain here together and relax during the week-end. We also had a very nice lunch at the minister’s place where we also took lovely and tasty juice made from his farm’s sugar cane. We also had chicken at Sabina’s, which made it a good change from the beans and meat we usually eat.
The day began with a hike. We started 6 a.m in the morning. The dawn slightly appeared and my shoes got wet from the dew. We were in a group of six and went trough fields of maize and bushes of lantana. A long dirt road in front of us and a small hill was waiting to be climbed. The view was impressive. The sun came upand the mist was hanging in the valley. I could not know that this shall be the first lesson of today.
What do we all need? It is available for us in different forms. One of the best ways to store it is in the soils and it is trapped in cycles at least since we have life on this planet. Water. H20. I think when we are talking about water then we can not pass the topic waste. There is this phenomena, that people are using their available resources in a different way, when they have personally seen where they come from and where they go.
There is always a use for something. I have not found a utility for it, I am not creative enough, when I want to throw it away. This is one of the aspects that permaculture wants me to think about. In nature there is nothing with only one use. Every part of the system has multiple utilities.
“Waste is not waste, until you waste it.”
Back to our morning hike. The mist was hanging in the valley above the trees, moments before the sun became to strong. One quarter of the water of a forest is stored above the ground, mainly on the leaves to evaporate. It is a part of a system and contributes to micro-climates. Another quarter is channeled straight into the soil for irrigation and to stabilize the water table.
I enjoyed our practical session today. What have we done? We turned a problem into a solution. The problem was soil erosion caused by water rushing down the slope. We dug a swale and planted vetiver grasses which serves three functions; slowing down, trapping and infiltrating water into the soil. The result: an efficient use of a given resource which was earlier seen as a problem.
Actually forests are oceans. I have never seen it in this way before. We should be glad for every square meter of forest we have got. The forest is the best working system for water-harvesting and -managing. Why? Because forests are used to cover their soil and fertilize it with their “waste”. This term does not exist anymore. They cover mother earth with a highly valuable resource.
“Nature does not produce waste, it cycles the energy.”
I would like to consider two more aspects. I want to mention worms. These small soil-producing power stations are phenomenal creatures. And there are two methods you can easily adapt, mulching (covering soil) and composting (turning carbon and nitrogen into humus). We have copied those approaches from our forests.
The principle nº six combines those ideas. Resources are limited. At least, try to bring the energy you have used back to nature, less polluted or with a higher statue of value.
As the course is rolling on, just like a stone stone downhill, its already the fifth day tackling the fifth principle as put down by David Homlegren. Our 5th day out of the 12 days started with weeding which was by 6 out of the 8 home teams. One of the two groups headed by Uncle Ritchie performed some pruning of the mango trees.
The team headed by Nina were the time keepers of the entire day on top of filling up the hand washing facilities. Health issues are not to be taken for granted, most especially when we’re living as a family.
We are lucky to be joined by Jane Wegesa from Kenya who is a specialist in working with vetiver grass. In line with our pricniple of valuing natural resources we are learning how to use plants to stabalise lanscape, encourage water infiltration and generate biomass to feed animals and for compost.
Later in the afternoon during the practical session, there was a practical session headed by Richie of digging Swales which is a method of water storage. This helps to keep water in the soil and also to stop surface fun off. Grace and the other participants were planting vetiver grass which is also a method of water retention and can also be used for water purification. Vetiver is a deep rooted grass which was carried along by Jane Klegea a participant at the Permaculture Design Course. It was shocking to learn that nearly 70% of all the perfumes contain oil extracted from vetiver grass.
We highly appreciate the facilitators for good information being relayed to us aluta continua.
On day 5, we were introduced to principle 5:
“Use and value renewable resources and services”.
We started the day joining our home team and Richard took us to a mango tree to show us everything about pruning. After giving us a warm welcome, he explained the reason why we should prune. Pruning is important to get more air moving through the tree, which is stimulating the photosynthesis process and give us a better yield quality. Richard showed us the tools we needed to cut and the importance of the technique.
Using the right technique is important to avoid diseases on the cut parts. As mango trees can grow really high, the best thing to do is to cut the middle branch. Branches can be used for firewood, biochar, mulching, compost… When you have a big forest full of trees, you can use the wood after having it cut into very small pieces and putting it together to produce energy by letting the oxygen interfere with it (aerobic composting).
After lunch, we had the opportunity to dig swales right behind the library. Swales are very useful as they trap the water in the landscape to help for farming or house holding purposes. It was a sunny day but as soon as we started swaling, it started to rain. We loved it, it was so refreshing! The practicum ended by planting vetiver. During the hard work of the hyppos, Dan introduced the girafs to the benefits of coppicing. Coppicing is providing you a permanent supply of wood.
Our guest speaker of the day was Laura from Zanzibar. This amazing lady told us everything about the Practical Permaculture Institute Zanzibar. The school, situated close to Stone Town in Shakani, created a tropical food forest, where people live in a sustainable environment and in total harmony with nature. Their mission is to spread permaculture knowledge through organizing different kinds of courses. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your project with us!
One thing is for sure, we all slept like babies (Evans words!) after having learned so many things in one, beautiful day…
Day 4: Apply self-Regulation and accept feedback.
Each day is themed around a permaculture principle and today is about feedback and limits.
Today’s blog has been written by Barnabe Mukezangango, who is organic farmer in Rwanda.
This was a great day where we have seen the following lessons:Seasonal planning, Soil /Land preparation,
Permaculture Ethics &values and crop maintenance.
In the morning, all home teams were busy doing different activities like pruning mangos,tidy library(chairs, tables and cups),coffee husks, harvesting chard, litter picking and weeding , global post writing.We all went for energizer with Steve Jones. And then we went in class and we looked about feedback and nature limits.
a good farmer should know how plan according to the season,as said Allen Lakein ”Failing to plan is planning to fail ”. In addition,” it takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos” said by Mel Odom.
Planning deals with “why “,”how”,”when”,”Where”,and “what”. For example as we have seen in Uganda, a farmer should plan to prepare the land in December, January and February since it’s a dry season;he grows crops in March,April and May as it’s wet season,and again prepare the land in June ,July and September as dry season and grows crops again in September,October and November.
After lunch, We especially enjoyed the sessions today with banana circle and cob rocket stove even though We didn’t get to all do the banana cycle since some of us were making a cob rocket stove. We have planted 5 bananas ,papaya ,lemon grass ,onions, comfrey. We all really enjoyed digging because it is interesting and amazing activity. Unfortunately Evans from Zimbabwe was bitten by Safari ants and every body was laughing at his reactions to their stings!
With permaculture ethics , we should not separate from the nature, and we have to respect living things, other people while working to meet the needs of ours selves and our family
Fuel efficient stoves is a very important topic. conserving wood and the environment of course, saving needless work gathering wood which is largely wasted and importantly saving people from the hazards of inhaling wood smoke, the cause of a great deal of preventable disease and suffering in the majority world
The teaching team have been preparing many examples of different growing techniques to demonstrate the possibilities of growing in different conditions. These sack gardens show how food can be grown in small spaces, urban environments and where space for growing is limited.
We have also been propagating tree seedlings, jack fruit and avocade mainly which can be open pollenated and grown from seed rather than grafted.
Hello everyone! We are a group of five people, two from Congo, another from Rwanda and two from Uganda and would love to share a little bit about our experiences here at Sabina where we are eagerly learning more about permaculture in order to apply it in our communities… One of the things we enjoy here, is that we aren’t only learning, but also really getting an opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with the tutors and other students on this course….
Today we had a very rainy day and this really allowed us to observe and understand how water was replenishing the soils, feeding the crops as it was following the water irrigation system based on the permaculture principles on the grounds of the school… Despite the mud and getting wet, our day was full of intensive learning interlaced with practicals and lots of fun…..
We especially enjoyed the sessions today on trees and guilds, which are; in Olivier Niyomugenga from Rwanda’s words “groupings of plants, trees, animals, insects and a range of other components”. We didn’t get to all do the banana cycle since some of us were making a cob rocket stove, but Olivier and Stephen Baguma really enjoyed digging the holes for the banana circle, the inner compost pit, planting banana, papaya trees and comfrey in the circle before covering them with the mulch which will preserve the soil and ensure the young seedlings to grow happily together, one species becoming the companion of the other in the circle. Banana circles really are a very interesting and amazing thing because of their association with other crops….
The others, Présence Mutundi Kambale, Justin Matsitsi Kambale and Victoria Katumba on the other hand really enjoyed learning how to make a cob rocket stove with our bear hands after preparing the soil by literally dancing on top of it…. Richie, Steve and Dan really put all their energy in teaching us this session in 1h time, making us realize how great it is to build such a stove, using our own resources… What a great thing to bring back to our communities and help women avoid cooking without having to breathe all the fumes from burning charcoal or wood…. The other great thing about the stove is that it uses so little wood and will thus not be a great burden to the sustainability of our forests….
This brings us to the other session that really stuck in our heads, and that was Angie’s amazing session on trees. We really enjoyed learning more about them, their interconnection and many uses. We concluded the session with building a “group wind break”, this helped us figure out all the elements that we must consider when building one ourselves. We were also surprised by all the different uses of trees, which can serve as medicine, covers for the earth, providing oxygen and adding to swale fertility… We thought trees would only give us shade, but it was great to find out about all their other functions…. And Angie added to the session by also sharing her personal experience which made it all very tangible and real.
We also realized today that its really important not to separate ourselves from nature… We are really just one thing… If we realise this and also really look after our soils, we will really improve our yields. The day was concluded by a talk of one of our sister’s Jane, who spoke to us all about the uses of the amazing Vetiver plant –something that could also be very useful for the DRC, where erosion is a very big problem. This plant is yet another example of the multiple benefits we can get from one source…. Whether for parfume, rope, pots… reversing erosion – Vetiver seems to be a plant that will do a lot of good for us all in the future….
When we observe nature what we see is plants reaching out in all directions to trap the energy of the sun. Only plants (except some odd exceptions) can do this, using chlorophyll to turn sunlight into sugars and starches; stored forms of energy, photosynthesis.
Simply put they use the energy of sunlight to join CO2 and H20 together, forming sugars, starches and carbohydrates. When we digest these sugars we break the bond, releasing the energy and the CO2 and H2O becomes available to the environment again.. it’s a simple system and pretty amazing in its power when you think about it. This idea of catching and storing available energy is the backbone of the second of David Homgren’s permaculture principles.
Here at Sector39, as a training enterprise we are developing an ambition to evolve our teaching processes into a permaculture academy. If we are to reach more people and spread permaculture wider we will need to train more teachers.
Permaculture is all about learning by experience, so in this PDC we are trying to create the opportunity for new teachers to learn and gain experience. Along with 43 participants we have 6 trainee teachers and three experts as well developing practical tasks relatiing to the course content. Early days maybe but we are reciving invitations to teach in more and more places and this is driving us to think more seriously about this proposition. So in some ways we have the aim of catching and storing the experience of the course by providing learning experiences that will in turn create new teachers.
What we human do in the next 50 years dictates what will happen in the next 10,000 for planet earth.
Professor Johan Rokstrom
On the evening of day one we watched the WWF climate change lecture from Dec 2015 led by Johan Rokstrom. We are confronted with the stark reality that humans have passed the carrying capacity of the planet. Human activity is now the most significant factor affecting the atmosphere and climate of planet earth. This new era of human driven global change is to be known as the ‘anthropocene’.
The upside of reality is that if we humans are the most significant force for destruction on the planet, then we can also be a force for repairing it. Catching and storing energy means building soils, adding carbon via humus, compost, mulches, biochar, low tillage and no dig systems, working with the biology of the planet to heal at least some of the damage we have done. It was only in about 1990 that humans became this dominant presence, and over the coming 30 years we will have to fix it, if we wish to preserve any semblance of the world we evolved to be part of.
Permaculture is fun, a PDC generates a huge amount of positive energy but underlying the work we do are huge challenges and potentially terrifying threats. Facing these challenges will take a great many people working together towards common goals and with a common vision, I honestly believe permaculture is the best tool we have to achieve this.