Archive for the ‘Permaculture’ Category


Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)


USAID to Use Permaculture to Assist Orphaned and Vulnerable Children

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By Stephanie Buglione

Nearly one quarter of children in the developing world are underweight, and one third are experiencing stunted growth, according to a UNICEF report. In addition, many of these children have a family member, or are themselves, afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Jacob, a student in Malawi, explaining permaculture to other boys. (Photo credit:

According to the Joint U.N Programme on HIV/AIDS, worldwide, 16.6 million children aged 0 to 17 have lost parents due to HIV. Families afflicted with HIV have less help harvesting and planting crops or selling them at the market. Additionally, when a parent dies prematurely, their children are denied their generational agricultural knowledge and skills. But this missing information, and other lessons on ethics, patience, and responsibility, can be taught in schools through the use of permaculture.

A new USAID project, Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, is focused on providing long-term food security solutions to orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) that are coping with the challenges of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Permaculture is their means to achieving this food security.

Kristof Nordin is one of the co-authors of this initiative. He and his wife, Stacia, a registered dietician and previous School Health and Nutrition Advisor for the Malawi Ministry of Education, live in a home outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. On their land, they have been demonstrating permaculture practices for several years to help educate the community about indigenous vegetables and to reduce the cultural fixation on monocropping.



Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity

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By Graham Salinger

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a quarter of the world’s known plant species—some 60,000 to 100,000 species—are threatened with extinction. And even though plants may not receive as much attention as endangered animals, they are essential. Among their many attributes, plants are a vital source of food, they can help stabilize the climate, and they also provide shelter, medicines, and fuel.

Seeds of diversity; seed banks are one innovation that helps increase biodiversity. (Photo credit: GREEN Foundation)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five agricultural innovations to improve biodiversity and protect these important providers.  

1. Seed banks:  Seed banks help preserve seed varieties, while protecting against famine and disease. Storing seed varieties in seed banks helps protect farmers from seed loss while reducing their overreliance on monoculture crops that makes agricultural economies vulnerable to price shocks.

Seed Banks in action: In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault protects thousands of seeds that farmers in developing countries can rely on to help re-harvest crops that have been affected by disease, climate, or conflict. And in Karnataka, India, community seeds banks are open to any member of the community as long as they don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers when farming.



Innovation of the Week: Greening the Desert

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By Emily Gilbert

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are 1 billion hungry people in the world, most of who live in poor rural areas. As the world’s population is set to hit 7 billion, policy-makers are struggling to find ways to nourish our planet’s growing population.  Traditionally, the answers have been sought in higher-yield seed varieties, vast dams for irrigation, and tons of artificial fertilizer.  But these approaches have proven to be costly both for the environment and for poor farmers, often without addressing the fundamental issues affecting our food systems.

The Jordan Valley Permaculture Project. (Photo credit: Dan Smith)

With this in mind, the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) of Australia established the Jordan Valley Permaculture Project in 2008, to create a model for sustainable agricultural development in an arid environment that, according to PRI, demonstrates “all the basic needs for a healthy, meaningful, peaceful lifestyle can be affordable, understood, and achieved by poor local people.” In the process, the project has restored 10 hectares of previously unproductive land.

The Jordan Valley Permaculture Project is located in the Dead Sea Valley.  With months-long drought and temperatures reaching 122°F (50°C) during the summer months, it is difficult to imagine anything growing here.

To tackle this deficit of freshwater, Geoff Lawton, founder and director of the Permaculture Research Institute, and his team designed a swale, or landscaped contour system, over the project’s 10 acres. This allows millions of liters of water to store up during the winter months and soak back into the earth, creating an underground reservoir for the hot summer months.  After collecting excess and scrapped organic matter from neighboring farms, the team was able to plant nitrogen-fixing tree species which help rehabilitate the soil and provide shade for successor species.  Within four months of planting, fig trees were over a meter high and already bearing fruit



Five Innovations that are Boosting Soil Fertility

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By Joseph Zaleski

Crops need air, sun, water, and soil to thrive. When it comes to soil, however, quality usually trumps quantity. Rich and fertile land boasts a healthy mixture of phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen, along with water, air, and soil micro-organisms that break down organic matter.

But what happens when these elemental building blocks are disrupted? The Green Revolution of the mid-20th century implemented a variety of practices, including the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers. Yet, improperly applying the Green Revolution’s principles can sometimes do more harm than good. Overfertilizing and destructive land use practices, including deforestation, can deplete vital nutrients in soil, and no amount of inorganic fertilizer can replace fundamental topsoil. In addition, higher annual temperatures, more extreme weather events and persistent droughts, and increasing population are also exhausting the land. These conditions are creating a cycle of soil degeneration which is stunting agricultural yields and presenting farmers with a new crop of concerns.

Today, Nourishing the Planet provides five methods that farmers and scientists are using to combat rising soil infertility.

Soil is an ecosystem unto itself. It’s what we don’t see underground that makes or breaks a harvest. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

1. Cover Cropping / Green Manure: In our State of the World 2011 report, agroecologist and author Roland Bunch defines cover crops / green manure as “any plant, whether a tree, bush, or vine, that is used by a farmer to…improve soil fertility or control weeds.” In practice, cover crops are planted alongside or interspersed with other crops to cut soil-eroding wind, prevent overexposure to the sun, and stimulate a healthy soil system. Just as farmers will turn to manure to bolster the soil, they can also clip and spread cover crops’ leaves as organic green manure.

Cover Cropping / Green Manure in Action: According to Roland Bunch, there are more than a million farmers now actively using cover crops / green manure worldwide. In Africa alone, there are over 120 plant species that are being used or could be used for this purpose. One promising example is the cowpea (also known as the black-eyed pea). This legume is both a nitrogen-fixer, which means that it takes nitrogen from the air and replenishes it in the soil, and deeply rooted, which makes it resistant to drought. Furthermore, the cowpea itself is a nutritious staple food for both people and animals.



State of the World 2011 Launches in Taiwan

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Nourishing the Planet Project Director Danielle Nierenberg is in Taiwan to launch State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Hosted in partnership with Taiwan Watch, the launch event brought together researchers and policy makers, including National University of Tainan’s College of Environmental Sciences and Ecology Dean, Tsun-Hsin Hsiegh, Chi-Mei Community University’s Vice Dean Chang Cheng-Yang and the Taiwan Permaculture Community’s Hiu-i Chiang, to discuss environmentally sustainable innovations in agriculture that are working on the ground now to help alleviate hunger and poverty.

Here are some photos from the launch:

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Innovation of the Week: School food gardens support food security and education in the Cape Flats

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By Matt Styslinger

Southeast of central Cape Town, South Africa is a large, flat swath of land known as the Cape Flats. The area is home to around 4 million people and unemployment is around 40 percent. As many as 25 percent of students in the Cape Flats are undernourished.

SEED is working with students and teachers to establish permaculture food gardens in 21 Cape Flats schools. (Photo credit: Matt Styslinger)

South African non-profit organization School’s Environmental Education and Development (SEED) has established its Organic Classroom Programme in 21 Cape Flat schools. The project aims to improve food security in the Cape Flats by engaging students in environmental sustainability and teaching them how to practice permaculture—a holistic agriculture system that mimics relationships found in nature. SEED’s Organic Classroom Programme is a winner of the 2010 Sustainability Awards presented by Impumelelo—an independent awards program for social innovations in South Africa.

“Permaculture looks at ecological habitats and applies them to human habitats,” says SEED Permaculture Designer, Alex Kruger. Kruger says that sustainable food gardening is a starting place for students to learn about larger environmental sustainability issues. “It addresses an immediate need. And it also brings biodiversity back into these schools, which are quite barren.”



The Climate Crisis on Our Plates

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ChinaDialogue recently published this excerpt from State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, in which Anna Lappé, co-founder of the Small Planet Fund, discusses the climate crisis on our plates.

Climate Crisis on our plates-Anna-Lappe-Small-Planet-Fund-Climate-Change-China-Dialogue

Individuals can help provide market demand for climate-friendly foods by following the principles of a climate-friendly diet. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Although agriculture is directly affected by climate change, the global food system is responsible for as much as one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. But by using techniques that work with, rather than, against the natural ecosystem, farmers from all over the world are showing the positive role food systems can and should play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, writes Lappé.

And individuals can help provide market demand for climate-friendly foods by following the principles of a climate-friendly diet and supporting the efforts of farmers as they prepare for an uncertain future. Lappé says, “We can choose to eat foods from sustainable farms, reduce consumption of highly processed foods, and cut back — or cut out — meat and dairy that comes from factory farms. We can also reach for local and regionally grown foods.”

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Video Spotlight of the Week

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Each week Nourishing the Planet features a video to give you the inside scoop on the different projects we see on the ground that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty. We showcase past favorites and some brand new videos you’ve never seen.  Check out Nourishing the Planet’s Youtube channel to see more.

To celebrate the new year we are sharing the very first video we posted in January of 2010, featuring an interview with Kristof Nordin at his permaculture garden in Malawi.


Snapshots from the Field

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Each week the Nourishing the Planet team picks out some of our favorite photos  from the environmentally sustainable agriculture projects we’re visiting in sub-Saharan Africa.

photo credit: Bernard Pollack

This week’s photo features an image of permaculture, a holistic agriculture system that mimics relationships found in nature.  It was taken during our visit to Stacia and Kristof Nordin’s house in Malawi, which is used as an educational outdoor classroom to help farmers and their neighbors learn about the importance of permaculture and growing indigenous vegetables for the health of people and the ecosystem of Malawi.