Posts Tagged ‘Permaculture’


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.



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.”



What Works: Innovations that protect both agriculture and wildlife

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By Matt Styslinger

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the rate of wildlife extinction is currently 100 to 1,000 times higher than the natural rate because of human activities, including urban development and farming.

Rural farmers and pastoralists can be key partners in conserving wildlife (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Unfortunately, rural farmers and pastoralists often work in direct conflict with wildlife. But as major land and resource users, farmers are also key partners in conserving wildlife. Through education and activities that support the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists, agriculture can function in harmony with wildlife.

Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve in Botswana used to be known more for raising livestock than protecting wildlife. After years of ranching degraded the land, the owner decided to devote the area to protecting elephants, giraffes, impala, kudu, crocodiles, hippos, ostrich, warthogs, and various other animals and birds. But the reserve hasn’t stopped raising food. Park staff teach local farmers about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, but also about permaculture farming techniques that work in balance with the environment. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers—including elephant and other wildlife dung—the reserve’s education center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.

In much of rural southern and East Africa, tensions between farmers and wildlife run high. Elephants or buffalo, for example, eat and trample crops. Animals like elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, and hippos can also be dangerous to people and livestock. The Wildlife Conservation Society is educating people about the economic benefits that can be derived from wildlife tourism and related industries. They are also improving access to veterinary services to deal with common livestock diseases. With this approach they have been able to raise the threshold of tolerance for wildlife among pastoralists and farmers. Community Markets for Conservation works to improve economic opportunities for farmers by diversifying their skills. By raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management, and other practices, farmers do not have to resort to poaching for extra income and food.



Transforming Unlikely Locations into Lush, Abudant Gardens

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Check out this post from Mother City Mama, a regular column by Katherine j. Barrett written for Literary Mama, about a permaculture training and demonstration farm in Cape Town, South Africa. Barrett is a columnist and reviews editor for Literary Mama. She is currently living in Cape Town, South Africa. She holds PhD in Botany and Ethics from the University of British Columbia in Canada and her new series chronicles what it is like to be a mother, foodie and environmentalist in Cape Town.


Permaculture can help turn degraded land into a lush garden. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

“Hazel Mugford runs Wild Olive farm in the seaside town of Still Bay. Her farm is surrounded by fynbos, a unique biome of low-lying scrub found only in the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s dry, windy, rocky terrain where the indigenous plants need searing brush fires to germinate — not the most likely place to cultivate tender salad greens. Nevertheless, Hazel has transformed Wild Olive into a lush, abundant garden, and she’s done it without imported soil or chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Her approach to organic farming is called permaculture. Polly can teach you all about it.

Polly is from Malawi and came to Wild Olive with her parents in 2009, when she was just two. Her father is Hazel’s apprentice gardener, and her mother runs the farm kitchen and small, on-site restaurant. Polly plays with the hundreds of families who visit Wild Olive each year, she helps in the garden and kitchen, and she regularly attends Hazel’s permaculture workshop. She’s now a preschool connoisseur of soil-building and companion planting.

Back at our compost pile, Hazel recruits Polly’s expertise. “Can you please show Thomas where to find comfrey in the garden?”

Polly slips off the bench but waits as Hazel explains how plants like comfrey sequester nutrients from the soil. “They’re called dynamic accumulators and they’re great for the compost.” Polly nods, her spiky braids waving in agreement as we follow her to the garden.”

Read the rest of this blog post at Mother City Mama.

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.


What works: Innovations for Improving Biodiversity and Livelihoods

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By Elena Davert

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Even the best farming tools and irrigation systems are useless if the quality of the land itself has been destroyed.   Monoculture farming systems and chemical fertilizers, although capable of producing short-term increases in yields, have drastically diminished biodiversity and soil quality around the world.  In order to develop sustainable agriculture, it is crucial to promote farming practices that protect biodiversity and work together with local ecosystems.

Malawi: Lilongwe Field Visit

Kristof Nordin grows more than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables on their farm in Malawi, providing a year round supply of food for themselves and their neighbors. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

In South Africa, Richard Haigh founded the Enaleni farm, a thriving 23-acre farm filled with indigenous fruits, vegetables and livestock.  Planting indigenous varieties help the farm resemble the naturally occurring diversity in the surrounding environment.  And by combining these local species with organic agriculture methods, such as composting and using manure as fertilizer, Haigh has been able to achieve higher yields and preserve the quality of his land.

Without using synthetic fertilizers or importing cash crops, Stacia and Kristof Nordin have grown more than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables on their farm in Malawi, providing a year round supply of food for themselves and their neighbors. Using their home as an outdoor classroom, their yard acts as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods such as water harvesting, intercropping and other practices that help conserve water and mimic a natural ecosystem. This has not only helped educate their neighbors about organic agriculture, it has also served as a platform to publicize the benefits of indigenous vegetables and traditional methods of farming that protect biodiversity. (more…)


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.