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: NeverEndingFood.org)
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.
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.
In this week’s video we hear from Kristof Nordin, who runs a permaculture project in Malawi with his wife Stacia. They have been working in Malawi to help educate farmers that “tidy” yards and gardens aren’t necessarily better for producing food or the environment. Everything from the garden beds to the edible fish pond to the composting toilet has an important role on their property and the amount of biodiversity they produce is impressive.
Check out Nourishing the Planet’s newest op-ed published today in Malawi’s The Nation. The article highlights our visit with Kristof and Stacia Nordin, who use their home and garden in Malawi to educate local farmers on both permaculture and biodiversity. Growing a variety of indigenous vegetables in sub-Saharan Africa is crucial to improving food security.
Danielle (right) with Mary Naku, a 19 year-old student at the Sirapollo Kaggwass Secondary School in Uganda who is learning farming skills from DISC. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)
“We’ve got hundreds of local foods, almost 600 that we’ve categorized through our research,” said Kristof Nordin in a January interview with Nourishing the Planet project co-Director, Danielle Nierenberg, at the permaculture project he runs in Malawi with his wife, Stacia (see also: Malawi’s Real Miracle). “But we are starving because we are only planting one crop: maize, which came originally from America.”
Many efforts to combat hunger and drought across Africa emphasize boosting yields of staple crops such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice, which can provide much-needed calories as well as income to millions of farmers. These staples, however, lack many essential micronutrients, including Vitamin A, thiamin, and niacin. That is why many communities rely on indigenous vegetables such as amaranth, dika, moringa, and baobab to add both nutrients and taste to staple foods. These vegetables are rich in vitamins and nutrients and are often naturally resistant to local pests and climatic fluctuations, making them an important tool in the fight against hunger and poverty.
“We are not saying stop growing maize, we grow maize as well,” continued Kristof. “But we try to show people how it can be part of an integrated system, how that integrated agriculture can be part of a balanced diet.”
Greater variety can lead to a better tasting diet, too, according to Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, the World Vegetable Center’s Regional Director for Africa in Arusha, Tanzania. “None of the staple crops would be palatable without vegetables,” he told Danielle when she visited the center last November. For almost 20 years now, the Center—part of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center based in Taiwan—has been working in Africa to breed cultivars that best suit farmers’ needs (see Listening to Farmers).
In addition to providing the vitamins and nutrients needed for a complete diet, indigenous vegetables are more affordable and accessible to farmers who might otherwise be forced to pay for costly imported staple crops and the inputs they require. According to the Center’s website, vegetable production also generates more income on and off the farm than most other agricultural enterprises.
Indigenous vegetables help to preserve culture and traditions as well. “If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food, they don’t know how to eat,” said Edward Mukiibi, a coordinator with the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project in Uganda, in a December interview with Danielle. The DISC project, founded by Edward and Roger Sserunjogi in 2006, hopes to instill greater environmental awareness and appreciation for food, nutrition, and gastronomy by establishing school gardens at 15 preschool, day, and boarding schools. By focusing on indigenous vegetables, the project not only preserves Ugandan culture, but also shows kids how agriculture can be a way to improve diets, livelihoods, and food security (see How to Keep Kids Down on the Farm).
Sylvia Banda is another cultural pioneer. She founded Sylva Professional Catering Services in 1986 in part because she was tired of seeing Western-style foods preferred over traditional Zambian fare like chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves) and impwa (dry garden eggplant) (see Winrock International and Sylva Professional Catering Services Ltd).What started as a catering business grew into a restaurant, cooking school, and hotel, with training programs that teach farmers in Zambia, mostly women, to grow indigenous crops. Sylva’s company purchases the surplus crops from the farmers it trains and uses them in the traditional meals prepared by her facilities, improving local livelihoods and keeping the profits in the local economy.
“When I first met some of these families, their children were at home while school was in session,” Sylvia said during a Community Food Enterprise Panel and Discussion hosted by Winrock International in Washington, D.C., in January. “They told me that they didn’t have money to pay for education. But after becoming suppliers for my business, the families can afford to send their children to school and even to buy things like furniture for their houses.”
Women who grow vegetable gardens in Kibera slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya, were among the best prepared for the country’s 2007 food crisis, despite being some of the poorest members of society. Their gardens provided family meals at a time when no other food was coming into the city. With food prices on the rise in Africa and the impacts of climate change becoming more significant, home gardens raising indigenous vegetables that are resistant to extreme weather and are rich in vitamins and nutrients have become even more important (see Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera).
As these examples illustrate, most parts of sub-Saharan Africa “have everything they need right here,” according to Kristof.
Kristof compares his farm now, where over 200 species of plants grow thanks to the use of permaculture, to the land in 2003 when it was dry and contained very few plants. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
This is the final in a four-partseries about my visit to Stacia and Kristof Nordin’s permaculture project in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Travel anywhere in Malawi and you’ll see people sweeping—the sidewalks, the floors of their houses, and the bare dirt outside their homes. And while the sweeping makes everything look tidy, it’s also one of the major causes of damage to soils in the country. Because sweeping compacts soils, leaving it without any organic matter, erosion is widespread and the soil has very little nutrients. As a result, crops—especially corn—in Malawi rely heavily on the use of artificial fertilizers.
Kristof and Stacia Nordin have been working in Malawi to help educate farmers that “tidy” yards and gardens aren’t necessarily better for producing food or the environment. Stacia works for the German Technical Co-operation GTZ, while Kristof runs the farm and is a community facilitator. Their home is used as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods that incorporate composting, water harvesting, intercropping and other methods that help build organic matter in soils, conserve water, and protect agricultural diversity.
“Design,” says Kristof, “is key in permaculture,” meaning that everything from the garden beds to the edible fish pond to the composting toilet have an important role on their property. And while their neighbors have been skeptical of the Nordins’ unswept yard, they’re impressed by the quantity—and diversity—of food grown by the family. More than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables are grown on the land, providing a year round supply of food to the Nordins and their neighbors.
In addition, they’re working with the three families who live in houses on the property to practice permaculture techniques around their homes and have built an edible playground, where children can play and learn about different indigenous fruits. More importantly, the Nordins are showing that by not over sweeping, people can get more out of the land than just maize.
Such practices will become even more important as drought, flooding, other effects of climate change continue to become more evident in Malawi and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
For more about permaculture, check out Chapter 6, “From Agriculture to Permaculture” in State of the World 2010, which was released today.