Permaculture In Zambia (and your backyard)
By Matthew Koehorst
Hi – My name is Matthew. I’ve worked with Greenpop for the last 4 years, first full time as the Head of the Planting Department, and now on a contractual basis under my own project called Six Kingdoms. Six Kingdoms is all about using ecological principles and systems thinking to improve relations between people and the planet through project based work and education.
I’ve been deeply involved with the Zambia Festival of Action in Livingstone for the last 4 years, working as the program manager for all the activations, events, workshops and planting that gets done during those few weeks, as well as overseeing a lot of the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of projects after the Festival is over. For me, it’s always a wild, exhausting, stressful, exhilarating and inspiring time, and this year was no different. It’s amazing how much goodness you can cram into a few short weeks with intention, collaboration and a strong team.
Greenpop asked me to reflect a bit on the ‘permaculture’ elements of the project and to share some ideas of how you could bring some permaculture principles into your own food garden, so without further ado, here we go!
Permaculture at the Greenpop Zambia Festival of Action
Permaculture is a design process and international movement that aims to achieve harmony between human and natural systems. The concept has been around since the 1960s and was originated by two Australians – Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture is most commonly used as a design philosophy which accommodates a wide range of disciplines and practises to generate systems that are beneficial to human kind while also having benefit to natural systems. It has been used as a framework for designing or developing human habitation, agriculture, ecological building, education and even economics. Permaculture can also be considered as a movement – permaculture principles and ethics connect a wide range of communities around the world who share a common value system and vision for a world where humans exist in collaboration, not competition, with nature.
Permaculture is a design process and international movement that aims to achieve harmony between human and natural systems.
This year at the Festival of Action we actively brought permaculture into a few different elements of the project (though as a whole it’s a great lens considering the project overall as well).
1. Community Forest Gardens
Last year, we planted community forest gardens at six different villages at the Sons of Thunder Farming Cooperative. These gardens are inspired by food forest principles encouraging diversity, use of multiple ‘layers’, nutrient cycling and ‘stacking functions’ (having plants or systems perform more than one function). This year we created a new forest garden at the Sons of Thunder school and performed maintenance on last year’s forest garden sites. It’s really inspiring to see how our 5-year-old food forest system at the main house of Sons of Thunder is flourishing and I can’t wait to see each of the villages reaping the same benefits.
2. Permaculture Workshops
We ran 3 permaculture workshops for festival participants and local environmentalists which focussed on practical ways of bringing a permacultural approach to food production. These workshops focused on the principles of permaculture and some practical examples including companion planting, nutrient cycling through compost making and an introduction to permaculture landscape design.
3. Citrus Orchard Maintenance
We also used permaculture ideas in the Sons of Thunder citrus orchard by interplanting beneficial plants that will perform a variety of functions including increasing pollinator populations and the populations of predatory insects, as well acting as ‘dynamic accumulators’ which draw nutrients up from deep in the ground to be made available for the trees.
4. Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) and Beekeeping
Permaculture ideas permeated our external workshops program which included sharing an approach to development that recognises the local assets that communities have within themselves and teaching natural beekeeping methods. These workshops worked on identifying ways to create value within a community and mobilising local resources to benefit local people, rather than relying on external inputs.
12 Permaculture Design Principles for Your Garden
At the core of Permaculture are the permaculture ethics – Care for the earth, Care for People, and return the surplus to the earth. These ethics then determine 12 key permaculture design principles. Below are some brief ideas based on the 12 permaculture principles for how you can incorporate permaculture into your own garden (or life!)
1. Observe and interact
While in Zambia I kept reiterating to the local farmers that the most important tool a farmer has is their eyes – By being observant, and trying things (interacting) we can learn more about how our garden system functions, this is vital to noticing dis-ease in your plants and animals and reacting in time.
2. Catch and store energy
Develop systems that collect resources while they’re plentiful, for times of scarcity. Think rainwater catchment, solar drying of excess produce, composting and solar powered water pumps
3. Obtain a yield
Make sure that you’re getting something out of your efforts – aim to obtain short, medium and long term yields in your garden system.
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
This is a nice bit of theory borrowed from systems-thinking. Natural systems consist of positive (reinforcement) and negative (balancing) forces which keep things in check and ‘regulate’ systems. In your garden, be aware that increasing one thing (eg. fertiliser) may lead to a decrease in another (long term soil fertility) which may require increasing the first thing even more (more fertiliser!). Try and install checks and balances to keep the natural system in order – think habitat for beneficial predators; choosing tough, local varieties of plants; self-watering containers etc. For more on self-regulating systems – check this.
5. Use and value renewable resources and services
6. Produce no waste
Nature doesn’t have waste, it’s a human created term for things we aren’t certain how to deal with. Install grey water systems, create compost, make a composting toilet, scavenge resource from your local dump!
7. Design from patterns to details
Step back and view the patterns of nature/your garden/your life before going into detail. Patterns determine function and the social and physical patterns around you will influence your garden hugely.
8. Integrate rather than segregate
In life we often tend to split things apart, to keep things separated and to view things individualistically. By combining elements within a whole system we often open up opportunities for new relationships and resilience. Think companion planting, multi-functional ponds, diverse crop rotations and so on.
9. Use small and slow solutions
Don’t rip out your entire lawn in one go and plant a massive, uncontrollable vegetable patch in it’s place, take your time and allow things to grow at their own pace. Biting off more than you can chew can often cause more harm than good…
10. Use and value diversity
Diversity reduces vulnerability and increases resilience. Having more than one crop growing means you will not starve if one crop fails. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Also, certain things will thrive in certain contexts, so planning to incorporate diversity means you can make sure the right element is in the right place. This principle ties in closely with principle 1 – observation is key to identifying valuable opportunities.
11. Use edges and value the marginal
The space between things is often that which is the most diverse, productive or resilient. Make use of the edges of your garden- the sides of your beds, the bank of a pond, the shade of a tree to increase diversity and maximise resilience.
12. Creatively use and respond to change
Change is inevitable- by being observant and getting our timing right, we can respond to change in ways that lead us towards our goals. Be observant of passing seasons, weather patterns and change in your garden- don’t resist change, flow with it.
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