Permaculture Design Course in Full Swing!

Kumbali PDC 2014 043The Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology in Malawi, Africa started on Monday of this week.  There are 6 participants who are taking the course and they all come from various walks of life.  Some of these participants are working for Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and will be using the skills to improve the sustainability of project programming, others are community members and local farmers who will be using Permaculture ideas to improve their personal lives and production systems.

Kristof Nordin, from Never Ending Food, has been facilitating the first week of the PDC.  He has guided the participants through the basics of Permaculture (definition, ethics, and principles).  The group also looked at the current challenges–both domestically and globally–for which Permaculture can be used to find solutions.  A lot of the first week consists of fundamental theory upon which the rest of the course work is founded.  This ‘foundation’ included a look at the basic processes of nature, including: the nature cycle, soil, water, ecological patterns, and the use of natural resources.

Kumbali PDC 2014 069In week one, the group also began the process of mapping.  This is another fundamental practice of Permaculture which combines the skills of observation, site analysis, and element analysis to create a ‘map’ of existing resources.  This map constitutes the corner stone of good Permaculture Design.  The map tells us what is already there for us to utilize, while the design becomes the plan for the future in which each existing element is used to its fullest potential.

Luwayo Biswick will be continuing with the group for the end of this week and into next week.  He will be covering the use of Permaculture Zones, guilds, animal management, integrated pest management, and hands-on practicals with soil, water, and propagation techniques.  Throughout the entire two weeks the participants will be working on creating their own personal designs which will be presented to the group at the end of the course.

Kristof will be rejoining the group next week to facilitate a day on how Permaculture can be applied to the designing of large-scale land systems.  Many people do not realize that Permaculture ideas–although very useful at the household level–can be scaled up to benefit commercial farms, large estates, housing schemes, even entire cities!

Never Ending Food wishes all the participants the best of success with their course!

Food Insecurity in Malawi: Do Agricultural Input Subsidies Actually Address Hunger?

imagesA new research paper has been submitted to Never Ending Food which takes a critical look at the use of government subsidies to address hunger in Malawi.  This paper was written by Andy Currier, a student at Colby College in Maine, as part of an International Environmental Policy class.

The paper does a great job of demonstrating that increased maize production does not equate to increased food security.  It takes an in-depth look at Malawi’s FISP (Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme), the amount of financial resources which have been dedicated to this programme, and the resulting fluctuations in maize production.  Currier then compares the maize-based focus of the FISP programme to some of its quantifiable results.  The paper found that:  ”60% of the subsidy recipients reported still being net maize purchasers not producers”; “Only 30% reported that the subsidy led to increased maize consumption”; and “Implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS), 69% of the ministries budget has gone towards FISP since 2005 (Mazunda, 2013). By placing all the eggs in one basket, other possible programs and development agendas aimed at decreasing food insecurity have, “gone on the shelf” (De Schutter, 2013).  Despite committing 16% of the total governmental budget to fertilizer subsidies by 2009, Malawi still imported $30 million USD worth of maize to cover the shortfall until 2012 (Tafirenyika, 2013).”

The paper concludes by saying that: “The results of this analysis suggest that to date FISP policy in Malawi has failed in providing an adequate solution to food insecurity. All of the emphasis on increasing maize production in Malawi perpetuates poor diet and requires more agricultural effort than an alternative system promoting the usage of diverse crops. Both issues can be solved by local institutions promoting Permaculture: a shift away from maize and towards crop rotation that naturally replenishes the soil, provides food year round and serves greater nutritional function…Instead of focusing on improving maize production, an effects based approach targeting the number of Malawians still inadequately fed would serve a more accurate benchmark when evaluating program effectiveness. By these standards expensive input subsidies have failed to proportionately increase food security and the time for research into a new agricultural system has arrived.”  Currier_PolicyBrief_ES234

Great work Andy!  Never Ending Food wishes you all the best in your future Environmental Studies.

Bee Hive Donation to Bambino Primary School!

Kondwani demonstrating the importance of a bee suit.

Kondwani demonstrating the importance of a bee suit.

Thanks to a very generous donation from a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), we have been able to purchase two beehives, along with all of the equipment needed to get them hung properly, and donate them to Bambino Primary School in Lilongwe, Malawi.  This school approached us earlier this year with concerns about bees swarming around their basketball hoops.  They felt that if they provided hives for the bees it may keep them from causing problems near the school children.  This school is located near a wetland (dambo) area and so the hives will be hung on the outside boundary of school grounds, but in an area where the honey production should be very high.   This morning we had a chance to go to the school and address the students on how hives work, the importance of bees, how to treat them, and why beekeeping is an important part of sustainable ecological solutions.

Kristof teaching about the importance of beekeeping.

Kristof teaching about the importance of beekeeping.

With additional money from this donation we will also be sourcing a beekeeping suit for the school, along with gloves and a smoker, so that they will have what they need for future honey harvests.  The headmaster of Bambino informed us that the school has an Environmental Group who will be deciding what to do with the honey harvests (i.e. selling as a fundraiser, donating to the boarding school, sharing, etc.)

We have an experienced beekeeper, Konwani, who is helping to hang the hives at the school and who will be periodically checking in to monitor the upkeep and progress of the hives.  Good luck Bambino and enjoy the honey!

Youth Group Visit!

244aThis past week we had a great visit from a youth group from a local church.  The youth ministry from the Christian Gathering Worship Center had been learning about non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, etc., and the importance that good physical, mental, nutritional, and environmental health can play in the prevention and care of these diseases.  As part of their learning they came to Never Ending Food to learn more about the immense resources that are available to us here in Malawi to improve the health of the nation.

As we discussed the importance of eating a diversity of nutritious foods, we also emphasized that our agricultural systems need to reflect this diversity.  In 2001, Malawi moved from a 3-food group model to a 6-food group model to encourage this diversity, but our agricultural focus remains primarily focused upon the growing and eating of one high-carbohydrate low-nutrient crop–maize. Despite 8 consecutive years of surplus maize harvests our malnutrition rates have remained steady with approximately 47% of our children under the age of 5 suffering from nutritional ‘stunting’.  There is no reason for this when so many foods can be grown and eaten in this 12-month tropical growing climate.

We also looked at how environmental problems, such as over-sweeping, deforestation, and burning have all contributed to the 224aproblems of pollution, asthma, and resource depletion.   As we walked the group through the various zones of good Permaculture design, we could see the light bulbs coming on in several people’s minds in recognition of the fact that we have been given everything that we need to create a virtual Garden of Eden wherever we live!  When we protect, care for, and nurture our natural systems we receive not only diverse and nutritious foods, but also natural medicines, building supplies, fuel, habitat and so much more!

Third Ethic–Equitable Sharing of Resources

Permaculture is founded upon three ethics: 1.) Care for the earth  2.) Care for People  3.)  Fair Sharing of resources

The resource-deficient home that we moved into in 2003.

The resource-deficient home that we moved into in 2003.

An interesting story:  When we moved into our current house (about 11 years ago), we also moved into a house that was over-swept and resource-deficient.  If we wanted to make a small fence out of bamboo, we were forced into purchasing these bamboo poles from a neighbor.  Great for the neighbor, but not so sustainable for us!  So, we decided to ask the neighbor if we could buy a piece of bamboo root stock to plant at our house.  At this request, the neighbor scoffed, “Why would anybody want to plant that stuff?” Apparently, even though the owner of the bamboo grove was making money from this natural resource he tended to view it as a nuisance which interfered with his maize production.

Currently, our own personal bamboo grove is now flourishing and we have been able to use the poles for several years to construct chicken pens, fix roofs, make fences, and more.  This past week, the man who does most of our carpentry came to inform us that he has begun raising pigs and wanted to make sure that they would managed properly and not running around and destroying people’s gardens.  We were able to offer this man

Sharing the surplus!

Sharing the surplus!

several very large bamboo poles (free of charge), and in turn his animal management will be contributing to the overall productivity of our natural resources.  When these connections are recognized and strengthened, entire communities begin to benefit!  In our experience, we have found that properly designed Permaculture systems very quickly move into states of abundance and surplus where you have no other choice but to give, sell, share, or return!