World Environment Week

Kusala and Emmanuel at World Environment Week

Kusala and Emmanuel at World Environment Week

June 5th was World Environment Day and also marked the beginning of World Environment Week.  This year’s theme from the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) was ‘Raise your voice, not the sea level’, designed to encourage people around the world to focus on all aspects of climate change.  Here in Malawi, activities were organized by the Lilongwe Wildlife Center (LWC).  LWC’s environmental education program has been working hard over the years to increase the understanding and awareness of conservation issues among Malawian school children.  Last year alone over 20,000 students visited the center.

Never Ending Food offered to help support this year’s activities by setting up a Permaculture display.  Never Ending Food‘s two interns, Kusala and Emmanuel, spent four days at the center helping educate the groups of students who passed through.  The Center estimated that over 1000 students from 25 schools would be in attendance for this year’s Environment Week activities.   The Permaculture display featured many of Malawi’s locally available resources for foods, natural medicines and income-generating activities, focusing on the resilience that diversity offers in the face of climate change.   There was also a PowerPoint demonstration that helped to highlight a variety of examples of how Permaculture is being used throughout the country, and throughout the world, to address current environmental and climate challenges.

A big thanks to the Lilongwe Wildlife Center for their tireless environmental efforts, and to Kusala and Emmanuel for the time and energy that they devoted to this year’s activities.  Keep up the great work everyone…We are getting there, one future leader at a time!

May 24–A Global Day of Protest Against GMOs

no-gmoThere has been a great deal of discussion lately regarding the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  What hasn’t received as much attention, however, is the question of whether we really need this technology in the first place.  When we take a moment to look at what genetic engineering is being used for in agriculture, we find that almost every instance is in response to problems that humans have created–not nature.  For instance, Bt-corn seeds have been genetically engineered with a bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), to produce a toxin which kills various larvae of insects.  According to a fact sheet from the University of Kentucky, the Bt toxin works like this: “Within minutes, the protein binds to the gut wall and the insect stops feeding. Within hours, the gut wall breaks down and normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The insect dies of septicaemia as bacteria multiply in the blood.”  This isn’t an external ‘pesticide’ that can simply be washed off; this is a property which is engineered to be inherent within the very food we are eating.  But this fact doesn’t seem to worry researchers who maintain that Bt is ‘selective’ and only affects certain living organisms.  But why would we need such a drastic approach to insect control?   The answer lies in the way that modern agricultural systems are currently devised. Farmers throughout the world have been encouraged to ‘monocrop,’ which involves a process of removing all biodiversity from their fields and only planting one specific crop.  This highly unnatural way of approaching food production creates imbalances within populations of insects, weeds, and diseases…all of which are now the target of various forms of genetic engineering.  In essence, we are trying to adapt the world’s plants and animals to cope with the unhealthy systems that we have set up.  This is not a recipe for a sustainable future.  When agricultural systems are based upon the resilient and diverse patterns of nature–which is the foundation of Permaculture–we find that many current problems disappear, along with the need to use genetic engineering.

golden-rice-gmoOne example of genetic engineering which has been getting more attention in Africa is that of ‘Golden Rice’.  This is an attempt by researchers to genetically modify a high-carbohydrate, low-nutrient food such as rice to contain Vitamin A.  Here in Malawi we face high levels of nutritional deficiencies including Vitamin A and iron.  We also have a nutritional ‘stunting’ rate which affects 47% of the nation’s children under the age of 5.  These problems, however, have nothing to do with a lack of access to genetically engineered foods, but rather with an incessant push towards the monocropped production of maize (corn).  Despite the potential for year-round and seasonal production of nutritious food crops, many local farmers have been encouraged to sacrifice nutritional diversity in favor of a once-a-year harvest of maize. Even with several consecutive years of surplus maize harvests, our malnutrition rates have remained steady.  There are literally hundreds of local foods that farmers and families could be utilizing to eliminate nutritional deficiencies, but instead we find the nation’s fields sitting in a state of ‘food deserts’ for 11 months out of the year.  There is no need, whatsoever, to put a nutrient like Vitamin A into a plant in which it does not naturally occur (whether it’s rice or maize)…Just grow and eat nutritious foods!  As we move further and further away from natural solutions, we find nations, like Malawi, setting up expensive–often donor funded–programs to fortify unhealthy foods like cooking oil and sugar with Vitamin A.  Solutions exist, but we need to stop promoting the idea that all the world’s nutrition should come from a limited handful of artificially engineered crops.

Today, May 24, Never Ending Food stands united with millions of activists from around the world who will  ’March Against Monsanto’, and all other manufacturers of GMOs, calling for a permanent boycott of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and other harmful agro-chemicals. Currently, marches will occur on six continents, in 52 countries,with events in over 400 cities. In the US, solidarity marches are slated to occur in 47 states.  We encourage everybody to join in this effort of reclaiming the world’s food supply systems in the name of common sense, integrity, health, and sustainability.

Functional Landscaping at Bambino Primary School!

Design using Google Earth map of Bambino

Design using Google Earth map of Bambino

Student's papaya trees after only a few months of growth!

Student’s papaya trees after only a few months of growth!

Bambino Primary School in Lilongwe, Malawi has been working hard to upgrade their landscaping to include better water management along with the addition of nutritious plants.  Last year the school organized a visit to Never Ending Food with about 25 of their teachers and staff members.  After the visit, they invited Kristof Nordin to the school to give a presentation on the possibility of using Permaculture practices to improve the school grounds as well as helping to improving the health and well-being of its students.  Kristof and Stacia’s daughter, Khalidwe, happens to be one of these students!

From this presentation, interest was expressed in creating a design for the school, so Kristof met weekly for over almost two months with the school’s ‘Environment and Climate Change’ Committee.  This group did several observational walks around the school grounds and discussed where changes could be made to make better use of the school’s existing resources.  They looked at better use of rainwater from the roofs of the buildings and from the rainwater gutters which surround these buildings; they discussed the potential use of ‘swale’ systems to help ‘stop, spread, sink, and shade’ all runoff rainwater, and they looked at areas where more fruit trees could be incorporated into the existing systems.

Edible Landscaping!

Edible Landscaping!

Mulching around Fruit Trees

Mulching around Fruit Trees

After the design was presented to the school’s Director and permission was granted, students began implementing some of these changes.  During the rainy season that has just come to an end, students planted trees of papayas and mangoes (both rich sources of Vitamin A, in which Malawi currently faces deficiencies).  The students also made ‘half-moon’ basins around these trees to help harvest water into the planting stations, and mulched heavily with grass clippings to minimize the need for watering during the dry season.   A super start for the school and we hope to see these efforts continue to grow into a full-scale ‘edible schoolyard’!  Keep up the great work!

6th Graders give a Wonderful Permaculture Presentation!

Permaculture Group from Bishop Mackenzie International School

Permaculture Group from Bishop Mackenzie International School

Grade 6 students from Bishop Mackenzie Intenational School (BMIS) in Lilongwe, Malawi  just spent over a month researching for a presentation on various aspects of Permaculture.  This was part of a school project in which different ‘teams’ of students were required to choose a subject, research it thoroughly, and then come up with unique ways to present their information. One of the groups chose Permaculture as their topic and turned to Never Ending Food for assistance.  The group was comprised of Tadala Mitumbili, Max Kremer, Katyanna Horvath, Mwai Gwembere, and Maya Sangala (see picture from left to right).  As part of their research, the group took a field visit to Never Ending Food to learn more about what Permaculture is and how it can be used to address some of the current problems that the world is facing.   On this visit, the students learned about the importance of nutritional diversity (by harvesting and making their own nutritious snack!), they learned about the creation of a good Permaculture Design, about the use of zones and guilds, and even about some appropriate technologies such as composting toilets, solar driers, and the making of paper briquettes for fuel.

Field Trip to Kusamala

Field Trip to Kusamala

Field Trip to Never Ending Food

Field Trip to Never Ending Food

The group also took a field visit out to the Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology where they met Never Ending Food‘s former Permaculture manager, Luwayo Biswick.  Luwayo taught them about some of the principles of Permaculture such as every element performing many functions, every function being supported by many elements, and the efficient use of energy. The group then took the information that they had gathered from their trips to Never Ending Food and Kusamala and approached the administrators at BMIS to see if they could be given an area of the school grounds to start implementing some of these ideas.  The management agreed to this idea and the students were given an area at the end of two school blocks where runoff water is channeled throughout the rainy season.  This area also contains a water tap and some pre-existing useful resources such as a bamboo grove, nitrogen fixing trees, and a few fruit trees.  As part of their planning, the students thought hard about creating the most functional and low-labor design for this area as was possible.  They decided to channel the runoff water from the water tap into a banana pit and start creating herb and vegetable beds using compost that they found where grass clippings and organic matter had been piled up.  This implementation is just the beginning of what they hope will become a school-wide effort to sustainably design every aspect of the school grounds.

Bulletin Board Display

Bulletin Board Display

Essay on Economics

Essay on Economics

3-D Design Model

3-D Design Model

Permaculture Cycle

Permaculture Cycle

Interconnections of Permaculture Systems

Interconnections of Permaculture Systems

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the student’s presentation, they created a bulletin board with pictures of their field trips, stories and essays which they had written about Permaculture, illustrated ‘webs of interconnectivity,’ and their three main lines of inquiry which were comprised of: 1.) How environments are improved through the implementation or use of Permaculture, 2.) The interconnectedness between Permaculture systems and their surroundings, and 3.) How the use of Permaculture can improve the economics of a country.  They even made a 3-dimensional models to help illustrate the use of diversified ‘guild’ systems and a PowerPoint display to highlight some of the main points of their display!

I was truly impressed, not only with the amount of time and energy that these students put into this project, but especially with the depth of understanding and insight that they demonstrated in presenting how Permaculture can be used to remedy current global challenges in economics, food security, and environmental degradation.  The whole group should be extremely proud of their efforts!  To help illustrate the ‘depth of understanding’, I leave you with a poem that one of the group members wrote for the presentation:

Permaculture Poem

By Tadala Mitumbili

Economics are bad.

We can make them better.

By doing the right thing.

We can do it altogether.

We can change the world using Permaculture.

We can assist and help each other.

We can make the world a better place.

And change it from a vast disgrace.

Permaculture can change the world.

For all of your children, both boy or girl.

We can make the world a green delight

Change it from its horrible sight.

Altogether we can unite.

We can make a garden, a beautiful sight.

But as is said, everything is useless by itself.

So let’s give the world some Permaculture help.

Congrats to our Interns!

Howard and Hardwell

Howard and Hardwell

Functional Landscaping

Functional Landscaping

Beautiful 'guild' systems

Beautiful ‘guild’ systems

Perennial foods and natural medicines

Foods and Medicines

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of Never Ending Food’s interns, Howard Zamula and Hardwell Kaniye, are now full-time members of the Lilongwe Wildlife Center’s Education team!  Their knowledge of Permaculture is bringing new perspectives to the type of education which the Center is able to offer to the thousands of visitors that it gets annually.  Howard and Hardwell have also been working for quite some time to help the Center with the design and implementation of their ‘functional landscaping’.   The results of their work are already paying off and helping to transition the Center into a seasonal demonstration of local foods, natural medicines, and perennial systems which provide essential habitat for wildlife.  We are very proud to see these two working hard to use their Permaculture skills to make a living while at the same time helping to create a more sustainable Malawi.  Keep up the great work guys!