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!

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!