We can’t eat right if we don’t grow right. During this time of a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to keep our immune systems healthy through good nutrition. Unfortunately, too many people in Malawi are so focused on getting one harvest of maize that they miss the fact that we can be having access to diversified and highly-nutritious foods throughout the year. All these pictures were taken on the same day (Aug. 11). The picture on the left is what a typical maize field looks like this time of the year and, in terms of food, is yielding NOTHING. The pictures on the right were taken at Never Ending Food in Chitedze, Malawi (about 50 meters from the neglected field) and show foods which are being produced without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, with minimal effort, in the middle of Malawi’s dry season, such as: bananas, oranges, white sapote, peppers, tree tomatoes, tangerines, coco yams (taro), lima beans, monkey oranges, rabbits, ducks, monkey bread, hibiscus, figs, plantain, oxalis, sweet potatoes, lemons, amaranth, air potatoes, chickens, and open-pollinated maize being saved for next-year’s planting. Solutions definitely do exist!
Co-Founder of Never Ending Food, Stacia Nordin, was recently featured on the Soul Soil Podcast entitled: “Permaculture in the Developing World.” The full podcast can be found here and the following is a write-up from the Soul Soil website: “In today’s episode, Stacia Nordin shares her experiences assisting the Malawian government with food insecurity and nutrition through a permaculture lens. The open-door policy at her education center/homestead located in a village near the capital is real-world demonstration of the Garden of Eden Malawi can actually be.
Stacia Nordin is a Registered Dietitian working on issues of environment, agriculture, food systems and healthy living for optimal nutrition. With a background in nutrition education in the States and Jamaica, she and her husband moved to Malawi in 1997, where they still live and work today. Stacia has studied hundreds of locally available foods, which she and her family have collected, multiplied around their home and shared. Working with World Food Programme Malawi, she compiled a Sustainable Nutrition manual, which is used in homes, schools and churches around the country. Stacia has worked with the Malawi Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Agriculture on Nutrition, Food and Agriculture projects and programs. She is now on a 5-year USAID Feed the Future project led by University of Illinois to support Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen Agricultural Extension Systems for improving income, food security and nutrition.
To realize the vision of a just and equitable world, we need to make the shift to systems thinking…thinking in cycles…while valuing the land and all of its people.”
Never Ending Food was recently honored to host a visit from the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Malawi, Robert Scott, and his wife Anne. The couple arrived in August of this last year, along with their twin children, Jennifer and Nicholas, and have been using their weekends to travel around Malawi to help gain an understanding of Malawi’s people, culture, and development projects.
During their visit, the Scotts expressed a sincere interest in getting to know more about Malawi’s traditional food crops and what they could be growing and utilizing to improve their own family’s nutrition. Due to the fact that we’ve been able to establish over 200 foods at Never Ending Food, we were able to use this opportunity to advocate for the promotion of crop diversity and to demonstrate how rich Malawi is in natural resources; resources which could be easily used to bring an end to things like food insecurity, malnutrition, and ‘hungry seasons.’
We were also able to demonstrate a wide range of agroecological technologies, which could help Malawi to create a more economic, sustainable, and resilient future. Some of these practices which were are able to showcase included: organic farming, composting toilets, rainwater harvesting, ecosystem restoration, local seed saving, sustainable architecture, renewable energies, solar drying, rammed-earth building, fish farming, mulching, agroforestry, and more. We hope that many of these ideas will find their way into into the national discussion regarding Malawi’s development goals. A big thank you to the Scotts for taking time out of their busy schedule to visit us, and we wish them all the best in their time here in Malawi!
The Permaculture Paradise Institute, located near Mchinji, Malawi is a shining example of Malawi’s bright future! The institute was established in 2017 by Luwayo Biswick, along with his wife, Grace. Both of them are certified in Permaculture Design, and recently Luwayo received his Diploma in Permaculture Design from Gaia University. I had the privilege this month of visiting this jaw-dropping example of Permaculture in action, along with my daughter, Khalidwe, and two Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. All of us were blown away by what we saw!
We first met Luwayo over a decade ago, when he became an intern at Never Ending Food and later became our Permaculture Manager for a couple of years. After leaving Never Ending Food in 2012, Luwayo became the lead Permaculture Trainer at the Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology, where he facilitated Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs) and conducted community outreach. In 2017, he and his wife, Grace, bought a 16-acre plot of land where they began to develop their own Permaculture Training Institute. In just two short years, they have managed to transform a deforested and infertile piece of land into an incredibly productive–and incredibly profitable–Permaculture demonstration with year-round access to almost 300 highly-nutritious foods. They now run annual Introduction-to-Permaculture courses in local language, host interns from Malawi’s agricultural colleges, and receive visitors from all over the world. They have a team of people who use sustainable building techniques–like rammed earth–to create outdoor classrooms and self-contained lodging (complete with composting toilets and solar-powered refrigerators), and they even have a carpentry team who make solar-driers, composting toilet boxes, and bee hives.
Their own personal house is an example of sustainable building, having been created from rammed earth in a honeycomb design. All grey water from the house is channeled into productive food production areas and their toilet is also a fantastic example of ecological sanitation (ecosan) composting. Large solar panels on the roof provide them with lights, electricity, and power major appliances like a refrigerator and washing machine. Kitchen scraps go straight into a worm farm, and they have even set up a bio-gas digestor to harvest methane for cooking.
They use their solar drier to process fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and other products for sale. The amount of income-generating activities happening on site is staggering. In just two years, they have managed to produce thousands of kilograms of dryland rice (a crop which is unique to their area, as most rice in Malawi is produced in the north and east of the country). This has allowed them to tap into previously untapped markets in their area. They have planted thousands of trees (e.g. avocados, bananas, mangoes, mahogany, etc.) which will be yielding even more profit in the years to come. The morning we had arrived for our visit–at the very end of the dry season as many in Malawi are beginning to move into the ‘hungry season‘–they harvested over 1000 kilograms of cassava. Luwayo told us that when they first started implementing on the site, they were able to turn 5,000 kwacha worth of lemon grass into a one-million kwacha profit. In a country where many people see farming as a less-than-profitable endeavor, Luwayo and his wife are proving that Permaculture leads to abundance, and abundance leads to profit.
During our tour with Luwayo, we saw all sorts of brilliant design ideas. Water harvesting from the roof all drains into fish ponds; animal areas, which enclose goats, turkeys, ducks, and guinea fowl are being enclosed with live-fencing; natural trees are being allowed to regenerate, providing fruits, building supplies, medicines, and fuel; integrated cropping systems yield continuous harvests throughout the year; and so much more! If everyone in Malawi were learning from their example and willing to implement similar solutions in their own lives, we could bring an end to things like poverty, malnutrition, and hungry seasons within just a year or two; while at the same time creating climate-smart systems which are extremely resilient in the face of climate change. Solutions exist and people who are implementing those solutions, like Luwayo and Grace, also exist! Let’s all commit to making sustainable changes in our own lives. Keep up the great work Biswick family and thank you for the inspiration!
As the dry season comes to an end in Malawi, and people are beginning to look forward to the beginning of the rains, we need to start asking ourselves, “Where’s the food?” Due to the fact that the majority of agricultural policies in the country are focused primarily on the monocropping of maize (corn), this has created a situation where many farmers try to harvest a year’s worth of food in one month. When the rainy season begins, people plant their maize seeds. These seeds, however, take several months to mature into food. During the most agriculturally productive time of the year–the rainy season–many families find their maize yields from the previous season running short while they wait for harvest time to arrive in April or May. This has led to the creation of chronic ‘hungry seasons‘ and unacceptable levels of malnutrition as people over-rely on a single staple crop to provide the bulk of their nutrients. When harvest time comes around, everything is removed from the fields, crop residue is burned, and the soil is left barren and exposed to the sun until the next rainy season. In essence, the majority of fields in Malawi are not producing food for about 11 months out of the year.
Permaculture reverses this situation by encouraging the implementation of design systems which provide perennial, year-round, and daily access to diversified and highly-nutritious foods. Permaculture helps families save money by reducing the dependency on expensive agricultural inputs (e.g. synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and commercial seeds). It also helps people reduce their need to spend money on things like firewood, building supplies, natural medicines, and market commodities. When money is saved, it can be reinvested into making life better for people. Diversification also leads to increased access to income generation through food processing, diversified markets, and unique product ideas. Malawi is blessed with a tropical climate, where plants and animals can thrive for 12 months out of the year, even without the need for expensive irrigation systems. The pictures displayed above show the results of two different systems. The top pictures are what many people’s homes and fields look like at the current moment. They are dry, barren, neglected, and unproductive. The bottom pictures were all taken this morning (November 14, 2019) here at Never Ending Food and show some of the amazing natural resources that we currently have at our disposal. Fruits, vegetables, animals and animal products, spices, tree nurseries, etc. Many of these things (like the mangoes, oranges, lemons, figs, and bananas) are perennial crops which do not require any additional irrigation on our part. Others, like the container gardens, only require minimal watering which can often be maintained with grey water from household use. Solutions exist, but those solutions depend upon finding people with a desire to change and a vision for a brighter future!