In 2009/2010 I had the opportunity make a journey to Southern Africa, go to the International Permaculture Convergence, visit some amazing permaculture projects and even to do some work with one of them. I was enormously inspired by the potential for permaculture in Africa where problems of food security are so urgent,  but also cautious. It seemed to me that played right, with a deep and profound respect for indigenous knowledge and customs and an understanding of the need for the voices of the African communities themselves to be heard, permaculture has the potential to provide food security and create sustainable and healthy communities. It can even, as was the case in Chikukwa in Zimbabwe, have the effect of reinforcing traditional knowledge and bringing back a belief in the value that it brings to the community. But it was also incredibly clear to me that it can just as easily become just another ‘white man’s method’ and hence rejected because of it.

In December 2009 and January 2010 I assisted trainings on Applied Permaculture Province in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The Training programme stretches over a year and is part of the Marginalized Community Action Plan, run by AFRISTAR Foundation in South Africa, aiming to provide marginalized communities with tools to create food security and sustainable communities. This specific training was aimed at Venda, Sipedi and Tsonga communities in the area. The course aimed to train community facilitators who could support their communities in working towards healthier, food secure, and more sustainable communities.

The first training session covered an overview of permaculture design with basemaps, zone’s and sectors and placement of elements as well as a very interesting discussion on health, nutrition and genentically modified seeds and foods, generated by watching the film ‘The Future of Food”. The second training week was an in depth view on water and water conservation techniques. Most of these communities live in areas that are painfully dry, planting on slopes that each year suffer more soil erosion. Clean water provision by the government is often non existent and most communities have to buy their water from the one person with a well in the community.

My main work in these training was to provide assistance to the main facilitator on the Permaculture education as well as helping to work on issues around inclusion and participation. The group was a diverse group with many different languages spoken and many participants hardly literate. By devising creative and participatory teaching modules we managed to encourage those lacking in confidence to come forward and enabled more voices to be heard. The change was especially notable amongst the women, many of whom struggled with reading and writing and had very little self-conficence in their own capacity. Towards the end of the workshops a greater sense of group cohesion, trust and respect was established and the group was inspired about the changes they wanted to achieve in their communities and more confident in their own capacity and knowledge.

More information on AFRISTAR Foundation can be found here: http://www.afristar.org.za/

Working hard on clearing for the swale

Presenting water design

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