Final preparations for the Permaculture Design Course!

The Permaculture Design Course is starting this week, and it doesn’t feel real. Even though the work we have been doing has been in preparation for the course and convergence it still feels like we are just going to keep on doing what we are doing. This week has been about preparations out of the garden; sorting beds for 50 people, cleaning the school and the site, washing everything in the rooms, ensuring there is enough water, fruit and other foods for the UK teams arrival and then welcoming the UK team onto site.

With Jagwe’s help we replaced the nursery bed shade, replacing the heavier more useful papyrus with reed matting which will provide a more even coverage over the nursery. We climbed up the rickety ladder that gets smaller and smaller as it goes up, and is balanced precariously against the nursery structure. Grace and I finished the job when Jagwe had left Sabina, fighting against ants that had moved into the reeds while they were being stored.

 

 

With some help from the students Grace has been working on removing the lemon growth from the orange trees in the food forest. The roots of the lemon tree is stronger than the orange and so the two are grafted together but without proper management the stronger lemon growth fights through the oranges. Jagwe observed that the trees were diseased which made us aware of how important it was for us to work on the trees.

The UK team have arrived with energy, ideas and projects of their own which is making everything seem so much busier around the site. Richie is working on 407 projects all at once, building a beehive is his own personal project which he is doing around all the other woodwork that has been needed doing for weeks. The library has been painted, creating a brilliant white wall to be projected onto during the course for the big presentations . Han and I are working on making signs to put up around the site helping the participants navigate the grounds as well as making the site seem like an event space rather than just a school site. Helen and Charles have been able to work together to make plans for the Convergence, it has been great to get the team together so people are no longer just familiar names and email addresses.

Dan has been working on making an estoufa finca (with Luigi’s help) which is a wood paralysis stove that burns from the top and cooks the wood below releasing the wood gasses and water vapour, little or no smoke is produced once it’s got going. When fully going it burns at 800 degrees c. Most people in Uganda live cooking on wood, the population is set to double in the next couple of decades and in the last couple of decades the forests have halves. Burning wood on the ground is at best 25% efficient and so there is a huge potential in exploring fuel efficient stoves.

A few days after the first load of UK team members the rest of the team arrived. Now as a complete team we can focus on the course in more detail, everyone is helping each other prepare lesson plans and presentations. If there’s anything that someone on the teaching team is unsure about with everyone who’s here, there will be someone who they can ask.

With more mouths to feed, we have had to change what we eat in order to be able to cater for so many people all at once. Aunty Agnes taught us how to make Chapattis which have been a staple ever since Richie perfected the art. Thankfully we collected enough avocados before the team arrived and so we aren’t missing our daily 3 avocado intake. It’s nice to share each meal with so many people, going from just the three of us who would eat together daily to more than five times that number now that the team has expanded. It’s a bigger affair with more people to get to know and more inspiring minds with a bigger range of conversations to be had. 

With participants arriving today and the course starting tomorrow everyone is working hard in the hot African sun trying to get themselves and the site ready. It’s very exciting how massive the course and convergence are to permaculture in East Africa. Hopefully this is just the beginning of something bigger than any of us can imagine.

Not long to go!

As we are getting closer and closer to the permaculture design course there seems to be more and more work to be done. This week Charles has been in Kampala sourcing beds, bedding and basins for the course, Grace has been talking to him daily trying to sort out the logistics and prices for everything we need to make this course a success.

Here at Sabina we have been transplanting everywhere, but there are still so many beds to fill! The rains have been forcing us to halt our work again, the rainy season is coming to an end and so we have to be thankful for the growth the rain has helped us to achieve in such a short space of time. We have been heavily mulching the beds before we transplant into them in order to keep the weeds under control. It has made the task longer as we plant but in the long term it has meant that we are not worried about weeding every other day. Yesterday, we bought 1kg it ginger from Sanje market which we will be planting today in the hopes of having an example that we can replicate during the course.

With the rest of the UK team joining us in the coming week we are super excited for everyone to see what an incredible place Uganda, and especially Sabina school, is. We are preparing the site for them and are looking forward to having those extra hands ready to help in the days leading up to the course in order to make the site extra ready.

As the UK team arrive, the pupils of Sabina school are heading home for the holidays. Today the majority of the children we have gotten so used to seeing every where are heading home to their families. Some of the older students will be returning in a week or so to study over the holidays but I’m imagining the school site will be feeling very empty without them for a few days.

Its been great having all the children around while we have been here, as it’s their school and I’m amazed by their willingness and want to work, getting involved in every project we are doing. Not only in their permaculture lessons but in their free time too. Maria has been an especially consistent shadow to Grace, cheekily following her around as she works, chattering away in Lugandan patiently repeating herself until she is satisfied that Grace has understood what she is saying.

Over the weekend Grace, Luigi and I left the site for two nights to celebrate Grace’s birthday on the Saturday. We were deciding between two lakes, Lake Mbara and Nabugabo sand beach and in the end we decided to visit the closer of the two as we didn’t like spending all day on a Matatu. We definitely made the right decision, we had the run of a campsite right on the lakes edge where monkeys were the only other guests. We woke up on the Saturday morning to the most incredible sunrise and the whole day we were blessed by glorious weather. We swam in the lake and when we got tired we could dry off reading in the sun. On the Sunday the weather was a contrast, it rained really heavily and we were forced to seek refuge in the restaurant playing cards and learning how to play pool. It was nice to be able to relax together, so we don’t just have a work relationship and we were able to chat about things other than weeding, plants and the permaculture design course.

Jagwe has returned to Sabina for a few days and he is working on upright sack planting, a type of vertical planting used in urban permaculture to save on space. The idea is to keep the sacks strong and in place using a stone tower as a central pillar which also helps with water filtration throughout the sacks. He has been planting into the sides and top of the sack, in the sides he is planting light, leafy vegetables such as kale, pak choi, spinach and into the top the fruiting, heavier vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes or passions running from the sack to a post. He is using compost and we’ll balanced soil in order to secure adequate nutrients for the plants.

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.

 

Each week here at Sabina is very different, and it helps keep the monotonous tasks interesting. This week we have lots of people around the site helping us out. First Charles came back from Kampala, then (while he and I visited another primary school that he’s hoping to create links with) Gerald Jagwe joined us at Sabina. Later that night Luigi returned from Fort Portal. On the Saturday we had the help of 6 local workers who helped us to reshape the Mandela garden into beds ready for us to plant into. There have been more people around the site which has been a great energy lift and it has made everything move along so much quicker.

Due to the fact that we have such a big team that stays here at Sabina, we have been able to also leave the school to make visits elsewhere. On Wednesday Charles and I went by Matatu and BodaBoda to Alpha and Omega school just outside Kalisizo where we were shown all around the school and we saw the crops they were attempting to grow in order to supplement the children’s diets. We were given a huge welcome by all of the children where they sang and danced for us before Charles spoke to them and invited the head teacher to the convergence.

On Thursday Grace and Charles went to Masaka in order to cordially invite the local member of parliament, the regional education minister and the district chairman to open and close the Permaculture Design Course in May. They also were able to buy all of the things we have been unable to get in Sanje.

In just one day Charles, KB and a group of children managed to build us a new shower that we really needed- it means we no longer have to bucket wash! The team worked really hard to finish the project in a matter of hours. It is a really a very peaceful feeling to use this shower at night as the moon has been getting bigger and so there has been enough light to shower without torches! 

 

 

Tom has been working further on a permanent toilet structure that will have removable buckets underneath. The idea is to dry the waste and use it as a fertiliser in the gardens in the future. Tom has been trying to make the structure with completely natural resources but has had to resort to using other materials in some places to better suit the structures function. We will have two latrines, one squat and one seated which will be accessed by steps enabling us to get to the buckets underneath the base easily.

Fencing has been put up all around Sabina site, it encourages the children to avoid walking on the plants and instead to use the pathways. The school children have also found a use for them, so, not only have we created boarders for the gardens but also the school now has extra space to spread their clothes after washing them.

One of the big changes we have made to the site this week has been re-landscaping the Mandela Garden which is just outside the kitchens. We had a group of workers come in to dig the beds and since then we have been sewing and planting into it with all sorts of vegetables that the kitchens will have easy access to once they have grown.

Last week we mixed together some comfrey, chicken droppings and water to create a fertiliser tea, we stirred a few times over the week and it’s beginning to get nice and smelly! The kids can’t believe that something so foul smelling will be so helpful in the garden.

After the rapid growth of the seeds we planted, we have begun transplanting them into the newly dug beds. The cabbages, chard, tomatoes, peppers, onions and kale have been especially successful in their growth and so we have been trying to dodge the intense heat to transplant them with the best chances of survival. The peas have been shooting up getting bigger and bigger everyday, we ventured into Sanje and purchased some local beans from a shop there which we have sewn this week and hopefully they will begin to show in the coming week.

The weather here at Sabina is very changeable, if in the morning it is really hot then it’s almost guaranteed to rain in the afternoon and vice versa. We have had some ridiculously hot days where everyone has to stop working outside and also torrential rainstorms which again disrupt our work schedules.

Welcome To Sabina Home

Week 1

 

On Tuesday the 27th March, we left Wales and made our way to Manchester Airport, our first point of call, after one short flight we geared ourselves up for 10 hours on an uncomfortable airplane seat and some unsatisfying sleep. We touched down in Entebbe (Uganda) late on Tuesday night and as soon as they opened the airplane doors we were hit by a strong humid blast of Ugandan air!

Charles met us at the airport with a big smile, on our ride to our hostel in Kampala we were brought up to date on all the business affairs and we discussed a plan of action. When we finally got to bed it was past 3 am and we hadn’t had a decent sleep for about 48 hours! 

 

We spent the next couple of days around Kampala, getting used to the heat and planning our trip to Sabina School. We watched as Kampala buzzed about us, with all the Boda Boda’s weaving in and out of the traffic and people selling their goods on the street sides. 

 

On Thursday afternoon we left Kampala for Sanje,  Charles went on ahead to sort the Taxi because if the drivers saw a Mzungu we would be charged high prices. We loaded all of 

our possessions onto the top of the bus and climbed aboard. As soon as the bus was full we set off on our way South on the road towards Tanzania.

 

 

 

We arrived at Sabina School late in the evening where a group of children came to meet us from the bus and helped carry our luggage to our new home, the Banda. We have been working on the site at Sabina School since, getting to know the children and the land. 

 

 

We visited some projects of a local man in the Rakai District who farmed two areas in a town between Sanje and Masaka. We toured around his land and marvelled at his coffee plantation, jackfruit trees and aubergine plants. We went on to his 25 acre plot of land where he was growing oranges and mangoes with great success and kept pigs in order to use their manure to enrich his soil. He told us about his hopes to build an animal sanctuary and further develop his produce, creating a seed bank for the local community. 

 

 

At the school itself we have been working on building up compost heaps around the grounds with natural resources from the school site as well recycled papers from the school buildings. Grace has began creating a nursery for seedlings with Luigi’s help and Charles planting orange and mango trees as well as improving the layout of the beds and gardens. 

As it’s Easter weekend, the school only has a few children around but everyone who has stayed for the weekend has been getting involved with our projects. Learning about growing and compost with Grace and a few of them are picking up how to use a camera with me, with Charles they are learning how to make structures and helping to clear the space for beds to be made. As the future generation of Uganda and the school they are vital assets to our work here at Sabina. 

 

For Easter Sunday, there was a football match between local sides at the school that had a huge turn out just before the sunset. We have gotten used to our new way of living, eating delicious fruits and I have been discovering lots of the Ugandan foods.

 

 

One thing we were concerned about was our access to clean drinking water, and we didn’t want to be buying bottled water everyday and produce loads of waste. Thankfully when we were in Kampala we so

urced a water filter from a market and carried it with us to Sabina, the water is filtered by using a clay pot with holes made by sawdust that has been burnt out of it creating holes for the water to filter through and we now have safe drinking water at hand. 

Yesterday we got electricity in our Banda and now we can use lights at night and charge our phones. 

 

 

 

 

After just one week in Uganda I am already starting to feel at home, thanks to the kindest of people and the welcome they have given us. 

Revisiting permaculture ethics

Permaculture ethics, that’s easy right? Earth-care, People-care Fair share.. everyone knows the mantra, but do we remember what these things actually mean when we recite them parrot fashion?

Recently I have seen on-line chat suggested they should be updated, improved if you will, the suggestion is that of Future-care being floated as an alternative to the Fair-share – which was always a bit lacking and the least understood of the three. But no Future-care really doesn’t do it for me and its inclusion would greatly impoverish the ethics model.

Let us re-trace our footsteps a bit here and roll things back the 1992 and the Rio Earth summit when the ‘S’ word entered the lexicon in a much bigger way than it had ever been used before. Sustainability, they told us is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Ok so far so good, then Toby Hemenway in his lecture, ‘How permaculture can save the world but not civilisation’ pointed out that the definition is lacking in that it fails to define what a need actually is and come to that, why are we putting meeting the needs of the present before that of the future? What is a need? Do you really need that cappuccino or another pair of shoes, when it comes to it, who gets to define what a need is? One man’s need is another man’s indulgence.

If we are not careful we are back in the finger wagging judgemental territory most criticised of environmentalists who seem to want to tell everyone else what to do whilst at the same time alienating the vast majority of the population. Telling people they can’t have the stuff they feel they need or deserve or holding one’s own virtuous lifestyle up as some master template has yet to win over the masses.

The ‘S’ word is fraught with difficulty and within a few short years of Rio we have governmental ministers talking about ‘sustainable growth the car industry’ or ‘sustainable economic growth’ or various other oxymoron’s, the word rapidly lost its meaning being hi-jacked left, right and centre to represent a vast swathe of viewpoints.

Back to the drawing board then. Actually before we ditch the ‘S’ word entirely it has something of immense value to offer us and this emerged in the mid 90’s with the idea of the triple bottom line in business. This was environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. Sustainability is a three-legged stool is the metaphor and it needs all three to stand up. Yes to environment and society but what if we can’t afford it? How can we pursue goals that fail to endure economically? Somewhere in this lies the key to understanding the permaculture ethics especially the much maligned third ethic of fair-Shares.

Full disclosure, I studied economics, not in its pure theory but within the context of sustainable development (yes that tricky ‘S’ word again) I studied economics and ecology at the same time and I have always understood that permaculture lies at the intersection of these two disciplines. Economics is about how we meet needs from available resources, ecology is about who we access those resources within an understanding of the mechanism of the living biosphere of which we are all a part. So balancing the needs of people and those of the planet; the earth and people care prospectively is the origin of the first two ethics. I think everyone gets that, some go further and say screw people, the planet comes first but that is a hard sell in today’s consumer paradise, I think most people are with us on the People and Planet aspiration but the key question as ever is how do we achieve this finely balanced mix.

This is where the third ethic comes in to play and I strongly believe it is the key one.. you can take the first two ethics as read.. I really want to drill down into what this tricky third one is all about.

Yes it is about economics, it is about choices, it is about priorities and the ‘Fair-share’ epithet doesn’t do it for me. It is a handy menomic for sure but it fails to convey meaning and sounds dangerously like a naïve socialist doctrine, leaving us once again with the challenge of who gets to decide what is fair exactly?

Bil Mollison never explained it that way anyway, fair-share was a late arrival, an upstart if you will, one that could have come from a branding agency. The real meat on this bone is about setting limits to consumption, yes my friends at the heart of permaculture is the most radical idea of all, that there is such a thing as enough. In a world where consumerism is touted as an end in itself and conspicuous consumption is worn on the sleeve one might be forgiven for forgetting the setting limits to consumption bit, I guess this equates to fair-shares but still it goes so much deeper.

David Holmgren can help us here, I refer you to principles three and four of his set of twelve. Principle four being about setting limits and three is about meeting needs, obtain a yield, ‘You can’t work on an empty stomach’. It is not in any way selfish to meet ones own needs, in fact it is essential, without breakfast you are no good to anyone, and can’t do a full day’s work. Anyone who has been on an airplane knows that in the safety demo they always tell you.. ’in the unlikely event of the cabin de-pressurizing an oxygen mask will descend, take care to put yours on first before assisting others’. There you have it, you might be a great altruist with only your fellow passengers’ concerns at heart, but at the moment you go blue in the face and pass out you are no good to anyone, in fact you are now a burden to those around you. Meeting one’s own needs first is the first rule of survival for all. It is not selfish it is self empowering.

So with these ethics I would also argue we actually put them the wrong way round, from a permaculture perspective the process of empowerment and enabling positive change begins with meetings one’s own needs, whilst ensuring there is still a surplus for investment. This reinvestment of surplus turns out to be the key, the thing and most likely to be overlooked. The reinvestment of surplus is the how, it is the mechanism that empowers us to achieve the people and planet aspiration.

The rule is you meet your own needs, settling limits and realising there is such a thing as a enough.. only you know what is enough for yourself and this should and can be constantly re-evaluated. Where we set the line for cappuccinos or shoes is a personal choice and no one should be telling us as individuals what to do. However we need to know that if we go into deficit meeting our supposed needs we will never have the faintest chance of being sustainable or doing permaculture effectively.

Sustainability is the meeting of core needs whilst retaining a surplus for reinvestment back in the system. What we do with surplus is what defines us. I argue in my public speaking and teaching that what you choose to do with that bit left over after survival is the key decision each and everyone of us makes. Reinvestment of surplus in social and ecological ends guarantees a world of constant improvement, an expansion of possibilities, sticking it away in the Cayman Islands for some possible rainy day is the thing that drains the life blood of any system and constantly impoverishes it.

We were chatting about this on Facebook recently and someone asked what if there is no surplus? Then of course the preconditions for sustainability in this case are not being met and changes have to be made, this rule holds true for all. If there is no surplus then changes must be made and a redesigning is in order.

I am an enthusiastic advocate of co-operatives, they are vastly superior to a PLC and I will tell you why. PLC’s are owned by shareholders who appoint directors to maximise the return on investment. Profits are siphoned out of the company to channel towards personal ends, tax havens and consumerist endeavours. Co-operatives exist to benefit their customers, users and  members and any surplus is used to reward loyalty and is reinvested in the co-operative so that it can continue to benefit its stakeholders. Co-ops reinvest surplus, PLCs extract it and put it elsewhere.

This is the key difference and this is why to my mind Bill Mollison is absolutely right to state the ethics are.. set limits to consumption and reinvest surplus, for the enablement and betterment of other people, society and planet ie.  people care and the environment.

Put simply as an example I live in a housing cooperative, we set our rent at a level that covers our bills and responsibilities and returns a small surplus we can spend on improving the environmental performance of our home, insulation, heating etc. and allowing us to choose socially responsible alternatives for our food, services etc. So I am sorry if it does not scan as well, or make a great t-shirt but these are and will forever be the permaculture ethics.. saying future-care.. as I have seen proposed tells us nothing, it is already covered by the first two anyway.

The third ethic gives us the mechanism by which to achieve our ambitions of not just sustainability but regeneration and genuinely sustainable growth; one that builds soil, stores water and nutrients and protects and enhances biodiversity, the very tools we need to sustain our own needs.

 

World on fire – time to send the fire brigade

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Is it Portugal, Spain, California? Right now it feels that the parts of the World not under water are on fire.

How many super-storms does it take before we notice something deeply terrifying is happening?

There is a shit storm of consequences coming our way and precious little we can do about it sat home on the sofa. We have 30 years of change before us and the sooner we start the better. I think a great many people are now feeling an increasing sense of alarm as the symptoms of the climate crisis present themselves with increasing regularity.

This is what J H Kunstler calls a clusterfuck.

  • Un-seasonal weather, cycles of deluge and drought stress the forests and create conditions where whole landscapes become vulnerable to outside forces.
  • Austerity strapped authorities cut back on essential maintenance and services, staff and resources are trimmed from budgets.
  • Hurricane and gales of a ferocity never seen before sweep in, turbo-charged by the extra warm oceans, reaching areas never before exposed to such forces.
  • Be it  the firestorm that just engulfed central Portugal or the deluge that drowned Houston or the ferocious winds that destroyed whole island nations such as Puerto Rico the scene is set for catastrophe.

We have to learn to think and plan differently.

We will need to realise that authorities and services will not be there if they are not invested in and trained for new challenges. Time and time again we see essential services breaking down or overloaded when these events happen, consequently the first thing we need to prepare our selves for is partial or temporary systems collapse.

The key word is RESILIENCE, community resilience is our first line of defense to help us overcome whatever catastrophes might be waiting for us.

Tesco’s distribution center might get carpet bombed by the Taliban, three feet of snow may cover the nation for a month or maybe a freeze so hard every pipe bursts – we don’t know where the next challenge might come from. In a world where we are not much more than three meals away from social breakdown, the just in time delivery model of the highly specialized modern world does not stand up well to external shocks.

How do you create clean drinking water or cook from basics? How long can we live without power or internet? Could we manage for long without proper sanitation? How long would it take us to re-create a more local food economy? Addressing these and a great many more issues through, training, skills sharing and innovation is becoming an imperative.

Puerto Ricans are being told it might be a year before normal service is resumed, what if another super-storm happens along in the mean time?

The world is not having a run of bad luck, it has entered a new reality; a climate changed reality where extreme weather events not only become more common but they join together to create monster catastrophes that we might struggle to ever fully recover from.

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What comes next? Ecological development

Yes we have to organise to build resilience from the ground up but we also need to pursue a new long-term strategy. Lets call it ecological development for now. China have already embraced this model; recognising that development has to compliment and enhance the living world not just be slightly less damaging than before. This really is new thinking for a government and they are dead serious about it as well.

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Cities that can capture CO2 and clean the air, whilst providing water filtration and wildlife habitat, food and waste processing.

We call that Permaculture design

Shiny new green cities aside, as sexy as they are may not be the full solution. Most of our cities are already built, sub-urbs too and the greater challenge is to redesign and re-purpose the resources we already have invested in.

There isn’t a simple solution but we need to find a consensus of what is happening to us and use that to formulate a bigger plan. Here at Sector39 we are looking for the teachers, leaders, innovators and change makers who can help create new options and build that consensus.

We have been teaching and demonstrating permaculture in many ways since 1990’s and much of that experience has been channeled into our ground breaking courses.

Our PDC is ground breaking and life changing, bringing together teachers and practitioners, projects and enterprises. We keep our charges as low as possible and offer a life changing experience that for many is the start of a new direction in their own lives.

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We would love to hear from you if you are interested in being part of this course. Together we can build a new reality and create new possibilities.

Chester dues

Permaculture at the Cathedral. Fascinating evening in Chester last night and hopefully laying the ground for our next permaculture design course with our partners at the Cathedral.

Surely the church could be leading the way in the fight against the on going impacts of climate change with its ability to mobilise a great many people and resources. I for one would welcome the sight of key institutions moving in the direction of promoting climate change mitigation and adaption  as a strategic priority. We are unprepared for the many changes climate change adaption will bring as well as the economic shocks that will accompany it. Can the church find itself a key role at the heart of re-energized and resilient climate ready community?

At the same time the Cathedral is hosting a major art exhibition including works by Damien Hirst, resulting in a striking visual impact. (pics by Lachlan Mckenzie). To my eyes the golden calf, the focus of false adulation in Old Testament times powerfully represents the false gods of consumerism and distraction we now worship so readily!

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Permaculture Academy, investing in resilience

We are a coalition of 3 enterprises, developing permaculture ducation through a Wales/ Uganda/ Kenya mutual support link.

  • Sector39
    Permaculture design and education Wales
  • BEU permaculture
    Broadfield Enterprises Uganda – facilitation & training
  • PRI-UG
    Permaculture Research Opportunity of Uganda.

We need your input, involvement and help. Together we are forming a Permaculture Academy and planning for an East Africa PDC and Convergence in May 2018.

We recognize the amazing value and potential for permaculture education in East Africa and need your help to realize it!!

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PDCUG18 will be at Sabina school, celebrating 10 years of permaculture with East Africa’s first permaculture convergence