In May 2012 we ran a PDC at Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge on which we trained four local teachers, along with other participants, two from each of two local schools in Konso, South Ethiopia, where we are based. The selected teachers from the two schools, Konso Secondary and Jarso Primary, are science teachers responsible for the schools’ environmental clubs. During the training they produced permaculture designs for their school compounds, which they have gone on to begin implementing with their school communities.
The training, as well as a 6 month post-training, implementation, monitoring and evaluation program is supported by the UK-based Ethiopia Permaculture Foundation.
We also had a great opportunity to add extra impetus to the implementation in these two schools this July as we had three summer expedition school groups from the UK sent to us by World Challenge. World challenge asked us to design a 9-day program for their groups which would include:
- a 1-day introduction to permaculture for the group
- a 4-day volunteer project in a local school
- a 3-day trek around Konso to visit the local villages, experience local cultural activities and experience the everyday life of the Konso community.
Brilliant! With design plans for the schools already laid out by the teachers we had trained in May we had a chance to start implementing according to the school’s own plans.
The volunteer program was designed for the three groups, one from Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Warsall, who volunteered in Jarso Primary School and two groups from King Edwards, Lichfield, who volunteered in Konso Secondary School and Jarso Primary respectively. The groups worked alongside local community members on the implementation, although, since it was the summer holidays, the environmental club members were mostly not available to work on the implementation with them. Hence the real benefit of doing the work was to get things going on the ground, provide examples of the work which can be scaled up by the environmental clubs once they return to school in September. All of the materials used were affordable and locally available.
Day 1: Clay pot garden and compost heap
Clay Pot Garden
The clay pot garden is a technique combining raised beds with a technique used traditionally in some arid areas of the world to economise effectively on irrigation water. It is a Zone 1 system designed to make efficient use of water for growing annual vegetables in an arid climate. Un-glazed clay pots are porous and water will slowly seep through the clay to the surface of the pot to slowly irrigate without water loss. If the pot is above ground, the evaporation of this water from the surface of the pot will cool it down, which is a technique used to cool water in many parts of the world. However, if the pot is buried in the ground the water will soak into the surrounding soil and can be accessed by plant roots if they are growing around the pot.
The water seeps out of the pot over the course of a week or two, depending on the soil type, ambient moisture, temperature, etc. The slow release of water will maintain an area of increased soil moisture around the pot as long as there is water inside, meaning watering needs to be done far less frequently than in a conventional vegetable bed which will need at least daily irrigation.
However there are still some inefficiencies in this system. Firstly, as the water level falls in the pot the water becomes less accessible to shallow-rooted annual plants, with more water seeping out from the bottom of the pot than the sides, so becomes less accessible. Secondly, the area around the pot in which high moisture is maintained is only about a 10 to 15cm radius, so that the area of bed into which vegetables can be planted is quite small compared to the area taken up in the ground by the pot itself.
In order to address these problems we combined the clay pots with the standard permaculture technique of raised beds, which use a base of cardboard, over which successive layers of compost and organic materials are laid out and mulched over.
Cardboard is a great material for use in dry-land permaculture as it can act as a barrier to water movement, but also as a wick. It both holds water in, but also transfers it across its area. The compost increases the water holding capacity of the soil, while the mulch insulates and protects the growing medium from sun and wind.
To build a clay pot raised bed:
- Dig a hole about 20% bigger than the bottom half of the pot and water the ground till saturated (don’t make a puddle, stop when it starts pooling).
- Line the hole and the ground with cardboard to about a 30cm radius and water it all down till well soaked.
- Add 5cm of compost-soil mix in the bottom of the hole.
- Place the pot into the hole.
- Cover the rest of the pot, up to the neck, and the cardboard to 10cm deep with compost-soil mix and water well.
- Mulch with seedless organic material to 10cm deep, then water.
- Fill the pot with water and place a cover over the mouth.
- Plant seedlings into the bed.
Day 2: Making a Tree Nursery
A tree nursery is a microclimate we engineer to provide optimal conditions for germination of seeds and the early stage of the seedlings’ growth, which are the most vulnerable parts of the trees’ life-cycle. It may seem easier to run around planting tree seeds around the place and just letting them grow naturally and in some cases this may be a more efficient way to operate. The tree nursery requires labour and materials for maintenance. However what it really comes down to is how many seeds of a particular species we have, how valuable they are, and how robust the species is to germinate, survive and grow in the local conditions. Pelleting of seed (possibly combined with scarification, where necessary) is an alternative technique we can use to widely distribute seed in the dry season for resilient local species with abundant seed.
The tree nursery has the following needs:
- Shade; 30-60% shade is best — tree seedlings in natural conditions usually grow under the cover of other plants and mature trees, hence they are adapted to lower light conditions than mature trees. Exposure to direct sun may burn them, as well as dying them out and the soil they are growing in.
- Shelter from wind — wind will quickly dry seedlings out and kill them. Seedlings have shallow roots and cant access much water to replace moisture lost by excess transpiration.
- Security from herbivores.
- Ideal soil conditions for the germinating seed — to give the best possible survival rate we make a soil mix which will be a) fertile b) hold enough water for the seed but c) be well draining enough that the seed does not get rotten and die. To do this we used a mix of 1 part compost, 1 part sand and 1 part top-soil from the site. If the soil is a clay soil, however, it will be better to make it 2:2:1 since clay is very sticky and poor draining. We also need containers to hold the soil mix.
- Placement near a water-source, to reduce labour for watering.
- Placement near to other related elements — compost heap, seed bank, tool store, etc. — tree nurseries are usually placed in Zone 1.
To provide these conditions in the school we selected an appropriate spot, which already had some natural shelter from the wind, 10m from a rainwater harvesting pond which was constructed in the school by an NGO.
1) We built a frame for shade using wooden poles and bamboo screens.
2) We cut up old water bottles (known locally as “Hightland!”) chopped up into 10cm sections to make containers for holding the soil mix.
3) We sifted the three components for the soil mix (compost, sand, top-soil) to make a nice fine growing medium for the germinating seed. Then mixed them 1:1:1 and packed them into the tubes.
4) We seeded seeds into the mix-filled containers; we seeded two species of legume tree (Sesbania and Leucinnea) as well as Papaya. These will be planted out onto the swales we have dug once the seedlings mature.
5) With the second group in Jarso, we also added a fence around the nursery for extra security from goats. We also used brush (which we had cleared from the area we were digging a swale) to provide extra shelter.
Day 3: Digging a Swale, Planting out Tree Seedlings and Installing a Grey Water System
Digging the Swale
Swales are level excavations which run along a contour line. They comprise a ditch and bund. The ditch is dug along the contour and the soil heaped on the down-hill side to form the bund. Swales are dead level so will hold any water that runs into them (assuming it is not beyond the swale’s capacity) and infiltrate it into the ground. Tree seedlings can be planted on the bund, downhill from the bund, in the ditch or next to the ditch, where they will be able to access the infiltrating water inside the ground. The swale thus prevents run-off, reduces erosion, and increases the survival and growth rate of trees.
- To survey the swale we used an A-frame
- Next we cleared the brush along the path of the swale
- We dug out the swale
Planting Out Tree Seedlings
We planted out two species of fruit trees (mango and guava) and two indigenous species — “weybetta” (Terminalia birownii) and “kopta” (Ziziphus sp.) — onto the swale. The fruit trees were placed in or next to the ditch. The indigenous trees were planted on the downhill side of the bund. The slope, though very shallow, was running downwards towards the east. The site faces a prevailing wind from the east, so the indigenous trees were placed to shelter the fruit trees from the wind.
In the semi-arid environment of Konso there is a long, hard 6-month dry season, during which the young fruit trees will struggle for survival. In order to increase their chances the way in which we plant the tree seedlings and subsequently care for them is very important.
- We dig the planting holes as deep as possible. The school sites have rocky ground and we want to give the seedling a chance to put its root down as deep as possible, as fast as possible.
- We line the sides of the hole with cardboard. Cardboard absorbs and holds water effectively, but also forms a barrier to moisture movement, preventing water from diffusing out of the planting mix into the surrounding soil.
- We fill the hole with water and let it soak in.
- We fill the hole ½ full with compost/topsoil planting mix and water it again till fully saturated.
- We carefully remove the tree seedling from its nursery container, taking care not to disturb the soil as much as possible, and place it on top of the planting mix in the hole. Then we fill in the hole up to about 5cm from the brim with more planting mix and water well.
- We mulch over the planting mix and the surrounding soil to 50cm radius to 10cm depth with dead plant material. We also make a temporary shade for the seedling.
Installing a Grey Water System
Since this is a dryland environment it is clear that the tree seedlings, especially the fruit trees, will need follow-up watering to insure their survival.
In Jarso school there is a WFP feeding station, which provides school lunches to the kids. It was observed that there are three hand washing stations (made from old oil drums, cut in half with a tap installed on them, which are filled with water from rainwater catching tanks) installed on two of the classroom blocks. We therefore designed a system to make use of the waste handwash water after use (i.e. grey water). In Karat we designed a similar system using waste water from water taps.
The grey water system comprises the following:
1) A receptacle was fixed below the tap. This is made from an old vegetable oil jerry-can. The mouth of these jerry-cans is 50mm so they can be directly plumbed into 50mm PVC piping if heated a little to soften the plastic. The receptacle was secured on a concrete platform.
2) We use charcoal inside the jerry can to make a filter for any soap being used in the hand-wash.
3) We installed PVC piping to carry the grey water to the swale and along the swale. In Jarso Primary 60m of piping was installed and in Karat Secondary 18m was installed.
4) We used hot metal to punch a hole in the piping next to each of the tree seedlings.
Day 4 (Queen Mary’s and King Edwards Group 1): Setting up a Chicken Forage Area
The chicken forage area was designed to allow the school to keep a flock of egg-laying hens in an area of the compound, to give the chickens a living area that provides them with their needs (shelter, roosting space, security, nesting space, access for feeding and watering and also an area in which the chickens can forage for greens, insects and other natural food sources available in the compound).
In the case of Jarso Primary, the school already had a flock of about 10 chickens and a small chicken house that provided a secure roosting and nesting area for the flock. With the Queen Mary’s Group, we just had to fence out the forage area with chicken wire and construct a door to give access for feeding and watering. The fencing was pretty hard work due to the hard ground, but half the girls managed to get all the holes dug and sink the posts while the other half put together an access door for the compound.
In the case of Karat Secondary there was no resident flock in the school and no accommodation for them. We adapted an old decrepit storage shed to make a new luxury chicken house and bought some local hens from the market, as well as fencing the forage area and putting a door on it. We were able to make use of the expertise of one of the volunteers, Henry, to adapt old school furniture for making the nesting boxes. Meanwhile, Will and Gibson constructed a masterful door for the compound, assisted by one of the students.
Day 4 (King Edwards Group 2): Building a Rocket Stove for the WFP Feeding Program Kitchen
One important aspect of the permaculture design for Jarso Primary School was to reduce the fuel consumption for the WFP Feeding Program in the school by installing rocket stoves in the school kitchen to reduce the consumption of fuel wood.
In Konso major deforestation is an ongoing problem, with women trekking progressively further to collect firewood year by year and the indigenous trees of the area become increasingly depleted. Acutely aware of this fact we made sure the Jarso School permaculture design included measures to both reduce fuel consumption by the kitchen and provide extra sources of fuel wood on-site, by planning for a wide Zone 4 area in which fast-growing fuel wood species can be planted. We therefore took advantage of the WC volunteer program to get the first of several rocket stoves built by the second group from King Edwards, Lichfield. The rocket stove design is well known in permaculture. We just adapted it to make use of locally available materials: clay, chalk and an old oil drum.
The rocket stove concept works as follows:
- Heat from the burning of the fuel creates an up-draft, since hot air is less dense than cold air and subsequently rises. With the local norm of using three rocks to cook on, air simply wafts into the combusting part of the fire from the surrounding area. With a rocket stove we a) concentrate the in-flow of air to create a blasting effect which makes the fuel burn hotter, b) direct it onto the fuel from below, so that the air is flowing through the fire. This creates much hotter combustion and the air leaving the combustion area will be much hotter.
- In order to ensure more of the heat generated by the combustion of the fuel is transferred into the food we a) shelter and insulate around the combustion area so that heat radiated by the fire cannot escape into the surrounds and the exhaust gases from the fire cannot be carried away by breezes but must pass vertically upwards to where the food is cooking, b) we confine the outflow of exhaust gasses from the fire so that they must flow in a narrow space around the bottom and the edges of the pot, so transfer maximal heat into the pot and its contents.
To build the rocket stove with the group we did the following:
1) We pre-made 150 clay bricks from a local clay that has excellent binding properties and does not crack. (The clay is often used for rendering walls in the locality.)
2) We cut the top off a 200 litre oil drum and a rectangular hole 20cm high and 40cm wide in the side of the barrel at the bottom edge. A rectangular section of 15 x 50cm was then cut out of the barrel top. This was used to make the divider between the fuel and air inlets.
3) Some of the bricks were crushed up and mixed with gypsum to form a render.
4) The bricks are laid using the render/mortar to form the walls of the air/fuel inlets and the chimney.
5) The gap between the bricks and the edges of the barrel are filled in with dolomite (a light chalky rock which is highly porous and therefore a good natural heat-resistant insulator) which we harvested from our site.
6) The challengers tagged the fuel/air inlet:
The Finished Rocket Stove:
More Activities Coming Up in September and December — Get Involved and Support Our Work
The expeditions were really successful and the groups all managed to achieve all the challenges that were set. They also went off for a 3-day trek around the Konso villages, visiting the artisans, cultural sites and terraced farmlands of Konso which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When school returns in September the environmental clubs will have a great set of models which they can scale up gradually, as well as a permaculture plan for the school site which they can continue to follow in implementation. A big thanks to all the challengers from Queen Mary’s and King Edwards schools who participated and also to Mr Adisu and Mr Beyene from Jarso Primary and Mr Ararso from Konso Secondary who helped facilitate the programs.
In September and December this year we shall be running Permaculture Design Courses at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge for local and international participants.
Design and practical exercises we do on the courses will also be conducted on local schools participating in our Permaculture in Konso Schools Project. We may also be able to train more teachers from the currently participating schools or even begin projects in new schools if we have sufficient participation on the courses from paying participants. You can support the growth and development of our Permaculture in Konso Schools Project by doing a PDC with us, or by sponsoring us to train an Ethiopian participant. Please get involved in our initiative to help the South Ethiopian community of Konso to improve and develop their own food security.
You can also follow our activities and see more pics of these expeditions and other events we have run on our Facebook page.