Making a Difference Thanks to the Internet
I think it was in April last year; a post caught my eye on the Facebook page set up by Geoff for his alumni. A Kenyan farmer was reaching out to us, asking for information and help. He and the 35 farmers in his association had determined that Permaculture was the only way they could bring their land and acidified soils back from chemical fertilizer chaos and put food on the table more than a few months of the year. Some of us answered with advice, mostly recommending to make compost in order to feed the soil and bring the pH back to normal.
At the time, less than a year after taking the 2014 online PDC with Geoff Lawton, I was just coming back from visiting an old friend in Argentina, where I had still been so fired up about the course that I kept talking about what I had learned, and I had more or less ended up teaching the course to my friend’s grand-daughter. She works in a school and is a superb artist, and we had decided to put together a book so she could teach the principles to the kids she worked with. I had started writing the book based on my course notes.
When I saw Eliud’s (that’s his name) hunger for any information we were giving him, I offered to send him the first few chapters so he could study. If he found them useful, he was welcome to use the information. Well, he took to it with such gusto that I could not help but “teach” him the rest of the course as well, writing not so much for kids but for him, finding answers online for him to use, etc. (He has limited access to the internet, but we communicate through what is to me FaceBook Messenger through his phone.)
I am retired, so I could give plenty of time to this endeavor. And I was having a great time of it because I was learning more about another climate, another culture, I was learning more through each re-reading of my notes to better teach him (I had taken abundant notes rather than relied on the class CDs because they make it easier to research keywords when needed), there was someone to share all the stuff I was reading and learning, and I was also, for his benefit, having great conversations with my boots-on-the-ground farmer friends in France! Besides, helping people actually ensure their food sovereignty is an extremely fulfilling endeavor, you can imagine..
Eliud is a bright young man, very focused, very dedicated to his farmers, an amazing researcher when he has access to the internet (they had pooled their monies to buy him web time). He has studied to be a teacher, but I guess teaching jobs are few and far between in Kenya, and he’s had to fall back on the family farm.
He would study what I would send him and then teach it to his 35 farmers every other Sunday or so. Not all farmers agreed on applying what was taught because it was a little too far from what they knew and some quit. But the results obtained, in spite of bad government-certified seeds that ended up with patchy sprouting, finally did the convincing. And when at the end of the season he had a meeting to have an idea who else might be interested, he found out with a bit of a sense of panic that more than 200 people wanted to study with him.
So at this point, the hunger race is being won by him and his original farmers, he is teaching to more, trying to find others who will be good teachers to spread the knowledge. (Of course, they all wish they could do a PDC! But when a construction worker makes US$2.75 per day (!!!), the amount of money needed could feed many for a year. Maybe one day…).
Now he has also created this site through which he hopes to reach eventually more farmers in his region as the abundance they create allows them more access to the internet: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663270817111946/?ref=bookmarks. If you click on files, you will access their strategic plan for 2016 and get a better idea of what they are about. The Pinned Post is, of course, informative as well.
From the point of view of our vision for the planet as permaculturists, I want to emphasize because it is so essential to the furtherance of the teaching that no financial help whatsoever was provided. Which means that with the right people – meaning people with dedication and enthusiasm and mutual cultural respect – this experience can totally be reproduced, and we can help people toward food sovereignty from anywhere on the planet to anywhere on the planet, or just about. The internet can be used for horrible things, such as the radicalization of European youth, but it can also be used to help give people the tools they need to live well in their own lands, with no torn and displaced families or lives endangered.
Should you wish to, any contributions of information are welcome, although please try to avoid duplicating, as their internet access is based on time and will cost them. (And videos are usually too large for them to view.)
In case it’s important for the information you would provide: Kenya is on the Equator and Butera is on a plateau 4300 feet high. It has two rainy seasons with severe drought in between (which would typically see them spend Xmas with empty bellies). So it’s a tropical climate mitigated by altitude. The farms go from ½ acre to 14 acres.
At this point:
• He and his farmers use compost and mulching (which they call “manure”, although it’s only green stuff).
• They use swales, and raised beds as well, as in heavy rains, their soils were drowning.
• They are trialing hüggelkultur
• I am trying to talk them into having swales that would go into a pond, even a temporary one, to expand the possibilities and maybe even grow fish but they have had poor luck with fish, maybe because water gets quite warm and loses its oxygen.
• I am trying to orient them toward growing more medicinal plants.
• They are in the process of growing moringa trees to multiply and share from the few seeds they had available.
• They have set up a seed bank and they are growing indigenous plants along with corn, soybeans, and kale.
• They avoid monocropping.
• They are more aware of nutrition and the importance of food variety and greens in the diet.
• They are saving and pooling the moneys that what they have learned has saved them to buy solar panels. With nights being 12 hours all year at the Equator, the idea is for their kids to be able to study at night without using smelly, noisy and gas-dependent generators (if anyone knows of any deals on solar panels…).
When Geoff says that permaculture is like a virus, I confirm! And Eliud has caught it and already given it to many more who are no longer going hungry, contemplating a future of quiet abundance thanks to it. Yes!