Permaculture Design Course In Liberia – a Resounding Success

by Warren Brush, Co-Founder of Quail Springs Learning Oasis

The first graduates of a Permaculture Design
Course in Liberia’s history. This momentous
moment was attended by a representative
of the President of Liberia to mark the occasion

Back in March we celebrated the first graduating class of a Permaculture Design Course in Liberia’s history. Liberia had been in the throws of a brutal civil war since the late 80’s when the Permaculture movement was making its way around the world and was unable to get into Liberia until now, four years after the cease fire and peace building ensued.

We had 19 official graduates of the course which took nearly a month to complete as we had to translate into the local Lorma language. There were six other attendees who completed 3/4 of the course and who will complete it at a later date which will bring the graduating class to a total of 25. Many of the graduates shared how this was a historical moment for Liberia as Permaculture is seeding new ways of agriculture and living into their part of the world and deeply into their world-views.

A student making a presentation at the end
of the PDC design exercise

As we were well into the course presentation and participation…the rain-forests surrounding us was being clear-cut and burned to ashes, choking the air and blocking the sun with a thick layer of smoke. All of this…for an agricultural practice that was introduced to them sometime ago by western influences. At one point in the course, an elder was talking about why they felt they had to “slash and burn” as he referred to this form of agriculture as traditional. I quickly reminded him that this was a conventional practice and not a traditional one. He quizzically looked to the sky and said, “You know, you are right. My ancestors did not do this to our forests. I stand corrected!”

We went on to weave the understandings of Permaculture and their own traditional values into the fabric of their applied understanding in a learning journey that crossed many western-adopted cultural boundaries. By the end of the course, the students had created beautiful designs for a demonstration farm, spoke eloquently and cohesively about sustainable agriculture and habitation to other farmers, local radio and an international film-making team (who is working on a film about Permaculture and Liberia as a form of peacemaking.) They all vowed to integrate PC into their farms and villages over the coming rainy season.

We have identified six individuals from the course who we hope to find funding for to come to the USA for our Permaculture Design Course with Geoff Lawton at Quail Springs this summer to gain further training. I will then return to Liberia later this year to offer an intensive Train the Trainer course for those six, in hopes that they will become the lead trainers for PC in their country. I will also offer several workshops for general audiences around the country about sustainable rice farming systems, which is the “national staple food” of Liberia. If you have pictures, research, anecdotes about on the ground systems of sustainable rice growing, I would appreciate you sharing with me for this developing presentation (send to my email address below). I will give all contributors and other interested PC teachers a copy of the presentation once I finish it.

The next layer of teaching will be done in co-partnership with these developing Liberian PC teachers and myself. With requests coming in from all over the country for PDC workshops to be integrated into other regions, we are working diligently to train locals to be the instructors who take it nationwide. I have been interviewed twice this trip and once last trip on UNMIL radio which is widely listened to through-out Liberia which has sparked this countrywide interest in Permaculture. I also did a 1/2 hour interview on a radio station that serves the local population of the state I was in (called Lofa County). We also made a visit yesterday with the Vice President of Liberia, the Honorable Joseph Boakai, at his offices in Monrovia to share our successes on this journey. Permaculture is being welcomed on all levels through-out the country.

Two children in the remote, Bazzie Village, smiling
through the walls of their traditional cooking house

During this visit to the northern most areas of Liberia, I had the wonderful fortune to be invited into several remote villages and farms to meet the people and to see their amazing day-to-day lives. I saw both beauty and pain yet in everyone’s eyes their was a resilience and appreciation for life that sparkled through. I had many special moments with the kids and the elders as we attempted to bridge our communication through body language, expression and sometimes varying degrees of english…. I was blessed with open arms, smiles and the ultimate sign of welcoming, adoption by the village and a promise I could return anytime and call their home my home…..

I must continue to offer my deepest and most sincere gratitudes for the people of Everyday Gandhis, for the groundwork they have laid over the past four years here in Liberia and for the immense vision of peace and for the integrity in which they move and learn in fulfilling their vision. Without them, Permaculture would have taken a lot longer to find its roots in this country.

I also send gratitude to the people of Liberia for their ability to embrace peace and exude it uniquely in their daily lives. I have learned so much from them and will carry their grace back to America.

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6 thoughts on “Permaculture Design Course In Liberia – a Resounding Success

  1. Hi Warren
    Great article – and great news that you have introduced permaculture into Liberia. I worked there during the short but intense civil war of May to August 2003, running one of three international NGOs that remained behind after the evacuation (of all UN / NGOs / internationals, etc.). We set up emergency sanitation and water points in the places people found shleter – usually in groups of 5 to 25,000 people. This was rainy season, and cholera was rampant, malaria as rife as ever. Merlin, the health care agency I was running, set up emergency trauma units, mother and child health centres, cholera treatment units, etc.

    The war ended abrubtly in late August that year. The UN came in and the rest is history. In Jan 2004 I joined the UN as IDP Advisor (IDP: internally displaced people) to assist the transitional Govt organise response for the 500,000 people still in camps around the city, then design a strategy for their return, largely to Lofa, Bong, Grand Cape Mount and so on.

    Since 2006 I have been studying sustainable energy and building design, and through this I have been introduced to permaculture. Now I know what I wish I had known then! My God: how we (the aid sector / agencies) design emergency / transitional shelters and camps is as foolish as the slash and burn agriculture up country. Permaculture design could revolutionalise transitional settlement design – from emergency shelters to durable return.

    Meanwhile, I remain involved in Liberia, am on the board of a community based organisation called Robertsport Community Works in the town of that name, in Grand Cape Mount county. We have some land there – well we donated it to this community organisation. It’s right on the beach, but the community land extends in land up into the hills and forested areas. Some good friends are running various projects there, and we are all really keen to get permaculture training and designs up and running. I have a fair few contacts in the renewable energy and natural building fields now, so I had envisioned design and build trainings being held there in these technologies (assuming local production and maintenance of technologies of course).

    One day I also want to take on the charcoal barons of Monrovia. I have seen too many forests around the towns cleared to keep the cooking fires burning. I will be building a biogas digestor in my new home in Portugal this year and after that hope to find a way to introduce simple, safe and cheap digestors of this kind so that communities can at once deal with the chronic sanitation problem and cooking fuel at the same time (replace charcoal with the biogas). I am in touch with the Ashden Awards biogas consultant (30+ years experience with biogas) so hopefully we will get it right.

    I need to introduce my colleagues in Robertsport to you, and to your PC trainers. It would be ideal if we could use your trainers rather than import more “external” folk which obviously costs more. I can’t tell you how glad I am to find an existing permaculture project in Liberia – this is great news.

    Good luck
    Magnus

  2. Hello Warren,

    I’m one of the directors at Robertsport Community Works, the organization mentioned by Magnus, in the comment above.

    We are, indeed, very interested in helping the people of Robertsport to benefit from permaculture training and practices. This is one of our organizational priorities for 2010 and onward.

    My partner and I are based in Monrovia; though we spend two or three days in Robertsport each week. It would be great if we could meet up sometime this month.

    I’ll try to track down your contact information; but if you don’t mind contacting me directly, my email is natecalhoun at robertsportcommunityworks.org

    Thanks so much,

  3. Hello Magnus,
    Thank you for your comments and for your years of dedication to the people and land in Liberia both in times of peace and in war. I am working on an article right now about Permaculture and Condolence and how they work in a complimentary fashion. I too believe as you have stated that Permaculture design (PC) is an essential tool in emergency/transitional living for people faced with tragedy. The ethics and principles that guide PC design creates short term abundance and health while building a foundation for sustainable long term community resilience.

    There is a possibility that I will be in Liberia next month to co-teach a course with one of my Liberian colleagues who is training to become a teacher. His name is Ayouba. We will be doing a training and developing an urban demonstration site in Monrovia. Let me know if you see ways in which we could weave together our work in a synergetic manner. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Warren Brush
    w@quailsprings.org

  4. Hi Warren,

    I am taking a masters degree in Sustainable Energy Development in Canada, and am looking to do my final research project on permaculture. I was thinking of doing it along the lines of how it could be used in places such as Liberia, as an alternative to traditional international aid and developmental programs. I would therefore be very interested to read the article you are preparing, as I am finding it hard to somewhat difficult to find references which provide more than just an overview of a project. Any other information or suggestions for references that you, or anyone else, could post would be very helpful and much appreciated.

  5. Hello,
    Thank you for your comment and for your work in researching permaculture as a part of your masters degree in Sustainable Energy Development. Please email me directly and I will send the article I mention and a few others. My email is w (at) quailsprings.org.

    In Growing Abundance,
    Warren Brush

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