Letters from Jordan – Jordan Welcomes the 2011 International Permaculture Conference & Convergence
To book your place at IPC10 (September, 2011), go here!
The famous Wadi Rum desert region, site of the 1962 Laurence of Arabia epic,
will be hosting the September 2011 IPC 10 Convergence
All photographs © copyright Craig Mackintosh
Every two years, members of the international permaculture community cooperate to organise an International Permaculture Conference (IPC). Each meeting is held on a different continent, and is made up of two main separate events, serving two distinct purposes. The first meetings of the event, the conference, is aimed at permaculture ‘evangelisation’, where key people of the region are invited to hear presentations about permaculture that are particularly relevant to them, and between meetings they can converse and network with the many leading permaculturists who attend. It helps spread permaculture in the respective regions. The second phase is the convergence, an entirely in-house get-together where permaculturists from around the world can network, share experiences and knowledge, and develop strategies for fast-tracking permaculture uptake worldwide. These two main events are nestled between two other components – a two-week PDC before the conference, and a tour of interesting sites after the convergence.
Participants at the convergence also discuss and vote for their choice for where the next IPC should be held. The last IPC was held in Oct/Nov 2009 in Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa, and at that event Jordan was awarded the privilege of hosting IPC10. It will be the first time the IPC will be held in the Middle East.
As such, Geoff and Nadia Lawton have been working with their Jordanian contacts to develop support for the event. And, as you’ll see from what I share below, this effort is proving very fruitful to date. We now have some of the most influential people in the country assisting us in our plans to organise a highly successful IPC10.
The Princess and the Permaculturists
Jordan is officially The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is a constitutional monarchy. As such, getting the endorsement of the Jordanian Royal Family was high on our agenda. If this endorsement is secured, it virtually eliminates bureaucratic problems with local officials who may not comprehend the importance of our work for their nation.
What better way to gain Royal support than to approach Princess Basma bint Ali, an avid supporter, no, initiator, of environmental and sustainable development programs.
From left to right: Lesley Byrne, Princess Basma bint Ali,
Nadia, Geoff and Latifa Lawton, in Amman, Jordan
It’s not every day you get to meet a princess, but there we were. Geoff and Nadia Lawton and myself – from the Permaculture Research Institute – and Lesley Byrne of Kids are Sweet International, all went along to talk to Princess Basma bint Ali of Jordan about IPC10. We were scheduled for a one-hour meeting, but the discussion proved so interesting the appointment stretched to three hours.
The Princess was initially cautious in conversation with us. She afterwards explained that this was due to the many profit-oriented organisations who approach her with quasi-organic concepts that fall short of the mark and are ultimately detrimental to people and place. I was personally very pleasantly surprised to hear her stressing her belief that organic agriculture, in the forms we generally observe, typically misses the point, failing to take a full, holistic, relationship-centric view of the natural world.
The Princess has been extremely active on the sustainability front. Amongst her many efforts (she, for example, pushed for and secured a staged requirement that mandates and assists all Amman residents into water harvesting), thirteen years ago she conceived the idea of a Royal Botanic Gardens that would showcase biodiversity preservation techniques. The RBG consists of approximately 800 hectares of land overlooking the King Talal Dam (map), approximately 25 kilometres north of the capital, Amman. This is no usual Botanical Garden, as the Princess explained – but rather a research and educational station trialing water harvesting techniques (including swales, gabions, etc.), plant guilds and much more, with a vision of water use maximisation, native species preservation, soil building, reforestation and landscape repair.
A paragraph from a book on the RGB that she kindly gave me provides insights into her vision, one she has unwittingly – until now – shared with permaculturists:
Drought is not just a matter of bad luck in rainfall: clearing the land for agriculture, animal forage and construction actually makes a landscape inhospitable to rain. Of all the available water in the air 15-20% falls as rain – if it can condense on organic nuclei heavy enough to fall from the air. Of this 80-85% of condensed ‘leaf water’, approximately 20% evaporates again into the air; approximately 50% is transpired by plants and forms clouds – if it can condense on organic nuclei. 10-15% re-enters groundwater to become streams & river. Trees produce more of the water in rivers than rainfall does. At least 50% of every cloud is composed of condensation from trees.
In addition to being surprised and suitably impressed with the Princess’ insights, I was also promptly battling feelings of frustration! This was due to the fact that we completely shared the Princess’ concerns about plant-focussed ‘organic’ agriculture and it was thus an unexpected and almost comedic turn of events for us to be on the defensive in this regard!
But, after a lively discussion of various projects occuring worldwide, including what is arguably the largest land regeneration project in the world, the Princess began to discern that we were wholly on her side of the fence on these issues! In short, we were all speaking the same language, and by the end of the meeting she fully recognised this.
We not only left with a royal endorsement for the 2011 conference, but two of her staff will now also be taking a PDC in Jordan under Geoff in October 2010!
NCARE (National Centre for Agricultural Research and Extension) are well and truly on side
Geoff and Nadia Lawton stand with the head of NCARE
and a few of his team members
People who have watched the updated Greening the Desert II video may recognise Mohammed Ayesh (above, at right), a Water & Environment Researcher who spent considerable time at the original Greening the Desert site in the Dead Sea valley (the lowest place on earth at 400 metres below sea level), where Geoff transformed a piece of salted desert landscape into a productive food forest and garden system in three years. Mohammed researched the impact of Geoff’s permaculture implementation, resulting in his becoming an avid supporter of all things permacultural. He even published a book in Arabic on the topic (see video link above for more on this), circulating it to hundreds of people in the agriculture field in Jordan, and, despite his meek-mannered personality has been persistently pestering his boss, the head of this Jordanian government agricultural department, to do what he can to support the growth of permaculture in Jordan.
Just after we arrived in in the country last week, as we were travelling to a consultancy in Wadi Rum, the famously beautiful desert region in the deep south of the country, Mohammed repeatedly tried to contact us. As it turned out, the head of NCARE wanted to meet with us, for reasons unknown.
We found time to meet with them later in Amman, discovering they had got wind of our intention to stage the IPC in the country, and wanted to see how they could help. We had intended to solicit their support, but they beat us to it!
NCARE talks to Geoff and Nadia Lawton about organising IPC10.
Geoff taught a PDC to 18 NCARE staff in 2003
NCARE committed to organising accommodation for conference attendees – with options for different budgets. They will arrange a conference hall, and provide for our technical needs (projectors, etc.) and, wait for it, they will in addition use their influence to clear all visas! Considering we anticipate many arriving from two-thirds world countries, who can often get rejected, this latter assistance is particularly significant.
Conference and Convergence Locations and Dates
We’re still ironing out the details, and we welcome your input, but the tentative plans for the two meetings are as follows:
The conference would be a one day event – but possibly two – held in the capital of Amman. The opening dinner would be the evening of Friday September 16th, 2011. A full conference day would follow on September 17th, with presentations from several keynote speakers, focussing on issues relevant to dryland regions. The 18th would be a leisurely day of travel to Wadi Rum, the site of the convergence, 285 kilometres (or 3.5 hours) to the south. We would arrange buses for this trip. The convergence would be a three-day event, held in a fantastic campsite amongst some of the world’s most beautiful desert scenery, complete with Bedouin tents, solar lighting and amenities.
The Wadi Rum campsite is 45 minutes from Jordan’s only port, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and one and a half hours from the ancient city of Petra (BC600) – of Indiana Jones and the last Crusade fame, and former home to the more deservingly famous Nabataeans who were experts in water harvesting.
Approaching Petra and the famous treasury
Wait for the animation….
In addition to permaculture group events, we intend to have a few Bedouin share some of their traditional knowledge – on such subjects as herbs, weaving, fermenting (yoghurt), etc.
Jordan welcomes the permaculture world
This is personally my second visit to the country, and, like Geoff, I’m starting to feel right at home here. The people are full of smiles and very welcoming. (I don’t know how many "Welcome to Jordan"s I’ve received!) It is a region of cultural diversity, rich heritage and incredible historical significance.
There’s more to tell from this trip, so watch for another post or two – but we’re excited about the potential to continue to build on the tireless labours of Geoff and Nadia and many others for the people of Jordan and the Middle East. These nations are the most water stressed of any, and, as you can see, they’re eager to find solutions. It’s a pleasure to work for them.
Four generations of Nadia’s family – her 70+ year old father at right, and
100+ year old grandmother at centre
With this post I am passing along a big "welcome" from the generous, warm-hearted people of Jordan. The people here want you to be part of this solutions-focussed effort for the region!
To book your place at IPC10 (September, 2011), go here!
Nadia’s 100+ year old grandmother, tattooed, as was common
with Bedouin of the day
Photos of Wadi Rum Convergence campsite (more pictures of Wadi Rum below that):
General Wadi Rum pictures to follow: