Permaculture in Konso Schools Project Update, May-Oct 2012 (Ethiopia)

Editor’s Note: Regular readers will have appreciated Alex McCausland’s regular and comprehensive reports from precariously positioned Ethiopia, and the great work he and his team have been doing on the ground. If you want to learn practical permaculture and gain real-world permaculture aid work experience in a location rich in agricultural history, then please consider taking Alex’s next PDC, to be held in southern Ethiopia between December 10 — 22, 2012. Your tuition fees directly support this important educational aid work.

This month we’ve been very busy in south Ethiopia. Konso, where we are based, lies just south of a dividing line between two great weather systems, one which affects the Ethiopian highlands to the north and has a unimodal annual rainfall pattern with rains falling July-September, and the other with a bimodal rainfall affecting the southern lowlands down into Kenya. The “long rains” in Konso are usually March-May and the “short rains”, known locally as hagaya (or belg in Amharic) are usually September-October. Basically, this means that it has just now been the planting season in Konso. We have had a mad planting bonanza to get about 2500 trees into the ground on our own demonstration site at Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge. We’ve been ably assisted with this undertaking by our current intern, Sabrina Faubert, a recent graduate from the US who’s staying with us for five months and helping with the various different projects we have going on. Sabrina is going to write up a report of her own on her activities and experiences with Strawberry Fields, which will hopefully be posted on this blog shortly.

Our local community outreach program, the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project, has also been seeing some activity. With schools freshly reconvening we have had the chance to visit and assess a few of the project sites, guided by the trained teachers. Two of the PKSP schools (Karat and Gocha Primary schools, from the PKSP Phase IIA) joined the project back in July 2011 with a training lead by Steve Cran. We gave refresher trainings to two teachers from each of these schools back in February 2012 and ran an assessment on the two schools during that training. Our assessment process is based on a standardized questionnaire developed in February 2012 for the purpose of quantitative analysis and inter-comparison of the schools’ design implementation and consequent improvements of the project. We have now had a chance to assess their progress since that refresher training and report back on it to the donors. The results of these two assessments are outlined below.

Additionally, we ran two assessments on schools from the PKSP Phase I, Abaroba and Tabalana Kuchale Primary Schools, which were introduced into the project back in October 2010. These schools are much more remote and had far less follow-up in terms of subsequent visits, assessment, inputs provision or subsequent training. They also had less initial investment into them to get their permaculture projects started, so it was interesting to compare the outcomes of these schools against the Phase IIA schools.

We also ran a course in May 2012, through which we trained two teachers from each of two new local schools, Jarso Primary and Konso Secondary, which have now joined under the PKSP Phase IIB. In addition, we did some follow-up implementation in these schools back in July. This was done with the trained teachers along with some other school staff, working together with some expedition groups sent to us from the UK by World Challenge. Not many of the school students had a chance to work on the project at that stage because they were not at the school at the time, but with the students now back in school we have motivated the teachers to convene their environmental clubs and start resuming work on some of the PC activities we began on the project sites back in July.

Permaculture in Konso Schools Project Phase I Schools Assessment

School Name: Tabalana Kuchale Primary
Teacher Trained: Mr Adane Guyita
Date: 23 May 2012
Present: Alex McCausland (Trainer), Abel Teshome (Assistant Trainer), PKSP Phase IIB Teachers (Karat: Mr Ararso Gognisha, Mrs Fikre Bizuayehu; Jarso: Mr Adisu Uyo, Mr Asnake Mesganaw), also independent trainees (Ashenafi Mesele, Habte Mamo, Shita Anteneh).

Overall Score: 31/78 = 40%


  Tabalana Kuchale Fuchucha Borkara Gocha
(Feb 2012)
(Feb 12)
The Design Plan 2 0.7 3.8 4 6.3
Design Implementation 13 9.3 16.3 15.3 22.7
Products and Yields 12 10.3 12.8 5.7 13.7
Community Involvement 4 4.7 5.8 8 7.7
Total 31.0 25.0 38.5 33.0 50.3

Observations and Comments

1) The design plan

  • The design was displayed in the administration office, but not easily accessible to the students.
  • They had not updated the design since their initial training, and the implementation had evolved away from the original design quite a lot. However, they had developed an activity plan for their Permaculture-related activities, which was positive.

2) The design implementation

  • There was a garden of sorts in front of the teachers’ office and adjoining classrooms. It was marked as a Zone I area, but there was a lack of active maintenance and it was unclear which area the “Zone I” sign actually referred to.
  • Only local cabbage was grown in these beds around some banana trees. The area had been inundated by recent rains and was in need of maintenance.
  • There was some fencing around the beds, but there was still a clear problem of the children entering into the area and trampling the beds. This location may not have been appropriate for a Zone I garden. Although it was closest to the teachers’ office, the area is subject to a large flow of people and is therefore highly vulnerable to being trampled or interfered with.
  • They had planted two herb species: lemongrass and t’enadam.
  • There was no evidence of mulching or bed design for water conservation or path planning.
  • There was a tree nursery in active use with around 300 tree seedlings in production, including neem, grevilia, Moringa, papaya, weybetta and other species.
  • They had planted a number of papaya and mango trees on the site since the start of the project, though less than 100 fruit trees in total.
  • They had planted around 400 “weybetta” (Terminalia browinii) into a terraced Zone IV area at the western end of the site.
  • They had not, however, planted any legume trees for soil improvement on the site yet.
  • Composting was not being conducted regularly, although they were preparing to start a compost heap within a wicker support frame that was under construction by the environmental club at the time.
  • They had been actively expanding terraces uphill to the north of the classroom buildings where they had also been planting fruit trees, but without adequate follow-up many of them had died.
  • An interesting innovation that the school had accomplished was to build a tank for harvesting rainwater from the classroom roofs. Inside the tank they were attempting to keep fish, but the scale of the work was not realistic for food production. Still, it was an interesting little project for educational purposes, and it showed they had thought and acted about the issue of roof rainwater harvesting. They also had a large pond in the school installed by an NGO, which was effectively holding a large volume of water.
  • They were storing a few different kinds of seeds in their office, but they were not actively saving many of their own seeds and they were not documenting their seed storage.

3) Products and Yields

  • They were able to assess their physical production of food in the past season as: Rolled cabbage, ~100 heads; sweet potato, 2 sacks; beetroot, 1 sack.
    This was a significant increase compared to the previous season.
  • They were able to sell food both to the school community and to the wider Konso community via the local market.
  • The economic yield of the project in the past season had been 1026 Birr, a significant increase from the previous season.
  • Financial records of the sales were being kept, but were not auditable as there were not records of the physical sales beyond the rough total estimates.
  • Funds were being put into the general school expense budget and partially reinvested in the project.
  • As well as food they were yielding both construction material and fodder from the project.

4) Community

  • The project was implemented exclusively by the environmental club, which is constituted of 35 students out of a total of 600 (just 6%).
  • The students participate on the project on a weekly basis. The club meets on Fridays, and they were working on the project during our visit.
  • Parents were not involved with the project.
  • There were two teachers working on the project. The trained teacher, Mr Adane, was assisted by another science teacher.
  • We were also shown that the teachers had made some effort to start growing food around their own accommodation block.
  • However, we were shown no evidence of replication by the community in their home compounds.

Conclusions and Recommendations

We were very pleased with the good start that this project had gotten off to, considering the small amount of initial investment that went into training the single teacher, Mr Adane, and subsequent implementation. The school is in a very remote location, and accordingly there has been no subsequent contact with the school since the initial training and implementation in May 2012. Hence, we were impressed to see that the school had continued to develop its permaculture project in the absence of further encouragement. Their score ranking versus the schools assessed in February 2012 puts them in 4th place, just behind Gocha Primary and well ahead of Fuchucha. This is a very impressive achievement for a community led by a single trained teacher, especially when compared to Fuchucha, which had received regular follow up, and Gocha which had had a far greater investment of training and follow-up support.

School Name: Aba Roba Primary
Teacher Trained: Mr Shekaido
Date: 5th of June 2012
Present: Alex McCausland (Trainer), Asmelash Dagned (Teacher and Assistant PC Trainer)

Overall Score: 1/78 = 1.3%


  Aba Roba Fuchucha Borkara Gocha
(Feb 2012)
(Feb 12)
The Design Plan 1 0.7 3.8 4 6.3
Design Implementation 0 9.3 16.3 15.3 22.7
Products and Yields 0 10.3 12.8 5.7 13.7
Community Involvement 0 4.7 5.8 8 7.7
Total 1.0 25.0 38.5 33.0 50.3

Observations and Comments

1) The design plan

  • The design was displayed in a classroom which was being used as a store and not accessible to the students.
  • They had not done any further implementation since the initial session led by Tichafa Makovere in June 2012 because the trained teacher had been transferred to another school shortly thereafter.

2) The design implementation

  • There was no garden at all.
  • There was no tree nursery.
  • Some papayas and mangos had been planted in the initial implementation, but the mangos were suffering due to grazing by goats. One of the papayas had produced some fruit.
  • No other trees had been planted.
  • They were growing some broad-scale crops on the school grounds, though it was unclear if this was done by the school community or the land had just been rented to local farmers.

3) Products and Yields

  • There were no recorded yields from the project.

4) Community

  • There was no community involvement in the project.

Conclusions and Recommendations

This project never really took off for several reasons. Firstly, the site is quite remote: although not geographically far it is about 30 minutes drive from Karat town, along difficult and very steep tracks, which are somewhat dangerous. Secondly, the school site has quite fertile soil but lies on top of a ridge that is highly exposed to the wind from all directions, including the prevailing wind from the south east. There was also no reliable water resource on the site. The one 5,000 litre tank installed on the site was empty at the time of the visit and didn’t appear to hold water at all.

With the trained teacher now having left the school, the remote location, and the lack of a dependable water supply, it hardly seems worth the necessary investment of time and finance to get it off the ground.

PKSP Phase IIA School Site Assessments Following Refresher Training in May 2012

School Name: Gocha Primary School
Teacher Trained: Mr Taye (below)

Date: 19 Oct 2012
Present: Alex McCausland (Trainer), Sabrina Faubert, Bastien Cocchetto, Kebede Gunta
Overall Score: 31/78 = 40%

Breakdown: (Includes comparison to February 2012 survey)

(Oct 2012)
Fuchucha Borkara Gocha
(Feb 2012)
(Feb 12)
The Design Plan 5 0.7 3.8 4 6.3
Design Implementation 10 9.3 16.3 15.3 22.7
Products and Yields 7 10.3 12.8 5.7 13.7
Community Involvement 9 4.7 5.8 8 7.7
Total 31.0 25.0 38.5 33.0 50.3

Observations and Comments

1) The design plan

  • The design was displayed in a classroom, but not easily accessible to the whole school body.
  • They had updated the design in May and had followed it with subsequent implementation.

2) The design implementation

  • There was a clearly delineated garden, but it had obviously not been maintained for some time, possibly due to the school summer holiday (July – September) and a lack of water supply.
  • There was little variety in the annual vegetable species in the garden – only sweet potato and beans. There were lettuce and cabbage, but not in significant amounts. There was some Swiss chard growing, but not in the garden area. The only herb in use was lemon grass.
  • There was a lack of mulch and thin evidence of bed design for water conservation or path planning.
  • All of the above problems could be fixed within quite a short period of time with a little application of effort by the environmental club post-summer-holiday. Mr Taye was optimistic that this would be rectified shortly, but pointed out that the project continues to suffer from a lack of reliable water supply.
  • There was no tree nursery. Mr Taye said this was for two reasons: 1) lack of water supply, and 2) all seedlings planted on the project had been supplied by a local community nursery in Gocha village.
  • They had planted large numbers of several different fruit trees on the project (mango, guava, papaya and banana), which is very good, but they had not planted adequate support species despite the fact that we had donated them 200 Leucinneas in October 2011 that could have been planted amongst the fruit trees to fix nitrogen and for chop-and-drop. Mr. Taye said that they were planted elsewhere on the site.
  • They had planted 800 “weybetta” (Terminalia browinii) for windbreak in a band 10m wide on the windward side of the compound, which was a piece of design for microclimate amelioration.
  • They have still not introduced animals into the design, but are keen to bring chickens and a cow in the future.
  • Composting was not being conducted regularly, although they did have a pit-compost that seemed somewhat underutilised. Mr Taye explained that there is an initiative for the pupils to bring animal manure to school with them from their home compounds. There had been no initiative to introduce composting toilets, but Mr Taye told us this was planned for the future.

  • There was impressive expansion of terraces and erosion control infrastructure. Formerly the vehicle entrance had been at the NW corner of the site, from where the drive-way into the school ran directly uphill, hence creating an erosion gully. They had closed off this entrance and built check dams across the gully, one of which was even diverting runoff into a newly established field. However, they still need to plant something like bananas or sugarcane into these check dams to make use of the silt and moisture retained in them.

  • Mr Taye and the school director, Mr Demsashu, both pointed to the lack of water supply as a big handicap for the project. The 4,000 litre tank installed by Steve Cran in July 2011 is still dysfunctional and in need of some technical expertise for maintenance. There is also a 30,000 litre tank to the eastern end of the northern block of classrooms that holds water fine. However this has become disconnected from the guttering and is in need of maintenance. A quick assessment of the situation implied the need for wider gauge inflow pipes to the tank (e.g. 2” pipes in place of 1.5”, of which about 25m are needed) since they became blocked with debris from the roof. We contacted the new manager of CISS Ethiopia who recommended the school make a formal request to them for maintenance assistance. Hopefully this will solve the issue.
  • They have a seed-bank of sorts, but they had only saved 5 varieties of seed and it needs a system of documentation.

3) Products and Yields

  • They had no assessment of the physical amount of product they had yielded from the project since the last training in May. However, they had records of their sales of products to the school community. They had sold 295 Birr worth of sweet potato this season, which was an increase from the previous season, when only 105 Birr worth was sold.
  • The income generated is going into the general school budget and being spent on school supplies, but is not currently being reinvested into the permaculture project. They are making some use of construction materials from the site, such as Eucalyptus, which they have cut for making fences.

4) Community

  • Only 7% of the student body work on the project — and they are all members of the environmental club. 45% of them are female.
  • The students participate on the project on a weekly basis. Mr Taye explained that each pupil has been assigned a specific component of the project, such as a garden bed or a banana tree pit, which they are responsible for maintaining. This seems like a great idea, but the results on the ground could definitely be improved with more follow-up and encouragement, such as prizes for the best performers.
  • This school community has a remarkably high rate of parent-involvement in the project because of the local cultural system of community ‘parka’ (communal work) used on the school site for growing extensive crops such as maize, t’eff and sorghum. All the parents in the school community work on the school land sowing, weeding and harvesting crops on a seasonal basis. During the time of this assessment we observed a number of parents weeding the maize crop in the Zone III area.
  • Mr Taye is currently the only trained teacher at the school, since Mr Segondo was transferred to another school. He is the only teacher actively working on the project. However, there is evidence of teachers replicating permaculture principles in their homes. We were invited to visit the home of Mr Tesfaye, which was a remarkable demonstration of PC principles at work in the community beyond the school itself.
  • We were shown no evidence of replication by community members. We asked to meet Mr Belachew who was trained in February 2012, but he was unavailable at the time.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Overall Gocha primary has actually dropped in its assessment score since February 2012, which was somewhat disappointing. There had been improvement in some areas, specifically the design plan, the products and yields and the level of community participation. However they drastically lost ground in the implementation section, due to a near complete lack of maintenance of their garden and the absence of any tree nursery. On the other hand, they had planted a lot of trees, mostly mango and weybetta, which they had gotten from the nearby Greener Ethiopia (NGO) community nursery.

Mr Taye attributes these problems to two issues: 1) the school has just been on summer holiday for two months during which time there was no activity on the project; 2) there has been a lack of a reliable water supply. This second point deserves some attention from our part, as the EPF did fund the attempted construction of a water tank in the school. Probably the most promising line of action will be to try and involve one of the larger locally active NGOs in the maintenance of the existing water catchment and delivery infrastructure for the 30,000 litre tank that is already present in the school and in working order.

School Name: Karat Primary School
Teacher Trained: Mr Legesse Gebru and Mrs Zinesh Belaye
Date: 19 October 2012
Present: Alex McCausland (Consultant) and Sabrina Faubert (Intern)

Overall Score: 52.5/78 = 67%

Break Down: (Includes comparison to February 2012 survey)

(Oct 2012)
Fuchucha Borkara Gocha
(Feb 2012)
(Feb 12)
The Design Plan 6 0.7 3.8 4 6.3
Design Implementation 18.5 9.3 16.3 15.3 22.7
Products and Yields 14 10.3 12.8 5.7 13.7
Community Involvement 14 4.7 5.8 8 7.7
Total 52.5 25.0 38.5 33.0 50.3

Observations and Comments

1) The design plan

  • The design was displayed in the lobby of an administration office. It was accessible to the teachers and possibly the students, though not very visible.
  • The design had been updated in Feb 2012 during the refresher training and the implementation since then had closely followed the design plan.

2) The design implementation

  • There was a garden, but it lacked maintenance and diversity. This again may be due to the school summer holiday July – September, during which time it would not have been maintained as there were no student or teachers around.
  • The only annuals in the garden were sweet potato and beans. There was a small amount of carrot and celery, though not in significant amounts. The only herb in use was lemon grass.
  • Mulching was thin and patchy, but there was evidence of effective bed design for water conservation and path planning, though the paths had become overgrown.
  • There was a tree nursery, though all the seedlings had been planted out, which was appropriate since it was the rainy season.
  • They had planted a range of tree species for food production (mango, moringa, avocado and papaya) and of commercial value (coffee).
  • They had neglected to plant legumes for soil enhancement.
  • They had planned species well-suited for microclimate amelioration but had not planned the plantings effectively for establishing a windbreak.
  • They had tried to introduce a sheep into the design, but had not planned for its security adequately, hence the sheep was eaten by dogs at night.
  • They had established a pit-compost, which was in use. There was evidence that the community had been bringing manure to the school for the garden. They were also mulching with waste paper.
  • There were no solutions for human sanitation in the design.
  • They had dug a lot of large infiltration pits in front of the classroom buildings. The older ones had been fenced and planted with bananas, beans and sweet potato. The newer pits had yet to be planted, though they were fenced. They had also dug a larger dam at the top of the site (as designed by Mr Legesse in the training), which could be expanded and lined with pond liner in the future.
  • There was a seed bank that had at least 10 species of seeds in significant amounts, but there was no systematic documentation of seed storage.

3) Products and Yields

  • They did have an assessment of the physical yield from the project over the past six months: According to their records they had sold 300kg of sweet potato, 200kg of maize and about 100kg of pigeon pea, which was an increase on the previous season.
  • Sales were all to the school community.
  • The total income since February 2012 was 2341.50 Birr, which was again an increase on the previous year. The sales were recorded in an auditable format.
  • Funds are being reinvested into the permaculture project, including the purchase of a sheep (which was unfortunately eaten by dogs).
  • They are making use of fodder and construction materials from the project, mostly for mulching purposes.

4) Community

  • Just under 50% of the students participate on the project, and it has been incorporated into the curriculum on a nearly daily basis.
  • Three parents have been trained and work full-time on the project as employees of the school.
  • Four teachers are actively involved in the project on a daily basis, including Mr Halake, the director, and all four of them have replicated some permaculture activities in their home compounds.
  • We were not shown any evidence of replication by community members.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Karat Primary has continued to go from strength to strength. Although there was some lack of maintenance in the Zone I area, this may be attributed to the lack of activity over the summer holidays. They had diligently worked through the updated project plan they had produced on the refresher training in May 2012, and had implanted about 80% of it. This may call into question whether the teacher had thought far enough ahead during that design update session, but it is impressive that they had set out to achieve exactly what they had envisioned with adequate determination. We were very pleased with the amount of attention they had paid to erosion control and water harvesting on their school site, with numerous new infiltration pits established to catch and sink roof run-off rather than allowing it to eat erosion gullies all over the school compound. Some of these pits still need to be planted with appropriate species (such as sugar cane, banna grass or elephant grass) to stabilise them and make use of the water.

The school could benefit from now re-assessing and updating its design for the next 6 to 12 months, as well as receiving some additional inputs such as sugar cane, banna grass and elephant grass propagules.

They had attempted to bring animals into the design, which was also pleasing, though this had failed since they had not taken adequate care to develop the appropriate infrastructure for them before-hand. This serves to highlight the pitfalls which may beset a project in the absence of adequate planning. Such elements need to be incorporated into the overall site design and their establishment and integration into the system adequately thought through.

Hence we recommend convening a design update session for Karat Primary at the next available opportunity, which would hopefully be attended by the trained teachers as well as the director, Mr Halake.

Implementation Conducted at PKSP Phase IIB Schools

School Name: Jarso Primary School
Teachers Trained: Mr Adisu Uyo, Mr Asnake Mesganaw
Present at the implementation: From SFEL – Alex McCausland (trainer/consultant), Sabrina Faubert (intern), Bastien Coccetto (volunteer), Kebede Ganta (garden assistant).
From the Jarso primary – Mr Adisu Uyo, environmental club members (30+ persons).

Activities conducted:

1) Planting out legume trees (Sesbania) and papaya onto a swale that had been surveyed and excavated in July. A total of more than 100 trees were planted during the session. The trees were planted with compost from a heap which had been prepared in July and mulched with freshly cut grass.

2) Preparing a soil mix, filling planting tubes and seeding more seedlings into the nursery. The nursery was prepared in July with fencing and shading. New seeds sown into the nursery tubes included Leucinnea (a legume tree), Terminalia (a timber species) and Kazmir (a fruit tree).

3) Planting sugarcane around a 20,000 litre water tank on the northern classroom block. This was to make use of spillage and leakage coming from the tank, which is creating a permanently wet micro climate in the immediate vicinity of the tank. Sugarcane was chosen because it is tolerant of dry periods, produces a marketable product and has a diffuse root network that will not crack concrete or disturb the tank foundations.

Observations and Comments: One of the trained teachers was absent at the implementation and has shown little interest in the project from the start, including un-enthusiastic participation in the training. My Adisu Uyo by contrast has been very active and enthusiastic about the project. There has also been a change in the administration of the school since the training. We need to maintain contact with the new administration to ensure they keep a positive attitude toward the work.

School Name: Konso Secondary School
Date of Implementation: 02/11/2012
Teachers Trained: Mr Araso Gognisha, Ms Fikre Bizuayahu
Present at the implementation: From SFEL – Alex McCausland (trainer/consultant), Sabrina Faubert (intern), Kebede Ganta (garden assistant). From the Jarso primary – Mr Ararso Gongisha, Mr Asmelash Dagne, environmental club members (~20 students).

Activities conducted: (Based on a brief survey of the site pre-implementation)

1) Planting out trees from the tree nursery into a wind-break: there were some 300 – 400 trees in the tree nursery we had established in July. With the rainy season on and most of them still unplanted it was considered imperative to get them out in the field as soon as possible. Species present included neem, weybetta and grevilia amongst others also suitable for wind-break, fodder and timber. It was decided to plant a shelter-belt along the eastern border of the chicken forage compound, immediately down-hill from a swale dug in July, which would protect the fruit trees planted on the swale. The environmental club began this task planting out about 50 seedlings into the wind-break area.

2) It was also decided that the fence of the chicken forage compound needed maintenance and to be made more durable by adding fence posts as well as cross-braces. We delivered 30 extra eucalyptus posts for this task. We did not have time to begin working on the fence during the implementation, but Mr Araso agreed to continue this task with the environmental club members during their following activity sessions.

Observations and Comments

As with Jarso Primary, one of the trained teachers has proved to be apathetic about the project. The other teacher, Mr Ararso, by contrast has been very enthusiastic and energetic, both in the training and with subsequent implementations. We have also sought to maintain a dialogue with the school administration on the project in order to maintain a positive attitude from them. They have indicated that as long as they gain income from the project for their expense budget they are happy for it to go ahead.

Another initiative we have agreed with the school is to run an internship for two of the most promising students from the environmental club, hand-picked by Mr Ararso. They will work three half-days per week on the demonstration site at SFEL. They will be paid hourly for their work, and at the same time will have a chance to gain experience implementing permaculture techniques on an established site. They may also have a chance to participate in a Permaculture Design Course training at SFEL in the future if it can be arranged and agreed to by the school administration.



One thought on “Permaculture in Konso Schools Project Update, May-Oct 2012 (Ethiopia)

  1. What an incredible project, with so much potential! Thank you for sharing this with us, and for all the detail you included in the article. The step by step breakdown is especially helpful for those of us still learning the Permaculture ropes. Wishing you all success and looking forward to updates in the future!

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