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Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge 4-Week Group Internship at PRI Master Plan Site, Konso, Ethiopia

There are those points in life where it’s all up-hill struggle, when you know there’s so much to be done that it’s not even worth contemplating it all, you just have to keep your eyes on the ground in front of you and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Then there are those times when you seem to be drifting, there’s no challenge and no real satisfaction, you just roll along the path in front of you passing what goes by. Then, very occasionally, are those fantastic moments when you reach the top, the peak of a mountain, or, perhaps the foot-hill of a mountain, when you are able to stop, take a breath and admire the views of this fantastic spectacle we call life and feel a bit of satisfaction that you have achieved something, got to the peak of the challenge you were set. And that is really what makes it all worth-while. It’s those moments which we strive for, and its knowing that such moments lie ahead which keep us going, through the challenges, toil and even drudgery of every-day life.

Our project in south Ethiopia seems to be at such a point. We started working here 5½ years ago. We, that is myself and the various people who’ve put their time and energy into this crazy escapade since it began back in 2007, have managed to build an Eco Lodge, set up a permaculture site and a training centre which has done us well enough to host a total of 27 PDCs since Rosemary Morrow came out and did the first two in 2008. We’ve managed to get a local schools project going and trained teachers from 12 local schools, got them to do site designs and begin implementing permaculture activities with their school environmental clubs. On its own, all this sounds great, but it’s been a hell of a struggle day to day. Now we seem to be on the edge of really getting somewhere.

Of the 27 PDCs we have hosted here, two were lead by Rosemary Morrow, 19 by Tichafa Makovere, one by Steve Cran, one by Rhamis Kent and four I have lead myself. I was able to begin leading the PDCs myself as of December 2011, and now I feel I have really got the syllabus down. With nearly 150 hours of teaching experience under my belt as well as 5½ years of project admin and development experience out here in Ethiopia, I have now cut my battle fangs in the field of PC and feel ready for any challenge. And with all that now behind, I just put in my application to become a PRI registered trainer, and they have accepted it which is really fantastic. All this is not just to boast. What I am really looking for her is for people to rally to a call.

Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge (SFEL) is in Konso, the deep south of Ethiopia, a small tribal homeland with a unique, intensely socialised culture centred on fortified hilltop settlements and a sophisticated indigenous terraced agriculture which has won Konso recognition from UNESCO as a Cultural Landscape of World Heritage Status. What we are endeavouring to do now is establish a PRI Master Plan Demonstration Site right in the middle of this often drought stricken and food insecure area. It’s certainly a challenge. Konso is 700km south of Addis Ababa on the southern periphery edge of the Ethiopian plateau, perched on a rocky outcrop which sits on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. To the south and east is Borana and to the west is Omo the tribal lowlands populated by warring pastoralist tribes whose patchwork of ethnicities stretches down into the troubled bad-lands of South Sudan, Northern Kenya and Northern Uganda. Fisher (1990) described the highlands of Konso as “green and densely farmed mountains topped by orderly villages and neat round houses, which form an outpost of sedate, evolved culture in the midst of strange, wild country that grows ever more primal and savage as one journeys towards the Ethio-Sudanese Borders.” Actually I’ve also published a piece on Konso’s own (Agri)cultural system on this blog previously.

But fascinating as it is, Konso’s agriculture is not managing to keep up with the challenges of the modern era in south Ethiopia. Food aid, that quick fix solution, is, in my opinion and many others, making the long term situation worse. What’s more, it can’t keep going the way it is forever. We all know that western industrial over-production is unsustainable, hence a culture that has learned to survive by exploiting dumped western surpluses can’t persist any longer than the west itself.

So what are we trying to do here? Here’s the objective, what we’ve been working away on for five years now: establish a strong, fully functional, self sustaining and self supporting, world class permaculture demonstration and training site in Konso, which is able to run an effective community outreach scheme working with local partners to spread the knowledge and skills of permaculture design and permaculture techniques to the local community to be able to foster a more resilient and self reliant culture both locally and more widely in Ethiopia.

We have now become part of the PRI Master Plan network, but there is still a lot to be done on the ground. We are just in the process of updating our site design. We have achieved a lot over the past five years (SFEL site survey Jan 2013) and we have a lot of plans for the next five (SFEL site design update Jan 2013). But the most valuable infrastructure we have built up over that time is knowledge, and we have won it with a lot of toil and sacrifice. Now we want to share it with you, on one condition — that you help us realize our vision. We are running a PDC and 1-month Internship combination program at Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge in April-May this year.

We have a lot of work to do and your input can make this vision become a reality. With myself having become an accredited PRI trainer and SFEL registered as a PRI Master Plan Site, it feels somewhat like we are crashing through a barrier, or pacing the last few steps to the top of a foothill. From here we can stop and admire the view with satisfaction, but then there is going to be another bigger mountain to climb, and we need your help. We need people to come and participate.

The PDC Course Announcement was posted on this blog already. The syllabus can be viewed online here or downloaded from the right side of my WPN profile. The internship will run from April 15th to May 11th and it will involve a lot of practical activities. If destiny should fall the way we hope, it will be the middle of the long rains in South Ethiopia, and we’ll have a lot of work to do on our site such as maintaining and upgrading soil and water harvesting infrastructure, maintaining and building dry-stone terraces, upgrading our kitchen to install a new rocket stove and multi-ring wood-stove with an in-built water heater, composting, setting up raised beds in the garden, planting out fruit and timber trees in the field, extending and improving the fencing for animal systems and the project perimeter. Participants will have a chance to cover all of the following activities during the internship and help us get them done in the process:

  • Dry-stone wall terracing
  • Thatch and traditional African home design and construction
  • Bio-climactic home design and construction
  • Mud brick building (Adobe)
  • Earth bag building (“Super Adobe”)
  • Water harvesting earthworks: dam, pond, swale and spillway construction
  • Small scale (roof) rainwater harvesting systems for dry-land gardening
  • Small scale irrigation systems, modern and traditional
  • Composting, mulching and soil building
  • Animal systems – fencing, forage and cut and carry systems
  • Chicken forage systems
  • Reed-bed, grey and black water systems
  • Rocket stoves and multi-burner clay ranges for low fuel consumption and water heating
  • Solar and compost powered water heating systems
  • Composting toilets; design, construction and operation
  • Tree nursery establishment and maintenance
  • Planning and implementing tree plantings for Zones II to IV food and timber forests

Technicians and craftsmen from the local community will also be called in to assist with the activities relating to local traditional skills. There will also be field trips to the local schools and the chance to conduct activities on our local community outreach program the Permaculture in Konso Schools Project.

The price for the PDC is $850 and for the internship is $1000. If you do both there is a $250 discount (total $1600). The price includes catering of three basic meals and camping. The students can choose to upgrade to better accommodation according to the following price plan:

  PDC (13 days) Internship (28 days)

For more information please feel free to contact me at info (at)


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