The Future of Permaculture in Malawi (according to me…)

The title of this blog post is a bit grandiose, I admit, but this is something that has been on my mind lately – especially as we’ve been pondering the future of this organization that has so captured my heart and mind that I’m contemplating extending my stay yet again (more on that another day).

Eston teaching about water management

In my opinion, when thinking about permaculture in Malawi, the most compelling arguments in favor of its widespread adoption relate to nutrition and food security. While the environmental and economic benefits are manifold, in a country where over 60% of children under-5 suffer from malnourishment, any practice that serves to increase diet diversity and food security should be used in every household.

When looking at permaculture, many of the practices stand out as improving nutrition – intercropping fields, planting food trees, integrating animal systems – however the most interesting and potentially impactful permaculture interventions focus around the home site rather than the staple fields and lowland gardens.

And this brings me to what I really want to talk about, my pet project here at work.

Biswick teaching during a staff training day

For the past three months I have been working on a project where we are training our staff and their families in permaculture basics and then supporting them in setting up gardens around their homes. And I mean right around their homes – in the 20 meters surrounding their homes. For those of you who have never been to an African village that might not sound like a big deal, however for those of you who have you can confirm that every inch of organic material is swept away from the house every day. The typical home in the typical African village is surrounded by hard-packed dirt with no signs of life.

Green spreading mulch on their demonstration bed during a practical lesson

What we want to do with this project is create lush, vegetated plots around the homes of our employees with the capacity to provide diverse, nutritious ndiwo (vegetables) for the entire family, year-round. This can be done; we have seen it before (see my post Finding Inspiration). Through the trainings the staff and their families are learning about water and soil management, plant functions and guilds, seed saving, plot design and implementation, and nutrition. They will be able to use these tools to create home gardens filled with fruit trees, climbing vines, groundcover, and tubers, all of which will provide food, increase household diet diversity, and create their own small ecosystem.

Maureen and Joseph practicing companion planting

These small-scale gardens will be used as demonstration sites and education tools to spread awareness and knowledge to the surrounding villages. Who knows how far it could spread given time and a few motivated, passionate individuals.

This may sound idyllic, but, if implemented correctly, this project has the potential to make a serious impact in the lives of our employees, their families, and, eventually, their communities. While this project is small in terms of funding and number of participants (eleven staff and their family members), it could be big in terms of eventual impact. At the very least its success will determine Kusamala’s project trajectory and it could just influence the future of permaculture in Malawi.

This is all just beside the fact that our staff is one of my favorite parts of this organization and I get extremely excited at the prospect of anything we can do to increase their capacity and make them happy.

If you want to learn more about this project check out our project page or blog on our website (I’ve done a lot of work on those lately as well).

Other random updates…

The water board went on strike last week and the water was turned off in all of Lilongwe for nearly a week. Luckily we have our own well – we had a lot of visitors to our borehole that week…

The hot season officially hit this past Saturday. Yes, I can pinpoint it to an actual day the temperature change was that clear. We’ll have to stop planting the brassicas soon.

We now have seven baby chicks waddling around the centre with more on their way! I hate chickens but their babies are just so cuddly. We still haven’t figured out how we’re going to feed them all once they’re grown. Here’s hoping they’re males so they’ll be feeding us!

Let’s end this long post with an adorable kitten photograph. And no, don’t worry, I’m not becoming a crazy cat lady. Despite my last post I generally find them more irritating than endearing these days. So this is the last blog mention, I promise.

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9 Responses to The Future of Permaculture in Malawi (according to me…)

  1. Blythe says:

    SO fascinating. I love all the details, u paint such a vivid picture.

  2. Anna Wilson says:

    You ROCK, Catherine! Love hearing your updates and your passion! Love you……….

  3. ccarlton says:

    Aw thanks so much sisters! Family is the best 🙂

  4. and yes, when people sweep everyday for 365 days..then we are losing way too much top soil. This is a gender too because it is usually women who do the sweeping and the people can fully adopt this then women will saved alot from that kind of ‘cleanliness’! last we had a random permablitz in Mzimba outside a chiefs house. It was literally dry outside the house and what we did was simply mulch without digging and planted vegetable and pawpaws….now when we go we eat pawpaws and ‘Nkwhani’ from this garden. Fascinating

  5. Reblogged this on The Envirogentia and commented:
    Organic Agriculture can Turn around issues…

  6. ccarlton says:

    Thanks so much Jones, it’s great to hear about other people out there working for the same thing. I’d love to see this chief’s house sometime. I bet it has had a big impact coming from someone so influential in the community!

  7. John says:

    Great post, Catherine! Love hearing about what you’re doing

  8. This post is a super birthday present to me 🙂 I’m thrilled to see the centre alive and growing.

    But HEY, what are you doing to my poor cat! We’re coming to take her/him off your hands tomorrow. We used to not be cat people either, but they are so useful for keeping the mice away and they are just so independent. A great part of any home design 🙂

  9. ana says:

    Buns! Finally got a chance to read this. I love this new project you’ve been working on… AMAZING!!! I suppose I could support you staying a bit longer for something like that 🙂 Hope you are doing so well. Loving you and missing you so much!

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