A Date in the Desert

By: Jesse De Boer | Lead Permaculture Manager

Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent accounting for 16% of the world’s population. It is also the hottest continent on earth with 60% of its land surface classified as arid or semi arid (ASAL) and in the next twenty years its population is predicted to grow by an additional 2 billion people.

How are we going to feed everyone?


This is a BIG question that is going to require some big answers - and we’re not the only ones asking it. But after a solid year of nurturing life (and food) back into existence in the northern deserts of Turkana we have some understanding of the kind of efforts that will be required.

Learning from others however, will remain a critical part of this evolution and to this end, the Barefoot team recently hopped aboard a flight to Israel to see, speak and observe from the acclaimed ‘masters of desert agriculture’ … and we had a blast.


Upon landing in Tel Aviv we re-manipulated our brains into driving on the other side of the road and headed south into the famed Arava region; home to Bedouin sheep and their herders, an argan oil farmer, the world’s finest Medjool dates and some whopper pomegranates.  We ate creamy white goat cheese with a spoon and met a man called Moti Harari at the Arava R&D center. This is where drip irrigation was invented and where rows of indigenous desert plants are being played with for purposes ranging from cures of coughs and colds to essential oils. Then we saw some date palms – quite a few in fact, and got a ride in a giant yellow machine that allows the date pickers to soar high up into the canopies to open the nets containing the ripening medjools – considered to be one of the worlds most lucrative crops. From there we sweated our way into and through the date packing house – and by the time we were back on the road it was time for a pomegranate or 7 plucked from a bush weighed down by these most excellent baubles.

We stayed in a kibbutz after a tour of an epically integrated food forest; almonds, olives, peach, plum, grapes and guava… some more dates and pomegranates all covered in a thick layer of slashed wheat straw. This was good.

2 days in, 1000km in and at some point we found ourselves floating in the dead sea… from there we hit Jeruselum and attempted some cultural enrichment that involved a number of farms, community gardens and at least 7 plates involving hummus.


Completing the loop we returned back to Tel Aviv via yet another farm complete with the worlds largest pumpkins and a mini tractor with several attachments for making beautiful vegetable beds – and after a swim in the sea and a night on the town we sped up north for the day and took in the sights of Galilee and thousands of acres of tightly spaced bananas, loquats and mango all snug under shade and insect net which saves them a bunch of water…. Dam these kids know how to prune!

Somehow the week had zoomed past and with a single day left we set out for a surf and an aquaponic farm tour, scoped a miraa farm and made a pact to return…

Melbourne Aquaponics

 Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics

Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics

By: Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics

About the author: Jonathan Martinetto is the founder of Melbourne Aquaponics, a business with the aim to spread sustainable food production techniques through aquaponics. He is also the author of the digital aquaponics manual “The art of Aquaponics”, a comprehensive guide to successful aquaponics management.

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Melbourne Aquaponics and Barefoot Solutions

I am personally a big fan and lover of permaculture, and always happy to hear and learn from new permaculture initiatives around the world. When I first came across Barefoot solutions I was intrigued and curious to discover the application of permaculture in Africa. Their website provides plenty of valuable information and has helped me to get a better understanding of their work and accomplishments. I have particularly appreciated the technical articles such as the one about the banana circles! There is so much we can do when we apply the right technique and work with nature…

I deeply believe aquaponics could also bring additional benefits. I have thus contacted the team as I would love to share my experience and passion with the Barefoot solutions community. So here we are.

What is aquaponics and why it represents an opportunity for the African continent…

Aquaponics is a food production technique involving fish and vegetables. Unlike most mass food production techniques, aquaponics is a real ecosystem where fish, bacteria and plants but also fungus, worms and insects work altogether. Aquaponics use the natural cycle of life also known as “nitrogen cycle”. Nothing is lost! Like in a forest or a river, everything is recycled. The waste of one species are used as a source of food for the others. No pesticides are used. The smallest amount of insecticide would damage the bacteria population that is playing a key role in the aquaponics ecosystem. Pest are regulated thanks to natural predators present in the ecosystem. Nature is doing the job by itself.

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Why is it so well adapted to the African continent?

One of the main advantages of aquaponics is the supply of water required. As aquaponics work as a closed system, the water is recycled and kept, as opposed to a classic garden where it would be lost in the soil. The result is quite significant; this method actually consumes 10 times less water than in a classic garden and produces twice as much! Light and temperature also play an important role, so it seems it shouldn’t be an issue on this continent.

In Africa where water is such a scarce resource, this solution seems to be an interesting choice and avenue for food production.

What type of fish and vegetables can we grow in aquaponics?

A large number of fish is adapted for aquaponics in Africa. Among them, the tilapia and catfish. Those are hardy and adapted to warm water conditions. In aquaponics they will produce a nice flesh and offer nitrogen to the system.

From a plants perspective aquaponics allow to grow a large variety of species. To note though, leafy plants such as lettuce, spinach and silver beet are the easiest to grow. 

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What type of investment does aquaponics require?

When we talk about aquaponics it is important to differentiate commercial aquaponics and backyard aquaponics.

Commercial aquaponics generally use the 2 large scale techniques that are Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Water Culture (DWC). The aim of this article being to give you a light overview of aquaponics, we will not detail those 2 techniques here.

The third technique accessible to everyone who desire to grow some food in their backyard is called grow-bed aquaponics. The simplest version consists of 2 tanks, one on top of the other. The bottom tank houses fish and the top tank is filled with rocks where vegetables grow.

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In terms of investment a backyard aquaponics can be achieved with a very limited budget and recycled materials. Commercial aquaponics will request more expensive equipment and a greenhouse in order to maximize the system productivity.

What maintenance is required?

Nature is doing the job for you and takes care of everything. The ecosystem auto balances itself as long as the condition offered are adapted. The maintenance of an aquaponics system is mainly to feed the fish and maintain correct water parameters. There are no back breaking labour, weeding, watering or spraying required. As you can tell, maintenance tasks are very limited.

With few recycled tanks you can build a system producing fish and vegetables in your own backyard without effort!

Where to start?

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Aquaponics is an effective solution to locally produce sustainable, healthy and tasty food. The only challenge being to offer and maintain a good environment to your ecosystem. Yes, specific knowledge in biology is required but don’t be intimidated, everybody is able to learn the basics and get started. My aim with Melbourne Aquaponics is to allow you to learn the needed basic knowledge to build and manage your own aquaponics system. You will find a free aquaponics training here that will help you to build your first aquaponics system and start producing sustainable, healthy and tasty food in your backyard!

If you need any further support we have an aquaponics website with a blog covering most of aquaponics questions. Click on the button below.

The Big Four

By: Organix Limited



THE BIG FOUR, sounds like a phrase used to describe something positive, right? Like the Three musketeers, the G7, the Big Five, the Eight Wonders........

Reality check. From this side we confirm that the so called four are pests. Call them Aphids, Mites, Whiteflies and Thrips -  major sap feeding pests that extract a huge financial toll on tomato, kale, spinach, cabbage, cucumber, beans, orange, mango, capsicum, flowers, the list is long. Mites are not insects but small versions of spiders, while thrips are small winged insects, though difficult to see their wings with the naked eye. Whitefly are small flying insects that are white, as their name imply. They leave a sticky film on plant leaves. Aphids on the other hand, have excellent camouflage that makes them hard to spot. Bottom line is that behind their distinctiveness they pose great potential for damage – every farmer’s dread.  A farmer will not sit around the fire to listen to 'The Big Four' tales.

 Whiteflies on the underside of a leaf

Whiteflies on the underside of a leaf

To address the farmer's pain points brought on by these four and others, Organix has within its range of botanical remedies, one that is extracted from the neem tree. The solution which is known as Achook has a low pre harvest interval of eight hours which means that one can ‘pluck and serve’ on the same day! Achook controls insects and nematodes by inhibiting their future generations. Aphids, Mites, Whiteflies and Thrips (and other pests) eggs will not hatch, their larvae will not turn into pupae, pupae will not transform to be adult and their adult will lose ability to lay eggs – long term effect.



in 100ml pack. Applied rate of 1ml per litre water for most crops

To maintain efficacy of Achook for longer periods, the farmer should employ an integrated pest management approach.  The idea is to rotate the methods used so two successive generations of pests aren’t exposed to the same product or the same method. Achook is effectively used in conjunction with other safe methods, that way ‘The Big Four’ are less likely to evolve and become ‘The Mighty Four’.

 Whiteflies knocked out after Achook foliar spray

Whiteflies knocked out after Achook foliar spray

Creating a productive permaculture farm out of a dusty piece of marginal land

By: John and Lulu Clark


Our shamba is 18 acres on the north side of Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley in Kenya. It is set a short distance back from the lake shore and has gently sloping well-drained volcanic soil with rocky sections, with an average annual rainfall of approximately 650 mm, which falls mainly between April and June and again in October / November. It naturally has an abundance of leleshwa and yellow fever (acacia xanthophloea) trees, and a scattering of other indigenous shrubs and grasses. It is vulnerable to sodom apple and lantana, which we have partially controlled by digging out over the years.

One of the main challenges we faced when we decided to go into permaculture farming was what to do about the hippos, buffaloes and other wildlife that freely roam within the area; we had planted trees before, none of which survived. So the first thing we had to do was put up an electric fence around the property, which was a fairly major capital outlay. We were sad to make the decision to keep the wildlife out however the land was denuded from heavy grazing over the years and, apart from actually during the rains, it was not much good for the wildlife anyway. We have left one acre unfenced, and we are growing some fodder within the fenced area to help out the wildlife during the dry months. Smaller species such as dikdik, reedbuck, duikers, African hares and spring hares can pass through the fence and still come and go freely on the plot.


The second big challenge was water and especially getting through the long dry seasons; the domestic supply piped up from the lake was barely adequate to keep our moderate household going, so we decided to put in a solar borehole, which was another major financial outlay. We were lucky and we struck lots of great quality water at an easily reachable depth. Once the borehole was in place we put in water pipes around the boundary and connections across the entire property.

At this stage we asked Barefoot Solutions to help us with planning the project in more detail, starting with mapping, contouring and earthworks. We got in a professional digger to put in 5 reservoirs of varying sizes to service the current and future water requirements on the property, and once the reservoirs were in we dug several swales along the contours to hold the flow of water and direct it down the plot. We also put in a mobile piped irrigation system to water the areas in between the swales.


Next came the planting - the swales were seeded with a mix of chia, basil, cow peas, pigeon peas, mulberry cuttings, pumpkins and squash. We also planted napier and vetiver grasses along the swales and around the reservoirs. Nitrogen fixing shrubs included: bean varieties, Calandra, sesbania, green heart, morninga olifiera and stenopotala.

We put in several banana circles, which were intercropped with sweet potatoes, chia seeds, sugarcane and cow peas.

A fruit forest was planted, with 140 seedlings and fruit trees: 

- Grafted - orange (pixie, Valencia, Washington, marmalade), mango (apple, tommy, Kent varieties), tangerine, sweet orange, avocado, guava, lemon, lime, plum (sweet, cherry, cooking, golden, red, yellow), pear, peach, apple. 

- Non grafted - golden sapote (Seychelles), picanto cherry, tree tomato, raspberry, wine berry, blackberry, mulberry, strawberry, edible fig, large non-grafted avocado, star fruit, lemon grass, sweet potato (four varieties).

Since then we have added custard apples, papaya, pomegranates, passionfruit, gooseberries, loquats and kaffir limes. 

Indigenous trees including hardwoods: Meru oak, podo, Cape chestnut, olive, cedar, African greenheart, cordia and croton.

We already had a (not very productive) walled vegetable garden with a small greenhouse; the Barefoot Solutions team helped us design a crop rotation program, intercropping with companion planting and also to set up a propagation area and a worm farm. We are now growing vegetables such as artichokes, carrots, spinach, fennel, leaks, beetroot, chilis, lettuces, red and white cabbages, radishes, asparagus and many varieties of beans, interplanted with tobacco and other pest controlling / nitrogen fixing varieties. We have not had much luck with tomatoes so far, and our cucumbers, courgettes and other squashes are being attacked by a certain wasp, which makes them inedible. 


Our herb garden includes parsley, three different kinds of mint, coriander, sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, curry leaf, lemon grass and rocket.

Our mixed woodlot contains eucalyptus, cypress, sand olive, cedar, bottle brush and acacia.

The initial plantings covered approximately 2 acres; last season we expanded to approximately 4 acres with sunflower, bamboo, Hass avocados, more moringa, some coffee bushes, grape vines and most recently 100 Macadamia nut trees, which were brought over from Embu.

The swales holding water combined with the hippo fence have promoted a resurgence of native grass species and wild flowers, and last season we did an experiment with three varieties of indigenous wild grasses from Murray Roberts at Baringo, as well as sorghum, boma rhodes and alfalfa. We look forward to our bee hives becoming productive as they start to benefit from the extra flora now available.


This last long rainy season resulted in an abundance of grass; a lot of it is turned into compost and we are using biodynamic products imported from South Africa in our compost heaps and on the land. The neighbours cattle come and graze from time to time, which very importantly fertilises the ground while keeping the excess grass short, and our chickens love being invited in to the vegetable garden to scratch around and help us keep the soils loose and fertile.

Barefoot Solutions introduced us to permaculture principles such as chop and drop, the importance of mulching and composting, methods of water conservation and using chemical free fertilisers and pesticides. 

We still have a long way to go but 3 years since we started we are enjoying a wide variety of organically grown fruits, vegetables, salads, herbs and berries on a regular basis, and this once rather bleak piece of land is well on its way to becoming a thriving and sustainable permaculture farm.

So far we have developed less than half of our property - we would love to find some like-minded partners to join us in developing the remaining area. johnandluluclark@gmail.com

10 Cents From Our Newest Team Member

By: James Thiongo

"I was super excited to join the Turkana Team up in Nakukulas-  It has always been my dream to work and live on a farm and now i'm doing that in the desert! 


There is something great about the simplicity of working up here. You get up with the birds, do some gardening then take a break when it gets unbearably hot. At the end of the day you are tired but at least you feel you have achieved something. The evenings are spent around the fire under a huge acacia tree, storytelling and gazing at the usual clear bright skies.

The six women are motivating to work with. Having worked on the farm for a year now, they understand the garden better than anyone else. They constantly admit how lucky they are to have been chosen to work with the project. They are now equipped with gardening and tree planting skills, enjoy fresh vegetables from the farm and are now training the rest of the community on different permaculture techniques to improve their lives.


It’s a buzz of activity every single day yet every new day is an inspiration to make the farm the best model farm in nursery management, agro forestry, vegetable production, fodder production and community development, training the local Turkana community on alternative livelihood activities.

I was fortunate to spend time and interact with our first workshop Participants. Two gentlemen unique in their own ways. James Kagwe our first participant came two days even before the workshop started. He used to wake up early and start helping run the usual morning errands. He runs a waste management social enterprise in Naivasha and manages the first community garden in Naivasha. Lastly, he is setting up his 3 acre demo site. Samuel Mutisya the second participant is a commercial horticultural farmer growing tomatoes, capsicum and melons.  These two guys blended so well with our team and our daily activities on the farm. Joining us for hands on practical such as composting, vermi-culture maintenance, soil building practices, seedlings propagation, out planting,  harvesting of vegetables among others.

Turkana is now getting a new name; the cradle of mankind is now turning to be the coolest place to learn dry land permaculture. If you are ready to learn regeneration in practice and have a lifetime experience, sign up for our apprenticeship programme.


Whitefly Control 101



These pestering little white things are notorious for building a resistance to the commonly used pesticides, making chemical control very difficult. Adults are also very sneaky as they tend to lay their eggs on the underside of leaves – almost hiding themselves from you! But don’t worry, here are some organic techniques you can use that have also proven to work!

 Whiteflies laying eggs on leaves

Whiteflies laying eggs on leaves

Whitefly control techniques

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Yellow sticky traps

They may look a little ugly in your garden or a bit hectic in your greenhouse but they work a charm for catching the little buggers. The whiteflies are attracted to the colour yellow and so when they come into contact with the card the sticky glue traps them! Gotcha!

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Aluminium reflective mulch....

Aluminium (tin foil) as a mulch makes it difficult for the flies to find the host plant. They are blinded by the light. This a great technique for your vegetables.

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Blast them away!

One of the simpler techniques is blasting a water jet on the areas of high whitefly concentration. You can then apply your neem oil or insecticidal soap to the leaves, preferably in the afternoon.

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Organic Neem Oil

This should be sprayed on fruits and vegetables trees and flowers to kill the adults, eggs and larvae. Mix in 1 oz/gallon or water and spray the entire leaf surface and underside so that the leaves are wet.


Check Nitrogen Levels

Ensuring your soil content does not have too much nitrogen. When people use fertilizers that are high in nitrogen you are creating the perfect breeding ground for the pests!


Beneficial Predators

There are natural predators too! Ladybugs work wonders! Lacewing larvae are great as they feed on their eggs. The whitefly parasite, believe it or not, will destroy nymphs and pupae. For these natural techniques to work best – introduce or release when the pest levels are at their lowest to medium levels of infestation

A few things you should know...

The female adult whitefly can lay hundreds of eggs- usually in a circular pattern. In hotter climates one egg can grow into adult stage in just 16 days! The lifespan of a whitefly is only one month, so in warmer climates as well as greenhouses, the reproduction cycle is almost continuous.

It is more common to find whiteflies in warmer regions, but don’t be fooled, these guys are survivors and will not shy away from cooler climates. They will attack your veggies, fruits and even ornamental plants with just as much enthusiasm.

 Whitefly damage on leaves

Whitefly damage on leaves

Want to learn more about Integrated Pest Management and how to live in resilience? Sing up for our next Permaculture Design Course!

Your Channel for Urban Farming

By: Arjun Vidyarthi - The Urban Farmer

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Over the past 4 months it’s been an absolute privilege to share my videos on The Urban Farmer  Facebook page and see the reaction it has caused in Kenya. Our videos have been watched by over 115,000 people and been shared just under 500 times. That’s more than I expected when we launched the show, which is fantastic.

The Urban Farmer page was initially set up to document what I was getting up to in my home shamba, and to see it become this channel where people from all over the country are watching and learning from it, is something that I could never have imagined. 

Over the past 14 weeks, we have met some amazing people, doing fantastic things in Kenya; and I myself have learnt so much whilst filming them. Things like Seedballs (who have gone viral, with their video being watched millions and millions of times), making a proper compost pit, making a wormery, learning about bees, permaculture and so much more. 

With season 1 complete, I want to assure the viewers that this isn’t the end. We will have a lot more content on our page cover all things agriculture, so make sure you keep checking.

To conclude, I must give a few votes of thanks.

Firstly to my team at Rai Productions. Thank you for all the hard work that you have put in over the years. Moses, Elvis, Dennis and Geeta; you have all be instrumental in getting the show here and we will continue on this journey together. 

Secondly to the team at Organix Limited. Our Sponsors. Thanks for believing in us at The Urban Farmer and for coming on board before we had officially launched. Aasit, Hema, Dipti and the team work super hard to spread their philosophies about being Organic and their products really do work wonders. 

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And finally, A huge thanks must go to the Barefoot Soulutions team, Ivan, Sven and Jess. Its thanks to you that over 115,000 people have had the chance to see how simple it is to grow vegetables at home organically, and to show them that being self-sustainable isn’t as hard as it seems. 

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Together I hope that we can continue to Educate, Empower and make this world a better place, one plant at a time.

Make sure you keep checking our Facebook and Youtube pages, to find out when The Urban Farmers Turkana Expedition will launch.

Asante Sana. 

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Interested in learning more about Permaculture and how you can apply these principles and skills to your own garden? Find out more and sign up for our next Advanced Permaculture Design Course by clicking on the button below:

A word from the training department!

By Florence Njoki

We learn as we work!

On a daily basis, the barefoot training department takes the Nakukulas community ladies into sessions of training; both hands-on as well as theoretical. The training's range from nutrition, composting using worms, nutrition gardening, tree planting, soil enriching techniques, crop protection, propagation, basic financial (saving, budgeting) hygiene among others. The hands-on training help the women know how to work on the farm, with the theory training enabling them to know the background of what they do on the farm.

Turkana being a pastoralist community has the locals inexperienced on agricultural issues. The community based women group, learns how to be trainers for the rest of the community. The ladies are also equipped with life skills i.e. financial and hygiene that enable them to be independent and take better care of their families. The ladies are eager to learn and they insist on other training like charcoal making, baking, soap making among others.

 Barefoot Training Department teaches Turkana community ladies

Barefoot Training Department teaches Turkana community ladies

The ladies of the community are taught on our demonstration farm that has drip-line nutrition gardens where we grow herbs, green vegetables, moringa, salads, lemon grass, neem trees among others. The nutrition training made a big impact on the women. They were surprised to know that lemon grass cures stomach problems, and that moringa has seven times the vitamin C of oranges, three times the potassium of bananas, four times the proteins of eggs, four times the vitamin A of carrots and four times the Calcium of milk.

Namoni one of our ladies reports that she has learnt that if she has no fruits, she can drink the healthy vitamins from the moringa tree. Akale remarks: "kumbe moringa ni dawa ya kimaajabu”?  Translates that moringa is indeed a miraculous tree. Anna was surprised to learn that the composting worms are hermaphrodites!

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Training on enriching the soil for example, mulching, cover crops, use of compost as well as companion planting is among the training that could see the transformation of the potential Turkana. Our big challenge is now convincing the girls to eat salad. Tasting classes are coming up soon to get the ladies gain new taste buds;). Our satisfaction comes from the joy when the women notice how their soils have changed in a short time with the right input,  having them get new diverse food,  and when they ask for lemon tea. We know we have created an impact.

Barefoot promotes the training because with knowledge dispersed, our goals of replicability, scalability and success are possible!

If you are interested in joining our apprentischip program to learn all about what we do up here, read more and apply here


By Jesse De Boer

Work on our Turkana wastewater site kicked off mid November 2017 with a cheerful man called Patrick (an irrigation guru), the barefoot team and many, many rolls of shiny black pipe.

The site is located inside Tullow oil's main camp located within the Kapese community and the plan of attack involved the utilisation of approximately 50 - 100,000 litres of beautifully filtered wastewater a day... not bad for a desert!

Due to the wastewater factor - this site is all about fodder... waving boma rhodes, fat moringa branches, monster Napier grass and a number of trial species including indigenous, wild grasses, Sesbania sesban, Fhaidherbia albida, pigeon pea and an epic variety of purple leafed sweet potato.

... and because we're die hard poly-culturalists someone naughty also sneaked in some whopper pumpkins, mung beans, marigolds, banana's and a sporadic sprinkling of desert dates.

It's bloody brilliant.

Utilising wastewater, whether that's a couple of liters from your kitchen sink at home to commercial set up's like the oil camp is a good idea, no duh. And although we've been blessed with some mighty rains this year, the rest of the time such a valuable resource should be FORBIDDEN to run off into a stinking pool of greasy grey liquid where mosquito's gather together, throwing a party in honour of their lazy human hosts and procreating...

To date we have harvested over 10kg of moringa leaves (dried and will soon be processed into powdered superfood) and several lines of grasses and napier... half of which have been ingeniously baled DIY style and the rest that was shifted over to our main farm site 30km down the road to be spread over our vegetable beds as mulch...

This month's 'photo of the month' is a snap shot of this desert jungle we have created... with the simplest of designs and utilising an abundant and free resource... 

                                Before                                                                         After

Turkana wastewater banana circles'... 4.5 months in

Read more about our Turkana Drylands Desert Farm and how you can join us up here for a lifetime experience starting from June onward we will be hosting apprenticeship programs

Practical Permactulture Workshop Experience

November Practical Permaculture Workshop Recap

BY: Michael Barton

Ask any Permaculturist and I’m sure they will tell you that the first few months, even years on a project are the most intense and busy, as there is always a long list of things to do. In the developing stages of any permaculture site one is faced with the overwhelming task of understanding your site in an attempt to bring it back to life. Understanding the play of the elements through or over the site takes time, months of focused observation and thoughtful interaction. Every project will have its end goals and numerous steps along the path of development to achieve these goals understanding the progression of these steps itself takes time.  With the lens of Permaculture design organizing months of observation into a detailed plan for your space and time takes shape and the benefits are then quick to follow. 

  Typical Limuru Scenery; Tea as far as the Eye can See

Typical Limuru Scenery; Tea as far as the Eye can See

Barefoot Soulutions recently held one of their Practical Permaculture Workshops (PPW) in the Highland areas of Tigoni/ Limuru about a half hour from Kenya’s capital Nairobi. This area is known for its cold weather and rolling hillside of tea. With rich, yet dense red clay soils, it would be hard to find a local resident without a portion of their plot dedicated to some kind of food production. The roadsides are often dotted with small tilled patches of soil growing the usual maize, bean or sukuma crops. And any field not under continual tillage will usually host napier grass and a lot of weeds. Old yet fruitful Avocado trees boast some of the plumpest fruits around, and banana, loquat trees and passion vines seem to have their place in every plot.

The one week PPW was hosted at the Brackenhurst Conference Center a key and historic part of the Tigoni Community. The conference center rests on top of a hill previously landmarked by a lone, enormous Muna Tree. Today, although the iconic tree still stands, Brackenhurst’s reputation is marked by their dedication to the environment with a forest regeneration program of over fifty acres of restored indigenous highland forest. The center boasts an incredible biodiversity of flora and subsequently fauna, through an initiative driven by Plants for Life International, a partnering organization with the aim of developing the Brackenhurst grounds into an internationally recognized botanical garden. 

Barefoot Solutions role through the PPW was now to expand the facilities environmentally conscious practice with a focus on food production and ecosystem enhancement through the application of Permaculture. The PPW’s focus was to demonstrate both on a small and large scale what was possible through the application of permaculture techniques.

  The block of Brackenhurst’s farming field allocated to the PPW

The block of Brackenhurst’s farming field allocated to the PPW

Given permission to adjust the old Shamba (Vegetable garden) spaces and also to cut new gardens, the small team of eager workshop participants guided by the veteran Tichafa Makovere, got to work applying the concepts they had learned in the classroom to the Brackenhurst grounds. In the middle of Brackenhurst’s existing farm fields, space for two large Mandala Gardens were allocated; through gentle movement of the soil into workable sized beds with dedicated and mulched pathways.

  The newly designed Mandala Gardens in the middle of the existing farm

The newly designed Mandala Gardens in the middle of the existing farm

Keeping slope in mind keyhole beds were added and planted with thick sweet potato ground cover to capture and store water.  Moving away from the traditional large tilled patches of ground planted as monocultures, Tichafa had participants racing back and forth from the field to the nursery beds to “bring more seedlings” to “fill those gaps” asking “do you remember the companions to cabbage?” “What about beetroots” all to leave behind a well-designed and diversified showcase for the farm management to replicate.

Above: Participants eagerly planting seedlings and intercropping companion plants

  Mandala Garden taking shape

Mandala Garden taking shape

On another day of the course, a Perma Blitz took place on the Woodland Star International School’s Playground space. Woodland Star International is within the Brcakenhurst grounds and is fully on board with the overall vision of making the campus a showcase site for what good environmental practice can look like. They loved the idea of developing a space for their students to learn and participate in food production and asked that during the PPW,  Barefoot and the workshop’s participants impliment a ‘sensory garden’ on a relatively unused corner of their playground.

Above: Woodland Star International School; Unused corner of the playground garden

Above:The finished school garden space filled with sensory planting regimes

So that’s what we did; working against the clock we removed a thick layer of Kikuyu grass lawn and fought with the hard-compacted soil to bring to life a sensory maze that would entice the students into the space. Mulching our pathways with fresh straw the un planted mandala growing out from an indigenous tree as the center piece was already a treat for the eyes. Then adding bananas and squash for quick growth and a tasty end product incorporated both the ground cover and vertical growth that permaculture systems promote.  

Finally, students were then involved and helped in the planting of a diverse seed mix to bring edibles, color and smells to the new beds, including peas, citronella, mint, sunflower and marigold to mention a few.

Above: Integrated School Garden

The course’s practical element didn’t just have participants working on the Brackenhurst Campus though. Two days of field trips to three nearby sites were visited over the workshop’s duration to give the team the best local examples of Permaculture techniques in practice. A Journey down the Rift Valley’s escarpment to the Care of Creation Kenya demonstration farm site taught the team about soil conservation and soil building techniques. Simple demonstrations were shown to showcase how effective the simple addition of mulch on garden bed can save moisture and prevent soil erosion, increase fertility and soil life, resulting in healthier crops and higher yields.

  Care for Creation Demo Farm

Care for Creation Demo Farm

Above: Care for Creation Demo Farm

A visit to the Mlango Farm, was awe inspiring to the course participants as they saw what a dedicated team lead by good instruction and design could do to turn steep hillside into a flourishing and profitable business. Beautifully leveled terraces supported by banks of fruit trees and perennials like rhubarb and sweet potatoes, bordered large patches of herbs, greens and root crops. Mlango Farm put smiles on everyone’s faces and filled their heads with questions despite the steep hike in high elevation.

  Mlango Farm

Mlango Farm

And finally, the group visited the Idili Permaculture Demonstration Farm. This is a site I have been SLOWLY developing for the last two years, when time and budget permits. If nothing else the site showcases what can be done by a couple people on a shoe string budget, through trial and error and lots of observation. Participants learned about zonation and how the placement of certain elements can help in time and resource management. Planning in time and space could be seen in the agroforestry demonstration plot where participants tried their hand at measuring contours with an A-frame to create a new swale system. They left the site with a new kitchen garden space, again in a Mandala design planted mulched and awaiting the rains.

  Mandala Gardens at Idili

Mandala Gardens at Idili

Above: Idili Permaculture Site; Integrated Gardens

Above: Fresh produce from the Idili Gardens

A few months on and the gardens implemented on the course are growing strong, they boast a diversity of crops and have truly been a showcase to the staff and guests of Brackenhurst. But as I mentioned in the opening of this blog, these concepts when first introduced require hard work and follow-through and require a time to prove themselves. In my various follow up visits, I received many comments about how well the gardens were doing and inquiries about unknown plants that were now thriving in these spaces. Although the mandala designs and companion planting haven’t become the norm on the Brackenhurst Shamba, YET the ‘seed’ (excuse the pun) has been sown and there is an excitement about what may happen next.

  Course participants at Mlango Farm in Limuru

Course participants at Mlango Farm in Limuru

If you enjoyed reading this blog post about our last Permaculture course and are interested in doing one with us, you are in luck! Our next Permaculture Design Course will be held in November 2018 at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge in Kilifi. Exact dates are still to be confirmed but if you are interested in knowing more please contact the below email addresses.



Watch this Space… Abundance is on its way.

Sustainable Charcoal Making and Value Addition for Improved Rural Livelihoods and Nutrition

Cookswell Jikos/Woodlands 2000 Trust

By Teddy Kinyanjui

Background: Cookswell and Barefoot Soulutions

Barefoot Permaculture has designed and created an outstanding demonstration permaculture farm in Turkana East near Lokichar. We were invited up to the farm last November to help train their staff on how to sustainably prune tree branches to make eco friendly charcoal for baking and cooking the farm produce. We also conducted a training session on how to make wood vinegar by condensing the smoke during the charcoal making process to make an organic pest control agent.

The current charcoal making industry and techniques around Nakukulas Village  Turkana East: The charcoal industry in and around Nakukulas Village is a reasonably small but vital business. This is especially true for more vulnerable groups as dry season charcoal making is an important drought coping mechanism that generates much needed emergency income with very little capital expenditure. Traditional charcoal making in this area is heavily reliant on pruning branches from the indigenous dryland trees, mostly the acacia tortilis, or using dead wood from trees that are intentionally bark ringed, burned, or destroyed in floods (see Photo 1). The more common method of charcoal making in this area is to use goat manure, due to the lack of grass and sandy soils, to cover the wood to make a traditional mound type kiln to make charcoal. 

Above: Typical charcoal making kiln covered with goat manure

The advantages of this system are as follows;

1.     Flexibility – variable sized kilns can be constructed at a lower cost (from reduced labour) then with other types of traditional earth kilns;

2.     High calorific value - Goat manure kilns can create a potentially higher calorific value charcoal than kilns covered in pure soil due the energy provided to the pyrolysis process from the manure itself.

3.     Low impact - the traditional tree pruning methods (removing branches and leaving the tree intact) have less impact then clear cutting whole swathes of trees as seen in other parts of Kenya.

The disadvantages of this system are as follows:

1.     High smoke production - the process produces very noxious smoke for the kiln operator (much more so then a soil/metal kiln);

2.     Labour intensive – hard, dry wood must be cut which requires transportation to the kiln site due to insecurity as well as the transportation of the goat manure;

3.     Inefficient combustion – Potential for high loss of charcoal to ash and flare-ups from strong winds (blowing the goat manure off and increasing oxygen flow to the combustion). This scenario is dangerous to livestock and children.

4.     Lack of local government recognition - local charcoal producers’ associations can help with upgrading skills of the charcoal producers, better access to markets, and increased exposure to charcoal making technologies and reafforestation practises .

5.     Loss of vital soil nutrients - burning manure as well as the growing propensity to kill and use fully grown trees as the demand for charcoal in the growing towns of Kitale, Eldoret, Bungoma and Lodwar increases. 

The Sustainable Charcoal Making and Use Demonstration

On the 6th of November 2017 we conducted a sustainable charcoal making and value addition course at the Akiro Amana Farm outside of Nakukulas Village.

 This included the following activities;

1. How to use and operate a Cookswell charcoal kiln.

2. How to make a batch of charcoal using smaller tree branches and building off cuts.

Above: Charcoal making demonstration with the Barefoot Solution team using a Cookswell Jikos kiln.

3. How to harvest wood vinegar (liquid smoke) using the Cookswell Kiln smoke condenser. (See Appendix II for how to use the wood vinegar)


Above: Harvesting wood vinegar (liquid smoke in a Cookswell Kiln.

4. How to coppice trees with correct tools so that one does not damage the trees when processing the feedstock and where/how to cut branches to make charcoal without killing the tree.

Pruning trees for feedstock for the kiln (left) and feedstock after pruning

5. Charcoal and farm produce value addition and improved nutrition using a Cookswell Charcoal Oven to bake, roast or steam food.

Above: Baked quiche and roasted sweet potatoes in a Cookswell Charcoal Oven.

Above: Roasted squash and baked bread in a Cookswell Charcoal Oven using the branch charcoal.

Further recommendations:

1.     We recommend that the charcoal making activity, especially processing the feedstock, undergo a small localized cost/benefit analysis to further investigate true local production costs in regards to labour versus output.  To this end I would suggest that the harvesting of branches and cutting them up be timed and the wet and dry weight of the wood and final charcoal and wood vinegar production be recorded over a 6 month period of intensive charcoal production. This data can then be used to extrapolate future industry growth.

2.     We highly recommend implementing options for value addition to the charcoal production. For example, opening a small bakery for value addition to the charcoal and to the food crops. A business bakery training course can be organised from the https://amaribakery.com/ based in Nairobi who have had many years experience setting up profitable community based bakeries all over Kenya. 

The wood vinegar production also has the potential to be a very lucrative alternative bio-pesticide, seed germination enhancer and food flavouring and meat preservation industry. Further testing of various types of vegetation (especially dry/wet season sap variance in some trees) for multiple uses in the Turkana eco-system and if possible laboratory testing by University of Nairobi/Crop Nuts should be able to provide further insight into this

We would like to extend a very hearty thanks to the whole team at Barefoot Solutions for this very interesting experience demonstrating our products and expertise in a new part of the Kenya.  

Keep up the great work!

Come visit us in Turkana for a full hands- on experience on our demonstration farm by applying for our apprenticeship program here.

Appendix I

Kiln Instructions.



Appendix II

Wood Vinegar Resources

What is wood vinegar?

Recovery of chemicals from the vapours given off when hardwood is converted to charcoal was once a flourishing industry. However, as soon as the petrochemical developed, wood as a source of methanol, acetic acid, specialty tars and preservatives became uneconomic. But with the advent of higher prices for organic food and organic living, wood vinegar is making a vigorous globally resurgence. 

Wood vinegar is another name for pyroligneous acid and is the crude condensate of smoke that consists mainly of water. 

The non-water component consists of wood tars, both water soluble and insoluble, acetic acid, methanol, acetone and other complex chemicals in small amounts. When left to stand, the pyroligneous acid separates into two layers comprising the water insoluble tar and a watery layer containing the remaining chemicals.

Specific Farm Uses for Wood Vinegar:

The Appropriate Technology Association of Thailand recommends the following wood vinegar/water solution rates for various farm uses:

• Repel nematodes – Tomatoes, 1:500 (apply to the base of plants); strawberries, 1:200 (apply to the base of plants); and black pepper vines, 1:1500 (apply in place of water).
• Repel insect pests – Cabbage and Chinese cabbage, 1:1500 (apply in place of water); corn 1:300 (spray onto leaves).
• Control of fungal diseases – Tomato and cucumber, 1:200 (spray onto leaves).
• Control of root rot – Tomato and cucumber, 1:200 (apply to the base of plants).
• Reduce incidence of chili pepper flowers aborting – 1:300 (spray onto leaves).
• Improve flavor of sweet fruits and stimulate development of crops. Mix solution rates of 1:500 to 1:1000. Wood vinegar prevents excessive nitrogen levels, improves plant metabolism and contributes to higher fruit sugar levels.
• Stimulate compost production. A solution rate of 1:100 will help increase the biological activity of various beneficial microbes and can decrease composting times.
• Combat bad odor. A wood vinegar solution of 1:50 will diminish the production of odor-causing ammonia in animal pens.
• Supplement for livestock feed. Mixed with livestock feed at rates of between 1:200 and 1:300, wood vinegar can adjust bacterial levels in the animal digestive tract which improve the absorption of nutrients from feed.
• Enrich garden soil. Use a strong solution of 1:30 to apply to the garden soil surface at a rate of 6 liters of solution per 1m² to enrich the soil prior to planting crops. To control soil-based plant pathogens, use an even stronger rate of application. 

Composition and Characteristics of Wood Vinegar

Nikhom reports that wood vinegar yield per metric ton (2200 lbs.) of air dry wood is appx. 314 kg (690.8 lbs.). The product contains approximately200 components. 

These include:
• Alcohol (methanol, butanol, amylalcohol)
• Acid (acetic, formic, propioinic, valeric)
• Neutral substances such as formaldehyde, acetone, furfural, valerolactone
• Phenols (syringol, cresol, phenol)
• Basic substances such as ammonia, methyl amine, pyridine

He also describes quality wood vinegar as having the following characteristics (most of which may require special laboratory instruments or methodology to determine):
• pH of approximately 3.0
• Specific gravity between 1.005-1.050
• Color ranging from pale yellow to bright brown to reddish brown
• Transparent
• Smoky odor
• Dissolved tar content: less than 3 percent
• Ignition residue: less than 0.2 percent by weight

Your own homemade wood vinegar will vary depending on the feedstock used, moisture content and carbonization time. We recommend you do trials before large scale use.

For more information about wood vinegar - please see these links below:












The Urban Farmers Turkana Expedition

By: Arjun Vidyarthi

When Sven mentioned that Barefoot Soulutions had secured a deal in Turkana to green the desert and help the communities in that area, I couldn't have believed what was actually possible. 9 months later, I stepped off the plane in Kapese to see for myself. 40 minutes from the airstrip and I was finally there. Nakukulas.

As i stepped through the gate, I was blown away by what I saw. Trees, plants, vegetables all around me growing even better than the ones I have in my garden.

Jess, Sven and Ivan have done wonders on this small demo site. And as I was taken around on a tour of the site, my emotions moved from surprise, to being proud.

What these guys and 1 Gal have done in 9 months is nothing short of Amazing.

I witnessed first hand what a hell of a lot of hard work, sweat and I'm sure a couple of tears can produce.

Lettuce (better than the ones in Zuccini or Corner Shop); Chillies (that I had never ever seen in Kenya), growing splendidly; A whole agro forestry section where custard apples fruit and sweet potatoes being used as live mulch. I could go on and on.

If you want to see what these amazing people from Barefoot Soulutions have done, then make sure you like our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel; as the video will be ready in the next few months.

Congratulations Barefoot. You have really performed a Miracle in the Desert.


If you are interested in visiting our farm in Turkana and spending some time up there with us learning about what we do, have a look at our apprenticeship programs starting this June!


How to make a Banana Circle

By: Ivan Lieman

Step 1:

Select an area to use for your banana circle and mark out a circle two meters in diameter. You can mark another bigger circle around this one, as a guide for your mounded garden bed.

Step 2:

Using your two meter circle, dig out a dish-shaped (concave) hole to a depth of 50cm to 1 meter. Put the soil from the hole around the edge to create a mounded garden bed. At this point, you can create an opening slightly below ground level for rainwater run-off or your grey water from showers to enter the banana circle.

 Banana Circle Schematic

Banana Circle Schematic

Step 3:

Line the hole with old paper, cardboard, or a few layers of banana leaves to slow down the infiltration of the water once it’s working. This will make sure that water and nutrients stay in the pit long enough to be taken up by bananas, papayas and other plants that surround the pit.

Step 4:

Fill the pit with organic mulch, you can add some ash, effective microorganisms or manure making a large compost pile. Stack in a prism shape, they will reduce in size over time.

 Banana Circle Shower

Banana Circle Shower

Step 5:

Plant banana suckers around the rim of the mound at 60cm intervals. Normally four banana suckers around a two meter banana circle. These can initially be inter-planted with papayas. Also add cover crops like watermelon, taro, pumpkin, sweet potato, cow peas etc. Comfrey and other green manure crops can be inter-planted and chopped into the mound. You can also add climbers and vines like passion fruit when the trees can support them. Think layers, guilds and stacking food! Have the water loving crops in the inside rim of the circle such as taro and sugar cane, and the less water loving on the outer rim such as cassava. Lemos grass is a great to use as an erosion controller for your mound not to break down.

Step 6:

Mulch very generously to cover and protect the soil and minimize evaporation, and the build-up of organic matter.


Are you interested learning more Permaculture Techniques to apply to your land? We now have monthly Voluntourism opportunities on our drylands permaculture farm in Nakukulas, Turkana. For more information on this follow the link below.

Saponification inna di Nation

Using Cinnabar Green products on our drylands permaculture farm

By Sven Verwiel

The thought of having ecologically sound showers and baths is becoming more of an attraction to many of us. Most folk think of eco showers as water and energy saving devices. This is very true. The technology linked to these designs has improved immensely in recent years and it is becoming a norm to fit them into modern housing….

From our perspective however, this can be taken a step further. Simply because water and energy saving isn’t enough. In areas where water is scarce or expensive – which by the way, is nearly everywhere nowadays – water efficiency of the actual shower or bathtub, should be coupled with garden design. Surrounded by food and functional plants; climbers bearing fruit and beautifully smelling flowers, sugarcane, lemongrass, pumpkin, watermelon, banana, cassava, papaya, palms, and bamboo are but a few of the beneficiaries of well-designed shower tolerant species we have worked with to date.

 Banana circle eco shower design | Amana Farm Turkana

Banana circle eco shower design | Amana Farm Turkana

Let’s cause no confusion here – a well-designed grey and black water treatment system is not what I am referring to. Not here anyway. Water treatment systems are massively important, but their complexity scares most of us. I am simply referring to showers, hand basins, and bathtubs. Systems that don’t deal with too many fats nor human waste.

Now of course there is the element of being conscious about what you put down your drain. But as long as you’re not one of those who thinks washing their hair twice a day and lathering up with half a liter of body wash is the way forward, then eco shower design is a perfect way to re-use your run-off effectively without technical designs or expensive filtration systems – and this is especially true for dry climates – where soils are hardly ever saturated with water.

We have found that Cinnabar Green’s selection of natural soaps works a treat. Not a single species we have trialed in our outdoor showers have shown any sign of being negatively affected by the soap itself. This in part may be due to good shower design, but on the whole, their products are completely legit. Nearly every decent lodge you visit in Kenya, uses their products – and for good reason. John and Penny Horsey run an amazing business. Both keen farmers and environmentalists, their farm on the foothills of Mount Kenya grows an impressive range of herbs and scented shrubs. I was blown away by their amazing property; a 70-acre parcel of paradise with a forest of indigenous trees, grasses, shrubs – an impressive 7-acre farm, a beautiful house, and a well-run factory. I had the suspicion it would be an amazing operation and had visions of wandering through their fields and factory with a strong concoction of spices and herbs creeping up the old nostrils – and that’s exactly what it was.

 Heavily mulched beds | Cinnabar Green Farm

Heavily mulched beds | Cinnabar Green Farm

 Drip Irrigation | Cinnabar Green Farm

Drip Irrigation | Cinnabar Green Farm

As you do, I left the lovely couple in peace and parted with a good 20 liters of natural shampoos and body wash to last us the rest of the century.


Visit our site in Turkana this year by applying for our Voluntourism opportunities every month. To find out more follow the button below.

Educating the Next Generation

School kids visit from the Nakukulas, Turkana community

By Jess De Boer

 Educating school children about Permaculture | Turkana

Educating school children about Permaculture | Turkana

When I am old and all bent over from years of digging and planting I will probably ask myself the question "who will feed me?"

But that question cannot wait. In fact it has never been more important than it is today. Now add climate change, top soil loss and dwindling amounts of land deemed fit for cultivation and suddenly this topic should be at the top of every national agenda.

Unfortunately it isn't.

 School kids on our drylands permaculture farm

School kids on our drylands permaculture farm

According to Kenya's Nation newspaper, the number of students enrolled in agricultural degrees across the country has dropped from 671 in 2006 to 71 in 2017.

Elsewhere across the globe a similar trend is being witnessed and in Africa it is largely a result of a combination of factors. Some of these include the widespread stigmatisation of farmer's being aged, illiterate and 'poor' - (which kid dreams of being a farmer?) a complete lack of positive role models, unsupportive agricultural policy (for small scale farmers) and the changing climate which makes farming, especially in dryland areas tough... really tough.

Growing food the 'modern' way is also bloody expensive;  more than 80 percent of farmers across East Africa use chemicals to increase farm productivity and to keep weeds and pests from destroying their crops. During 2004 - 11. the Kenyan government imported $1.3 billion’s worth of chemical fertilisers and $578 million worth of pesticides to 'assist' in agricultural production despite many of these chemicals boasting toxicity levels so high that they have been banned in their countries of manufacture.

Chemical-intensive agriculture creates a cycle of economic dependency between farmers and chemical manufacturers, discouraging biodiversity and degrading soils and landscapes, making them more prone to drought and floods.

Permaculture, as a design philosophy can be used as an alternative to the use of chemicals in growing food. It involves sustainable ecological systems that are self-maintained and regenerative. By observing and simulating the features observed in natural ecosystems, permaculture replicates productivity patterns that exist naturally in the environment and as such, it stimulates the cultivation of several crops (polyculture) rather than a single crop (monoculture). By returning any organic waste (including food waste and manure) into the system, it also nurtures soils and biodiversity.

There is so much to learn - but perhaps more importantly for the question asked above, there is also so much to teach.

 Ivan Lieman, our Co-Founder shows school kids how the wormery works

Ivan Lieman, our Co-Founder shows school kids how the wormery works

Last month we received 24 students who raised the equivalent of 20/- per head to be taken around our Nakukulas demonstration farm to learn about the permaculture way of growing food. 

The kids met our worms, turned some compost, walked through the agroforestry, kitchen gardens, irrigated polyculture zones and identified plants like peanuts that they used to know only as a tasty treat wrapped in plastic bought from the local duka.

These kids were engaged - they loved their morning with us and after a nibble on some freshly cut desert melon they also received a handful of moringa seeds to take back and plant at school.

Humans intrinsically feel good in a stable, abundant environment - and as we follow up with the school and their moringa forest we hope that one day, answering the bigger questions surrounding the responsibility of future of food production won't be that difficult.

Are you interested in what we are doing for the community in Nakukulas on our Drylands Permaculture site? Read more about our Voluntourism opportunities by following the link button below.

Journey with the Barefoot Turkana Team

Amana Demonstration Farm

By Michael Barton

 Amana Dryland Demonstration Farm | Nakukulas, Turkana East

Amana Dryland Demonstration Farm | Nakukulas, Turkana East

A year ago, I had met a couple of the Barefoot Soulutions team briefly and was excited to join them in Kilifi for a course on waste water treatment through the use of a reed bed filtration system. This would be the first Barefoot Soulutions course I attended in 2017, and I approached it with excitement as the team exuded the Permaculture spirit of sharing knowledge and the potential solutions that can bring about abundance.

On the course, I learned much more then how to design and develop a Reed Bed Wastewater Treatment System, as every conversation with the team included new knowledge and projects to be done. This is when I first learned about the potential Turkana drylands demonstration site project that Barefoot had applied for, a tender put out by Tullow Oil company. The team had worked hard for over a year to prepare for this potential project and was now waiting for their application to be accepted.

Fast forward a month and Barefoot had it. They received confirmation of being the chosen company to roll out the initiative, and would now be subcontracted by Tullow for a Livelihoods Programme in Turkana East and South. The team was mobilized and there was a buzz! There was so much work to be done to get the project off the page and into reality. I received a few images of the sites that would later become a second home, my first thoughts were ‘wow that looks harsh!’

In June of 2017 I was invited to visit Amana Farm, the Barefoot Soulutions demonstration site in Nakukulas, Turkana East. This reci trip was a chance to view the site, meet the team and learn more about the work ahead. My first impressions were that of being overwhelmed and skeptical of any success. I spent my free time wondering the site looking for signs of life. Being a naturalist at heart, I was shocked by the lack of biodiversity in this place. I remember walking the entire perimeter of the plot to see what insects or signs I could find from the local ecology. I came back with a handful of dead beetles, and asking if we could get some experts to come and identify what life there was here, because I certainly couldn’t find it.

 First Site Visit | Amana Demonstration Site

First Site Visit | Amana Demonstration Site

Three months on and I’m back in Turkana, yet this time as I move around the site, my inner naturalist is back to its childlike wonder. Everywhere I move now a new niche has been created, pockets of green have sprung up, designed around our water sources with a guild of diverse plant cover.  Benefiting from these new designed ecologies are populations of insects I have not seen anywhere else in Kenya. We have identified that there is a local population of Hedgehogs. Their nighttime activity of searching for food is, in a small way, amplifying our work as they burrow along our drip fed garden beds eating pests and loosening the soil.   My mind is full of new bird and insect sightings, and I see the development of species list inevitable.


And now as the project enters it's tenth month, one can hardly believe the transformation that has occurred. Before the site hosted a handful of tree, shrub and grass species all stunted, by over grazing from livestock or frequently visited for a limb or two for household cooking. And now, there is a thriving tree nursery with 5,000 seedlings made up of over thirty species. We have planted seven of the fifteen Agroforestry swales. These are each 75 meters long with diversity ranging from Boma Rhodes grass and sweet potato to Flamboyant and Mango trees. Our 250-meter squared vegetable production zone, boasts the freshest mix of vegetables around, creating a new market and livelihood for the local community and women’s group.  


The successes seen thus far haven’t come without setbacks. Each day presents new challenges as we fight to create and maintain the new life in this area. Ecological solutions to pest control, and responsible water use and management, top that list, however one cannot help but smile at the abundance that is only starting to grow here.

But possibly the greatest success I have observed, is how this place turns heads and puts a look of wonder on the faces of our visitors, and the boda-boda drivers as they zip by. Having hosted the local community women’s groups and field trips from the nearby schools this site fills minds with curiosity and endless questions as we, along with the community, are just beginning to realize the true educational potential this site has to offer.  

 Community Women's Group | Nakukulas, Turkana East

Community Women's Group | Nakukulas, Turkana East

A lot of effort, and a lot of thought has gone into the development thus far, and I tip my hat to the six women from Nakukulas and the Barefoot Team for the incredible work they have accomplished this far. As one of the few consultants aiding Barefoot Soulutions on this project I will say I am proud to be a part of what has and will be done here. But in the Permaculture way, we are just the designers, preparing this site to allow Mother Nature to take over and thrive. 

Watch this space, Abundance is on its way.

 The Barefoot Soulutions Turkana Team | Turkana East

The Barefoot Soulutions Turkana Team | Turkana East


Does Michael's experience with the Barefoot Turkana Team appeal to you? Does volunteering with us on our Dryland Desert Farm in Turkana interest you? Visit our Voluntoursim page for more information and how to apply by clicking on the button below.


Nakukulas, Turkana

By Norbert Rottcher | Indigenous Tree Nursery Consultant

 Grass Seed Varieties

Grass Seed Varieties

Turkana South has enjoyed a very wet November this year. In total, 76.5 mm fell at the Barefoot Soulutions’ demonstration farm, Amana Akiro Analairen in Nakukulas, during a month when expected rainfall is much less. Given that the region is classed at best as Semi-Arid, one would expect such good rainfall to result in a total rejuvenation of the land. Indeed, in select small parts of northern Kenya, it has:

However, compare this with the area around Nakukulas only 100 km away, taken at the same time of year and after the same amount of rainfall:

Unfortunately, in most of Kenya’s arid North, there is simply WAY too much livestock – particularly goats and sheep.

However good the rains are, every blade of grass is eaten as it appears out of the ground. Over the years, the grass has simply not had the opportunity to seed, because it is never given time to develop seed heads. After each passing year, there are less seeds in the ground at the end of the dry season. In vast swathes of Turkana this has gone on for so long that the ground now simply has no grass seeds left. It is one of the main stages in the inexorable process of desertification.

And such is the situation around Nakukulas. Even within the confines of the since 12 months’ livestock-free farm compound, barely any grasses have appeared after those good rains. This is a clear indicator (or ‘control’), showing that the soil has indeed lost its grass seed reserves.


However, at Amana Akiro Analairen, we are hoping to help turn the tide…

Several hours drive south-west of Nakukulas,  in the border region between Turkana and Pokot, years of cattle rustling and tension between the two communities have created an insecure no-man’s-land. Here, the grass still grows tall, and when we visited the area at the end of November, ripe heads of many varieties were waving in the breeze, ready to scatter their seeds to the four winds. It was perfect timing, and we collected a large crate-full of hundreds of thousands of seeds, of about ten different species.

Back at the shamba, we spread the seed heads out in the sun to dry properly, and put them in safe storage for the moment.

 Grass Drying | Nakukulas, Turkana

Grass Drying | Nakukulas, Turkana

They are now ready for us to plant in the irrigated rows and – in the hope of more rain – to also scatter all over the farm. By next year the farm should look a lot more like the Turkanaland of yore, and the wind will once more re-seed the barren surroundings…

Dude I need more mulch!

Permaculture Design Course September 2017

By Bethany Diesbecq

Those of us who had played an internal game of 'guess who else is on the course' at the backpackers' bar the night before were shocked to see relatively few dreadlocks, bangles and harem pants enter the classroom on day one of our 12 day PDC course. Some people were even wearing shoes. What was this? Some sort of hippy-disguise conspiracy? Fool the public into thinking we're normal and then 'bam', hit them with some global warming statistic? Clandestine climate action? But ah, our reserved facades did not last long past the inevitable 'oh no you go ahead' battle for the last mandazi.

 The Permaculture Course Participants

The Permaculture Course Participants

So, day one, and we met our main man- Tichafa- our potentate of permaculture who was also to became our dynast of digging, gaffer of grafting, zen-master of zoning, majesty of mulching, and his High Emperor Sovereign of swales. Little did we know on that balmy first day as we sat, bemused by the tsunami of information washing over (and hopefully leaching into) our gloriously green little brains, that one man's tidal wave is Tichafa's puddle- for this was not even a drop in the constructed wetland of information we were to receive over the coming weeks. 

Indeed, the info over next few days merged together like a perfect zone boundary: principles and patterns; water-harvesting and windbreaks, all contoured beautifully around Anthony-the-tree-whisperer's grafting workshop and a throw back to GCSE physics building our own A-frames. 


And then before we knew it, we were already at day 7: The School Trip (minus soggy sandwiches). But instead of renditions of 'hail to the bus driver', the journey was spent criticising the endless sea of sisal monoculture flashing past the window. 'They need to be using the contours.' 'Outrageous. Look at all that bare soil'. 'Not a marigold in sight'. Oh how far we had come- now a bunch of Horticulture Holier than thous! (Barefoot phone lines open- collective noun suggestions for multiple permaculturists).

I think we all took a huge amount from that day, whether at Haller Park's innovative demo site, exploring Bamburi cement's regenerative destruction (oxymoron: ten points) or stealing stacking ideas from Ivan's garden- seeing concepts and principles in action across many different scales was the start of fitting together the pieces of our own design puzzles. 

And then there was the glorious 'digging day'. Finally unleashed like angry (stingless) bees into a real life garden to disturb some unsuspecting top soil and make higgledy raised beds (sorry Ivan). Garden tool techniques became an impromptu lesson and my other half was certainly baffled by my message home requesting we coat my spade with tennis racquet grip-tape because I had concluded I couldn't use a jembe properly.

So, as the days passed and the rains arrived to bless our endeavours (and water our wonky banana circles), we started to understand what it was all about. We'd certainly had to answer enough inquiries from baffled on-lookers to at least be able to give (be them intimidatingly enthusiastic) explanations of what we were doing that didn't over use the word 'sustainable'. 

And so all was going so well. We knew the lingo. We were making farming puns in our spare time. We had this permaculture malarkey covered.

And then they got out the crayons. 

I don't really remember what happened after that. I don't think any of us do. For what felt like days (mild hangovers do that to you) we entered a place in our own heads only five year olds and Geography undergrads will understand: when things need colouring in, things need colouring in, man. And so we coloured. Oh how we coloured. Companion planting keys became more complicated than the Fibonacci sequence. Lovingly sketched grey water recycling pipes zig zagged down slopes and across colour coded guilds of indigenous trees and ground cover herbs. People swapped gold for half a chewed pencil eraser. Everything (EVERYTHING) was edged in yellow (passionfruit, of course). And god forbid, if you hadn't drawn enough moringa... I shudder at the thought. But finally, with stubs for pencils and brains, we emerged from our design psychosis to present pieces of paper covered in plant names, concepts, ideas and layouts we hadn't even heard of 12 days previously. And with a total tally of the word 'compost' 37.5 times, we presented our final plans. 

To conclude, I look to the last message on our team's whats app group, which I think sums up where we're all at now and where we will probably be in our lives forever more:

'Dude, I need more mulch'. 

Do you want to join the movement and get your internationally recognised Permaculture certificate? Sign up! The next course is a Practical Permaculture Workshop (PPW). The course will start on November 25th and finish on the 1st of December 2017. The course will be hosted at Brackenhurst, Limuru. Join us, open your mind and get ready to have fun!


Greening the desert - a day in the life of

An update from the Barefoot Soulutions team from their permaculture project in Turkana East county – North Kenya

Akale Samuel (aka Anna) is a 46-year old Turkana from the Aduyait clan. She lives in Nakukalas; an acacia dotted, wind swept town some 40 minutes drive south of Lokichar.

Anna is a widow with 2 grown children; a boy and a girl who are both married and live elsewhere. She owns 10 goats and since July 2017 Anna has been working alongside 5 other widowers at the ‘Amana (Turkana for shamba) Demonstration Farm; A flourishing permaculture hub that aims to connect the local community with future possibility.

 Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Over the last 10 years the traditional pastoralist lifestyle of the Turkana people has changed enormously; the formal economy replacing a barter system that revolved around livestock including camels, goats, sheep and donkeys. With the changing times, Anna relocated to Eldoret where she rented a 1-acre plot in Was-ingishu growing maze, wimbi and leafy greens that she sold locally for several years before returning back to Turkana in 2002, hungry for home. For some years she ran a small duka selling tobacco and from a loan secured through her local woman’s group she purchased her goats.

2016 was a dry year for huge swathes of Kenya and it hit Turkana hard; many of the roads today are lined with mountains of sun bleached skeletons and Anna’s herd suffered enough for her to start looking for work … and this is where we met.

Work at Amana begins at 6:30am sharp, just as the sun climbs up above the Kawerer escarpment and for a solid 45 minutes the air is fresh. By 7:30 however those rays have warmed and Jackson; the farm manager is urging everyone to finish their watering duties chap-chap. Armed with two black jerry cans Anna completes her line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence and moves towards her personal sack garden whilst the other women finish off the remaining polyculture beds laid out beneath several mature Eregai (Acacia reficiens) that offer the bok-choy, spinach, lemongrass and chia some welcome albeit patchy shade.

 Anna plants line of  Moringa oliferra’s  spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Anna plants line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Once finished with the watering there are endless tasks to be completed; germinating herbs, vegetables and indigenous seeds in the nursery; mixing soil and goat mbolea collected from a neighboring boma into ready-to-go piles or chopping up the 100 plus kg’s of fresh food waste collected that morning from a nearby oil drilling camp. Once this task is completed the pieces are added to a brand new ‘hot compost’ heap layered with wet cardboard collected from the same camp, more mbolea and a sprinkling of effective micro-organisms before it is covered by a black plastic tarpaulin beneath which the bacteria immediately get to work, transforming this pile of leftovers into a steamy rich soil enhancer in just 35 days.

 Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

 Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Mulch – or dried organic matter, plays an essential part in retaining soil moisture but so dry and overgrazed is the Turkana environment that excess material like grass is in seriously short supply. Until the systems on site have reached their full potential in producing harvestable quantities Anna and her gang of heavily beaded women make do with sacks of sawdust, donated free of charge from the local hardware store, sprinkling it around the small depressions surrounding each tree seedling and along the surfaces of vegetable beds aided by the living (green) mulch provided by sweet potato vines and pumpkins.

 Turkana women | Making Compost

Turkana women | Making Compost

Out on the drip irrigation site, the first glimmer of green has broken through the carefully leveled soil; leguminous crops like pigeon and cow pea and green gram designed to kick start the microbial life in the soil that will soon pave the way for a variety of higher value species hardening in the nursery.

A similar exercise is kicking off in the agroforestry site where sixteen 80 meter rows lie waiting for the delivery of both indigenous and non-indigenous production trees that will in time provide demonstration quantities of timber, fodder, medicine and food.

By the time the afternoon shift rolls around, the young shoots and seedlings have gorged on sunshine, drooping their leaves to minimize water loss through evapotranspiration whilst those planted in the irrigation beds wait thirstily for the evening cool when the valves are twisted open.

The earthworms too require regular moistening as well as a steady quantity of finely chopped organics that include homegrown eggshell from 7 happy hens, tea bags and coffee grinds producing a fine bucketful of dark brown ’worm juice’ that will be diluted at a ratio of 10:1 as a mighty delicious liquid fertilizer.

 Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

The days move damn quick in this part of the world but before Anna and the rest of the ladies return home for the evening there is a general wipe down and clean up; heavy farm boots are replaced with flip flops and a well deserved shower is enjoyed; the sweaty run off lapped up by the flourishing banana circles that boast a riot of bright yellow sunflowers amongst a backdrop of rustling green.

The Amana farm certainly has a long way to go and between the heavily alkaline soils, hard water and crazy heat, the learning curve will remain almost vertical, but it is one that is being enjoyed by all.

The Islands of Ecological Bliss | Seychelles

By Jess De Boer

 Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve

Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve

The Seychelles

Imagine the front of a brochure if you will: crystalline blue waters, golden beaches and rustling coconut palms. Turn the page and below the embossed heading that includes the word luxury you can almost hear the faint tinkle of piped lobby music and the waft of an international buffet floating across the grounds of some swanky resort.

But that's not why we came here and it sure as hell is not the reason we’ll come back. This series of 115 islands, speckled about the warm Indian Ocean are floating droplets of natural abundance; on the 20-minute drive from the airport to our first nights pad our eyes were on stilts and the threshold to free-flowing salivation had been crossed.

Check out those trees!

On that first drive alone, during which we passing through Mahe’s main ‘industrial area’ Indian Almonds lined our passage in a fine display of red and gold dotted amongst palms of ludicrous variety, gigantic breadfruit trees laden with football-sized bounty, overloaded star-fruit, guava and bilmbi. In the background stood the trunks of stocky cassurina; bought in long ago together with the unassuming chongololo whose job it was to turn the acidic leaf litter and saline soils into palatable jungle substrate.

Mahé is home to 86% of the country’s population (76,000 people as of 2011) who live in amongst the densely forested foothills. Several windy roads crisscross up and over the slabby granite peaks, the highest of which tops out at 950mt providing a tasty agro-ecological zone for tea, bamboo and carnivorous pitcher plants. This may be the most densely populated of all of the Seychelles islands but if there was a joke about an ecologist, a botanist and a permaculturalist, all 3 would end up smiling.

 Spice Garden | Seychelles

Spice Garden | Seychelles

The oldest spice garden in the world exists up a narrow, concrete lane that proved a grueling test for our tiny rental car; especially when we stalled it in shock upon entering a patch of free-standing cacao trees complete with bright purple pods interlaced with vanilla and the background chuckle of endemic blue pigeons. Shortly thereafter we putt-putted our way round a twisty bend lined with golden coconut palms whose fruit lay clustered in such density it defies convention; a trend that repeated itself with Jackfruit, golden apple and the random explosion of citrus varieties like pomelo, lemon and orange whose flesh burst with a potency long forsaken by the blandly perfumed varieties stocked in modern supermarkets.

Stepping from one island to another is a simple and absolutely essential endeavor facilitated by ferry, yacht or short flight. The world beneath the crystal clear waves is one of equal splendor for despite the universal bleaching of coral there are just so many fish; big ones, small ones, spotty ones and don’t get me started on the regular passing of sea turtles, stingrays and reef sharks. Stepping out of this perfectly warm sea one would be advised to replace goggles with binoculars and feast on the explosion of bird life whose guano deposits helped build up many of the islands into permanence; once fuelling a lucrative trade in the potassium rich droppings that were transported to far distant corners of the world to be spread amongst sugar plantations before the advent of commercial chemical fertilizers. The depositors of such high grade manure; Sooty Terns, Noddies and missile shaped frigates are but a few of the species we met along the way and thanks to the concentrated efforts of local conservation groups the populations of birds returning each year continue to blossom.

 Bird Island | Seychelles

Bird Island | Seychelles

But paradise has a catch we discovered, for behind the tropical bounty of rich seas and forest glades whispers an all too familiar tale of human obliviousness. The Seychellois are regularly reported as Africa’s most obese population, shunning the local profusion of breadfruit and yam in favor of bleached rice and other foreign delicacies and the island is alleged to import over 80% of its food from far, far away places and apparently the agricultural division of the main university has just two students; both of whom had ticked horticulture as their chosen career paths and whose dreams involved making it big in the lucrative 5* hotel landscaping business. Growing their own food aka “farming” has a negative stigma amongst the majority of the local populace and the agricultural ministry reputably receives less than a 1% slice of the government’s annual budgetary pie…

Say what?

And so while the tourists give themselves whiplash staring at the famous Coco du Mer palms and snapping themselves a billion selfie’s with giant land tortoises we zipped in and out and up and down on a mission to absorb as much information from local authorities, determined farmers and like-minded pro-activists who share our vision for this incredible island chain; a vision that involves food and people; education and design, conservation and enhancement all of which tie together into that most essential re-connection with the natural world that, in these tiny flecks of paradise anyway still remain heavily endowed with loveliness.

 Fruit abundance in the Seychelles

Fruit abundance in the Seychelles