Permaculture

Greening the Desert

Safarilink / Barefoot tree planting day @ Ngamia Secondary School, Nakukulas – Turkana East.

Barefoot Soulutions is a Kenyan start-up specializing in tropical permaculture. The team were sub contracted by Tullow Oil in July 2017 to design, implement and manage a number of working demonstration farms in partnership with local community groups.

In September 2018, Safarilink jumped on board and together the trio embarked on a tree planting campaign that saw 200 mixed variety seedlings, including the superfood ‘moringa’ dug carefully into the soil by students and teachers of Ngamia Secondary School.

  Barefoot’s demonstration farm ‘Akiro Amana Analaireng’ from the air

Barefoot’s demonstration farm ‘Akiro Amana Analaireng’ from the air

Harsh, inhospitable, 8 billion black rocks.

Lake Turkana land is Kenya’s far north and unlike anywhere else in the country. Thousands of years ago this was once a lush wetland where our earliest ancestors roamed, the fossilized remains of one discovered 1.6 million years later by a team of sweaty archaeologists who promptly re-christened the area ‘The Cradle of Mankind’.

Hosting the world’s largest permanent desert lake this region is uniquely under-populated and holds the title of Kenya’s poorest, driest and hottest county. Stuck right up on Ethiopia’s southern border this arid place occupies a vast empty space on the map, shaded yellow right across the sweeping breadth of the Great Rift Valley.

This area is a throwback to our most ancient human origins but besides the dam it is an awakening economic giant. Beneath its surface lies significant oil deposits, sub surface water reserves and on the southern shore a scurrying hive of activity with the construction of Africa’s largest wind power farm. Expansive roads now cut through swathes of prehistoric acacia savanna and the buzz of boda-boda’s regularly interrupts the waaaaa call of the go-away bird whose whoosh of grey feathers against the piercing blue sky is often the only movement between the hours of 9 to 5 when day time temperatures peak at ‘sweaty.’

Africa as a whole is on the march, urban centers have replaced fly ravaged shack-scapes and flying high above this still empty landscape for the fist time the dust from a hundred thousand hooves far below quickens the heartbeat… where did all the grass go?

The challenge of our generation is regeneration - and this is Barefoot’s mission.

  The ‘Alaireng womens group work closely with the Barefoot team learning and implementing Permaculture practices on a daily basis.

The ‘Alaireng womens group work closely with the Barefoot team learning and implementing Permaculture practices on a daily basis.

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” said Allan Savory in his widely acclaimed 2013 TED talk[1] on holistic land management - and it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Solutions exist in theory but it’s the practice part that stumps most. To this end, Barefoot had been sub contracted to set up a series of agro-ecological demonstration sites together with select members of adjacent communities who would train alongside our team in anticipation of the day when they would take over the full running of the sites and their associated value chains – of which Moringa is just one. 

  Fresh Moringa leaves being naturally dried in the Turkana heat – before being turned into high grade powder.

Fresh Moringa leaves being naturally dried in the Turkana heat – before being turned into high grade powder.

Akiro Amana Analaireng is the name of the main farm site and tree nursery - ‘Demonstration farm in the desert’ is the literal translation and it is from here that several pick up loads of indigenous and exotic seedlings were selected and taken to the school for the Safarilink sponsored tree planting /out grower program.

Along with a fine mix of indigenous species like desert dates, acacia melifera, henna and flamboyant came 100 young Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala; one of the most nutritionally dense plants in the world whose leaves once dried and crushed into powder occupy pride of place amongst the world of ‘superfoods’ whose global market value is projected to increase at a compound annual rate of 16% in the coming decade.

Both species of Moringa thrive in hot, sandy places –the oleifera species (originally from India) grows in abundance along our coastline and is favored by the Giriama as a tasty green vegetable, but it is the indigenous stenopetala that gets us excited; the leaves of which are darker and larger in size and when eaten raw, added to boiling water for a super-tea or dried, crushed and spooned into a cute packet for sale (see below) bring in a tidy income for the farm, community and one day the school too.

  The farm produces its own organic moringa powder – from both species – with the school set to be our first out grower.

The farm produces its own organic moringa powder – from both species – with the school set to be our first out grower.

Because we’re planting in Turkana – hot, dry and sandy, the trees are planted along with a range of Organix (K) products: Absorber is a hydrogel substance that helps retain precious water in the soil, Earthlee is a concentrated humate powder and Asilee a soil conditioner

= All organic – all brilliant.

  Students celebrate their visit with a cup of fresh moringa tea

Students celebrate their visit with a cup of fresh moringa tea

Earlier on that week the students received a farm tour (that included a cup of fresh moringa tea at the end) and upon our arrival at the school the team quickly got busy with a mechanical hole-digger... noise, sweat, heat, dust and many tiny seedlings in whose future canopies lies so much potential. Each student was allocated one moringa and one indigenous tree to nurture over the coming months and a competition of ‘whose tree grows the fastest’ initiated with a prize awarded at the end of the year.

In summary, tree plantings don’t get more exciting – or cooler than this – an essential realization to make as we face down the future as a country whose very future lies in the hands of its young people – and the natural world. 

We have much work to do people…

Thank you Safarilink !

Stay updated on this project & others by subscribing to our newsletter

Contact: Jess de Boer (deboer.jess@gmail.com) for information on our farm fresh moringa powder

Check out www.organix-agro.com for more information on their epic products

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

By: John and Lulu Clark

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

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

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.

ivan@barefootpermaculture.co.ke

info@kilifibackpackers.com

Watch this Space… Abundance is on its way.

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.

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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.

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

Permaculture Demonstration Site Success

 Permaculture Demo Site

Permaculture Demo Site

Coming up to a year ago we formed a beautiful partnership with Distant Relatives Eco Lodge in Kilifi. We not only wanted to facilitate and host our Permaculture Design Courses (PDC) at this vibrant location, but we also wanted to provide a flourishing demonstration site that would yield a productive landscape for the DR community and guests. Today we proudly want to share with you the success we have had on the DR Demo site.

 Permaculture Demo Site

Permaculture Demo Site

When we started, the Distant Realtives site was sandy and the soils were unproductive. The site had issues with water catchment and was in need of better ecological management. So, we set out on the journey to turn this site into a Permaculture haven.

Through the principles of Permaculture we have started regenerating the landscape, harmonising different key elements of our system to enhance soil regeneration, flow of nutrients & energy improving the ecological balance.

 Barefoot Soulutions Permaculture Design Demonstration Site

Barefoot Soulutions Permaculture Design Demonstration Site

We started by looking at food waste and developing a continuous composting site to enrich the soils. We did water harvesting through landscaping, built up the soils through mulching which covers the ground and puts organic matter back into the soil. We set up a wormery to implement the vermiculture process of using worms to decompose organic food waste, turning the waste into a nutrient-rich material capable of supplying necessary nutrients to help sustain plant growth. We could then start planting seedlings to raise a tree nursery and nurturing a food forest.

The biggest accomplishment today however is the waste water system we set up from the kitchen. Every year Kilifi suffers from a terrible drought. When the rains do come the water catchment from the roofs help, but the ability to re-use the kitchen grey water is what has saved this site.

Learn to live in abundance! If you have enjoyed reading about the success on this site, if you are interested in creating your own Permaculture site/ garden, want to get involved in this movement and learn more, please join us for the next September Permaculture Design Course. On this course you will learn all about Permaculture principles and practical skills needed to start your own site like this!

 Barefoot Soulutions Demo Site at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge

Barefoot Soulutions Demo Site at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge