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Convergence Day 1

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wadi rum

All images © Christopher List Photography

We launched into day one of the convergence with breakfast, which, other than one apple, had little to offer the discerning raw vegan. Luckily I’d brought some raw crackers to help out, along with trail mix and so many dates that I ended up bringing some home!

Nadia Lawton then introduced the IPC, and we heard some of its history.

Nadia Lawton

Starting back in 1984, the IPC has been held every two years in locations around the world, including Denmark, Nepal, Mexico, Croatia, Brazil, Malawi and now in Jordan.

Bill Mollison then took over, telling us about permaculture in India with Narsanna Koppula, who would later present a talk on his work.

He told us a little bit about Narsanna, who works with some 8000 women in India, teaching them how to harvest water, utilise tree-based farming and permaculture concepts for tribal communities and has planted an incredible 50000 fruit plants and about 50 000 multipurpose plants so far.

It’s not enough to mean well, you’ve got to do well.

Permaculture in Arid Lands: Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton

Together with Geoff Lawton, Bill also told us about his experiences with arid land. He spoke of the Acacia tree, which has millions of edible seeds which attract birds and provide food for the Aborigines.

He spoke of the Senora desert, where cactuses are 40-50 feet high and produce a variety of fruit - some of the best in the world. "It’s a great, underutilised fruit and seed resource", says Bill.

Meanwhile, we learn that in the Kalahari, there are a range of edible bulbs 10 inches down, which come up in slight rain and provide a staple source of food for the Bushmen.

Intrigued, I looked this up on the net and discovered in Okavango: jewel of the Kalahari by Karen Ross, that one of these is known as the morama bean, or gemsbok bean. Astoundingly, a morama bean was found that weighed 260 kilograms and contained 200 litres of water!

It’s clear that a lot more grows in the desert then we realise - and that by looking at native species and how tribes and nature interact, we can learn a lot and apply this knowledge to our own permaculture systems.

Global Permaculture Strategy: Tony Anderson

With three sessions every hour, with breaks for lunch, deciding what presentation to go to was a tough choice. I decided to visit Tony Anderson’s lecture on Global Permaculture Strategy (less than 1 tonnes C02 per person per year, and more than 10 000 trees per person per lifetime). Originally an architect, Tony Anderson is from the International Permaculture Council and was the organiser of Klimaforum09.

Basically, the strategy involves a plan which, if every person started planting trees (7000-8000 per person) within next 25 years, would result in balance. This strategy is successfully implemented in Denmark, where citizens are taxed 1000 EUR if they emit in excess of 1 tonnes C02 per year.

Tony emphasises using buying trees from nurseries with local habitats and varieties - buying on the international market means 2/3rds of trees planted will die out. By regenerating ecosystems, he says, we might be able to achieve the same carbon sequestration rates - and can even speed up the process by 2-3 times through reforestation. "We humans have to be the midwives of the forest", Tony says.

Unfortunately, Tony continues, there is an assumption that humans know better - the idea of intelligent design, resulting in forests with less diversity. This rang true for me, having seen manmade forests in South Africa where pine trees are the only variety planted. Plant in your area, he advises, and try to establish nurseries on the spot and to increase diversity.

The 30-year evolution of the Koanga Institute: Kay Baxter and Bob Corker

The next talk I chose to attend was by Kay Baxter and Bob Corker, on the 30-year evolution of the Koanga Institute in New Zealand.

Bob Corker

Bob told us that the organisation is dedicated to heritage seed saving, and offers a centre for sustainable living.

We learnt that Koanga is a Maori word for "new beginnings" - an apt description for what the institute offers.

Kay then related some of her experiences, including how she didn't know much about seed saving and would buy her seeds from the supermarket.

She went to a seed tent at a local farmer’s market and discovered that all the seeds in New Zealand came from Holland - in fact, the only locally-harvested seed was onions!

She came to the chilling realisation that New Zealand was totally dependent on the Northern Hemisphere for their food security - and so the idea to start saving seeds was born.

We realised seed banks were no good. We needed to save gardens!

Thus, the intrepid couple began their mission to build communities that honour gardeners. Part of this involved the development of an eco-village where gardeners would be supported amidst an environment of sustainable living.

There’s no difference between saving seeds, saving the planet, and saving ourselves.

Part of their evolution also involved a 10-week walk to Parliament, to petition for the saving of heritage seeds, as opposed to allowing GM seeds on the market. Exchanging stories and singing the song of peace, the journey was one which brought communities together, encouraging sharing and human connection.

Kay and Bob have also released the Koanga Garden Guide, Orchard Design Garden Planner and various retail catalogues and newsletters. From offering workshops, apprenticeships and working to increase education, their work has paid off - the Koanga Institute today is a thriving commercial organisation (selling 26000 dollars worth of seeds to individuals and 26000 to shops).

Desert Harvesters and Native Foods: Brad Lancaster

After a tasty lunch, the next talk was a given - Since hearing his talk at the IPC Conference, I was keen to hear Brad Lancaster’s presentation on Desert Harvesters and Native Foods (click the link to download the 10mb PDF, courtesy of Permaculture Institute of Australia).

So I'm not going into too much detail, just to give an overview of what the talk covered.

Brad Lancaster

Brad told us about the first annual tree planting project in 1996, where 1200 native varieties where planted in basins to capture rainwater and runoff from the adjoining path.

He told us some of the advantages of native varieties which were better suited to the harsh climatic conditions; trees such as mesquite attract beneficial wildlife, are more durable and typically the mesquite pods taste better.

Note: Check out the list of native desert plants on desert harvesters.

The tree planting project had another distinct benefit - it drew the community together. In fact, the temperature of the neighbourhood cooled as well. Suddenly, the trees started producing and there was an abundance of food which nobody knew how to harvest. Taking inspiration from a nearby farm, they got hold of an old hammer mill, refurbished it and began selling mesquite pancakes.

Meanwhile, the idea to harvest stormwater as well as rainwater, to turn flooding water into an irrigation asset - began to germinate. In Tucson, AZ (receiving 12 inches of annual rainfall), one mile of an average residential street drains over ONE MILLION GALLONS of rainfall per year. That’s enough water to sustainably irrigate 400 native food trees per mile, or one tree every 25 feet on both sides of the street - irrigated only by the flooding water from the street.

So Brad’s legacy of curb cutting began - using a hammer and saw they’d literally cut up the kerb to allow the street runoff flow to the street side basins. While the procedure initially started off rather surreptitiously, Brad had experts in to improve the look of the infrastructure and, as Brad was able to demonstrate the clear benefits, by 2007 the process was legalised.

Ten years after planting these native trees along the streets, using curb slices and curb core holes to harvest rainwater and floodwater, over 200 native birds were drawn to the neighbourhood, while the community felt connected to their neighbourhood and an income was created from something which cost the city nothing. Citizens were able to earn USD 25/hr selling mesquite flour.

What’s more, Mesquite trees are nitrogen fixers, attract birds and pollinators which in turn fertilise the soil through their droppings, increase diversity, shelter the ground thereby reducing pavement temperature, while prunings from the tree were used as mulch to fertilise the trees and increase soil moisture.

In fact, as much as 40 to 60% of the city’s solid waste stream is mulch!

It slices, it dices, it’s win, win, win!

Other advantages were that the streets began to change to bicycle boulevards, more people were out skating, walking and talking and relating to each other, while it also led to slower traffic. Residents helped make signs and to paint the roads every year and this led to a strong sense of community and ownership.

Not one to rest on its laurels, Desert Harvesters ensured that the model was open to all - holding pruning workshops, recipe tastings, creating a community cookbook to promote the recipes and increase community involvement, and going to events and serving pancakes - sharing information and holding workshops to spread the model.

To find out how you can replicate this incredible model, visit Desert Harvesters and learn how to implement integrated planting and harvesting of rain, native food trees, soil and community in and along urban streets.

Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge, Ethiopia: Alex McCausland

As I’d be in Africa soon, I decided to attend Alex McCausland’s presentation on the Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge in Ethiopia.

Alex McCausland

Alex's presentation began with the thought-provoking statement:

"If aid projects achieve sustainability - they put themselves out of business".

Known as the "Land of Famine", Ethiopia is an ecologically-rich country with huge resources.

With plenty of rain and an abundant hinterland plateau (almost half of all highlands in Africa receive over 200 mm) while 800 mm rainfall is common in semi-arid areas - the north is the wettest and greenest part of Ethiopia.

To put this in perspective, Alex tells us that a 200 litre water tank overflows after 20-30 mins rain.

Ethiopia, with its rich soils and fertile land, was previously forested and has five very different agro-climatic zones, where different crops can be grown. Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge is located in South Ethiopia, which has 65 ethnic groups with 65 languages, cultures and traditions.

Heavily-populated, the region’s environmental resources are under pressure while drought is a common issue. Food could easily be grown there instead of importing it from the US and Australia and this would in turn support the local economy and those in the lowlands suffering from drought, provide an alternative to GM grains and help sequester carbon.

Konso people are the toughest farmers in Ethiopia, states Alex. A recent World Heritage Site, Konso’s farmers have used stone-walled terraces for agriculture for 21 generations (more than 400 years). Crops grown include sorghum, pigeon pea and maize but there are very little trees, offering an opportunity for interplanting.

Other issues the region experiences include a dwindling water supply - not harvesting rain or flood water, limited fuel supply and an unpredictable rainy season with uncertain seasons.

Alex told us a little bit about what Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge is doing in the community - including holding 20 PDCs, training 20 local teachers and implementing gardens in 10 schools in Konzo.

Part of their efforts have resulted in floodwater diversion and silt catchment areas, and creating additional terraces using indigenous skills. In between these terraces, they’ve planted sugar cane, which captures silt and is fertilised by dung and urine.

They also built an earth bag tank with students and the community, to capture and store rainwater from the roofs. This water was then used to repair the school classrooms with mud and grass.

Alex tells us that they’re looking at alternative cooking solutions - and are planning to build a biochar and rocket stove system, having found that solar is ineffective in the community.

To reduce timber used, they build with a mixture of mud, grass and gypsum which is very strong, reinforced with chicken wire. To conserve energy and deal with poor santiation, Strawberry Fields uses hot composting for heating and has built compost toilets! Ultimately, my coverage is just to give you an idea of what's happening in Ethiopia, so do check out Stawberry Fields Eco-lodge to find out more!

From the Mara soil - Permaculture, water and life in rural East Africa: Tara Blasco and Lyn Hebenstreit

A video on Mara in Tanzania followed, an inspiring example of how permaculture is at work changing communities, changing lives.

Though I missed the last set of talks, there’s no reason you should - so check out Lyn Hebenstreit's presentation on Water from Rock - the Story of Primary Water (click the link to download, courtesy of the Permaculture Institute of Australia).

I spent my evening watching the sun go down in its almost obligatory blaze of colour, lighting up the sky as if a bucket of molten hues had been strewn across it, while Chris snapped away ecstatically in photographic heaven.

Wadi Rum at sunset, Jordan

Dinner, great conversation, and an interview with Rhamis Kent closed the day, and I went to bed sated, yet still wanting more. However, the sounds of some extremely talented musicians kept me awake, wondering what I was missing out on.

Eventually I dragged myself up and into the tent opposite me, to hear a group of permaculture guru’s play with some serious passion and undeniable skill. We went down to the main tent area, and the saxaphonist joined in. What a day. Simply, utterly unforgettable.

Join me at Convergence Day 2 and discover how Agriculture and technology is stuck in a rut, the story of Ayouba with Ted Bonner's moral ecology, visit tribal women in Permaculture and learn what Permaculture India is doing.

You'll be inspired by permaculture leading the way in US Universities, with UMass Amerherst as a case study. See what's been happening in Cuba, a country which managed to turn collapse into sustainability with permaculture. You'll also learn about new ways for permaculture to develop into a unifying strategy and lastly, watch a video on biological agriculture.


Return from Convergence Day 1 to Eco-friendly Africa Travel


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