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IPC10 - In-depth coverage of the International Permaculture Conference


The 2011 International Permaculture Conference and Convergence (IPC10) began with the rite of the stone, representing the passage of energy from one IPC to the next.

Opening with a welcoming speech by the hostess of this year's IPC, Nadia Lawton, the IPC 10 was held at a rather swank hotel in Amman.

Decor aside, in a time when the world is suffering from increased desertification and water shortages, the conference theme "Plan Jordan ~ Water", could not have been more appropriate.

Scroll down to read or jump to individual speaker's presentations:

  1. Permaculture's use of water in times of climate change: Roberto Perez Rivero
  2. Turning Drains Into Sponges and Water Scarcity Into Water Abundance: Brad Lancaster
  3. Against the odds: Reversing desertification in arid and semi arid lands: Tony Rinaudo
  4. The importance of establishing self-replicating dryland permaculture demonstration sites: Geoff Lawton
  5. Permaculture in Somalia: Rhamis Kent
  6. Permaculture and peacemaking in a thirsty world: Warren Brush
  7. Virtually unknown, rarely applied yet quite effective: Bill Mollison

Rainwater Harvesting in Dry Regions by Sameeh Al Nuimat

Sameeh Al Nuimat, permaculture project director of the CARE International and HSBC sponsored project in Bayoudeh Village, then took the helm with a presentation on Rainwater Harvesting to increase per capita share of water in dry regions (a case study from Jordan).  

In a country where the annual rainfall is between 30mm and 600 mm, rainwater harvesting is a simple and essential solution to many of Jordan's water problems.

Bayoudah is 35km NW of Amman, wedged between the Jordan valley and the highlands, with a population of 3000 and an average rainfall of 350mm each year. However, evaporation rates are as high as 1,500-1,600 mm a year, making the region's issues more dire. Thanks to Sameeh's work, there are now 450 wells and cisterns each with around 45 cubic metres of water storage. 

With up to 50 cubic metres of rainwater per house, it is thus possible to increase per capita water share by an impressive 60%. The implications of Sameeh's success are obvious for Jordan (and other dry regions) where water is an increasingly scarce commodity.

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Sameeh's presentation.

Source: Craig Mackintosh filming the conference for IPCON


Permaculture's use of water in times of climate change by Roberto Perez Rivero

Roberto Perez Rivero then took the stage to share his expertise on the Cuban experience: Permaculture's use of water in times of climate change. Roberto is a Biologist, Permaculture Designer and teacher and Sustainability Activist with over 17 years of experience.

As many are aware, Cuba experienced a unique challenge after peak oil, culminating in the establishment of local food systems that resulted in Cuba exporting 60% of its surplus produce, as opposed to importing the majority of its food before.

Taking us through Cuba's history which resulted in land degradation, loss of biodiversity, lack of water, contamination and high dependence on external inputs (lots of fuel, machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, transportation), Roberto tells us that after the collapse of the East Block in 1991, Cuba was unable to import virtually anything.

"There are no magical solutions", says Roberto, "but over twenty years in Cuba we have proven it is possible to have a multi-stakeholder agricultural system that can sustainably feed millions, satisfy basic human needs, face problems and save lives with relatively little water".

Some of the solutions implemented include:

  • Rainwater collection and storage
  • Use of greywater
  • Dry compost toilets working in five provinces in the country
  • Aquaculture and aquaponics (fish don't drink)
  • Constructed wetlands
  • Food forests and tree-based systems
  • Renewable energy-based water systems
  • Low water, resilient agricultural practices
  • Human and nature-scale water management
  • Change of the existing culture towards water
  • Close the water cycle in smaller spaces

Permaculture can feed millions of people without exhausting natural resources and poisoning the planet; it is a powerful tool to educate people to make peace with water.

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Roberto's presentation.


Source: Craig Mackintosh filming the conference for IPCON

Turning Drains into Sponges and Water Scarcity Into Water Abundance by Brad Lancaster

Roberto then welcomed Brad Lancaster, of Desert Harvesters and Harvesting Rainwater, who spoke about urban water harvesting systems in a presentation entitled "Turning Drains Into Sponges and Water Scarcity Into Water Abundance".

brad lancaster

From the moment Brad took the stage his enthusiasm and energy was palpable, catapulting us into a state of equal excitement and fervour.

Brad told us about his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, where the annual rainfall is 304 mm and where floods which occurred every 100 years began to occur every 10 years. This is due to the fact that development literally paves the watershed and increases the rate and volume of stormwater running off site.

So even though the rainfall has not changed, the watersheds have. As free high-quality rainwater drains away, so expensive strategies are put in place to pull distant water at great expense, and even greater energy cost.

"The greater the distance we transport any resource, the greater the negative impact". In fact, the largest consumer of electricity (and single source producer of carbon) in Arizona is the pumping of water.

However, more rain falls on the area of Tucson than the entire community consumes in an average year, we learn. It's the same story in Amman, where the average water consumption per person is 130 litres per day, while if the rainwater was captured and distributed over the year there would be 441 litres per person per day!

"We can choose the story we live" - the path to scarcity (which drains natural resources) or the path to abundance (which harvests local resources). One of the strategies Brad outlines is to create a rain garden or living sponge, a level-bottomed, mulched and vegetated infiltration basin to soak up available rainwater.

brad lancaster

This is then irrigated only with harvested rainwater and household wastewater - using no drinking water whatsoever. In fact, integrated water harvesting has 10 times the flood control capacity of a conventional system, we learn.

Eight Principles of Successful Water Harvesting

1. Long and thoughtful observation

2. Start at the top of the watershed and work your way down
3. Start small and simple
4. Slow spread and infiltrate
5. Always have an overflow and use it as a resource
6. Maximize living and organic groundcover - the sponge
7. Maximize beneficial relationships and efficiency by “stacking functions”
8. The feedback loop: long and thoughtful observation

Brad then talked about air conditioning condensate harvesting, where in a dry climate/season a home air conditioner can generate 1 litre (0.25 gallons) of condensate per day, while a large commercial conditioner can generate 1,900 litres (500 gallons) per day.

Meanwhile in a humid climate/season, a home air con can generate 68 litres (18 gallons) of condensate per day, and a commercial one can generate over
7,500 litres (2,000 gallons) per day.

Like most people, I'd never even thought of harvesting this condensate, and in a city like Dubai, this could provide an essential source of much-needed water. In fact, this condensate is already being used to irrigate plants in Saudi Arabia.

Putting the harvesting of rainwater into perspective, Brad tells us that 34,100 litres of water from (330 m2 roof) equals:
- 5,625 toilet flushes (6 litres per flush)
- 750 loads of clothes washing (45 litres per load)
- 900 five-minute showers (37.9 litres per shower)

See the possibilities?

Brad then told us (forgive me for going into so much depth but I hope you find it as interesting as I do), about moving to his current home in Tucson.

He related the following story:

My view of public streets was radically changed when I heard ecovillage designer Max Lindigger tell a story of an insightful walk he took with his grandfather. “Look there,” said his grandfather, pointing to condominiums being built on the once forested slopes above his village in the Swiss Alps.

“That’s where we grew and gathered food during the war. The forests were common land, a reserve of community resources. What commons remain? Where will we grow and gather our food in the next catastrophe?”

I then looked at the desert city of Tucson, Arizona, and asked myself, “Where are my community’s forests, our commons? Where would we get our food in times of need?”

One of his first steps towards increasing food security was to plan annual tree-planting projects. But first you must plant the rain before you plant the trees! So Brad set out to create street basins to capture the water runoff from the street. In fact, Brad realised there was enough water to passively irrigate trees spaced every eight metres - it could be a greenbelt.

Brad tells us that the vast majority of Tucson’s stormwater runoff is currently diverted off roofs, driveways, parking lots etc to public streets and then flows into storm drains. If we recognise this runoff as an asset rather than a liability, we can harvest this water before it runs down the drain to sustainably grow food forests along neighbourhood streets that act like ephemerally flowing riverbeds, and within public parks and on private property.

We need to fight the trend to pave it, pipe it, concrete it - we need to slow it, spread it and sink it!

This project became Desert Harvesters, an organisation dedicated to planting native, multi-functional, food and medicine-producing trees within and beside water-harvesting earthworks, transforming stormwater from a flooding liability into a free and sustainable irrigation resource.

This brought the community together, planting and then harvesting produce from trees, at neighbourhood and regional milling events where native mesquite was ground and sold as pancakes, through cooking competitions and the Desert Harvester's cookbook, workshops and a greater sense of enjoyment in just being outdoors.

Native birdlife returned, the area became noticeably more beautiful and even cooler - Plant a tree and you plant a living air conditioner.

Wherever you find yourself, says Brad in closing, ask yourself what is the story of that place? What is the story of the water? What is your role?

"We all have the power to create springs, bring back rivers and aquifers - it's what keeps my buns shaking all through the night".

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Brad's presentation.


Source: Craig Mackintosh filming the conference for IPCON

Against the odds: Reversing desertification in arid and semi arid lands by Tony Rinaudo

Tony, the research and development advisor of natural resources for World Vision International, then took to the stage to tell us a story about the regreening movement and the history behind Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).

Tony began his work in West Africa, in Niger on the edge of Sahara Desert. He remembers feeling a sense of shock, when he was confronted by an eroded and degraded landscape with wind speeds of over 70km, soil temperatures of 60 degrees centigrade, recurring droughts and pests and diseases on crops and livestock.

He tells the story of a defeated farmer who'd planted his crop three times and lost it each time, whose bowed shoulders testify to his struggle to feed his family and his repeated failure to do so. "People had nothing", said Tony.

In a normal year in Niger, rainfall is variable, ranging between 150 mm to 500 mm per year and sometimes not at all. Despite planting many trees, many didn't survive and to many aid workers in Niger, it seemed the odds were stacked against them. Said Tony: "What I was doing seemed about as useless as trying to sweep aside the sands of the Sahara with a hand broom and shovel."

In that sense of defeat, after three years passed, Tony attests to seeing what had been there all along. Millions of little clumps of green, what he calls the "tree stumps of an underground forest", lying undetected in the degraded landscapes, just waiting for a chance to be cared for and to grow back into maturity.

Sometimes what we're looking for is right at our feet.

This is not some great discovery, says Tony, in fact it's known as assisted natural regeneration. However, it was the turning point for his work, leading to the realisation: "We are not fighting the Sahara Desert, we are fighting attitudes and beliefs and practices about how land is managed. We are fighting misguided government policies made with good intent to protect the vegetation but are having the opposite effect".

These policies were that the government owned the trees and the people, who depended on them for their livelihood, were not allowed to touch them. The net result was that nearly all the trees in that landscape disappeared over a period of 30-50 years.

The issue is lack of ownership, Tony believes. With no benefit to protect these trees people stick to convention, to what everyone else does. Another added complication is that many people believe having trees in croplands reduces yields.

However, with the right type of pruning and the right species in the fields, crop yields can double or even triple because of the presence of these trees.

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is the systematic regeneration of trees from living tree stumps, roots and seeds. It's not complicated, Tony says, he does workshops with a USD 2 pocket knife, teaching farmers to pick the tallest and straightest stems, cut off the rest and then prune off the bottom half or bottom third of side branches of the chosen stems so they can guide that growth.

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration

Another false belief that limits farmers is that indigenous species grow slowly, or crookedly, causing farmers to favour the neem or eucalyptus tree (which can have it's own ecological cost). But if you prune native trees, Tony tells us excitedly, their mature root system ensures they have a fast growth rate and often grow straight, or can be used for firewood instead of timber.

After just one year, people started seeing the difference. Instead of walking miles to gather firewood, the women were now pruning trees and mulching, which then improved the soil, water retention and crop yields.

In 2004 there was a severe famine in Niger but the people who practiced FMNR didn't require food aid. They still had the same problems such as drought and pests but because of the trees' protection, they got some yield from their crops, they also had firewood, building poles to use or sell, seeds, leaves to feed their livestock, wild fruits, medicines and more.

Perhaps one of the most important drivers for a community that regularly faces starvation is that people are able to make money from these trees by selling wood legally on the open market or building tools, furniture and roofing to get more income from the same wood. The project has been so successful that the villages now hold two local wood markets per week.

Tony demonstrates a FMNR landscape where millet is growing right up to tree trunk, and the sterile desert sand is enriched by the organic matter dropping from the trees. The farmer now has firewood ready to sell or use. This has a dramatic effect on crop yields, provides a wind break, mulch and additional fertiliser from the manure of livestock who graze under the tree eating the pods and benefiting from the shade.

Though Tony initially found it difficult to convince people that you can leave the trees and increase crop yields, the proof came with the restoration of the environment - leading to increased biodiversity, edible fruits, traditional medicines, dyes, and even the bark used for rope creating more opportunities for income and food security. As the trees grow back so they create habitat, and wildlife, beneficial insects and birds returned.

"It's a people's project", says Tony, "and part of its success is that we leave it up to the farmers to decide how they're going to manage their trees and their land". In fact, FMNR is so simple and accessible, even the poorest farmers can practice it.

Once accepted, it spreads organically, taking a life of its own as farmers talk to farmers. Today, over 5 million hectares of land is being managed by FMNR. In fact, FMNR has been called " the largest positive environmental transformation in the Sahel and perhaps all of Africa".

Over 10 years, 100-200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide has been sequestered and farmers are directly earning 17-20 million USD per year from the trees - an impressive figure for one of the poorest countries in the world.

As the news started to spread, so the movement began in the rest of Africa. One of the countries to adopt FMNR is Ethiopia. Says one of the Ethiopian farmers: "We are too much happy, we have fodder and firewood in our yard!" After only 3-4 years, the Government of Ethiopia has committed to developing 15 million hectares to reforestation.

"I have the most incredible reactions when I run workshops. People start singing, breaking into dance, clapping their hands, it's really fun. They get excited. You are dealing with beaten, downtrodden people, who live with the fear of climate change, poverty, droughts etc., and you tell them these insignificant tree stumps can make a big difference. It's a wonderful thing".

FMNR is Tony's "grand scheme for world domination", certainly one of the most positive I've ever come across. He closes with the following statement: "Within your sphere of influence, what will you do with this information?"

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Tony's presentation.


Source: Craig Mackintosh filming the conference for IPCON

Interested in finding out more? Read Tony Rinaudo's article on Developing Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration for more information. You can also download the pdf of Tony's how-to guide to FMRN and a report from Tony's trip to Ghana to check on progress of the FMNR underway there (both courtesy of the permaculture research institute of Australia).

Over a generous buffet lunch with a regrettably long queue, we used the time to chat to Eston Pembamoyo, a Reverend in the Anglican Church and Administrator for the Permaculture Network in Malawi, who told me the following: "What we need in Africa is food sovereignty, not food security".

Eston Pembamoyo

I'll also be covering his lecture on Permaculture in Malawi over the convergence.

We also chatted to Guy Wauters, who offers Lifefullness trainings and seminars in Belgium. He told us about his fascintating project, which works with new developments in plasma reactor technology.

Guy Wauters

Chris and I then sat down to eat with Harry Wykman, who is currently researching heritage grains to increase the genetic diversity of cereals at Oxford University, and Chris Anderson, who has an established (and thriving) permaculture food forest.

I also met the director of Jordan's botanical gardens (pictured below with Princess Basma of Jordan), and Caron de Mars of the USA Embassy, who works as the Regional Environment, Science, Technology and Health Officer for the MENA region, just to give you some idea of the great minds and scintillating conversations I enjoyed on day one alone!

Princess Basma of Jordan

The Importance of Establishing Self-Replicating Dryland Permaculture Demonstration Sites by Geoff Lawton

After lunch one of Permaculture's biggest voices, Geoff Lawton, began his presentation on the importance of establishing self-replicating dryland permaculture demonstration sites.

Geoff Lawton

"In arid climates", says Geoff, "the results (or impact) of permaculture is even more obvious". As the founder of the Greening the Desert project, Geoff is certainly one of the experts on this subject, and the room quietened as everyone listened with rapt attention.

Geoff's talk discussed the need for more education and demonstration sites that literally show people permaculture in action. He also spoke about how, in today's digital age, making online connections is becoming increasingly important (and I couldn't agree more, which is why I began this site).

To this end, the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and other institutes around the world have formed the Worldwide Permaculture Network site, which allows permaculture practitioners to connect and share information no matter where they are in the world. It is also a valuable way of showcasing permaculture projects throughout the world.

Geoff continued about his goal of helping people to create permaculture demonstration sites which, within three years, demonstrate the local needs that can be met by the local people within their economic means, on the ground. It must be achievable, work within a local region and the local economic levels, he stressed.

There are rising numbers of people who wish to add value, to be of service to the greater good. In a world in ecological crisis, where permaculture is becoming a necessity, this trend needs to be addressed so that huge permaculture troops can be trained (on real sites that have real-world issues) to go out into the world and start their own projects.

Students have proven that they are willing to pay more for this practical experience, and their contribution allows these education sites and demonstration centres to become self-funded. This is known as the Permaculture Master Plan and Geoff believes it is this method that will propel the permaculture movement faster and faster so that more and more students go in service to the world.

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Geoff's presentation.


Source: Craig Mackintosh filming the conference for IPCON

Permaculture in Somalia by Rhamis Kent

Rhamis Kent then took to the stage to talk about permaculture in Somalia. Rhamis, a permacuture teacher and consultant, tells us about a project he's been asked to handle on behalf of PRI Australia - formed by a group called the World G18 Somalia.

Rhamis Kent

This group is made up of Somali's from all 18 regions in Somalia, representing all the major clans in Somalia, with its very formation being a major accomplishment. The group was formed to piece the country back together after many troublesome years.

A country plagued by civil war, drought and famine, recently the UN declared Somalia home to the greatest humanitarian crisis on earth. In fact, the latest drought is the most severe seen in the region for the past 50 years.

Rhamis asks: "Was there ever a time when Somalia wasn't in crisis? If so, how has it transformed into what we have come to know of the country and the region? How might we start to effectively help address the longstanding persistent problems of Somalia, enabling it to find peace and security?

Given that the creation of Permaculture was prompted by a desire to address 'perceived social problems', how might it be utilised to address those found in Somalia? What should the solutions look like? What do they need to look like?

Rhamis then took us through excerpts from the enlightening article - Somalia: The real causes of famine by Michel Chossudovsky, a Professor of Economics at the University of Ottowa, all of which must be credited to the author.

I was surprised to learn that Somalia remained self-sufficient in food until the late 1970s despite recurrent droughts. However, in the early 1980s, its national economy was destablised and food agriculture was destroyed. An entire country, with a rich history of commerce and economic development, was transformed into a territory.

In fact, we learn that Somalia was once a colony of Italy and Britain. In the 70's major social programs in health and education were implemented, rural and urban infrastructure was developed and significant social progress achieved, including a mass literacy programme.

However, the 80s marks the turning point, quotes Rhamis from Michel Chossudovsky's article:  

The IMF-World Bank structural adjustment program (SAP) was imposed on sub-Saharan Africa. The recurrent famines of the 1980s and 1990s are in large part the consequence of IMF-World Bank "economic medicine". 

In Somalia, ten years of IMF economic medicine laid the foundations for the country's transition towards economic dislocation and social chaos. 

By the late 1980s, following recurrent "austerity measures" imposed by the Washington consensus, wages in the public sector had collapsed to three dollars a month.

The economic reforms, which included these austerity measures and the privatisation of central services, destablised the economy and destroyed agriculture. Wages in public sector were reduced, urban purchasing power declined and cost of fuel, fertiliser and farm inputs shot up, setting the stage for the civil war in 1991, from which Somalia is yet to recover.

Famine and food aid became the norm as hundreds of aid agencies set up shop to handle the crisis, that was of their own making. In short, Somalia became "a business opportunity", providing jobs to hundreds if not thousands of mostly Western aid employees, called a "moral economy".

Rhamis encourages us to read the The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity by Michael Maren (click the title to buy it or read reviews) to understand the politics and economy of food aid, demonstrating how this aid suppressed local food production in Somalia, fuelled civil war and created a permanent food crisis.

In effect, Somalia is being managed and controlled by aid agencies. The real conflict in Somalia is not so much between clans, but between urban and pastoralist communities. He also talks about how food aid has made Somalia dependent on imported grain, along with the periodic devaluations of currency, led price hikes of fuel, fertiliser and farm inputs as well as the privatisation of veterinary services.

US grain supplies that entered the country as food aid also destroyed local agriculture. Food aid was also often sold on the local market to cover domestic costs.

The diversion of food aid is nothing new, says Rhamis. The writer Linda Polman from Holland, author of the The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? goes on to explain that much of what passes as humanitarian aid actually goes towards maintaining the processes of the organisation.

In fact, we are shocked to learn that global aid is a 120 billion dollar business.

Lynda Pullman depicts how food aid is often used as a weapon. In almost every crisis area around the world, warlords, militia and soldiers have benefited by imposing taxes on humanitarian agencies or stealing and selling food aid to buy arms. Refugee camps can become a safe haven for militia who use the safety of the camps to regroup and recuperate and can indirectly prolong civil wars.

Author Jared Diamond agrees, stating that: "Agriculture is the worst mistake of the human race".

Rhamis is bothered by another issue, which is that people tend to classify Somali's as if their situation is entirely of their making, as if they don't know how to live in peace.

When you talk about issues of piracy, says Rhamis, many people are not aware that there is a serious problem with the poaching of the fish in Somalia and it's a major industry in a poor country with a small population.

They are pulling as much as 250 - 350 million dollars of fish out of their waters, a lot of money for a poor country that is consistently malnourished. Read you are being lied to about pirates for more information.

According to the World Bank, Somalia had a population of 8.7 million in 2007. With an average per capita income estimated to be 226 dollars in 2002, Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its people have high undernourishment levels, 36% of its population are underweight and the Human Development Index ranks Somalia at 161 out of 163 countries.

The continuous civil conflict, insecurity, lack of access to services and infrastructure have made conditions increasingly worse, preventing Somali's from achieving their most basic of needs.

What's more, they are faced with arid to semi-arid conditions and only 300-400 mm of rainfall, soil erosion, drought and flooding as the soil is unable to retain water (to act as a sponge).

Rhamis goes on to mention other successful permaculture projects whose learnings might be applied in Somalia, such as the work of Yacouba Sawadogo in Burkina Faso (filmed in the documentary "The Man who stopped the desert"), who has taken a barren region and completely regreened it. Yacouba's success is astounding given that he is illiterate, with very little formal training - giving hope to countries like Somalia.

Or China's Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project, funded by the World Bank, which was documented since 1995 by filmaker John Liu in a film entitled Hope in a Changing Climate (click the link to watch or view the youtube video part 1 of 6). This project covered 35000 square km and helped lift more than 2.5 million people out of poverty within the four poorest regions of China.

Rhamis also brings up the problem that many people cast Somalia as a security risk, "as if Somali's actually enjoy chasing ships to protect their fish".

To this Rhamis brings up the example of James Brett of Plant for Peace, who went into the tribal areas of Afghanistan, and convinced farmers to grow pomegranates instead of opium, and ensured they earned more!

People who can't make money to meet their needs get desperate. Somali's are not criminals by nature, they just need the opportunity to make a living, says Rhamis.

Some of the major threats in Somalia, Rhamis tells us, include:

  1. Burning forests and rooting up of mature trees for charcoal for export
  2. Due to poor maintenance and lack of fuel in major water rig points which are now almost idle, nomads overpopulate areas with water wells and boreholes leading to land degradation
  3. Lack of properly graded roads lead to truckers and private cars driving on virgin land, leading to degraded lands and contributing to the creation of dry canyons that spoil pasture land. Roughly 70% of land in Somalia is used for the grazing of animals while only 1.5% of land is used to cultivate agriculture.
  4. Wildlife is poached without mercy, ending up in many foreign countries, including the UAE
  5. Lack of renewable energy sources results in heavy dependence on wood and charcoal for cooking
  6. Heavy felling of trees - nomads need shelter for livestock, constant movement increases need for more shelter for humans and livestock, leading to more felling of trees (370% increase in bare land over last 50 years)
  7. Toxic waste dumping, leading to huge increases in cancer rates and prompting 'piracy'
  8. Physical degradation - soil loss and erosion

Is it any surprise people are getting desperate?

There are no economies without environments but there are environments without economies - Jared Diamond, author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

The author claims the most common sources of civilisations' collapse is:

  1. Deforestation and habitat destruction
  2. Soil problems (erosion, salinisation, soil fertility losses)
  3. Water management problems

In the book Topsoil and Cultivation by Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale, they state that somewhere upwards of 30 civilisations have all fallen victim to the same reasons.

Why do we keep seeing this? asks Rhamis. Why does this always occur if we are indeed an 'intelligent' species?

Australian soil scientist and founder of Carbon for Life, Dr Christine Jones concurs, saying: "The most meaningful indicator for the health of the land and the long-term wealth of the nation is whether soil is being formed or lost. If soil is being lost so too is the economic and ecological foundation on which production and conservation are based".

The Land = The Product emphasises Rhamis. To make positive change, we need to give investors financial and business-motivated justifications for investing in earth repair and ecosystem restoration work. He encourages us to read the report Dead planet, living planet: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration for sustainable development, which gives important information about funding and investment.

We learn that regenerative projects offer Benefit to Cost ratios between 3-75%, while the Return on Investment (ROI) is anywhere between 7-79%. Says Rhamis: The strongest argument for implementing permaculture-based solutions is not necessarily the environmental one. It's actually the business one.

Investors are taking notice, continues Rhamis. They are realising the importance of investing in agriculture and systems of food production.

We need to establish living systems and polyculture-based landscapes. After all:

Fertility, Stability and Productivity = Biodiversity = Profitability

This includes:

  • Permaculture
  • Regenerative Agriculture
  • Biological and bio-intensive farming
  • Carbon farming
  • Holistic management
  • Keyline design
  • Pasture cropping/silvopasture systems
  • FMNR
  • Bioactive compost
  • Water-harvesting earthworks
  • Bio/myco/phyto remediation

We can model these solutions in Somalia, get them out of this hole they're in, says Rhamis enthusiastically. We have to start looking at all these ideas to gain access to resources and deploy them to people who really, really need them.

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Rhamis' presentation, but the first five or so minutes are silent so best to skip ahead. I'll reupload if an edited copy comes out.

Permaculture and peacemaking in a thirsty world by Warren Brush

Warren Brush came to the stage with huge enthusiasm, echoing what most of us were feeling by stating how humbled he felt to be in such great company.

Warren Brush

Warren reminded us of the ceremony of the stone which opened the conference, and the energy that permeated the room when the stone was danced up to the front.

Michael O Donnel

Warren told us a little bit about the history of this "stone of peace", which came from West Africa.

He then called up Michael O' Donnell, telling us that one of the traditions of the stone is that it needs to be fed water.

The whole conference room went silent as Mick started playing the flute and began singing a hauntingly beautiful Maori melody.

Everyone then stood up to sing with Michael, repeating after him (in Maori) the words he spoke.

We sang about the symbols of the earth and the sky, and how both of these vortexes of energy come together in the heart.

Warren suggested that another layer of tradition be added to this ceremony, that each person could bring some of the water from their springs, the rivers they helped to bring back, the water that they feed their children, the water they use to nurture the land to the IPC. We can then wash the stone with it to remember to that we are together, through the spirit that moves in all things - the water.

The stone was then passed around so that everybody's energy and good thoughts could be absorbed, infusing the stone with a level of peacemaking beyond words alone. Unfortunately, for some inexplicable reason the stone didn't reach many of us, much to my (and others' disappointment).

Warren then talked about how everything is circular - the seasons, the cycles of life, and the more we understand the cycles of life, the more we understand the cycles of peacemaking.

He relates how the children of the Congo get together and create a circle with their feet, and each one has to share a cycle - such as the cycles of the sun, moon, family, regeneration, seasons, or the mother's womb until they can't think of anything else. The last one left is the one who knew the most about the cycles of life.

He told us the story of Chief Jake Swamp whose people in upstate New York started getting sick. They called in the Health Department who found toxins in the reservation's water supply. He went upriver to find the source and discovered a factory that had been established 4-5 years ago. They tested the water there and found it was heavily toxic.

They spoke to the factory administrator, who refused to stop dumping toxic waste, saying it was perfectly legal. But what of the ethics? asked Jake. Faced with continuous illness, they took up a public campaign that received enough attention to get a 45-minute audience with the Board of Directors of the multinational corporation that owned the factory.

Jake was elected spokesman for the group, as he has devoted his life to peace, planted trees worldwide and was the author of the book "Giving Thanks".

He was given 45 minutes to present and together with his people, put together all the information required. Jake then went to New York, to the corporation's high-rise building to meet the board of directors. He was stunned by its opulence, built on the backs of sick and dying children.

Just before he began his presentation his intuition kicked in and he realised his prepared speech was not appropriate.

So he began to speak in gratitude, using the most beautiful words he knew, about every aspect of creation and nature - this beautiful world live in.

He gave thanks for the soil, going up to the roots, then the plants, offering gratitude for all the water we have in the world, every animal, further up to the bushes and trees, giving thanks for all the birds and the waters of the atmosphere and the clouds and the stars and then honoured his ancestors and their ancestors.

He spoke of future generations and how our decisions affect them. He offered them gratitude and it was 45 minutes exactly by the time he finished. He remembered people shaking their heads and saying "stupid Indian, wasting our time". When he left the room tears were rolling down his eyes as he felt he had let his people down.

The next morning, he was called by one of the Board of Directors, who said he was astonished to hear such things. He never experienced this beauty or realised the connection and mutual dependence of everything in nature. He said he would work with Jake to change the policies of the company.

Within the year, they changed all the factories for that company in the world, because one man followed his heart.

There are so many ways to become a peacemaker. We have the power, if we follow our hearts.

In permaculture, Warren continues, we draw from indigenous understandings but we also draw from nature. He brings up the example of the fire ant from Brazil, who developed a unique response to floods and catastrophe. Within 100 seconds, they can assemble upwards of a million ants, each excreting a tiny bubble of oxygen that acts as a flotation device.

They lock together as a group to ride out a storm and thus survive as a species. They can ride out these floods for 2-3 weeks. It is this connection that is essential to their survival, this mutual interdependency.

Warren tells us about a world in crisis, floods in Pakistan, drought affecting 35 million people in China, droughts and floods in the US, and 5 million people in Southern California with no electricity and no water delivery (reliant on electric pumps and filtration). "We need to shut off the power for a week in the world, so people learn how to respond".

So, how do we change some of the things that are happening? Warren brings up the ethics of permaculture, but believes that much needs to be done with the "Care of the people" ethic.

We need to design communities based on true need, that result in positive peacemaking on the ground.

He tells us of an organic carrot farm that grows 40,000 tonnes of carrots and supplies them to Whole Foods. He asks how we can look at a landscape of monocrops and accept this as normal? It's overdrafting the aquifer (pumping 1200 gallons a minute, of which the youngest water is 16000 years old and the oldest is 32,000) and just because it's organic we call it good.

Reductionist thinking is the root of the breakdown of peace.

In trying to find out how he can change this, Warren found a set of studies that said there are two things that inform our world views: Sensory input and mind focus.

In fact, the very environment we spend most of our time (indoors, in buildings) reduces our world views through lack of sensory inputs. He discovered that merely getting people out into nature expands their world view.

Meanwhile, mind focus is being threatened by a media whose message is fear. Warren brings up the example of the cougar, who hunts the coyote through fear. This causes the demise of the coyote, with some literally dying from a heart attack.

Being fed fear by the media, with no solution, places people in a state of anxiety and lessened awareness as they are unable to see the feedback in nature.

Permaculture shifts mind focus to positive things, not just nature emerging but system design for human settlement that is nearly as diverse as nature.

Permaculture involves pattern tracking, observation and listening, hopeful conscious design, and the development of life-giving pursuits that make sense, such as gardening.

Warren tells us about working in post-war Liberia. Liberia was a beautiful country with many natural resources but still peace did not exist there. "Having food and water is not enough for peace to prevail", says Warren. Indeed, much of Warren's work was with child soldiers, who got their guns and weapons through cutting down forests for 'Western interests'.

Warren tells us that war came to an end when the women of Liberia got together and gathered in the central squares. They laid down their conditions:

  • they would not eat unless the war ended
  • they would not be intimate with men until the war is over
  • they were calling back the elephants (known as harbingers of peace)

The defense minister of the Lourde Army (largest opposing army) was on the course and Warren asked him when the war was over. He related how the army of 40,000 men were marching through the jungle when they came across the elephants, who'd left the country when the war began.

On seeing the elephants, the Minister knew the war was over and ordered all 40 000 of his men to lay down their weapons with UN. Shortly after that the 1st African woman in Liberia (and indeed in the whole of Africa) was voted president.

"The healing of the human heart must accompany the healing of the land" - Liberian elder.

Warren also went to Northern Liberia and trained former child soldiers to harvest rainwater and to build tanks as a vocation. Another six former child soldiers were taught to create fertility next to their homes and to use simple greywater systems.

They took swamps that were mosquito havens and turned them into greywater systems that grow up to 28 species of food. This system has now spread all over Liberia because it's simple and doesn't cost a thing. "They had already been doing it in the past", says Warren, "I was just reminding them and acknowledging their wisdom".

All the problems of the world can be solved in a garden if we design in a way that brings healing to every individual - every family, every community, every tribe and every landscape.

Warren closed by asking us to use our brains as a tool, but to follow our hearts.

Please watch the video below for the live stream of Warren's presentation.


Virtually unknown, rarely applied yet quite effective by Bill Mollison

When Bill Mollison took the stage, the room went hushed as everyone listened to the founder of permaculture presenting methods not often used in dry regions, knowledge amassed over years of experience.

Unfortunately, hearing his words of wisdom was an effort, as the microphone didn't pick him up very well.

However, hearing him rail against technology, and lament the waste of paper as Geoff kept getting him to draw his diagrams on a large empty sheet (for our sake), really brought his endearing character to life.

Bill Mollison

Bill told us about rainfall in the desert, and the question of whether it's equal on the slopes, the valleys and the top of the hill.

What happens to rain that runs off?

Measured with runoff tanks, it was found that rain falls equally across the desert. But it doesn't runoff equally, it runs off the most on the top of the dune, and down the side (below) of it you find a rich environment with a great variety of plants and insects as well as large amounts of snails.


Bill's sense of humour is immediately apparent as he relates stories accompanied by a deep-bellied chuckle that bring out an equally uninhibited laugh in you. He talked about the Canary Islands where every village had a rain tree, a giant Til (known as the Ocotea foetens), the leaves of which condensed the mountain mists and caused water to drip down into a circular trench placed beneath.

In fact, of all the water in the air, 15-20% falls as rain and 80-85% is condensed on leaves. From the leaves, 15% evaporates and 50% is transpired leaving 15-20% to percolate into the ground (Source: Live Permaculture). Clearly, trees are VERY important for water conservation.

Using this principle, we discover that the villagers plant beneath this tree and cover everything with cinder (any loose material will do, says Bill). The air travels back into the gravel and condenses, bringing water back into the soil - thus one can grow a garden in the total absence of rainfall.

Bill also discussed a strategy for deserts like Australia, with large amounts of rocky land, but the sound was so terrible that even though I recorded everything I still can't make out enough to put down anything with confidence.

Bill Mollison

Hopefully Craig or one of the other IPC bloggers will be able to cover this in more depth so that I can link to their page, as I have the feeling I missed out on some seriously valuable information!

With the conference at an end, our day wasn't over, as we waited for a bus to take us to the post-conference dinner. Not a second was spent counting sheep, with so many inspiring people there conversations flowed like liquid gold.

I chatted to Albert Bates, permaculture teacher and Director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee as well as author of The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

I reconnected with the host of my second PDC, Murad Alkhuffash of Palestine, who told me about the success of the no-dig bed we'd made five months ago. I also met a permaculture enthusiast who lives in Dubai. Making connections, communicating, spreading love, goodwill and inspiration, that's what permaculture is about.

The bus taking us to dinner was alive, literally buzzing with conversation, over which more great connections were formed.

Bus journey with perma enthusiasts

Over dinner we met the dynamic Ryan Harb, sustainability specialist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whose presentation I'll be covering later. Ryan tells us one of the better definitions of permaculture I've heard:

Permaculture is regenerative design for human settlements based on ecological principles that restores and renews natural systems.

Ryan Harb

I also met Nicholas Syano, of the permaculture research institute of Kenya, and Hannah Davis, who tells me that permaculture gets her excited because it's such a "holistic approach to sustainable life".

We chatted to Andy Goldring, of the permaculture association of UK "Permaculture is about self-reliance", but warns us that you have to decide how you want to invest your time. We chat about how social justice is essential, that equal distribution is key.

My notebook filled with frantic, untidy shorthand, my brain swelled with information, and my heart alive with hope at all the possibilities of the future, the conference was a resounding success.

We have the power to change the world!

Jordan at night

To find out more about the IPC 10 and learn from it's fantastic speakers, go to the IPC 10 Convergence, where you'll travel into the heart of Wadi Rum in the company of some of permaculture's greatest minds.

Convergence Day 1 takes you through Permaculture in arid lands, a Global Permaculture Strategy, a case study of the Koanga Institute in New Zealand and it's heritage of seed saving, Desert Harvesters and Native Foods, a case study of Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge, Ethiopia and an introduction to Permaculture, water and life in rural East Africa with a video of Mara.

On Convergence Day 2 you'll 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.

The third day of the convergence covers the intriguing talk on investment opportunities for global earth repair work and ecosystem restoration, biochar and the carbon cycle, water and transformation in dryland systems and planting seeds of hope in occupied territories, using Marda Farm as a case study. You'll also find out about what you can do for International Permaculture Day.

Join me at the IPC 10 Convergence now.

Interested in doing a course in Jordan?

A full 72 hour PDC will be held in the scenic village of Bayouda, 20km north-east of Amman, in between olive groves and ancient oak forests in the first two weeks of June.

The main instructor will be Rico Zook, a permaculture designer, consultant and instructor since over 15 years, who's teaching method is very practical and hands-on, reaching back to our ancestors' muscle memory and making permaculture come to life. His website is

The course will be in English and is for local and foreign students of any age or background. It is organised by The Green Platform and the a local NGO form Bayouda village, the Abdel-Rahman bin Ouf Society, which will involve the local community in various parts of the course.

This and the participation of various local and regional guest speakers will enable students to benefit from their generations-old wisdom and knowledge of the Levant area.

For more information on the course as well as fees and registration, please see the attached pdf or visit or click the banner below.


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