Every now and then I reminisce growing up in the village and many memories flash through my mind. Back then as kids, we were always amused by wild animals and birds in our farms, which were of various varieties and sizes. There were more trees than I see nowadays, and when it rained, people would close their eyes to the smell of earth, because it smelled good! There was a lot of food too: mushrooms, a variety of vegetables, herbs, name it. There isn’t much of than now, sadly, leaving me with just but precious memories. This situation, I believe, resonates with many. What happened? And can we press a magic button and go back to the good old days? The answer to that can be found in permaculture.
The word permaculture is a derivative of two words: permanent and culture. It is a system of agro-ecological and social design principles that observe and imitate patterns and relationships found in nature. So then, how could permaculture possibly solve the problems we are experiencing in our agricultural systems? I can tell you for a fact- it’s all about resilience. In Andrew Zoll’s words, resilience is the capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances. Permaculture Day, celebrated the first Sunday of each May, is the celebration & demonstration of building personal, household, and community resilience.
The whole world is going through a tough time now with the COVID-19 phenomenon that somehow caught us by surprise. We have seen grocery stores running out of supplies, schools closing down, travel being restricted, and most people globally being encouraged to work remotely from home if possible. This pandemic is a great opportunity to assess how sustainably resilient our households are, and in addition, it is a chance for humanity to permanently forsake the destructive paths of industrial agriculture and embark on ways of agriculture that will set us on a course to regeneration.
Current agriculture systems are highly energy-intensive and are responsible for a significant contribution to the global climate problems. The fact that food travels far journeys from farm to fork makes it leave large carbon footprints. In addition, industrial agriculture is not only leaving behind a damaged environment, but also a dying population. In a heart-wrenching documentary, Michael Moore presents Planet of the Humans, a documentary that dares to say what no one else will— that we are losing the battle to stop climate change on planet earth because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road- placing corporate interests before the well-being of humanity. Moreover, the prevalence of chronic diseases is pilling more pressure to already strained and in some cases dysfunctional healthcare systems.
Permaculture provides us with three ethics that are a yardstick as to how sustainable agriculture ought to be. Earth care, people care, and fair share are the three ethics. Ethics are mechanisms that help to regulate self-interest, which if unchecked would cause overexploitation as we are now seeing in industrial agriculture. Permaculture acknowledges that if we take care of the earth, the earth will take care of us as well as future generations. Earth care involves taking care of the soil since the soil is the farmer’s closest ally.
The Kenyan government recently announced a plan to provide kitchen garden kits to 1 million households in 47 counties within the National Inclusive Growth project. This well-thought plan is a brilliant attempt to provide a long-term solution to a recurrent problem of food and nutrition insecurity since it will enable households which have previously been vulnerable to frequent shocks associated with food prices grow their own fresh vegetables. This is what resilience is about! And it is well within what permaculture stands for. Households with gardens will hardly need to purchase vegetables which are often of questionable quality when they can grow it. However, how the food is grown will matter; it needs to be nature-friendly, and sustainable.
To make this a success, the government should partner with various stakeholders including organizations that have been practicing permaculture for some time such as Hamana. This will allow for the exchange of knowledge and technologies that will enable Kenyans to successfully maintain their gardens and be able to improve resilience at all times.
Happy Permaculture Day everyone.