Clockwise from top left: Morag with four participants of the PDC; Jane Amunga runs permaculture education classes from her village home and garden; Learning skills on the PDC that they will take back to their communities. Photos by Morag Gamble
Jane Amunga is a Kenyan grandmother, community leader and farmer. She lives in a mud house in the rural village of Kambiri in Kakamega, close to the only remaining equatorial rainforest in the country. But the rain is sparse. The soil on her tiny farm is depleted and her plants are struggling. Getting water means a long walk. Her husband is dying. Her daughter and grandchildren have moved back in because they have nowhere else to go. The whole region is struggling.
A severe drought has been affecting Kenya for years. Crops are failing and millions of people face acute food insecurity. Climate change is affecting the lives of local communities throughout the region and the already degraded landscapes, ecosystems and soils are under increasing pressure.
A local nurse, Jane cares deeply for her community and is a trusted elder. She started a women’s self-help group, for women to support each other, helping each other with solutions; and she has now discovered permaculture.
Midway through last year, Jane got in touch with me. Even in remote places with limited power and no running water, many people have basic mobile phone technology and Jane used that to reach out to people on the other side of the world – hoping to be able to gather the support she needed to bring positive change in her village.
The first-ever East African Permaculture Convergence was organised in neighbouring Uganda, at Sabina primary school with its permaculture demonstration gardens. The organisers welcomed Jane to the convergence and to stay on for the Permaculture Design Course. Sabina is a boarding school that began as an orphanage. The gardens are an integral part of life at this school – a beautiful, rich, learning environment, full of herbs, fruits, vegetables, flowers, bees, fodder and mulch plants and a milking cow.
Learning permaculture in this garden made good sense to Jane and she realised her village needed this knowledge. The next step, she decided, was to set up a small permaculture farm at home and invite her community to learn.
Jane’s garden is now coming together, focused initially on water harvesting ideas, learning ways to build living soil and diversify sources of food and livelihoods. A resilient garden like this one means real security and wellbeing for a family. Other people now come to learn about water tanks, swales, water re-use, composting, compost toilets, cover cropping, mulching, hardy perennials and seed saving. When the rain finally did arrive, instead of flooding across the land and taking topsoil with it, Jane’s tanks filled and the garden soaked it up.
Recently Jane organised a free Permaculture Design Course for local leaders – women, youth and local farmers. The Ethos Foundation, a registered charity, supported her through crowdfunding and a grant from Permafund. A team from the Kakamega region was sponsored by Ethos to attend courses at Sabina. And Jane gathered that team to co-teach her PDC in Kambiri.
After the course, participants returned to their own gardens, small farms and village schools and started sharing the ‘new permaculture technology’.
Jane’s women’s self-help group also began a cooperative chicken enterprise to improve their income, diet and soil. With a seed grant from Ethos, they are sharing resources and working together to build the chicken enclosure and breed their flock.
We can help each other locally and across the world with permaculture education – to simultaneously address direct community needs and the global ecology and climate emergency. It doesn’t take much, but it certainly makes a difference and continues to ripple out.
Morag Gamble is Executive Director of the Ethos Foundation and Permaculture Education Institute. Ethos accepts donations to offer free permaculture education, the establishment of demonstration gardens and seed funding for micro permaculture enterprises in the Global South. To donate to please visit www.ethosfoundation.org.au. All funds go directly to communities in need.