By Andre Marais – Amandla Magazine*
DURBAN, Dec 7 – (TerraViva) At several sites across Southern Africa, school children are learning the principles of permaculture, a set of agricultural techniques which avoids disturbing the soil, instead keeping it covered with mulch to preserve water and fertility. TerraViva encountered a group of these children who were lucky enough to visit the U.N. climate conference along with two of their trainers.
Kerry Anne Smith and Mugrove Walter Nyika, who work for an NGO called Seeding Schools, brought ten primary school learners involved in the Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (Rescope) Programme in Malawi and Zambia to the 17th Conference of Parties to meet other people from like-minded organisations and broaden their exposure to environmental issues.
Q: What is the Rescope programme?
A: We are a project working in the area of permaculture. We work with communities and particularly with schools with the idea of using the school as a venue and a centrre to educate the broader and surrounding communities about the importance of permaculture. In rural areas, the school is often a multi-purpose venue for community meetings and church gatherings.
Q: What is permaculture?
A: It is an agicultural practice and a design system for creating sustainable human environments. It is a framework that farmers and communities can use which mimics the natural rhythms of nature and allows the natural processes to play their roles in the farming process.
In our project, we use a wide range of environmentally-friendly techniques such as ago-forestry and intercropping to build good agro-ecological land use systems that are in harmony with nature.
Q: How do farmers practically apply permaculture?
A: Permaculture farmers dont dig at all but prepare the land with deep sheet-mulch spread onto soil soon after the last harvest. The mulch includes crop residues, leaves, grass, termite mound dirt, compost and manure. Before the rain is expected, they make small holes in the mulch where they plant and cover the seeds.
So it is less expensive and also less work. Dry planting also gives seeds the longesst possible growing season, while a deep mulch keeps light away from weed roots so fewer weeds grow.
Q: Can you give an example of a success of your programme?
A: There have been many. There is primary school in Malawi which we transformed from a grey mud and cement structure into a beautiful green garden within a year. Complete with with trees and plants, thanks to the implementation of permaculture.
Q: How are the schoolkids involved?
A: Permaculture becomes part of their currriculum and subject areas at school – straddling geography, science and life skills – which has real practical value.
They help plant vegetable and fruit gardens. And they in turn educate their parents about using the permaculture method. It makes learning very real.
Q: You brought along a group of young people – what is the purpose of exposing them to the climate conference?
A: The children come from our different projects at schools in Malawi and Zambia. We saved up with the help of some kind individuals and organisations to make this trip.
We think it is important for them to experience this conference and learn more about environmental isuues. The trip affords them to chance to to be part of so many interesting things going on COP 17.
Q: What is the most important thing you think they will take away from the conference?
A: That we are not alone. That there are people who think like us. We met many people here who are just as passionate about permaculture.
* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.