PRACTICAL PERMACULTURE INSTITUTE - ZANZIBAR - 2015
In November 2015, I was fortunate to participate in the creation of the third permaculture institute in the 7 Ravens project to install 5 such institutes in Eastern Africa.
Although the original plan was to install the site on the dry slopes of Mt Meru, we had to change the location at the last minute due to an outbreak of violence in that area. A new site on Zanzibar was chosen, and skilled people came together to create an amazing project on 3.5 acres of overgrown land in just 4 weeks.
Because this was my first experience working in a moderate, tropical monsoonal climate, I was impressed by how quickly we could use permaculture techniques to make a huge difference. Within the four weeks of the installation, it was almost time to harvest the first greens from the gardens. Zanzibar is a renowned tourist destination with a number of 5 star hotels and restaurants, and although the climate provides ideal growing conditions, 90% of the food consumed on the island is transported from the mainland, and even from other countries. At the same time, Zanzibar is at the forefront of the permaculture movement in Africa, and it was inspiring to be part of this momentum.
The owner of this land, Mwatima Juma, is committed to bringing knowledge to the island and helping local farmers grow organically. Designing her land will take several years with several groups of students, and since November, the new centre has already hosted multiple permaculture design certificate courses, several weekend workshops, and begun selling seedlings. The centre also functions as a B&B for eco-minded tourists, and there are plans to bring many people to the island to benefit from hands-on training at the centre and spread permaculture to other areas of Africa.
The most influential part of this project for me was the opportunity to work with such knowledgeable and dedicated people. During the 4 weeks of the project, over 50 people participated in the installation, including participants from previous installations in Uganda and Kenya. I was particularly inspired by the aspirations of Franko and Bernadette, two of the leaders of the institute. Their vision really showed me how much you can accomplish when you dream big and approach projects with an eye for business.
To begin the project, because the land was so overgrown and untended, we first had to free some space. Chopping this overgrowth had the side benefit of providing us with a resource that we used to create a fence around the installation.
For the main structure, we found an old house foundation. It was just a little small for what we needed, so we designed the centre so that the toilets emptied outside of the foundation and the waste could be composted and collected. Franko also designed the building to catch water to feed a fish pond in the middle of the building, which then overflows to feed gardens just outside the entrance.
After the massif general clearing of the site by the whole group. My main task on this project, involved designing and establishing the greywater filtration system so that we could reuse water from the structure. The system we installed used four different pools with rocks, so that the nutrients in the water could be used to grow plants for restaurants (mints, cress etc.), fish could live in one of the ponds providing fertilizer and filtration, and several banana circles could be watered from the system.
Because the island is made of coral, which provides excellent drainage, there were some challenges that had to be addressed in finding a way to line the pools to store water instead of drain water, and digging into the coral sometimes required local muscles to be done on time! I learned a lot about designing and building basins on this project, and I look forward to using my new knowledge to design and build even better systems in the future. I also appreciated during this experience to have the opportunity to teach to the dedicated students I worked with, how to walk the land and make a plan to start the design phase. Later the students, in groups, presented their designs to each other, and we came to a consensus on how to proceed.
Because Zanzibar is also known as The Spice Island, one of our main projects involved creating an acre of a fruit and spice forest with beautiful walking paths for tourists to enjoy. We also set up a nursery and a larger food production area.
This project was the most impressive project I’ve worked on so far. Turning an overgrown piece of land into a fully functioning permaculture institute in four weeks was absolutely amazing. I am always inspired to see how impactful permaculture and designing according to nature can be, and this project illustrated this principle so quickly. Although my main interest in permaculture aid work is in developing growing systems in the most arid and difficult places, it was refreshing to work in a place where it was so easy, and where I could see the impact of using permaculture principles on a larger scale. In Burkina Faso, I can see amazing growth in the small shower gardens we install, and in Zanzibar, where there is no shortage of water, we were able to see massive growth in large gardens.
In addition to being awed by the progress of the permaculture institute, I was fortunate to learn of other interesting projects nearby. One community is developing a small off-grid town using permaculture principles. There will be city-wide composting on a massive scale, and all the energy consumed in the city will come from the city. I also visited a sponge farm which harvests sustainable sponges which regrow when they are cut.
My Zanzibar experience enhanced my ability to envision projects and take decisive action. Every project I work on contributes to my ability to respond to challenges and set up strong foundations for future intallations, and on returing to Burkina Faso after Zanzibar, I found I had a greater ability to communicate the need for taking the right steps at the right time. I had a greater sense of my leadership role and a stronger vision for the project in Kadomba II.
After this trip to Africa, despite returning with another brutal bout of malaria, I was further convinced that permaculture aid work is my life’s passion, and I am even more committed to further developing my skills to help some of the most impoverished communities in the world develop food sustainability through the logic, also called "miracle" of permaculture.