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invited to usher in greater health onto a steep clay hillside in south Taiwan - huh

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another post on a project in Egypt has prompted me to leave the safety of my permie-lurker hermit status and peek out to give a hello and tell you fine folks what's happening around me. also maybe give you updates in what so-far looks like a very interesting situation
Cause, I do so welcome input or collegial community.

short background - very typical for me.
I'm at the busstation in Taipei getting ready for the 5-hr trip back home in the south and I go to the free recharge station to prepare my computer and phone to have enough umpff for the trip.
there's 4 of us at this counter. The man to my left smiles and starts to talk offering me some of his-still-hot bag of water chestnuts and boiled peanuts. I decline and he bouncingly insists. Then I ask ... these water chestnuts look like they are from Tainan. He's impressed that I would know such a thing. We start talking. Within 10 minutes I learn that he lives in Japan but comes back to his birthplace often as he's got responsibility for a plot of land that belongs to his family. He's open for all suggestions. This excites me ... I'm always looking around for lots where people won't scrape leaf matter off the top ... and give a little chance for some organics to do their thing. It's hard in teh tropics. turnover is so fast. in Taiwan people also like "neat land" which means they scrape litter off the top to make it "look good."

I'm a botanist by training - PhD and all. I know we are a dying breed. I left academia a decade ago. That was like an industrialized process where it seemed not-good-things were happening. I got trained in facilitation and mostly I make myself available to groups wanting to move into participative ways of operating (yes, I see the permies posts and discussions on this, and I have lots of things to say about what I've seen work ... mostly it's someone who invites truly and openly ... but it's tricky indeed and all in the pre-work ... another topic).

So with the bus-station friend I make a date to visit his land with my husband a few days later.

What we learn is ... it's a STEEP hillside well inside a 1-lane road with a lot of creative neighbors ... right next is a large pineapple plantation where they simply removed the hill to make a flat area of land. Yep. Very Taiwan. Our friend tells us that's less easy to do than it used to be. Noone had a better idea.

So ... here's this gentle friendly soul who's very "up" for "a better idea" and I'm not so sure what that would be.

The hillside is covered with scrappy vegetation and the soil is like pottery. You'd need a hammer to get pieces out ... fingers won't get you anywhere. There go the dreams I had had of THIS being my big soil compost site. We walked the hill and he told us his ideas. Basically he'll bring in land-moving equipment to shape the hill. We suggest terraces that he can plant on. He has no sense of stabilizing the walls so they don't slump. I know the THEORY, not the practicalities in heavy tropical clay.

He's keen.
He has resources - money, friends with highly practical engineering know-how, the hillside itself.
When they try to bring in electric lines they get cut down "by foreigners" who harvest the copper and resell it. So electric lines have been given up on until there's some way to protect them.

My ideas
- stay in contact with the land owner
- tell him I consider it a challenging and stimulating project
- visit the site under different conditions to begin to see its dynamics
- connect with the permaculture folks around here to see what they have been learning ...
- ask for suggestions as I move around
- explore the area for plants seems solid and happy
- explore the little town nearby for unused buildings that could be turned into housing for when someone wanted to work on the site for a few days
- be around when the terraces are created (hopefully with some sense of what will be planted right after that) ... the likelihood is he'll just DO IT suddenly when the equipment operators become available and labor shows up that can cut back the current vegetation to give access
- the stakeholder list is - permaculture community, government, the land owner and his neighbors, clients for what might grown on this hillside, me ... I want a soil operation ... I want to have a site for teaching people about soil. my husband helped a friend plant grapes in "similar" soil (in california and heavy clay, so not entirely similar)

so ... my QUESTIONS / the help I need
- well, I actually see the benefit of a grand vision that others can be invited in on,
- anyone who finds this interesting, I'm open to hear your insights/ questions and see where that takes the conversation
- do I NEED to take a permaculture course (I see on-line certification courses)
- or a SOIL course ... the Elaine course.

At this moment I'm thrashing around. I have not been asked to make a commitment, but it's now been almost a month since I visited the site and it's ... unforgettable. I seem already to be a part of this project. So ... how can I be a "responsible auntie"? Can I speak out greater possibilities that catch the attention of the decision makers? Hmmm

I'm open for input from anyone amused/ enlivened by this story.
much respect to the community, Jane
Jane Lewis
Posts: 45
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OOPs .. newbie error alert!
wrong location .. this isn't desert at all. hardly.
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Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Hello Jane,

Here are some thoughts from another ex-"permie-lurker" (I tend to post here every now and then), with some limited hands-on experience in permaculture design (I'm working on a couple of ongoing, rather small-scale rural projects at different stages of maturity in Eastern Europe).

South-East Asia has a long tradition of terraced farmland - so I would look around and see if anyone nearby your client's site has had success with terracing, and if so, what technique they used to build them. If terraces are not traditionally used in the area, try to look into the whys and wherefores. There may be good reasons why locals have not traditionally employed the technique.

Given the steep slopes I would consider establishing some type of tree system. Especially if terracing is not a safe option. Trees will stabilise the slope (unlike annual crops which may require annual tillage and thus contribute to erosion). Alternatively, if the plot covers the hill side from base to top, you can have trees on the upper section of the slope, and other systems (herbaceous annuals or perennials) towards the foot of the hill.

Even if terraces are the way to go, trees (+/- other, herbaceous crops) on terraces may still be a better option than having only herbaceous crops.

If you speak Chinese: I've seen some very inspiring documentaries from Taiwan - the 绿光 or the 發現新台灣 series and many others can be found on YouTube - like this one for instance about a man who has been buying land (on slopes & other sites of low agricultural value) & been planting forests for a hobby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaAhh95ymtI

Re. online permaculture course: I've taken Geoff Lawton's course and I enjoyed it and would recommend it. But don't let the lack of a permaculture certificate stop you from acting.

Keep us posted about your progress.

Best of luck!

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