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I'm an American ex-pat living in Kenya. Yeah, left home, traveled half way around the world... and became a farmer... again. In the last five years I have established a little permaculture-ish farm. Its working well. Soil is improving, food is growing, we even turn a little profit, especially during the dry seasons. I struggle to keep up with it, since I do everything alone. My husband has NO interest in farm work. Hiring workers has not worked out so well.
Permaculture does not mesh well with the local tribal culture here. THey have an intense dislike and distrust of anything new and anything "outside the box." Monsanto has been here for a long time, having established a "charity" to teach the locals how to farm with chemicals and monsanto seeds. Thats what they know and trust. I have been told so often that I'm "doing it wrong" that I've made it the slogan of my farm. "Doing it wrong since 2011".
However... I desperately want to help the community, which often suffers from food insecurity and even starvation when the rains fail. So I've been toying with the idea of starting my own "self-help" group which would teach and promote permaculture techniques, and provide an alternative counter-measure to the monsanto-sponsored group (which I shall refrain from naming here.) But I have no idea where to start. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a poor, often illiterate group of farmers, the majority of whom are women. This is also a culture that has been rather spoiled by "handouts" from well-meaning Western do-gooders, and is sometimes reluctant to put in the sweat and labor that is required for successful farming.
I would love to get any input from other permie farmers out there. I can't even figure out how to translate: What is permaculture? Into a simple explaination that could be easily understood.
ASF Farm in Kenya
Firstly talking woman to woman I think will help particularly in male dominated society .
Secondly seeing something that works will help .
Thirdly bit like the you tube clips of Gabe Brown he talks about building the soil and profit being the same thing that is the language farmers are interested in all over the world
He was very resistant and it took several years to get him to even entertain the ideas but then his wife got sick and his kids wanted to help run the farm, he suddenly wanted to know his land would stay in the family for more generations.
That thought happened by several of his neighbors farms went to auction from bankruptcy. He liked pecans, even had a mono orchard of them near his house so it was easy to point out that he could use more of these trees since he already had a market for the nuts.
His farm land had been ravaged by the abuse that conventional farming does, for three generations the land had been in constant disturbance and he was willing to use 1,000 of his acres to test out the methods I was proposing.
I even told him that if he didn't see major soil improvement in water useage, fertilizer independence, crop growth rates, after the second year of the trial he would not owe me my consultation fees and I would help him put that land back the way it was before the trial.
After the first six months, he was seeing improvements he didn't think possible and those observations led to a second thousand acres going into the trial.
At the end of the first harvest of soft red winter wheat, he saw that his bottom line was in the black, it was the first time he had ever made money without including the subsidy money he gets.
He remarked that "I think you are really onto something here" when he told me about these first results.
This farmer has taken on the roll of evangelist in his area and he teaches his fellow farmers what he has learned. (I still get to lay out the water management for new converts, so I do get a little money from that consultation).
He doesn't charge the farmers, just brings them to his farm and walks them around, pointing out how he does things now and that he doesn't buy fertilizer or herbicides anymore because he doesn't need to.
His soil has improved greatly and the top soil goes down around 24 inches deep, everywhere. Rains don't wash away his soil or rut up his fields (His fields, like the whole area, are slightly rolling hill type).
I consider these farms a good compromise, they are not true permaculture but they are holistic land management that is restoring fertility. A great first step forward to a new methodology.
Hope this thread can give you some more insights, Maureen. Getting one farmer convinced and acting as an evangelist would undoubtedly speed up the process of acceptance by other local farmers in your part of the world. It will be a hard-sell to get that first farmer to try since your are the outsider who is "doing-it-wrong," but RedHawk mentioned it took him many years before that conventional farmer decided to try & change. Good luck on your worthy endeavor!
Here the soil has been completely depleted by generations of sugarcane. With each season, more and more chemicals are needed to get a harvest, and many of the contract farmers end up in debt to the sugar company after harvest because of the cost of inputs. Many farmers are ripping out their sugarcane, and putting in Monsanto maize... which is just perpetuating the cycle... they won't get a harvest unless they use chemical fertilizers. One of the "slogans" the farmers will repeat here: "No fertilizer equals no food." So many have jumped into maize that the price has plummeted and certain insect pests that didn't used to be a problem are now over populating. When I started farming our piece, the soil was DEAD, no bugs, no worms, nothing but heavy clay stripped out by erosion, heavily acidified by over application of DAP. Its taken a lot of work to bring back some soil fertility.
It would certainly help if I could get a few locals on board, and I will offer our farm as a sort of demonstration farm so that they can see the principles in practice. Its a hard sell. These people are really reluctant to try anything "new", and Monsanto's system has been drilled into them like gospel.
Thanks for the encouragement!
Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is primarily in use in Niger, with over 3 Million hectares (7 + million acres).
Significantly, once it began to be utilized by the people, it expanded geometrically.
As can be seen in this following quote, there were a few breakthrough moments that really made it take off.
Acceptance of this method was slow at first. A few people tried it but were ridiculed. Wood was a scarce and valuable commodity so their trees were stolen. A breakthrough came in 1984, when radio coverage of an international conference on deforestation in Maradi helped to increase awareness of the link between deforestation and the climate. This was followed by a Niger-wide severe drought and famine which reinforced this link in peoples’ minds. Through a “Food for Work” programme in Maradi Department, people in 95 villages were encouraged to give the method a try. For the first time ever, people in a whole district were leaving trees on their farms. Many were surprised that their crops grew better amongst the trees. All benefited from having extra wood for home use and for sale. Sadly, once the programme ended, over two thirds of the 500 000 trees protected in 1984 – 1985 were chopped down! However, district-wide exposure to the benefits of FMNR over a 12-month period was sufficient to introduce the concept and put to rest some fears about growing trees with crops. Gradually more and more farmers started protecting trees, and word spread from farmer to farmer until it became a standard practice. Over a twenty-year period, this new approach spread largely by word of mouth, until today three million hectares across Niger’s agricultural zone have been re-vegetated. This is a significant achievement by the people of Niger. The fact that this happened in one of the world’s poorest countries, with little investment in the forestry sector by either the government or NGOs, makes it doubly significant for countries facing similar problems.
The whole article is worth the read, and is a system that could be utilized via observance/adaption to many different climatic locations.
Wikipedia also does a really good job of describing FMNR, in This Link
Here's a snippet from that:
Following the success of the Humbo project, FMNR spread to the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia where 20,000 hectares have been set aside for regeneration, including 10-hectare FMNR model sites for research and demonstration in each of 34 sub-districts. In addition, the Government of Ethiopia has committed to reforest 15 million hectares of degraded land using FMNR as part of a climate change and renewable energy plan to become carbon neutral by 2025.
In Talensi, northern Ghana, FMNR is being practiced on 2,000-3,000 hectares and new projects, initiated by World Vision, are introducing FMNR into three new districts. In the Kaffrine and Diourbel regions of Senegal, FMNR has spread across 50,000 hectares in four years. World Vision is also promoting FMNR in Indonesia, Myanmar and East Timor. There are also examples of both independently promoted and spontaneous FMNR movements occurring. In Burkina Faso, for example, an increasing part of the country is being transformed into agroforestry parkland. And in Mali, an ageing agroforestry parkland of about 6 million hectares is showing signs of regeneration
David Livingston wrote:Firstly talking woman to woman I think will help particularly
I like David's idea of talking women to women ...
Maybe you could start a "Garden Club" ... something simple at first where women just get together to talk about their kitchen gardens or their herb gardens.
Later after you have gotten to know them you might talk about some small success that you have had.
Or have a contest to see who grew the best or biggest tomato.
Just some ideas to help you get started.
Thanks for your ideas! I've made a note of them in my journal. For the moment, I have shelved this idea. It was suggested to me in a private conversation that perhaps I am trying to force yet another solution on these people. Nobody has asked for my help or advice. For the next year, at least I will just continue to do what I do... working my own farm, and trying to be a good example. I guess I'll know when/if the time is right to pursue such a project when people actually ASK for it.
Much of what you say also applys here in America although we could probably feed the homeless and hungry in this country if we just gave them the food that's thrown away. local food drives do not even allow fresh or homemade foods to be given to them for distribution. I am very much in your boat here on my tiny homestead and the food production part is shrinking as I have only myself to feed and can't pay for or find any help that's willing to barter work for food and education. I am 69 and looking into craft work,seed work and making herbal medicines to help support my gardens .
One inspirational dvd that might help you is Peter Proctors biodynamic work with Indian farmers called"How to save the World, One man,One cow, One planet. " You can check out my work on my website www.sharonsnaturalgardens.com. Feel free to chat with me anytime for a supportive ear.
The best way to change people's thinking is by example, in many ways, you can be a teacher of "new methods", in most of Africa, many make or made their money by cutting and selling firewood.
This practice stripped the land and allowed it to die. There are ways to rejuvenate your land, as you know, unfortunately it goes faster the more hands you have involved.
Perhaps the first thing to do is gain trust and friendship, once they know you and know that they can depend on you as a friend, you will find more willingness to help you out.
As they see how well things grow for you, they will begin to ask how this is so, at that point you can put on your teacher's hat.
I don't know if you have done any earthworks to help water soak into the soil as yet, but this is a key thing, especially in Africa.
Great sharing your experience and hope. We run Permaculture Institute Asia from here in Thailand. Lots of poor rule farms and farmers here.
If you have not already look at "the Chicukwa Project" in Zimbabwe. More on the film here www.thechikukwaproject.com
food security through reforestation
I greatly admire your need to help your community, despite their reticence. I agree with your thought that being seen as pushy with your ideas, and already being a foreign woman with ideas, it is probably best to keep doing what you're doing and wait for more signals from people in your community that there is curiosity about your methods, or need for them.
I would love an update on the outreach portion of your permaculturation project.
I like David's approach about engendering solidarity among the women in a male-dominated society. I would suggest taking up any traditional medicinal crops and making something undeniably useful, like a salve or liniment, and selling or trading it for comparatively little, but if you are already having issues with how your methodology differs from regional accepted best practice, you don't want to take up bush doctoring and give them ammo for the witchcraft argument.
I am conflicted over how I feel about Alison's suggestion. I firmly believe, in this day and age, that we shouldn't play around with evangelisation as a way to get what we want. I see it as intellectually dishonest, and in situations where it continues to replace ancestral culture and tradition, harmful. In this case, though, I don't know. If the ideas and literature behind foundational permaculture teaching exists and has gained any acceptance already, it would be easier for you to build upon the work already accomplished. If I was designing such a system, it would, where possible, make use of the logic and reason of local systems of belief, probably a general non-specific animism or ancestral worship.
If you were to return to an educational footing at some point, I think one of the best things you could do is bring in someone more easy to relate to for your neighbours than yourself. But I also agree with your assessment that it was probably not yet time for it. A year later, have things changed for you at all?