Permaculture can take many forms, from simple garden layouts to sophisticated agro-forestry systems. This design malleability was on full display at Kusamala last week, where members of Kawale village, Kuoma village, Lilongwe Wildlife Center, and Kusamala interns presented designs as the culmination to their permaculture certificate courses.

“We don’t count the yield of an element, we count the yield of a system,” explained Biswick, one of Kusamala’s permaculture trainers, at the cetrificate presentation. “Maybe there are only two elements, but the elements work together for an efficient design.”

Isaac Banda presenting his design

Isaac Banda presenting his design

Josephine Chirwa of Kawale village illustrated this concept well by changing her daily routine from sweeping around her house to mulching plants. “This area I used to just sweep, everyday. And it was a lot of work…no water would stay on my land. With my design the rain will water my plants and I will have food to sell.” What is a small adjustment for Josephine could be a potentially huge improvement to soil health and food production around her home.

Other designs demonstrated more sophisticated systems, with longer-term goals. “When I was thinking of designing, I was thinking of these problems: wind, animal grazing, harvesting water, conserving topsoil and infiltrating water overtime into my property,” explained Yamikani Chunga, of Lilongwe Wildlife Center. “I asked myself, what do I want this place to look like in 25 years time?”

The diversity of designs presented by students highlight permaculture’s accesibility to a wide range of audiences.

“Permaculture is not just a gardening method, it’s a thinking tool,” emphasized Kristof Nordin, co-founder of Never Ending Food, during the certificate presentation to Kusamala interns. “The benefits of permaculture design can be applicable to almost anything.”

This sentiment was echoed in designs by Kusamala staff and interns, which ranged from converting delerict urban plots into community gardens, to diversifying large scale farm production systems, to establishing commercial food production on a small island.

“We are teaching them to see things with new eyes,” said Biswick. “Instead of seeing a maize plant, they will see the multiple functions of the maize plant: supporter, food, and mulch.”

In addition to teaching students agricultural skills, permaculture emphasizes analytical thinking and long-term goals; many presentations included a time range of 25 years. This long-term vision allows permaculture to help Malawians prepare not just for next year’s harvest, but for their future.

“Twenty five years, it’s a goal. In permaculture, we set a goal and work towards that goal, instead of waking up in the morning and saying let’s see what to do,” concluded Biswick. “This is the preamble of the journey. Permaculture is not a destination, it is a direction.”

Training participants with their permaculture certificates

Training participants with their permaculture certificates

By Daniel Long Hoffman