by: Leila Dregger
"Nobody goes hungry anymore, not even at the end of the dry season. Our children are healthy because they get a diverse diet. And the money that we save by not using chemicals helps to buy their school books." Nancy Oppelle is the proud speaker of the women´s initiative Maili Saba in Kitale, Western Kenya.
Five years ago, they started to learn from Philip Munyasia (OTEPIC, winner of the GEN Excellence Award 2011) to use Permaculture for their community gardens, to save seeds, to grow in mixed cultures and to harvest several times a year. Philip is one of the ambassadors that GEN has in Kenya. They are helping to make organic farming, Permaculture and Solar Energy to become effective ways of improving the lives of poor people.
Kenya is a nation with many faces. The beauty and fertility of its highlands are tremendous - their huge agricultural industries show the negative effects of global trade and economic colonisation. The poverty in city slums brings especially mothers into a situation of sheer despair and strip countless youths from the possibility of education or jobs. The northern part of the country faces the threat of ongoing desertification. Adding to that the nation is still shocked by the tribal clashes that happened in the post-election chaos in 2008, and many are frightened that this could happen again. At the same time the home country of the late nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai sees countless initiatives that bring forward enviromental and social awareness and female consciousness. They are carried by talented, well educated and creative people of all ages. Inspite of political leaders who are often regarded as corrupt and inflexible, the local, community based initiatives give Kenya a clear leading role in Eastern Africa. In the end it could be the genuine African ability to create community, to do things together, to share and to help each other that will bring forward a social, ecological and economical sustainability, and a mitigation of climate change effects. Three coordinators of different projects now join forces with the intention to found a new national movement in the framework of the Global Ecovillage Network: GEN Kenya. In January and February I visited Moof Africa at the Mount Kenya, G-Biack in Thika and OTEPIC in Kitale, Western Kenya.
Growing Biointensive in the "Birmingham of Kenya"
In the industrial town Thika 40 km south of Nairobi, surrounded by pineapple monocultures and huge greenhouses for flowers, we find "G-Biack", the Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya, a training center for biointensive farming and handcrafts. A colourful painting welcomes us explaining the principles of organic farming. A group of young women sit on a terrace of the tailor workshop, with the wish to create an economic base for themselves. Some elder women work in the kitchen, exploring ways to cook a more diverse diet. A young American volunteer dries beans in the seed workshop. And in the garden, some workers dig the soil. After the end of the dry season mixed cultures shall demonstrate how families can sustain themselves in small plots of land.
Founder Samuel Nderitu and his wife Peris Wanjiru have studied why inspite of the fertility of the Kenyan highlands most people lack the basic things in life. "Land ownership has always been a critical issue in Kenya", Samuel says. "Most of the land is owned by big companies, many from abroad. Most Kenyans own tiny pieces of land, if at all, which are again and again divided among their children. To be able to grow enough food for themselves and to take it to the market they use many chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But the chemicals are expensive, and they kill our soil."
In a vast area of this region the soils are depleted and acidic. Looking for sustainable alternatives Samuel learnt about Biointensive Agriculture, a method developed in the US. "Of all I heard from it it is the best way to create food security by increasing the amount and the variety of yield that grows without any chemical fertilizers."
However there was one addition Samuel made to this method as he explains while guiding us through the garden, passing the demonstration fields and different compost installations, reaching the stables for rabbits, chickens and goats. "Biointensive Agriculture does not have livestock, but this does not fit to the African lifestyle. Everyone here, who owns some land, wants at least to keep some chickens. And I want to show them how to use effective organic methods in keeping small livestock."
He and his team promote the "one goat per family" project, to give them access to goat milk which is said to have a positive effect onto the immune system. They also teach children to care for rabbits. "At the end of the workshop we give them a pregnant female rabbit which they can take home. This contributes to the income and to the protein nutrition of the family. Later they have to return two little rabbits, by this it becomes a win-win-situation."
However in my eyes keeping animals can still be improved in G-BIACK. The stables especially for the goats and the one pig are far too small, the floor too hard without any straw. Samuel does not deny my suggestion to combine and interweave gardening and animal keeping more. "We are still learning how to treat animals in the proper way and are open for any new idea."
Moof Africa - Organic Business at the Foot of Mount Kenya
Close to the wealthy town Nanyuki, at 6000 ft altitude, less than one kilometer from the equator, Peter Murage runs the Mount Kenya Organic Farm, or short: Moof Africa. Behind an impressive gate and security system, he owns a 11 ha organic farm with large greenhouses, a restaurant for organic food and a campsite. We taste the rare flavour of organic strawberry juice. To market this and others in Africa "exotic" fruit and vegetables like fennel, arugula, broad bean, he has started an own brand for organic products. "It is a lot of work to promote organic food in Kenya", he admits. To maintain the farm he hopes to have more clients among the tourists that pass by on the way to the National Park of the Mount Kenya.
His main business however is teaching. The farm lies just on the border between fertile highlands with coffee and tea plantations and the semi desert which is more used as cattle land. In this area water is a crucial topic. "In the rainy season we have too much, in the dry season too little. We teach ways of mulching, of making compost, of irrigation to grow food also in this difficult situation."
Every week he and his workers host large groups of students that want to learn about organic farming. "The main question they have is: How can we not only sustain our families but also make money with it. For this question I am working on economic solutions, too."
"We are doing this work also to support the women", Rebecca, one of his coworkers, explains: In fact, 80% of the farming work in Kenya is done by women. Very often the husbands are looking for jobs in the cities and leave the wives alone. As mothers they have to care for the children, to provide food, to pay for the school books. This is a hard life, and for the young people not attractive, they mostly want to leave the countryside. "We are looking for ways to make farming interesting for young people and at the same time sustainable", Peter explains.
Living in Ecovillages, working on that holistic approach, could be such a way. Last year, Peter and Samuel participated together in an Ecovillage Design Education in Siebenlinden in Germany in the frame of the Global Ecovillage Network. There, they had the vision to found GEN Kenya. Now they have a third partner: Philip Munyasia from Kitale.
OTEPIC: How Permaculture Can Help the Poorest
Mitume is the poorest neighbourhood of Kitale in Western Kenya, a slum. But it is also a place of hope, solidarity and great creativity. At its very center, among dirty huts, garbage and streams of sewage water, a surprise awaits us: A lush green garden with radiant sunflowers and a great variety of healthy vegetables, growing in mixed cultures. It is the OTEPIC school garden in the size of 21 x 21 m. Nearby is the OTEPIC center, a seminar room, the rent is donated by its owners. It is always open for everyone to visit, to read, to watch educational videos and to share. A gang of dangerous looking young men turns out to be the dancing group "Gaza", rehearsing plays about reforestation and other topics. Among them, children are playing and painting, carefully using the big treasure of pencils and paper.
In spite of the poverty all around, nobody steals or destroys things from the garden or the center, all the neighbours protect it, they are proud of the work, and many people of the whole town come to volunteer to learn and make the place ever more beautiful. OTEPIC is an example of the miracles that poor people in pressing situations can create by self help if only one person starts to make a change.
OTEPIC received the GEN Excellency Award in 2011. Its founder and coordinator Philip Munyasia (29) grew up in Mitume as the youngest of 8 sons. He got the rare chance to attend highschool and started afterwards to teach people in his neighbourhood how to grow their own food and improve their situation. Later he was given the opportunity to make an internship in the Permaculture farm „Ecology action“/California, and to take part in the Global Campus training program in Tamera/Portugal where he became familiar with Holzer´s permaculture. To the surprise of his neighbours and friends he returned after every visit abroad to Mitume. He did not spend the raised money for private purposes, he still has no car or other personal wealth. He remained one of them. "On every visit abroad my wish to change the situation of our people deepened - and also the knowledge how to do it."
In 2008 he founded OTEPIC and created a team that started to teach people, initiatives, groups and communities to use Permaculture as an alternative way to gain food sovereignty, to conserve nature and biodiversity. Many groups and individuals that took part in the OTEPIC program have become able to change their situation profoundly: Instead of only growing corn in monoculture, which does not sustain them, they have now a rich diversity of grains and vegetables, harvest several times a year, and do it with less irrigation and without any chemicals.
Maili Saba, a community and women´s initiative has been learning with Otepic since 2005. Additionally to their garden, they now run a small bakery and produce bread rolls of sweet potato flour. We are encouraged to taste the delicious sweet bread - and share the wish to upgrade the bakery fired by wood into a solar bakery. There are already several young men who are eager to learn the technology to build it. Possibly a Swiss engineer will give the solar seminar in the near future.
In 2010, OTEPIC was able to start a second school garden, the Amani („Peace“) garden in Bidii, another extremely poor neighbourhood of Kitale. The money to buy the land was donated by coworkers of Lush Company, UK. Here, OTEPIC constructed a traditional clay hut with grass roof as a shelter. Above that they got the rare permission to drill a borehole. The money for that was donated, and groundwater was found at 72 m. Philip:„People in this neighbourhood have to buy water in water kiosks. Many cannot afford it, so they would drink from sewage water. In order to help, it is my idea to give out the drinking water without any charge, just for everybody to take."
It is here in the Amani garden where OTEPIC would host EDE courses in the future - for participants from all over East Africa and also other continents. A wish that brings Moof, G-Biack and OTEPIC together: to create GEN Kenya and to host EDE courses together with local seminars.
I can only support this wish. Coming from Europe, it was a wonderful experience to learn that all the knowledge and principles of organic farming, biodiversity, permaculture, and community building are not only something you choose to live a healthier life. In the context of Africa and its challenges, all these skills come together as a way to create a better future in the situation of extreme poverty.
For more information contact: Leila Dregger
leila.dregger AT gen-europe.org
Moof Africa: moofafrica AT yahoo.com
OTEPIC: otepic07 AT yahoo.com
G-Biack: growbiointensivecenterkenya AT gmail.com
By Andrea Garcia
The municipality of Cajibio, department of Cauca, Colombia, was the site of Call of the Mountain 2012, the largest global gathering of sustainable ecological initiatives and projects in Latin America. Participating were 421 persons from 26 countries, of whom 126 were able to participate with the gathering’s economic support agreements. A festive and efficient convergence of mutually supportive work, community living and respect that brought together people from Germany, Ecuador, Chile, Japan, Spain, Argentina, United States, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil among other countries, bringing proposals and activities in the areas of ecology, social action and the arts. Cauca, a zone that once was named a center of conflict, is today the scene of transformation; from the 7th to the 14th of January, the brilliant green of its mountains was the backdrop for the Council of Visions, an autonomous movement organized around themes of the earth, peace and good living—Sumak Kawsay.
This process resulted in the creation of the Council of Sustainable Settlements of the Americas—CASA, where permaculture, diversity, unity and collective intelligence are the strengths for social change, practiced by a network of persons, organizations, collectives, artists, ecovillages, eco-neighborhoods, craftspeople, agriculturalists and eco-communities.
The center for meetings was the Maloka Pambasa, meaning “house of everyone”, located in the Atlantida ecovillage and constructed of guadua (bamboo), reintroducing the ancestral practice of the minga (work exchange), and expressing the highest artistic values of sustainable architecture. In the words of Hector Buitrago of the group Aterciopelados “with this event we are preparing ourselves for facing the transformations of 2012 and to fortify the network of conscious artists of Colombia”. Other notable participants and their most significant contributions were:
Pachamama, Antakarana, Red Cunagua and Aldeafeliz were the locations of former gatherings of the Call of the Mountain which have been realized during the past six years in various ecovillages of the country. This has been possible thanks to the constant work of the organizing team of Renace formed by Beatriz Arjona, Jorge Calero, and headed by Carlos Rojas, ecological architect and founder of Aldefeliz, located in San Francisco, Cundinamarca department.
This year the Council of Visions was integrated as a mandala whose center is planetary unity, and whose petals are the different councils: art and culture, ecology, economic solidarity, networks and social movements, spirituality, healing, young people, education, new time and ecovillages. In synthesis, a gathering that bore witness to the relevance of change and reaffirmed the global agreement towards unity, solidarity, transformation and sustainability; a gathering for the new humanity that practices a form of living that’s in harmony with the earth, both in the country and in the city.
For 2013, four simultaneous regional gatherings will be held: in Valle del Cauca, Cundinamarca, Quindío and Antioquia. And open to the possibility of including other regions as well. If you dream, spread the word, disseminate it as one note or how you prefer to, notice in whom what you do resonates.
For more information contact:
contact AT ecovillage.org
"Tuwa - The Laughing Fish" is an eco-homestead, living and learning center and green bed and breakfast inn nestled right in the middle of the vast rice fields of the small farming town of Cabiao in Nueva Ecija, Philippines.
It is on the wings of growth and has the potential to evolve into a forming ecological community. What makes it unique is that it was founded and created by two Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) alumni in the persons of John Vermeulen and this author, Penelope Reyes --- all in a short span of two years.
Planting The Seeds of the Four Dimensions
Our 2007 Ecovillage Design (EDE) course at Thailand served as a very important guiding framework in the transformation of a 2.5 hectare chemically-overloaded riceland into a holistically-evolving settlement.
Spirituality, art and connection to nature, plays an integral aspect in our life. In fact, the first construction activity that was started with was the creation of a sacred space to integrate spiritual practice into our daily work. A beautiful labyrinth made out of white stones on grass was lovingly created by John and my two sons. This early integration of spirituality and art reinforces care for the Earth and has paved the way for a robust manifestation of Earth stewardship.
As Ecovillage designers, participatory processes were used from the very beginning and permaculture principles were the primary inspiration for the design. We created a multiple ecosystem habitat featuring zone 0-the human habitat, zone 1- vegetable/kitchen gardens, zone 2 poultry/ livestock, zone 3 - food forests and orchards, ricelands, and aquaculture, zone 4 – timberland area which serves as energy forest and zone 5 - wildlife areas comprising native tree forests and wetlands.
This development successfully evolved in just a short period due to the careful pre-development planning with attention given to soil conservation and regeneration by saving the topsoil, water management, biodiversity conservation, and close observation of energy and cosmic flows. As a result, the land is now home to a diverse amount of plant and animal life and produces abundant harvests like giant Cassavas! We are working towards food self-sufficiency through organic/biodynamic and homa farming. On the aspect of energy self-reliance, we are living 100% off-grid, and this is made possible through an energy mix of solar, wind, and wood gasification technologies.
On the social management dimension, we established regular group wellbeing sessions with our construction team composed of skilled carpenters, masons and bamboo craftsmen. Together with them, we set in place communication and decision-making processes and implemented policies on non-violent communication, non-smoking and drinking. In doing so, it almost felt as if we were living in an intentional community for the one-year period that the construction team was here. The social policies and agreements we laid out earlier on has greatly influencing how we are building community and harmony within our family, our transient staff and immediate neighbors. Surely, this will also have a positive impact on relationships with potential future community members.
And finally, right livelihood and self-sufficiency are cornerstone values that determine how we relate and interact with the local town economy. Re-localization principles, social enterprise development and exploring alternative forms of trade like barter are key activities that we are trying to implement. Some of our products are: organic rice, organic pesticides, bio-fertilizer, herbal medicine, mushrooms & mushroom spawn and for the future we plan to produce a supplier directory for sustainable living.
There are also three major activities that form part of our services: Eco-Tourism through the Green Bed & Breakfast Inn, Ecovillage Exchange Visits plus wellness and health programs. As a Living & Learning Center we offer Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) courses, Vegetarian Cooking Classes, Home-Scale Renewable Energy Design and a post EDE Internship program. For food processing technology we have a small-scale brown rice mill, multi-crop flour mill, plant oil extraction through cold pressing, a distillation system for medicinal and essential oils and a home scale solar dryer.
Philippine EDE 2012 Blooms on Fertile Ground
Again, the EDE takes centerstage as Tuwa The Laughing Fish hosts a training course on June 1-28, 2012 with a fitting theme: “Forming Community Through EDE”. We hope to co-create a positive future by sharing our knowledge and experiences, facilitating a robust exchange of ideas and innovations, and awakening together to the many possibilities of living in community with like-minded people. We are forming an Ecovillage through EDE! We look forward to a month of learning, being, doing, exploring and blooming.
For more information contact: Penelope Reyes
penelopebee AT gmail.com
Article by Emilia Rekestad of Njord, Sweden
An extensive EU-funded collaboration project with the name ECOVILLAGES, recently started operations and will run for a three-year period 2011-2013. It focuses on a survey of eco-villages around the Baltic Sea with a view to promoting ecovillages as innovative sustainable rural development. During the project, various approaches, problems and methods of starting and developing ecovillages such as in areas like eco-technologies, eco-practices like agriculture/garden and social community building will be documented and toolkits for ecovillage initiators developed. The project is funded by the EU Baltic Sea Region Programme (Interreg) with 1. 46 M EUR, dubbed a flagship of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and awarded the status of Baltic 21 Lighthouse project by the Council of Baltic Sea States. GEN Europe has become an Associate Partner of the project and will benefit directly by strengthening its presence in Northern Europe.
Key objectives are to gain political recognition for ecovillages in the Baltic Sea Region and strengthen the ecovillage movement. The number of politicians informed about the situation of ecovillages and the number of GEN national networks established and new members joining GEN are important indicators. The project will create a knowledge base for the creation of new eco-villages and further development of existing ones together with exisiting or future GEN national networks. Concepts such as permaculture, sustainable living, voluntary simplicity can be important in guiding us in cooperation.
The project has just had its "kick-off meeting" during two intense days (8-9 February 2011) in Vilnius, Lithuania. Several universities, NGOs and other institutions at national and international levels are represented, and together create an interesting group of people whose diversity of knowledge and experience can be of great benefit to the project. Representatives from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Belarus and western Russia participated in the project and budget planning, presentations and discussions.
There’s an estimated 100 million tons of garbage lying around the world.
Global Ecovillage Network News are published in Permaculture Magazine.
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The English original version is also translated into Spanish and published in "Ecohabitar", an ecological magazine in Spain.
At the end of 2011, Africans from many different countries and backgrounds attended The Ecovillage Conference: Empowering Communities for Sustainable Development in Northern Africa.
It was held at SEKEM, a model farm site for sustainable businesses, located near Cairo, Egypt.
The Conference was put to- gether by GEN and sponsored by the German Foreign Ministry. SEKEM was started in 1977 by Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish who had a dream of greening the desert and creating a model for improving people’s lives. His dream has manifested into a reality. Dr. Abouleish received the Right Livelihood Award (known as the Alternative Nobel prize) for “establishing a business model for the 21st century in which commercial success is integrated with and promotes the social and cultural development of society through economics of love.”
SEKEM is now lush and green with date palms and other desert plants. Over 1,400 people work and attend school there every day. The project consists of eight businesses, ranging from organic farming and livestock rearing, to herbal pharmaceutical processing and textile production.
The site also has its own medical centre, which provides care for all workers, and a school which operates on the Steiner system.
Many attendees expressed a desire to initiate national GEN networks within their respective countries, to collaborate with existing projects, and in growing the recently-started GEN Africa network (www.gen-africa.org).
For further details about SEKEM view: www.sekem.com
A central permaculture principle is to turn a problem into a solution ... US urban planner and energy activist TH Culhane has done just this, turning organic waste into a valuable raw material. His work shows one bucket of organic kitchen waste can produce enough gas for two hours of cooking (as well as producing liquid fertilizer as a by-product). Culhane was introduced to the idea of using kitchen resi-dues by Dr. Anand Karve from the ARTI-Institute in Poona, India. Dr. Karve’s experiments have shown that “kitchen waste could be up to 400 times as efficient as the system when using cow dung.”
For years Culhane has been working in the slums of Cairo, and other African countries, to develop decentralized solutions for energy production. At first he aimed to bring solar energy to the slums. “But, the people there did not only suffer from the lack of energy, they were also drowning in waste.”
With the biogas idea, organic waste becomes a valuable raw material. Cuhane worked along-side the inhabitants of the poorest settlements in the African bush and slums to build their biogas fermenters. They used what could be found – buckets, hoses, old gas cookers, plastic containers.
The bacteria do in the fermenter exactly what they do in cow stomachs: digest food. The more diverse the food for the fermenter the better. The only limiting factor is that the bacteria can digest only one 1,000 litre bucket of kitchen waste.
Subsequently, working with the participants of the Global Campus at Tamera, Portugal, Culhane has gone on to build a functioning biogas system in just two days. Tamera’s chief biogas engineer Martin Funk says, “We have been cooking for months with biogas; it works perfectly.”
For more details see: http://solarcities.blogspot.com
Russia is the country with the fastest growing Ecovillage movement. In 10 years more than 100 new communities have been founded and a further 250 are in the pipeline. The vast majority are inspired by V. Megre’s Anastasia legend. But the limits of the books are leading to questions within the Russian ecovillage movement. Dimitri Vatolin from the Kovcheg Ecovillage says “Anastasia teaches us about ways to be with our children, about nature, rituals and the spiritual elements of life. But she does not teach us anything about the relationship between people in the community.”
Fjodor, one of the founders of Kovcheg adds: “We need a new idea, a new theoretical base for the ecovillage movement in Russia. The movement is divided between learning from its own experiences and learning from others in the ecovillage movement. During 2011 a group of representatives from Russian ecovillages attended the GEN conference in Tamera in Portugal and later visited other places.
Permaculture is a common denominator in all ecovillages. Sepp Holzer, the permaculture expert from Austria, has become very popular in Russia and spends most of his time advising ecovillages on both sides of the Urals.
His popularity in the mainstream media is helping the movement to reach a lot more people, including politicians.
For more information on Kovcheg visit: www.eco-kovcheg.ru
and for more general information on ecovillages: www.eco-krug.ru
20 years after its founding, the ZEGG community in Belzig, Germany, has become a ‘blessing’ for the district, said politician Wolfgang Blasig at the inauguration ceremony for ZEGG´s new, ecological heating system.
The community of 100 people of all age groups has come a long way since establishing themselves in a former East German secret police training camp.
Today the members are perceived as ‘pioneers of change’, inspiring smaller offshoot communities and helping the region make the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies. Additionally, ZEGG has helped to stop violence and conflicts and to integrate migrants in the little town of Belzig.
One of the next steps will be to install a regional currency.
For further information on developments please view: www.zegg.de
For the first time in 20 years the recently restarted Swedish ecovillage association, Njord, hosted an ecovillage gathering.
Over 50 representatives came from all over Sweden to share, network and inspire each other. Danish and Finnish guests also attended, so they could learn from each other and talk about plans for a future Nordic GEN.
View further details at: www.balticecovillages.eu/partners/ekoboforeningen-njord
Shiram Ecovillage is reviving a traditional Russian herbal tea as part of the ethnobotanical project ‘Back to the Roots’, in collaboration with the botanical garden of Tver State University.
The tea, known as ‘Ivan Chai’ or Kapor Tea, is made from naturally fermented leaves of willow herb (Epilobium angustifolium) and contains many vitamins and essential minerals.
For more details view: www.shiram.daism.ru
In September 2011 Damanhur Ecovillage hosted a meeting by The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. Founded in 2004 to form an international alliance of older women with a spiritual vision.
They believe that a change in environmental awareness is urgent.
Read about them at www.grandmotherscouncil.org
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