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    • Himalayan Permaculture Centre: The Farmers' Handbook

      The Himalayan Permaculture Centre (HPC) is a grass roots non-government organisation set up by trained and motivated farmers from Surkhet district in Mid-Western Nepal in 2010 to implement sustainable rural development programs in Nepal. The Farmers' Handbook HPC staff have years of experience working in remote mountainous regions leading to the development of a wide range of appropriate technologies and approaches aimed at increasing domestic farm productivity while reducing costs. Concrete and positive outcomes, such as a measured increase in crop production, vegetable consumption, and reduction in firewood use have been demonstrated. These techniques are published in the “Farmers’ Handbook” which is also used for practical literacy education. It was published in the Nepali language by co-creators Chris Evans and Jakob Jespersen in 2001 (7,500 copies) with reprints in 2012 and 2018 (1,500 copies respectively). In 2002 the handbook was translated into English and in 2009 made available as free PDF downloads on the Permaculture Research Institute’s website. The handbook is 50 chapters in 5 volumes – a total of 792 pages, including 170 pages of colour photos and illustrations. Above: Farmers are taught how to make a hot bed that protects seedlings BACKGROUND In Nepal, According to a Food Security Assessment carried out by the FAO, agriculture provides livelihoods for more than 80% of the population and accounts for some 40% of its Gross Domestic Product. Rising population and inappropriate foreign aid programmes, which often try to replace traditional practices, have combined to undermine the sustainability of traditional agriculture. The result is a disempowered people with unequal access to basic needs, struggling to grow enough food to last the year despite working all hours. The proportion of undernourished population is estimated at 40.7%, in the Terai where on average 17.7% of children under five suffer acute malnutrition. These communities can be seen as "marginal”, lacking access to key resources such as education, health care, food security and credit. At the same time the physical areas where they live can also be described as being marginal due to the high altitude combined with poor infrastructure of roads, power and communications. These are the people and places where HPC has prioritised its work, where small inputs of appropriate technology and appropriate education can make huge differences. Subsistence agricultural practices have developed by HPC to be finely in tune with local climate, landscape and people's needs. HPC practices are intimately interwoven with the forest and other natural resources to provide basic needs of food, fuel, fodder, timber and medicines. HPC has 178 demonstration farmers in 32 villages, known as “Barefoot Consultants” to easily disseminate working agricultural processes. HPC work has resulted in 387 kitchen gardens, planting over 51,000 fruit trees and planting over 50,000 multi-purpose trees and shrubs in agroforestry plots as well as the development of 726 smokeless stoves. Furthermore, 81 farmers have implemented SRI, (System of Rice Intensification.) This method of rice farming aims to increase yield of crop while reducing both labour and water use. The Farmers Handbook has helped in the training of over 7,000 farmers in agro-ecological practices including vegetable growing, composting, pest management, green manures, agroforestry, SRI, water management. The HPC's work centres around 3 main strategies: Training and Education: Assisting farmers and development workers in the process of design and implementation of demonstrated sustainable agriculture systems and agro-ecological approaches. Resources: The seed, seedlings and published information (books, booklets, posters) needed for farmers and development workers to design and implement such systems on their own land and in their communities. Research: This is implemented to identify useful new species and cropping patterns, or combinations of those existing traditionally, which are favoured and can be appropriated by local farmers for their own use. HPC carries out demonstration, training, resource production and research on its own resource centres (working farms) in Kathmandu, Surkhet and Humla districts. It also carries out these activities on farmers own land, though the research needs to be risk-free otherwise they may lose valuable food crops or land if experiments don't work. In addition to its farming-related activities HPC also works in the health, education (schools and adult literacy) and livelihood sectors because of their connection with its agro-ecological strategies. Participants on a farmers training session learn how to plant fruit trees WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? IMPACT ON PLANET Increase in biodiversity and soil health. Decrease in pressure on forest areas. Regeneration of degraded areas around and within villages. Planting of over 51,000 fruit trees and over 50,000 multi-purpose trees and shrubs planted in agroforestry plots. 81 Farmers implementing SRI. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Increase in on-farm and domestic productivity. Decrease in labour and resource cost. Recognition of local culture, skills, technology and biodiversity. Increasing awareness of local issues of gender imbalance/women's health, local regenerative economies. Awareness of global issues of trade, climate change and justice As it is published in the Nepali language, the Farmers’ Handbook is used for practical literacy education. COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT Demonstrations and training resources provided so that local people can see techniques and approaches that meet holistic goals and further receive training on how to design and implement in own communities. Using Permaculture design and integrating issues such as food production/agriculture, health, education and livelihoods then settlements are designed that reduce the need to leave communities for work/income elsewhere. Replicability: Following a farmers training session, a farmer from outside HPC's working member villages establishes a root stock nursery at his home, demonstrating the spread of HPC's activities. SCALABILITY AND REPLICABILITY HPC works directly in 32 villages (over 5000 beneficiaries) but as farmer-to-farmer contact spreads it's techniques way beyond this there are many other areas. The Farmers Handbook is a step by step guide in many agriculture processes that although are specifically tailored for Himalayan Conditions, the ideas in this comprehensive document can be adjusted for other agro-ecological environments. WHAT'S NEXT FOR THIS PROJECT? HPC wants to reduce its need for external funding by developing internal/local resilience through processing, marketing and fair trade for local, national and international trade. It will continue to offer increased resources for other organisations/communities through its barefoot consultants program. CONTACT THE HIMALAYAN PERMACULTURE CENTRE The Himalayan Permaculture Centre (HPC) is a grassroots regenerative NGO based in Nepal with a focus on rural development. Website | Facebook | Download The Farmer's Handbook CONTACT US If you would like to join our network of regenerative practitioners, contact us here.

    • Developing Bio-fertilizers in Nepal

      Since January 2019, Almost Heaven Farms, in a cooperative effort with Chris Evans of the Himalayan Permaculture Centre and Juanfran Lopez, has been supporting farmers across the Himalayan bioregion to transition to regenerative agriculture through the development and use of bio-fertilizers. Bio-fertilizers can be made using locally available materials, and increase the health of soil, and nutritional value and productivity of crops. This project focuses on four strategies to accomplish this goal: Research - Three mini production centres and research trials have been set up in the hills and lowlands of Nepal to measure the effectiveness of different bio-fertilizers on different crops grown at varying elevations providing sound scientific proof of the results of bio-fertilizers, which is soon to be published in a peer-reviewed paper. Education - Training programs and materials have been developed to educate farmers, government workers/officials and non-governmental organisation's staff on bio-fertilizers, their production and uses. A bio-fertilizer training manual is being developed in both English and Nepali languages. Production - Production units have been established across the country. 12 bio-fertilizers have been developed using local resources and are currently being trialed. Network - The Nepal Bio-fertilizer Network has been established to connect bio-fertilizer training participants from across Nepal and to share experiences and information related to this field. The network is made up of farmers, academics, governmental and non-governmental officials, both nationally and internationally, dedicated to the promotion of bio-fertilizers and efforts are being made to extend the network to include organizations, government bodies and the business community. Above: Juanfran Lopez delivers training on bio-fertilizers, soil science and plant health BACKGROUND According to the International Labour Organisation, agriculture provides livelihoods for 68% of Nepal's population, accounting for 34% of the GDP. Nevertheless, Nepal struggles to produce an adequate supply of food for its citizens and it is estimated that 36% of Nepali children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Food security in Nepal depends on land productivity as managed by small land holders who face challenges in both productivity and sustainability. This project provides farmers across this bioregion with the knowledge, tools and local resources to make on-site bio-fertilizers, improve their soil and grow more nutritious food. Adaptation to climate change in the agricultural and allied sectors is a major current and future challenge for Nepal, particularly as Nepal is ranked 4th under the Climate Vulnerability Index. The majority of the population is still dependent on highly climate-sensitive agriculture. In recent years, long drought spells during the monsoon season, increased temperatures and unseasonal heavy rains during winter have caused serious distress to agriculture-dependent communities in many locations. Bio-fertilizers can improve food production in a way which is beneficial for the surrounding environment. A bio-fertilizer is a substance which contains living microorganisms which, when applied to seeds, plant surfaces, or soil, colonise the rhizosphere or the interior of the plant and promotes growth by increasing the supply or availability of nutrients to the host plant thereby restoring the soil's natural nutrient cycle. Through the use of bio-fertilizers, healthy plants can be grown, while enhancing the health of the soil. These drums contain fermented stinging nettle and weeping willow liquid bio-fertilizers. WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? IMPACT ON PLANET - improved food production and security - carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in the soil - increased biological diversity in soils - decreased soil erosion - improved water retention in the ground, particularly in higher regions of the Nepalese landscape - decreased production of greenhouse gases - less water pollution from agricultural run-off IMPACT ON PEOPLE - nutrient dense food - healthier rural environments - provides a buffer for farmers, to help protect their production from flooding, drought, pest and disease - increased knowledge of soil science and plant health for farmers - increased production and meaningful livelihoods - reduced costs and improved financial security - lowered levels of stress, depression and suicide COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT Bio-fertilizers are a set of tools that, when combined with agro-ecological management practices, have the potential to empower farmers to regenerate soils and the ecologies around them. While focusing on soil health and growing a diversity of plants, we also start to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it into the ground. This improves the holding capacity of water in the soil, creates habitats for wildlife, grows more nutrient dense food and increases the value of crops that farmers are growing. The farmers start to see their farm as more than just a place to grow food, but also as a living ecosystem. Farmers become one of the most important segments of society with the potential to help restore the biosphere while also growing nutritious food, improving the health of the communities around them. Farmers from west Nepal collect local native microbes from their local jungle to propagate out and use as an inoculant for their soil. SCALABILITY While still in the preliminary stage of research and development, this project is putting in the foundations needed to scale up across the bioregion, including working with multiple key stakeholders to help develop local and national policy on regenerative agriculture. At the same time concurrent projects are being run across Africa by Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI) and Rural Community in Development Uganda (RUCID). The potential for scaling this project is significant. Bio-fertilizers and their inputs are based on the utilisation of local resources. In fact, the best microbes for improving farm production will come from the closest forest or local farm animals. The initial investment needed for starting up local bio-fertilizer production units is cheap and the process is easy. All that is needed is water drums, pipes and few other plumbing materials that can be sourced at any hardware store. REPLICABILITY This project directly applies the principle of valuing local knowledge and resources and implementing programs that are appropriate to communities across the Himalayan region. Several farmers and extension workers have already started to implement their own bio-fertilizer development and research in their working areas. Stories and findings are shared through our Bio-fertilizer Nepal Network hosted on Facebook. We are ready to help communities replicate this project as soon as it is safe to do so. Alisha Devi Magar, a young permaculturist representing the Magar tribe helps teach farmers about soil health and plant needs. WHAT’S NEXT FOR THIS PROJECT? Bio-fertilizers are currently being introduced into the agricultural policy of Suryodaya Municipality, Ilam, Nepal with the support of Almost Heaven Farms. Over the coming fiscal year, we will be training more than 100 farmers in these methods and introducing bio-fertilizers in 12 villages. Bio-fertilizers are continually being trialled in 3 villages on a range of different crops. This research is being shared with both local and international academics to document the results to be published in a peer-reviewed paper in the near future. CONTACT ALMOST HEAVEN FARMS Almost Heaven Farms is a permaculture demonstration, training, research and resource centre based out of Ilam, Nepal in the eastern hillside of the Himalayas. AHF supports farming communities transition to regenerative agriculture, restoring local soils, water sources and ecologies. Website | Facebook | Instagram | Youtube CONTACT US If you would like to know more about Bio-fertilizers, or join our network of regenerative practitioners, contact us here.

    • Can Permaculture Play a Positive Role in International Development?

      By Chris Evans. The word 'development' is like a double-edged sword. It can be a tool to cut your fodder needs, or it can cut your throat. It can mean improvement in quality of life, or it can herald a slide into deterioration of social, economic and environmental systems. Here, Chris Evans examines the history of the word development, and the part Permaculture has to play as a method of ensuring its positive side. Picture above: Remote upland villages like this one in Humla, Nepal are the last to get access to development as most organisations prefer easy access. The word 'development' is meaningless. It is what Wolfgang Sachs called an 'amoeba word', having no fixed boundary, yet within it can be all, or none. We cannot use current speech without using it, though it is a relatively recent addition to the common language. It was U.S. President Truman, in a Presidential address on January 20th 1949 who first split the world into two parts - the 'developed' and the 'under-developed'; the 'North', and 'South'. So the concept of development is a very young concept, while the 'underdeveloped' world is full of diverse, traditional cultures, evolved and adapted over centuries and holding the wisdom of generations. However, now these cultures have become defined by what they lack, and it is deficit which marks its boundaries. Similarly, the poorest part of the world is designated only one-third – the 'third world' – despite it having most of the population and biodiversity. I prefer to call it the two-thirds world; other names such as 'global South' and 'Majority World' are also used. Truman saw the world as a race on a track - some in front (Europe, U.S.A., etc.), some at the back (the two-thirds world) and some in the middle (the 'Eastern Block'). The speed of the race is measured by Gross National Product (GNP, also a new term, coined by Colin Clark in 1948). This is how the world became organised. Before this, there was no measure of poverty (though there was assuredly less), but there was rampant exploitation of natural resources and an effort to increase social standing through education and income. The imperative of the development race - an objective all governments strive for - is to catch up. A primary objective for the 'developed' world, to show an effective (not ethical) use of its profits, has been to pull all nations into the race, i.e. the world market. Secondly, it has been to train the new nations to be competent runners - how to run fast. To get on the racetrack, you need three things. Firstly, you need cash input. Secondly, you need input (import) of technology, and thirdly you need cultural change. All investment into development is towards these goals, and therefore old, traditional ways become an obstruction to development. Above: Women planting SRI rice, a radically new technique that take a few years’ commitment to embed in communities, but can double rice yields with no significant extra inputs, with less water and less seed. The Role of International Banks The training in how to run faster in the race is provided by those in front. This is rooted in the international banking syndicates - the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund etc., but also encompasses in the national scale, central government and the elite classes that run it. After this, everyone else are like lost sheep running whichever way they are herded. Governments are provided massive loans and grants in order to enter and run the race, for which they have to implement an 'economic structural re-adjustment programme'. This takes different forms, but some of the criteria for reform frequently include removal of barriers to free trade (thus countries with cheap or excess product can dump this into other countries' economies), cutting government spending (education, health, and other public services) and high emphasis on cash crops and consumer goods for export. The latter is to compensate for shortage of foreign currency, where economies must be restructured to perform 'more competitively' on the world market and to increase the nation's ability to service its debts to the international banks. This takes emphasis away from meeting basic needs and the whole vast 'informal economy', which is based on small farmers, especially women who play such a crucial part to produce food for local needs. Traditional systems of recycling wealth and non-money value systems are undervalued and consequently lost. Opening up to the international development community implies giving access to local markets for agribusiness corporations. Their saturation policy and government support pressurise traditional farms to adopt seed hybrids, monocultures and chemical fertilisers (leading to pesticides) in the place of local resources. There is a general pattern of less food grown for local consumption every year. Opening up to international markets as the only form of development is also inherently risky, though they can play a part to augment and diversify strong local economies. Now into the race, trying to keep pace and breathe, developing nations regularly fail to service the interest payments on debts accrued to finance capital intensive development projects. Thus, the traditional food base is further compromised by the need to produce goods for export. Again, emphasis is all the time taken away from local solutions to local problems, away from investing in local resources (skills, environment, technology) or building a strong local economy. Above: Netra Gurung, farmers’ leader in Surkhet, Nepal displaying what’s possible with good organic growing. Dissolving Traditional Cultures Development, therefore, is re-distributing knowledge with the rationale that traditional cultures are ignorant. It dissolves cultures not centred around the frenzy of accumulation and consumerism, and the level of 'civilisation' is measured merely by levels of production and consumption. Yet for the whole world to mine and consume the resources needed to acquire the current standards of Europe or the U.S., and to dump its waste afterwards, we would need six planets to look after our one. Hardly a realistic situation, and it is because of this that the development race can only fail, as it points in the wrong way, and runs into an abyss. Nowadays, 'First' and 'Third' Worlds are not so much separated by geographical area - there are elements of both on every land mass. Europe and Japan compete their race on Indian soil. Development is now not so much an issue of being exploited, as it was in colonial times, but one of being included or excluded. To be included, you need a car, a job, a bank account, etc. So what for the choices ahead? Maybe it is like choosing a bus ticket - one to a sustainable future where all needs can be met, or one which heads into the abyss. If you are already on the latter, there is nothing to do but to get off the bus, and find one going to a sustainable destination. We have to accept a finite nature in order to increase the possibility of dignity for more people. We need to create a society not dependent on exploiting. This is done by reducing our energy throughput (by up to 50%), and living gracefully with less energy needs, and a reduced economic growth. Thus traditional cultures become a positive resource, as it is they who have flourished for centuries using local resources, without their over-exploitation. Their indigenous knowledge is an untapped reservoir of ideas & solutions that already exist in farming and social systems that have maintained themselves, without money as a primary or priority means of exchange, for many years. By working with and respecting this traditional wisdom, as Permaculture designer and teacher Lea Harrison says, "We are not going back to a more primitive society, but forward to a more intelligent one." Above: A Permaculture Design workshop with the Himalayan Permaculture Centre. What and Who are we Developing? All this led me to explore the wider context of development: what is to be developed? For whom? By whom? For how long? And of course, how? The answers, of course, inevitably start with “it depends…”, as what we have realised over the past decades is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer or technique. Context is everything, and depends on many factors of what, why, where, who, when and for how long. Below are some fine examples of existing projects that provide clues as to the way forward. It’s also interesting to see the difference and similarities between humanitarian and regenerative development work. The former is about people and communities that have been forced to leave their homes because of human and/or naturally-induced disasters, and are needing to meet their needs (basic and otherwise) in artificial settlements. The latter, meanwhile, is about communities developing their own homes and settlements and is illustrated by the Himalayan Permaculture Centre’s mission to co-create abundant villages that people don’t need or want to leave, because they are meeting all their material and non-material needs locally. Both are about creating abundance and meaningful lives, but in very different contexts. Permaculture, with its time and site relevant design systems and careful energy accounting, is a synthesis of the principles of ecology and natural systems, traditional wisdom, and modern scientific knowledge and innovation. Design is used to create cultivated ecologies and communities, based on natural wealth and linked to cyclic economic systems that are self participatory and respectful of traditional societies. In fact, permaculture has already played a positive role in International development over several decades. In many countries, using the Permaculture principles of “Observe and Interact” and “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback”, these roles are becoming more common and more effective over time. Permatil in Timore-Leste have successfully integrated principles into over 1,300 schools, have been embedded in local government policy, and have created the fantastic Tropical Permaculture Guidebook. In Zimbabwe since 1988, the great Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre pioneered work that has been replicated throughout Southern Africa. In Malawi, Never Ending Food is a well-established implementer of best-practice ideas since 1997. These are great examples, not just of the techniques and approaches espoused to community groups, but in the very management of organisational planning, design, implementation, learning, monitoring and evaluation that goes to making effective and participatory development interventions. It is the learning from such initiatives that our team, including fellow Re-Alliance members, and I have created a 'Permaculture for Development Workers' course, looking at the common patterns of success that can be shared to make development more effective. Through this course, we work with development professionals to illustrate just how useful permaculture design has been, is being and can be. Finally, if solutions appropriate to current issues are to be developed, farmers must be considered experts in their own right, given the respect and value due, and their innovations taken seriously and included in the research and problem solving process. There are after all just two types of people: farmers, and those dependent on farmers. Chris Evans lives on and manages Applewood Permaculture Centre, aka Waterloo Farm, in North Herefordshire, UK, with his partner Looby Macnamara. He is also advisor to the Himalayan Permaculture Centre in Nepal where he has worked in permaculture develop­ment for over 30 years. Article first published in Permaculture Magazine, Autumn 2019.

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      Joining Re-Alliance's Membership Contact us Request to join Re-Alliance is a coalition of field practitioners, policymakers, educators, community leaders, and humanitarian and development workers. Our mission is to advance and showcase regenerative practice across the sectors of humanitarianism and development, particularly in the context of development, disaster and displacement. We work with our members to showcasing regenerative projects, to create mutually beneficial connections, to facilitate as well as influencing larger scale agencies and BINGOs. build an evidence base peer to peer knowledge sharing While our and share information that is fully open to all, Re-Alliance members have exclusive access to a network of experienced practitioners working on the ground in a variety of capacities, as well as a variety of members-only communications and opportunities. website social media channels ​ Become a member of Re-Alliance As part of our network, whether a grassroots practitioner or a policymaker in a BINGO, you will have access to dynamic knowledge, a vibrant and active community of experts and a wealth of opportunities for collaboration. Our membership is open to all, the only requirements are interest and expertise in regenerative design, experience in the humanitarian and/or development sectors, and a willingness to comply with our code of conduct and policies. Member benefits include: The ability to connect with a global network of regenerative specialists Exclusive access to learning opportunities Inclusion of your organisation’s details on our website Exclusive member communications Access to invite-only meetings and webinars The opportunity to host webinars or propose topics Eligibility for members-only funding opportunities Consultancy and collaboration opportunities Having your work featured in our growing evidence base of regenerative design ​ Please note that we are a networking and learning organisation, not a funding organisation. ​ View membership request form

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