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  • The Love that Binds us and the Loss that Drives us: Reconnecting with Paulo 10 years on

    Many of our newer Re-Alliance members and followers will not know of Paul Mellett, who died ten years ago last Sunday. Paul, or Paulo as he was known more recently to friends, was responsible for much of the inspiration behind Re-Alliance and in some way for its foundation. After contracting Leukaemia at the age of 19 in 1998,  he vowed while in hospital that if he recovered he would do something useful with his life. Thankfully he did and in the 14 years that followed he became a strong climate activist, a campaigner for the rights of minorities, and passionately concerned about the state of the planet and its soils. He married Ruth Andrade, chair of trustees of Re-Alliance, and through her became a strong influence on the work of LUSH and its support for farmers.  It is a tragedy that during his work with them he contracted Malaria in Ghana in 2014 and died in Brazil from complications that followed. At his funeral his friends, many of them also innovators and activists, formed the Blueprint network, to further regenerative thinking in humanitarian response. As a network of friends and colleagues much of this was realised in their own practice, and some years later it was felt that if the network was to grow and make a significant difference, it was necessary to formalise it into an NGO. Re-Alliance was dreamt up at a meeting at the LUSH offices following a Spring Prize event in 2018 and founded as an NGO in 2019 with a small grant from LUSH to get it off the ground. Many of the Blueprint group were among its first members.  I sadly never met Paulo, but in early 2018 while I was working for The Lemon Tree Trust on refugee gardens I came across a video of him and Ruth talking about their work and felt strongly that it was these values and principles, rather than those of LTT that I wanted to represent. On Sunday, in his memory, Re-Alliance hosted a small gathering of friends, family members and those who have been taught or influenced by Paulo to share stories of what he inspired in them, and the things they have been doing since.  While the event was of course tinged with sadness, it was also warm and humorous. Individuals shared stories of someone who was tenacious and committed, full of joy, jokes and energy, and who lived out his values of Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share – the permaculture principles that also underpin Re-Alliance. Others who couldn’t be there sent in tributes or poems, including the one below from Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dellinger which I feel I’d like to pass on. This, along with our newsletter this month, and the stories of the work we have been doing with you all, are dedicated to Paulo’s memory.  "it’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great great grandchildren won’t let me sleep my great great grandchildren ask me in dreams what did you do while the planet was plundered? what did you do when the earth was unravelling? surely you did something when the seasons started failing? as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying? did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen? what did you do once you knew?" Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dellinger

  • How Can Communities Gain Greater Capacity for Self Recovery? Reflections from the UK Shelter Forum

    Re-Alliance participated in the annual UK Shelter Forum, held at Arup on 14th May. Our presentation introduced the Guidelines Project we are currently working on, piloting regenerative approaches to settlement design with partners in the field, and compiling materials from these that can be shared with community members and local practitioners elsewhere and adapted for other contexts. Re-Alliance was almost a lone voice in prioritising regenerative rather than sustainable or climate resilient approaches, or in looking at how we might better support local responders when international help is scarce. There was also scant mention of the excellent Sphere Unpacked guide to Nature Based Solutions, which, alongside ourselves, is geared towards community practitioners. The Shelter Cluster seems well aware of the challenges they are facing, but like much of humanitarian assistance, continues to focus more on giving to and less on working with. Regeneration and Community Involvement in Shelter and Self Recovery Re-Alliance's Mary Mellet shares her reflections below. Following on from my visit to the shelter forum I have been musing on what exactly ‘Regenerative’ shelter can look like in the displacement context. Shelter is the point at which people are separated from their immediate natural surroundings, the point of division between the natural and the human realm. Necessarily so; total exposure to the increasingly harsh elements of extreme heat, heavy rainfall, bitter cold and wind will kill people.The needs for privacy and security are also paramount to give safety in dangerous times. Building shelters requires resources. Even natural resources, such as lime, mud, timber and straw still need to be extracted from the environment; so ending their part in any regenerative cycle, beyond composting down at the end of their use. Usually, they will not produce seed, increase water retention, build soil health or create an abundance of biodiversity within their footprint. Yes, there are mitigation measures, such as reducing the carbon footprint using renewable resources, maximising biodiversity through green roofing, rain water harvesting using gutters and storage tanks. But all these measures are within the sphere of sustainability - minimising impact -  not regeneration. They do not usually add net gains to the natural environment. It is the people within the buildings that can actively engage to improve the environment and become part of a regenerated whole system. It is they who can grow plants, compost wastes and improve soils. And thus the shelter sustains the life of the people who are embedded in a regenerative whole system. Shelter can only be regenerative within a whole-system which creates a home for the regenerative humans who become integrated within the natural, self-sustaining systems of life. Without the whole, there can be no ‘regenerative’ shelter. The below diagram visualises the differences between aid, sustainability and regeneration. So how do we apply these lofty ideals of regenerated communities to the pressurised context of disaster and displacement? Political tensions, lack of funding, degraded unsuitable lands and limited time seem to limit choices and restrict activities to the siloed shelter delivery model, often resulting in imported tents, and distributed tarpaulins with limited lifespans. I was genuinely inspired by the dogged, pragmatic and experienced women working for INGOs in shelter provision who stood to talk about how they balanced these competing needs and who were well aware of the complexities and limitations of the system and the compromises that must be made to keep people alive. The pioneering cross-sectoral work undertaken by Save the Children and fire-safety academics felt like a paradigm shift that transcended the usual siloed boundaries. There is also much work being done at the design level for imported solutions, the academics at the Shelter forum were doing complex work in analysing building performances, organisations were proving that funding more resilient designs were both more sustainable and cost-effective and there was more of an emphasis on using natural materials. However, in many ways some of the academic work felt like using a teacup to bail water on a sinking ship. The teacup is excellently researched, they have consulted on its design, it has been proven to be water-tight, light to ship, easy to use and resilient to chipping, it is even made of natural materials and printed with culturally appropriate decorations. For the few that use the teacups it is a great help in bailing water and is sustaining life while they stay afloat a while longer. But a smaller and smaller proportion of those in need will ever be given teacups and meanwhile the boat is going down. In this age of polycrisis, the available share of funding is decreasing. Self recovery is now by far the largest proportion of shelter provision following displacement and disaster. Perhaps the root question is: “how do we effectively work with communities to enable greater capacity for self recovery?” For this we need to look at where self recovery is working, where community participation is at its most engaged, and also at where it fails. At the next Shelter forum, I would love to hear from social scientists who understand how resilient communities work, community activists who banded together to get the resources their people needed and householders who have built their own shelters following disasters. The plethora of technical solutions could be enhanced by a clearer understanding of how to enable community involvement which leads to good decision making, access to resources and increased self recovery. My question to myself and colleagues at Re-Alliance, is how do we empower communities to make decisions that will best serve them in the long term, to a place within the self-sustaining regenerative systems of life and away from the trappings of modern solutions. As the climate crisis worsens, we all need to transition our ways of thinking and being in the world. How can we work together in this transition in a way that is truly empowering of local decision making?

  • Building a Garden on the Roof - Illustrated Guide from Re-Alliance, GUPAP and Sporos Regeneration Institute

    Dedication The Re-Alliance team would like to share this resource with the following dedication: In solidarity with all the women of Gaza who created roof gardens for themselves, their families, and their communities. We hope for a time of peace and freedom when the seeds that are planted are allowed to flourish. Context This illustrated resource has been produced from the learnings of both desk based research, and action research projects that we piloted in partnership with Re-Alliance Members GUPAP (Gaza Urban & Peri-Urban Agriculture Platform) and Sporos Regeneration Institute as part of our wider Regenerative Camps and Settlements Guidelines Research. Keep an eye on our social media, newsletter and to be notified about other resources. The Guide This guide is aimed at community level organisations and actors, for direct use with communities. The guide is illustration-led, with the aim to reduce the barriers of illiteracy and language. The guide is split into both ‘Building a Garden on the Roof’ and ‘Cultivating on the Roof’ and covers topics such as materials needed, safety considerations, construction guidance, seed saving and organic fertilisers. Download the guide here This guide is currently being translated into a range of languages. If you would like this guide to be made available in a specific language please get in touch at to request this and we will see what we can do.

  • Toilet Solidarity, Compost Toilets for All

    Re-Alliance’s Mary Mellet reviews different designs, including the treebog, urine separators and simple container loos. This article was originally published in Permaculture Magazine's summer issue 116. Above: Winnie Tushabe from YICE Uganda presenting their EcoSan composting toilet There are many things to love about compost toilets; they’re low cost and cycle nutrients back to the earth rather than flushing away as waste. But how do you navigate the different designs and styles? Over the last six months, Re-alliance has helped build different types of composting toilets with refugee communities in Uganda and Kenya. Our aim is not to promote individual technologies, but to enable a choice for the most appropriate design in a given context. Instead of toilet ‘equality’ where the world follows the Western model of polluting and wasteful flushing toilets, we’re advocating for toilet ‘solidarity’, where the Western and majority world transition in tandem to regenerative sanitation solutions. These work with the nutrient cycle to create health and abundance from our waste instead of pollution and harm. Unless you built your own house, you probably didn’t get to choose which type of toilet it had; the majority of houses in the UK come with a flush toilet connected to the sewage network. But we do get a choice in any subsequent toilets, the toilet for the home office down the garden or the second toilet you install to accommodate a growing family. These extra loos could all be compost toilets. Here we look at two designs our partners have built in East Africa and then overview options that you could adopt for your own project – there’s a compost loo to suit most contexts. The Treebog in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya More than 182,000 people live in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which was formed in 1992. Farming and Health Education, our local partner, is a community-based organisation which uses permaculture design principles to increase resilience by working with people to grow their own fresh food. Pictured right: FHE's Treebog, credit to Marcelin Munga Working with degraded soils and without the money for external fertilisers, growers in Kakuma understand the advantages of healthy soil and so the compost and fertility created by the treebogs are valued. In this pilot, two double treebogs were built and productive trees were planted around the toilets. Because these toilets are for communal use, it is useful that the treebog design does not include urine separation, to ensure little change in behaviour is needed from the toilet users. A carboniferous cover material, such as wood shavings or leaves, is added after using the toilet. The cover material prevents odours and flies, as well as maintaining the required carbon to nitrogen balance for healthy composting. We worked with Jay Abrahams, who invented the treebog, and he explained, “A treebog is a platform mounted toilet seat or squat, in a cubicle, surrounded by closely planted, fast growing and productive trees and shrubs. This arrangement enables the faeces and urine to be deposited on the soil surface in an aerobic chamber underneath the platform where the solids are composted into soil and the liquids soak into the earth below, feeding the root zone of the planted species surrounding the treebog. The trees enhance liquid take-up and composting of the solids and can also produce fruit, nuts and coppiced wood. When full, treebogs are closed and the contents are left to compost, being safely emptied after about a year to 18 months, once the wastes have been fully composted to soil. Depending on the amount of users, some treebogs never need to be emptied and the composted waste just continues to feed the trees. The trees and shrubs also create a habitat for wildlife, increasing the biodiversity of the area.” EcoSan Toilets in Nakivale Uganda In the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, refugees are given a small plot of land to build a dwelling and farm food on. Our partner organisation YICE (Youth Initiative for Community Empowerment) is working with families to create kitchen gardens but yields are limited because the soil is poor. Pictured right: YICE Uganda's EcoSan We worked with YICE to build eight urine diverting dry toilets (or ‘ecosan toilets’) for families. By separating the urine and faeces, the volume of composting waste is reduced, extending the capacity of the compost chamber and giving an immediate source of fertiliser in the form of urine, which, when diluted 1:20 with water, is an excellent fertiliser rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Diverting the urine away stops the compost chamber from becoming anaerobic and smelly and the addition of wood ash, after using the toilet, acts as a dehydrating cover material. This design used recycled plastic barrels as containers for the faeces, which ensures no ground pollution. Once nearly full, the barrel is moved aside and replaced with a fresh barrel. With the hot composting achieved inside the barrels, compost can be created in under 12 months in the Ugandan climate. The compost is used to enrich the soil around fruiting trees and bushes. Closed Loop Sanitation ‘Create no waste and produce a yield’ Re-alliance is not alone in advocating for compost toilets as a sanitation solution; Oxfam, Wateraid and Tearfund have also built compost toilets at various scales and the South African government is building them at a national level. However, when these projects are viewed solely as a sanitation solution, the production of compost is often seen as a problem to dispose of rather than a resource and the toilets are not well accepted. By integrating the toilets with existing food growing projects, the outputs are more likely to be valued and used for soil enrichment, increasing food security and biodiversity in tandem with improving sanitation. As YICE director Noah Ssempijja commented recently, “At last we may have found a solution to our poor soil fertility”. However, caution, careful management and observance of national and regional regulations are needed as untreated human excreta can transmit diseases. The myth to resist though, is that water-based systems are more hygienic than composting systems. With colonialism, the West exported the idea of flushing toilets as a clean, safe means of disposing of waste. But this denies the fact that adding human waste to water is a vehicle for pollution and disease if the water is not properly treated. The United Nations’ 2017 World Water Development Report stated, “In all but the most highly developed countries, the vast majority of wastewater is released directly to the environment without adequate treatment, with detrimental impacts on human health, economic productivity, the quality of ambient freshwater resources, and ecosystems.” Unfortunately, the problem continues in the UK, with Surfers Against Sewage stating in their 2022 Water Quality Report that “Over the course of 2020 and 2021, sewage has been dumped into the ocean and rivers around the UK more than 770,000 times”. With proper siting and management, compost toilets are safe, as is the compost they create. Joseph Jenkins writes in his well researched The Humanure Handbook: “As long as they are combining their humanure with a carbonaceous material and letting it compost, thermophilically or not, for at least a year (an additional year of ageing is recommended), they are very unlikely to be creating any health problems.” Advice on the use of compost varies, many types of food have been grown safely from humanure compost, and Jenkins argues for its use on most food crops, but harm caused by mismanagement can also be imagined. As a result, the Centre for Alternative Technology recommends its use only on fruit bushes and trees, which don’t absorb pathogens up their woody trunks, and on ornamental plants. Pictured left: Winnie Tushabe and Jean-Paul from YICE Uganda with compost from their Ecosan Toilets Whichever system you choose, the benefits remain attractive: less expensive, less polluting and a creator of compost and fertiliser. Below is a guide for choosing a compost system, with references you can go to for more information. I do hope you find a loo that suits you, and, if you are considering a second toilet in your household, you might take the dive and go waterless. You’re sure to learn a lot along the way while saving money and water, reducing pollution and feeding plants. Which Composting Toilet is Best for You? For all the solutions listed here you will need an outside space for the compost to be made and/or stored and used, this could be a garden or courtyard. Container-based Compost Toilet inside an Existing Home or Building where Space is Limited This scenario would also include compost toilets inside mobile homes and boats. Here you can create a DIY solution or buy an off the peg unit. Both have limited capacity so are suitable for household scale use, but not larger scale frequent use. Pee, poo and toilet paper are held within a sealed container, such as a plastic bin, and covered with sawdust or other organic cover material. The container contents are emptied into a compost bin or bay, ensuring the top is well covered by organic matter. You can choose to include urine separation which reduces the volume of waste and creates a plant fertiliser; most off-the-peg solutions use urine separation. Several compost bins or bays will be needed to rotate between – one curing the other filling. Advantages: Cheapest and simplest solution to build. Useful in places with limited space. Can create fertile compost and urine fertiliser. Disadvantages: Emptying and management of composting system required. Examples of off-the-peg designs: Loveable Loo, Trobolo, Wee Hooses Compost Toilets. Further Resources Best book: The Humanure Handbook: Shit in a Nutshell, 4th edition, by Joseph C. Jenkins for pdf downloads Best online resources: - How to build a simple compost toilet Best overview of composting system: How to Make Humanure Compost with a Composting Toilet, Happen Films Compost Chamber Systems Here, the composting happens within the toilet structure, so more space is needed for building. The toilets are usually elevated above the compost pile, with composting occurring at ground level. The contents are usually emptied once composting has occurred, after 12-24 months or sometimes just left to rot down. Often designs include a ‘twin chamber’ system, where one chamber is filled while the other is left to compost. Rotated large containers can also be used to receive the wastes and then switched over for composting (as in our Ugandan Ecosan examples). Most designs include urine diversion, with the treebog as a notable exception. Advantages: No handling or transportation of wastes needed. Fertile compost created. Urine fertiliser can be used to improve plant growth. Disadvantages: Compost chamber usually needs to be emptied after 12-24 months (although with infrequent use, emptying is reduced). Toilet seat is elevated so steps or a ramp are needed for access. Further Resources Best book: Lifting the Lid: An Ecological Approach to Toilet Systems by Peter Harper and Louise Halestrap Best online resources: Centre For Alternative Technology, Composting Toilets Best video: Centre for Alternative Technology, Webinar: Compost Toilets, an introduction, by Louise Halestrap This article originally appeared in Permaculture Magazine, Summer issue 116: The magazine is available in print and digitally. Each issue of Permaculture magazine is hand crafted, sharing practical, innovative solutions, money saving ideas and global perspectives from a grassroots movement in over 170 countries. To subscribe from anywhere in the world visit: or call 01730 776 582 (+44 1730 776 582)

  • Nepal's First Strawbale House

    Completed in 2019, Nepal’s first strawbale house showcases an earthquake shake table tested straw bale wall system costing about half the price of a conventional earth-quake resistant buildings. The lime and clay plastered straw bale walls provide super-insulation, moderating extreme temperatures, while the breathable clay and lime plasters prevent moulds and moisture build-up inside and durable lime render gives a water resistant external layer. Local people were trained in these easily replicable building systems while also using traditional Nepali building methods and local, affordable and sustainable materials. BACKGROUND In April and May 2015 Nepal was struck by two devastating earthquakes, killing 9,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. In response, Builders without Borders looked for a test case site to promote and assess the appropriateness of strawbale buildings as earthquake resistant homes in Nepal. They found the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation (KRMEF) in the Kathmandu valley, which already included a showcase of eco buildings. Close to Kathmandu the KRMEF centre was well placed to be a showcase for wider interest, was within the earthquake zone and provided access to a local network of skills and materials. Some of the other eco-builds at KRMEF are earthquake resistant made from stabilised earth blocks and recycled  bottles sat on foundations supported by rammed car tyres, described by the then DFID Humanitarian Shelter Advisor, Magnus Wolf-Murray as, “some of the best examples of low cost earthquake resilient buildings in Nepal." KEEPING IT LOCAL, KEEPING COSTS LOW Using local labour, materials and sharing skills with local people who worked alongside and in leadership roles meant this durable, safe, regenerative building was easily affordable. PAKSBAB (the organisation promoting straw bale building as an earthquake resilient option for Kashmir, Pakistan) estimate building costs to be about half of the cost of conventional earthquake resistant buildings. The addition of lime-stablised soil render has given the building a durable breathable finish and trained local women to continue the maintenance of this building and others. WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? IMPACT ON PLANET Low carbon build using locally sourced natural materials which cut down on transportation impacts. Natural materials reduce pollution from building materials Passive ventilation, heating and cooling with super-insulation allow buildings to be comfortable without air conditioning. High thermal performance achieved without the use of energy-intensive, sometimes toxic, industrially manufactured insulation materials. Natural finishes avoid the environmental and health burden of VOCs. Little waste creation and bio-degradable, compostable building at the end of life. Cradle to cradle standard - transformative system with a positive impact on people and planet. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Local gardeners, mainly women trained into leadership roles for Lime Stabilized plastering. More affordable than other building techniques, including other earthquake resistant building methods. From all global shake tests, it's been repeatedly evidenced that strawbale buildings can remain standing through earthquakes, so potentially preserving life, shelter and livelihoods. Lime rendered straw bale buildings promote healthy air inside them because they are non-toxic and breathable. Lime or clay plastered straw bale walls will moderate temperature extremes through high insulation values and high thermal mass so increasing thermal comfort. Community capacity building through Increasing skills and income. Through training and use of local labour, people are empowered to build durably with straw and lime, going forward they are able to maintain their buildings and implement future projects. Comfortable, high performance culturally appropriate buildings provided as a resource for the community. COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT This building system with a cradle to cradle design is a transformative system with a positive impact on people and planet. It combines both climate change adaptive and climate change mitigation technology. REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can straw bale building help to regenerate land and livelihoods after natural disasters? DISASTER RESILIENCE - FLOOD & EARTHQUAKE The combination of the uniquely appropriate resilience of straw bale buildings to earthquakes and of lime-stabilised soil to flood or monsoon damage, promote the possibility of a fully integrated disaster risk reduction solution for areas of high flood, monsoon and earthquake risk. Integrated systems of training local labour and of local materials use maintains and builds resources and resilience within the area. Local farmers are paid for straw, soil is dug from the foundations and used for free, labourers are paid for their work and women and men can be trained in new trades and skills, building community capacity and livelihoods. Partnering with an established local organisation gives access to an integrated network of sources of skilled labour, students and self-builders for training, materials availability, cultural insight and skills transfer. It allows projects to be inclusive and empowering and increases the learning of both the external trainers, organisations and local communities. SCALABILITY For earthquake resistance, PAKSBAB have completed 40 strawbale homes in Pakistan through training of trainers in seismically vulnerable northern Pakistan using the same load-bearing  wall system, proving upscaling of skills and production is possible.  ​ For flood and monsoon-rain resilient buildings, UK Aid funded Strawbuild training has led to the building of over 200,000 lime-stabilised soil houses in high flood-risk areas across southern Pakistan. Training in lime-stabilised soil can quickly equip diverse groups to become proficient in building resilient houses in their local, vernacular style, often predominantly of earth, that remain stable (do not dissolve) in water. All earth building elements can be stabilised with small amounts of lime - including foundations, wall blocks, mortars, floors, renders, plasters and roof screeds - so skilled labour and production through training can rabidly be upscaled.   ​ Strawbuild have authored  a manual in  Lime Stabilised Construction - a practical guide to spread best practice with engineers, masons and self-builders, as used in the training courses for many NGOs and International Humanitarian Organisations in the UKAid funded Flood Resilience Programmes of Southern Pakistan - Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan, 2012-2016. ​ Lower build costs (by an average saving of 70%) represent an opportunity to build greater numbers of carbon-zero, high performance and disaster resilient houses at the same cost as fewer conventional earthquake and flood resilient buildings. FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS Straw and Lime Stabilized soil can be used in different combinations and there is scope for further pilot projects and demonstration builds. Bee Rowan from Strawbuild explains, “The next step is to continue to develop both technologies into a climatically appropriate and closer design synergy for full disaster risk reduction - from earthquake, flood and driving monsoon rain. Stawbuild and Builders without Borders plan to partner again in the straw-rich but high flood-risk Terai area of Nepal, using light straw, lime-stabilised soil walling systems, another easily replicate and appropriate building method using the same locally available materials for such areas of extreme climate at risk of both flood and earthquake." Independent, published evidencefrom IOM (UN's International Organisation for Migration) and ARUP Engineers, London, supports the use of lime-stabilised soil for flood resilient housing and details test results confirming high compressive strengths gained through stabilising soil with lime and the durability of the stabilised mixes in water for prolonged periods. Bee expects to return to Nepal this year (2020) to continue to support and promote these sustainable technologies and to partner local engineering and earth building companies in offering scalable solutions, such as within the design of resettlement villages, schools and community buildings. She is currently advising on similar uptake, design and training in Iraq, KRI (Kurdish Region of Iraq) Nigeria, Nicaragua and India, as well as within the UK. REPLICABILITY Plans from PAKSBAB can be adapted to use varied local straws, and bale presses can be made from locally sourced agricultural machinery or timber on site. Once the wall system is in place, other parts of the design can be adapted to suit local vernacular styles, materials and skills.  Lime is a widely available and most cultures have currant heritage use of lime, for example, in an IOM survey of vernacular buildings in Pakistan, 28% of the buildings built between 2010 and 2014 used lime. Following simple soil tests, an accurate formula can be found for all local soil types to make durable renders, plasters and light straw lime stabilized soil. CONTACT US Get in touch for links to the wider team of designers, implementers and trainers via Bee Rowan at Strawbuild.

  • Integrating Compost Toilets, Tree Planting & Soil Building in Rural Senegal

    In 2019 in rural Kamyaak, Senegal, residents with local organisation Jiwnit invited Jay Abrahams of Biologic Design (a UK regenerative water systems practitioner) to work together to build two double Treebogs, a simple and effective compost toilet, and a non-infiltration swale fed by rainwater from a shed roof. Planted around the Treebogs and along the swale edges 100 carefully selected trees were planted. The Treebogs give toilet facilities to the local community and the trees are fed by the nutrients in the faeces and urine and watered by the washing water. The Treebogs create fertile soil and productive trees, for food, fuelwood and polewood for construction.  A pre-existing orchard and vegetable area are watered by the 100 metre rainwater harvesting swale ditch. Local involvement and learning was built by sharing and talking with the community and a slideshow by Jay to build awareness of how all water passing through a site can be used. Local carpenters guided by Jay learnt about Treebogs as they constructed them and swale digging and tree planting was done by the community. BACKGROUND In Kamyaak, residents rely on growing their own food and on livestock for their livelihoods, in a challenging region where drought has led to desertification and land degradation. The Rainy Season is providing less rain, often for shorter periods and the six metre deep groundwater wells of the local villages are now giving saline water. Residents are working to regenerate the village with local organisation Jiwnit, their aim is to build soil and use harvested rainwater systematically to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs and trees. This project brought together the skills of local carpenters with the regenerative  design skills of Jay Abrahams. If you would like to build Treebogs in Senegal or design and implement integrated water-retention systems, you can contact Jay and Jiwnit by following the details at the bottom of this page. Above: Led by local carpenter Aziz, villagers build the Treebog. REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can integrated water retention landscapes with densely planted Treebogs and rainwater harvesting swales  help communities battling desertification  ? IMPACT ON PLANET Soil is created and enriched below and around the Treebogs, and when planted with trees, helps combat desertification. Swales and Treebogs are passive systems that do not require energy from non-renewable sources to operate. This is in contrast to pit latrines or flushing toilets which fill underground tanks or pits, which need to be pumped out and the contents tankered away and can negatively effect groundwater. Treebogs use 'wastes' as a resource and feed the plant nutrients directly to productive trees and shrubs. Rainwater is harvested and retained by swales rather than it running off the land, which can cause erosion. With the extra water and nutrients trees grow more quickly and are bigger and healthier, increasing the local biological resource base and enhancing biodiversity. Trees and plants thrive absorbing carbon dioxide, shading the ground from scorching in the sun and creating habitats for other plants and wildlife, while their roots hold water within the landscape. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Low cost, clean, safe toilets built by the community, for the community. In an area where there are some flush toilets but the main option is open defecation the privacy and safe space provided by the Treebogs is especially valued by women. Treebogs are welcomed by villagers because there is no need to dig out or otherwise handle or move waste.  It is composted in place and absorbed by trees planted densely around the Treebog. Increased resources are created from the nutrients and water in harvested rainwater, washing water and toilet wastes. Trees provide food, coppice materials, shade, traditional medicine ingredients, wood for crafting and building and animal fodder. Fertile soil is created which can grow food for household use. Livelihoods are promoted by hiring local craftspeople for building and increasing the skills and capacity of everyone involved through knowledge sharing. Capacity building for around 200 people who took part in a 10-day workshop, increasing awareness of rainwater harvesting for resource production, along with environmental protection and enhancement. Increased sense of self-action and self-improvement; ideas spread by example throughout the locality. COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT The creation of tree planted swales and Treebogs regenerates the land and enhances lives. Using low-cost or freely available local inputs, Treebog toilets enable trees to thrive and soil is created. There are multiple long-term benefits to people and place with little or no environmental cost. Above: a team from Kamyaak Village  dig swales using handtools. POTENTIAL How can this and other similar projects develop in the future? SCALABILITY Experience from the UK and around Europe shows the potential for large numbers of Treebogs which can be adapted to varied local conditions.  ​​ The toilet wastes within a Treebog are composted in-situ, reducing costs and logistical management. Cutting out the disposal, handling and transportation of waste by instead using it for soil production and ecosystem restoration. Treebogs are widely used in Europe where they are helping to create tree based, productive landscapes and home gardens. ​ Water retentive swales are used by Jay extensively at many different scales and, as well as retaining rainwater, they can be integrated into water treatment designs such as Wetland Ecosystem Treatment, or WET systems, to process sewage. See this example of a WET system using swales at a large festival site in the UK which serves 50 people all year round and up to 5,000 people four times a year during the gatherings on site. REPLICABILITY Water retentive swales fed by runoff from roofs can be easily replicated by local people with hand tools as specialised equipment is not needed. ​ Treebogs are easy to build and have a 30 year track-record in both temperate Europe and the brittle ecosystems of the Mediterranean. Provided a Treebog platform is mounted at least one metre above the ground, the structure can be adapted to use a variety of local materials and the skills and imaginations of  local people. Treebogs are built using simple hand-tools and can be planted with trees which can be coppiced for polewood - which can be harvested to make more Treebogs. Initially the siting of swales and Treebogs needs input from someone experienced in regenerative design (they should not be located where there is a likelihood of flooding),  but very soon local people gain the skills to ensure they will be located appropriately, will function properly and are able to build more. Local knowledge is important for the success of the Treebogs so that appropriate trees are used. Knowledge sharing and planning with local people is needed to make sure swales, Treebogs and the trees planted around them are properly maintained. "I feel that the Treebog has landed successfully in Africa, and that here at Kamyaak they will be looked after and used, meaning that Treebogs have a good chance of wider acceptance both here and in Africa generally. There is a greater opportunity to harvest rainwater from all of the roofs within the compound and direct this water to mulched tree and shrub lined swale ditches all around the compound." - Jay Abrahams, Biologic Design "We are absolutely convinced about the Treebogs and would like to help other communities to build their compost toilets. We see the results already in our village and are happy to share that knowledge. Just contact us by email or phone." - Aziz from JiwNit CONTACT AZIZ & JIWNIT Tel: 00221 772653038 CONTACT US If you would like to know more about Treebogs and water retentive landscapes, or be connected with Jay Abrahams at Biologic Design, contact us here.

  • Kitchen Gardens, Composting and Organic Farming in a Ugandan Refugee Settlement

    In Bukompe refugee settlement in Uganda, each household is given a plot of land by the government. Local organisation YICE have been working long-term and at scale with the community and brought in Caleb Odondi Omolo, from Sustainable Village Resources in Kenya, for a training project focusing on regenerative food production. YICE and Caleb worked with local residents to build a demonstration kitchen garden as a collaborative workshop where people learnt as they worked together. Following the workshop and seeing the success of the garden, 13 nearby households spontaneously created their own gardens helped by the local owner of the demonstration site, who shared his knowledge and experience. In parallel Noah (YICE) and Caleb ran training courses to build compost heaps with 35 refugee farmers, making use of freely available materials like weeds, manure and cooking ash. They also created demonstration sites of lasagna beds and no-dig gardens which grow fertile crops while creating nutrient rich soil. BACKGROUND Bukompe settlement in Uganda is an area where small plots of land are given to refugee families unable to return to their homelands. The pressures of earning a living  with little resources has led to deforestation for charcoal production and degraded soils from monoculture maize and bean fields fed with fertilisers and pesticides. The fertilisers and pesticides are costly and have reduced incomes for farmers and have also degraded soils. Building awareness of organic farming methods, using freely available inputs, has increased the productivity of farm plots and encouraged the creation of household kitchen gardens outside homes. REGENERATIVE IMPACT How can low-input kitchen gardening and farming help communities battling poverty and land degradation? "The gardens are designed with nature firmly in mind. Corn is used for mulching, and once broken down by termites replenishes the soil. Banana trees draw in nutrients from the air and ground; spinach, cabbage, and climbing beans create a variety of layers, supporting the whole system as they grow. Everything here has a purpose." - Caleb Odondi Omolo - organic farming and permaculture trainer IMPACT ON PLANET Rainwater is retained using S-Shaped contours rather than running off and causing erosion. Growing mixed crops and creating soil through no-dig techniques increases biodiversity while holding water within the landscape. Creating fertiliser through compost reduces the use of chemical fertilisers which are energy intensive to produce and transport. Using natural and targeted pest control reduces the number of plants, animals and microorganisms killed through pesticide use. IMPACT ON PEOPLE From one demonstration garden, self-motivated, self actuated implementation soon led to 13 more gardens, encouraged by local resident Fred, who has taken on the role of leading the other refugee gardeners, encouraging and mobilising them. With input from YICE, the refugees in this settlement are growing enough to feed themselves, and will soon also be able to sell vegetables at the market. The diversification of food crops has led to an increase in nutrition. The creation of compost heaps to create fertiliser and Lasagna and no-dig gardens allows diverse crops to be grown without expensive inputs while building fertile soils. 'Waste' charcoal dust from around the site was turned into a resource of free soil-improving bio char. "I always thought using modern fertilizers is best to improve my productivity but now I’ve changed my thinking. I will create my own compost heap and harvest my own fertilisers." - Owambaze Pelazia - Bukompe resident and farmer COMBINED REGENERATIVE IMPACT A diverse mix of plants were chosen for the kitchen gardens with multiple benefits like speedy growth, drought resistance, shade enhancement and attractive to beneficial insects.  The gardens are planted to last, with a preference for perennials. Here a self-renewing integrated environment is created, enhancing place as well as feeding people. ​ ​This project is about more than supporting people in need. It’s about empowering people to take control of their own lives, and at the same time regenerate the land. The wellbeing of people, their communities and the environment they live in are all improved in a mutually beneficial cycle. POTENTIAL How could this and other projects develop in the future? The building of just one demonstration garden led to 13 copied gardens. More demonstration sites showing the successes of kitchen gardens could spark spontaneous growth in community led design and garden building, with support and guidance given from trained people where needed. Through this and similar projects, YICE has trained 158 Farmer Groups, established 40 Permaculture demonstration gardens and increased the income of 669 households. This project is being replicated successfully by YICE in the local host communities, who face similar food security challenges. WHAT'S NEXT FOR THIS PROJECT? YICE are working with local people to create an additional 20 organic kitchen gardens and conduct follow-up activities and refresher training to empower people to put the knowledge they’ve learnt into practice. CONTACT US Get in touch if you would like to know more about creating demonstration kitchen gardens in refugee camps or sustainable agriculture training.

  • Alam Santi's Water Harvesting Design

    The planet's fresh water supplies are limited, climate change is adding to periods of intense rain and subsequent drought and the structure of the earth’s subsurface is easily damaged if the water table is not able to remain relatively consistent or to be replenished. The installation of deep wells contributes to the lowering of the water table, impacting on plants and animal life and contributing to the occurrence of landslides. ​ The Alam Santi design team have been working with the UN, governments, businesses and local communities to design rainwater harvesting systems that can be used by everyone to help replenish natural fresh-water resources. BACKGROUND The team have worked out a system for both calculating the size of tank needed to store water, to remove debris and to filter the water itself, ready to store and deliver with a pump by demand. They recommend the use of traditional, corrugated steel cladding and a maximum roof length for optimal drainage. Their calculator for working out the size of the system needed per household or per building is easily adapted for different environments. Their design further specifies materials needed to build and install the system. Alam Santi’s work makes recommendations for devices to reduce water use by adapting shower and tap heads and by installing specially designed toilets that extract urine with separate flushes for faeces or urine. The latter allows for water with diluted urine to be reused in irrigation and to add additional nutrients to plants. ​ Combined with simple technology (like perforated bamboo pipes inserted next to trees and plants to ensure water reaches their roots directly) and landscaping and storm drains designed to capture and use any water run-off,  the planet’s limited freshwater supplies can be conserved and used most effectively. IMPACT ON PEOPLE Heightening public awareness of the water they use and the difference they are able to make Ensuring water is more equitably shared and available for all sections of the population Enabling people to reuse and recycle water in order to cultivate gardens and produce their own food IMPACT ON PLANET Prevents the desertification of land caused by lowering the water table through excessive drilling of wells Limits the landslides caused when the water table is unable to be replenished Provides irrigation (and urine fed irrigation) for plants and vegetables avoiding excessive use of pesticides or GM crops WHAT MAKES THIS REGENERATIVE? How can water harvesting deepen human relationships with natural systems? Water harvesting, at individual household, community, or state level brings together a range of techniques that contribute to the regeneration of the environment and prevents the degeneration caused by excessive human populations. ​ Effective use of water and careful harvesting of rainfall show the close interaction between humans and their environment and illustrates how, when working together, communities and environments can thrive. It illustrates an approach to meeting the human need and right for clean water without depleting or stealing from the natural world. SCALABILITY & REPLICABILITY As a series of techniques that can be used at different levels and in different contexts, water harvesting can be introduced at any scale of human settlement. The drilling and digging of deep wells have for several decades been a core part of international development’s response to water scarcity in an attempt to reduce water borne disease and the daily trek to carry water experienced by many village populations. While good intentioned, these can add to the degeneration of an area and future livelihoods, in the attempt to alleviate human suffering in the short term. ​ In contexts of disaster and displacement, shelter and water have to be provided in a hurry and is often trucked in with drinking water provided in bottles and wash facilities constructed rapidly.  ​ The existence of an integrated design approach, the construction of emergency buildings and facilities that allow for harvesting and recycling of grey water or diluted urine and the promotion of water harvesting habits will mean that such a settlement is viable in the longer term without unnecessary damage to the environment or health risk to the community. Such settlements can then include green spaces and vegetable gardens and become thriving places for humans and the natural world. CONTACT US Get in touch for links to Alam Santi, and our wider network of water harvesting and filtration practitioners.

  • Changing the Flow by Regenerating with Water - Rainwater Lakes in Rajasthan and Reverse Migration

    A Return to the Village In India, like many countries, the migration of people from rural villages to large cities in search of work and livelihoods is the common flow. Pushed by water scarcity, there are estimated to be nearly 100 million inter-state migrants in Indian cities, many of whom live in poverty in informal settlements. In March 2020 the Indian Covid Lockdown reversed this flow when millions of migrant workers fled cities as wages evaporated and returned home to their villages. Indian Lockdown, March 2020: people flee the cities in reverse migration back to villages What awaited them could be anything from an eroded desertified landscape with little opportunities to subsist, to a fertile and verdant agricultural area with a cohesive community, sustainable rural economy and opportunities of self-sufficiency and employment. What makes the difference between these two extremes? Water. If water is not held within the landscape it washes through and away leading to erosion, depleted aquifers, failed crops and biodiversity and habitat loss. Many people who returned home from cities found that the place they had left had eroded further, that, in tandem with the exodus of young migrant workers, water too had left their villages, and with it, life. But, as we will see, by regrouping as a community and taking collective action, eroded lands can be rejuvenated and life can be restored. By changing the flow of water, people too are held and sustained and opportunities can be found in the place they call home. The UK-based The Flow Partnership have been working with the Rajasthani organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh and villagers in Rajasthan to do just this. Together they create traditional ‘johads’ or ponds, enabling a holistic regeneration of the surrounding land, the community and the local economy. The Flow Partnership are also taking this model of Community Driven Decentralised Water Management into other countries in the world- especially into Africa and Latin America, working closely with local NGO’s such as TBS in those locations. Climate change and drought in Rajasthan Increasing and more lengthy droughts, fueled by climate change, are leading to desertification and livelihood loss in Rajasthan. In the Sarsa river catchment area, at least 21 rivers and streams have disappeared leaving wells and boreholes dry. Monsoon rains bring water back to the arid landscape, but if the water is not held it washes out of the area and cannot be used to irrigate crops. Johads, traditional rainwater filled ponds, once acted to retain water within the landscape, supplying the surrounding area with gravity-fed water. As the wells and boreholes go dry, local people are again appreciating the regenerative effects of johads to bring back life to a parched landscape and are working together to restore ancient johads and create new ones. Building Johads - a multiple partnership Villagers meet to agree plans for the johad and collectively work to construct it “The average rainfall is very low here. That is why we, the people of Maharajpura came together and decided to make our johad bigger.” Johads are earthworks of a pond sculpted out of the landscape and the formation of a dam with rocks and earth, sealed with soil compacted by a JCB. An overflow area is made from rock or concrete. Bushes and vegetable crops are planted on the slopes to stabilise the soil and a gravity powered syphon feeds and irrigates crops. Sometimes the pond is stocked with fish which can be caught and sold. Making johads is a collaborative endeavour. Villagers undertake earthworks with their tractors and trailers, with a JCB and driver hired-in. Together with the villagers Tarun Bharat Sangh has created dozens of johads throughout Eastern Rajasthan. Johads are built through a multiple partnership of: local wisdom, labour and investment, regional expert engineering advice and facilitation, local and international funding. Stakeholders, local people are empowered and motivated to maintain and manage the johads ensuring their upkeep for years to come. As well as design knowledge and labour, local people contribute one third of the cost of building the dams, with UK-based The Flow Partnership arranging to contribute the balance two thirds. The positive change that johads create reflects this partnership with benefits which are local, regional and global in scale: small drops in the pond create global ripples. Local Regeneration through Natural Infrastructure “Earlier, without the johad this was all barren land. There was nothing here.” If water is assured locally, food and nutrition security are enabled. Villagers can then focus on agricultural development and becoming economically viable self-sustaining units creating rural livelihoods. Rainwater-filled johads built on high ground can seep water through underground aquifers supplying nearby boreholes and wells and irrigating neighbouring fields. But a Johad is more than an irrigation resource. With water held naturally within the landscape, it brings life to entire ecosystems where populations of fish, birds and other wildlife proliferate. Johads create a regenerative farming model by building self-sustaining eco-systems. Watered crops create increased yields and income for villagers - generating new employment opportunities, for example, in one such village where a johad had been built by The Flow Partnership and Tarun Bharat Sangh, better grazing land for cattle meant that 40 young villagers could be employed selling milk; migration to the cities is not needed when there are opportunities for jobs closer to home. With greater incomes, more girls are funded to go to school and health resilience is improved due to better diets. By investing in the village, resilient cohesive communities are sustained and developed enabling a continuation of a way of life which is less extractive than urban living. Food is grown to feed the local population without the need for transporting long distances and informal economies of exchange of goods and services can continue, such as caring for children and elderly relatives, sharing of home-grown healthy food and heritage seeds and swapping of labour. Regional Stability Successful small and medium food production goes beyond self-sufficiency at a local level when food is exported and sold regionally. This gives a stable income to the local area, while also supporting regional food security and feeding of urban populations without the excess food-miles and harmful practices of centralised intensive agriculture. With livelihoods sustained within the village, there is less migration to urban areas, reducing the pressures of overcrowding in cities. Global Benefits The sum of multiple communities regenerated by water retention create cumulative global benefits. Global biodiversity is increased as habitats are preserved and carbon emissions are reduced by using sustainable irrigation methods. Carbon is sequestered in the increased areas of healthy soils and water in the landscape. Preserving small and medium agrarian villages maintains traditional and regional identities, adding to the rich diversity of world cultures and products and reduces homogenisation. By becoming self-sufficient, rural populations can contribute to the wider economy and are less dependent on national and international aid financing. Beyond India - Community Wisdom Creating Global Ripples Many cultures have their own traditional methods to retain water in the landscape at the community level using natural infrastructure. The Flow Partnership is currently working with communities in Colombia in collaboration with UK engineering firm ARUP to build their own form of johads called Jagueys. In Slovakia NGO People and Water headed by Michal Kravcik have created a series of microbasisns and similar johad like leaky dams along with the villagers to revitalise the local flooded landscapes. Climate change is water change, but community driven water retention measures can be applied throughout the world to respond positively to this change, to sustain life and help bring our climate back to health. Next is an ambitious project to revive the badlands in Rajasthan see: Read More at and watch the Flow Partnership's film, Water For All at:

  • 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.

  • Regenerating Soil, Land and Food Systems in Kenya

    Sustainable Village Resources (SVR) Kenya is a community based, non profit organisation, restoring lost livelihoods by creating natural, agro-ecological ecosystems. SVR is a perfect example of how a mutli-layered, socially driven permaculture project can have far reaching effects in community. From delivering Permaculture Design Courses to tree-planting initiatives, SVR’s multiple aims are to reach out to people overlooked, displaced or disenfranchised by mainstream social, financial and political variables and engage them in practical solutions to become self-sufficient and independent. Permaculture Teacher Caleb Omolo (right) with farmer receiving her Permaculture Design Certification (PDC). SVR has been running since 2012, reaching people in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, DCR, Uganda and Southern Sudan. The key aim is to improve food security in the region, including everyone in the community, regardless of age, gender or ability. Other goals are to restore biodiversity, increase productivity and strengthen community through the use of indigenous knowledge and agroecological systems. There is a focus on permaculture as a key to regenerating soil and land and providing good quality, organic food. Some of the key principles that SVR work by are to build from 100% local materials, harvesting water for irrigation, no dig methods, building soils naturally and using no chemical pesticide inputs. These methods allow people to replicate the systems cheaply and easily in their agroecological zone and with a focus on accessibility for the whole community. Indigenous knowledge is the first thing to be assessed, so that this can be built on to tailor the context of the education to groups. What makes this Regenerative? Impact on Planet The training provided by SVR champions food production through permaculture design. This includes the building of soils and humus, water harvesting and management, applying no dig principles, designing multi-layered growing spaces and of course, obtaining a yield. Through designing food production with natural systems the impact on the planet is one of increasing biodiversity and a move away from reliance on synthetic chemical inputs. This has a positive impact on the land and local ecosystems. Impact on People This project particularly focuses on people care and the creation of a community of educators, growers and practitioners who are able to apply permaculture design for food security, environmental regeneration and social cohesion. A lower dependency on inputs such as herbicides, pesticides and growth enhancers means a lower financial output, a key area of focus for allowing farmers to improve their financial security whilst obtaining healthier and more natural produce. Organically, locally grown food also has a function in wellbeing, as people are able to trace where their food comes from, eating better quality and more abundant healthy food and feel a sense of ownership. Shared knowledge of permaculture also allows an increase in confidence and often better community relationships, which this project has been able to demonstrate. Knowledge and education are key areas of people care and SVR’s primary goal of integrating existing indigenous knowledge with permaculture design, allowing communities to put their own stamp on their particular projects. Regenerative Impact: whole-systems integration of people and planet, and improving qualities SVR has a regenerative impact in several ways. Firstly, their approach of establishing indigenous knowledge regenerates cultural and community based relationships within each area they operate. This allows each participant the opportunity to act as both educator and student, a mutually beneficial relationship with the programme leaders. Secondly, the reintroduction of organic and permaculture design principles allows the growing areas to regenerate, whether through soil quality, increased biodiversity or increased productivity. Water harvesting techniques are also powerful aspects of environmental management. This project seamlessly integrates people and planet, and SVR is actively involved in both the educational aspect as well as the physical implementation and building of the designs created during their PDC training. A great example of the application of this education is the Rongo shade grown coffee initiative. Scalability & Replicability SVR has already proven it can work across scales, having reached communities in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, DCR, Uganda and Southern Sudan. The key principles of engaging the community, education and implementation are easily scalable to groups of many sizes. It is also a setup that can be replicated across many different communities. What's Next for SVR? Building on their successes, SVR has a network of permaculture practitioners throughout Kenya. They are now extending their work to Nairobi, and Kukuma in Northern Kenya where they are working with refugees. Additionally SVR are working within schools to educate children on permaculture, three in Kenya and one in Nairobi. Further Information Shade grown coffee provides habitat for animals including a fantastic foraging habitat for birds. In this system, the coffee is grown intercropped with trees. As well as providing a better ecosystem it also produces a better quality product, contributing to the needs of people and planet. Multi layered growing spaces are useful in permaculture design. They increase the space available for food production, create multi-layered systems that are closer to existing systems in nature, and they also provide microclimates, such as shade, moist or dry conditions or shelter from the wind. 350 former sugarcane farmers and 65 farmers who had former involvement in gold mining were able to grow coffee through polyculture design systems. These designs co-planted coffee with other species, such as trees, which increases the quality of the coffee grown and has improved yields of up to 5 times higher. The shade provided by the trees is a more traditional method of growing coffee, mimicking the conditions coffee favours naturally. The trees used for shade trees are often able to supply a yield themselves, such as fruit, giving the farmer a secondary income. Additionally, this set-up provides habitat for birds and plenty of other species. Each farmer involved in this project has been able to increase the amount of produce they grow and their income as a result.

  • Karambi Group of People with Disabilities

    Transforming Lives and Communities with Regenerative Agriculture in Uganda Background Based in Kases, Uganda, the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities (KGPD) was founded in 1995 in response to the discrimination, isolation, and exclusion faced by people with disabilities within society. Muhindo Josephat, Executive Director of Karambi Group of People with Disabilities, describes what inspired him to form the group: “Some of the parents here lock children [with disabilities] in their houses, then go away and leave them there. So I advocated that every parent who had a child with disabilities should bring that child before people, so that every person knows that in this household, is our friend, this person with a disability.” The members and leaders of the group, including Josephat, have disabilities themselves and use their insight and ingenuity to design accessible programs to fully involve others who have been marginalised, enabling them to use their diverse abilities to enrich their standards of living, their environment and communities. In 2015, the Group identified the need to improve the environment on their organisational land which was suffering from soil erosion and undertook a tree planting and education program to regenerate the land and invigorate those using it. Impact on Planet The group applied for funding to the Sustainable Lush Fund, who accepted the project and linked them with Re-Alliance members in Kenya who visited to facilitate a permaculture design by the local people with disabilities who used the land. The training enabled the group to give voice to the sustainable practices they already had in place which valued and maximised their precious human and natural resources: “We realised we were doing permaculture unknowingly!” (Muhindo Josephat) Regeneration of the land began in 2016 when the Group planted over 2000 trees and 100 fruit bushes and nursery beds were established. Image: Land before and after tree planting and vegetable gardens. Impact on People With a thriving environment to host activities, the site became a demonstration training ground for permaculture and conservation and in 2017, 50 people with disabilities were introduced to permaculture gardening and were given tools to start practicing skills at their homes. Through creating kitchen gardens, people with disabilities were able to create environments that were fully accessible for them to work in and grow their own food for feeding themselves, their families and for sale at market. The Group are fully engaged with the wider community and have partnered with eight schools and four community-based groups where they have empowered over 2142 young adults and 300 adults with food growing skills and permaculture principles. To support these projects they have installed seven irrigation systems in schools and 30 families have received water tanks. Working through schools has empowered disabled young people to become social transformational leaders, taking action at school, at home and in their community. The group’s aim is to see families grow organic food to feed their families and regenerate the environment. To date the group have planted over 30,000 trees which yield both fruits and wood. “In my home, I’m now able to do permaculture gardening - planting bananas, planting cassava, planting coffee - those skills are all from the Karambi group. It has improved me economically, administratively, and for being famous around the community!” Muhindo Josephat “Karambi has given me the skills to produce food to feed the children and myself on a balanced diet, and I can sell some to get an income. I have a group that normally goes to the market to do business - selling eggplants, tomatoes, onions.” (Fabis Sahan, a member of KGPD) Combined Regenerative Impact The discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities means their innate energy and intentions cannot be used to positively engage and create in the world. Many systems in society are wasteful, the exclusion of people from meaningful activity and engagement in sustaining networks is perhaps one the most wasteful and dehumanising. In contrast, the engagement of people with disabilities in self-sustaining, enriching and regenerating processes gives health and resources to the environment and the individuals involved and enables the wider community to see the strength of fully employing the diversity of human abilities. Funding groups made up of, and led by, people with disabilities breaks down prejudice in communities and ensures a meaningful understanding of accessibility in programme design and implementation. As Muhindo Josephat, Executive Director of Karambi Group of People with Disabilities said: “After people learned about us, they no longer laughed at us. Now they come to us to ask for advice and get information - it makes us feel proud.” Muhindo Josephat Scalability An estimated 1 billion people – 15 percent of the world's population – live with a disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and 80 per cent of these are in countries in the majority global south. Finding ways to enable these people to engage in regenerative practices has the potential to improve the health of the planet and people. Putting people with disabilities at the heart of programme design ensures insightful and locally achievable responses to promote accessibility. It also promotes leadership skills of individuals with disabilities, a key driver for societal change: “I have developed skills in talking before a lot of people - a hundred people, or a thousand people - I talk with no fear.” Muhindo Josephat The 2018 Global Disability Summit Charter for Change stated to “Promote the leadership and diverse representation of all persons with disabilities to be front and centre of change; as leaders, partners and advocates. This includes the active involvement and close consultation of persons with disabilities of all ages.” The summit has prompted commitments from the global development sector, including DFID’s Strategy for Disability Inclusive Development 2018-23. We hope that with these commitments, new and emerging groups such as the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities will be funded and supported. Read more from the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities: Facebook: Website:

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