Our lockdown VOCAB for this week is ‘PERMACULTURE’

Now that schools and jobsites are closed and sources of income drying up, people across Africa are looking for ways to feed their families, some in desperation.  Those of you turning to your farms, vegetable gardens and orchards, any space and way to produce food, this post is especially for you.

Permaculture is a way to grow more food for less – less cost, less space and less work.

Permaculture works in the wet tropics, dry tropics, even in temperate areas.

Permaculture is for farms, community space and compounds, in rural and urban areas. It can even help you grow food crops on a balcony or courtyard.

The idea behind permaculture, and it works, is to get better yields by learning from and working with nature.  Permaculture doesn’t destroy nature to create a farm, it replicates nature.  For example, nature creates a continuous cycle of growth, from one season to another, one year to the next – dead plants and plant parts become mulch for new ones, they break down to enrich the soil, feeding more growth.  Likewise, permaculture uses debris from last harvest or cleared vegetation as mulch to protect and nurture crops. The mulch acts like fertiliser, adding nutrients, it also holds water in the soil where plants can use it, and protects against erosion from heavy rain.  Mulch increases yield, maintains the soil and soil fertility.

In a healthy natural ecosystem there is also species diversity, different species coexist. Plants of different heights, form and shape, with different growing, flowering and fruiting rates and times grow together.  Permaculture copies this, by growing multiple crops in one place. Leafy vegetables, or beans planted under maize for example, will act as cover plants both protecting the soil and increasing your output. Diversity discourages disease, cutting your need for pesticides – reducing costs and labour.

In nature, species find a niche where they can succeed, some like the sun, some the shade, some like hilltops, some like plains, some need rich soil, others like poor soils. In permaculture we assess our plot critically and plant crops that will thrive there. If the climate is changing and traditional plantains not doing well, we change to fruits, corn, groundnuts and leafy vegetables that suit the conditions. If we have a balcony at home we plant beans, squash and tomatoes in containers, they can climb up the railings, with culinary and medicinal herbs as a cover crop in the same pot.

Perfect for times when resources are limited, permaculture is about making the most from what we have available, and hey increasing the productivity of your existing plots is easier, cheaper and healthier than clearing new farms!

The PACE Action sheets below have simple, tried and tested explanations of some techniques you can use. Good luck!


Green Manure

Natural Pest and Disease Control

Making Tea for Plants

Practical Composting

Conservation agriculture