When I took my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) through Verge Permaculture in the spring of 2012 there was an abundance of opportunity for me to advance my knowledge in the different elements of permaculture. There were courses offered through Verge, from watershed restoration to passive solar greenhouse construction to improving soil health. Additionally, I had almost endless access to books, videos, the internet and the chance to get my hands dirty by participating in permablitz’s held around the city. The strength of the permaculture community was absolutely essential to my continued learning process because it connected me to so many learning opportunities, forums to share knowledge and resources including, open yards, potluck dinners, Calgary Harvest and yearly regional convergences.
In the West, permie trainers and specialists have the ability pursue advanced training and internships around the globe. They refine their skills, connect with mentors and build their experience over a number of years. It's a system dependant on gaining hands on experience and it has produced a number of many talented designers.
In East Africa however it seems there is an entirely different scenario unfolding. In this area of the world where the internet is virtually inaccessible, books are almost impossible to access, and further education is unaffordable, permaculture design training is being delivered in a 12 day intensive format, with none or minimal chance to intern, share knowledge, or work in a hands on environment. How is it then that we expect permaculture to gain a solid footing on this continent?
In East Africa it’s estimated that 80% (or higher) of rural populations are small plot farmers. The concepts of sustainable farming and permaculture like, natural soil improvement, lowered labor and fertilizer inputs and improved water management would be extremely relevant in these communities. I believe that permaculture knowledge has the potential to dramatically impact every aspect of people’s lives by reducing the impacts of famine, malnutrition, deforestation and poor sanitation among many others.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience working in East Africa that not many continuing education opportunities exist for Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) graduates here, despite them being faced with some of the most serious challenges on the planet. The teaching system for this knowledge just isn’t doing these students, or farmers justice. East Africa needs to be developing their own “Geoff Lawton’s”, investing in people who have the knowledge and skill to start exploring solutions that are adapted for local environments and culture. It’s also important for them to develop permaculture models that are adapted to meet the needs of local economic situations, because desperately poor populations need solutions they can afford to both implement and maintain.
For permaculture to be as successful in Africa as it is in other areas of the world educators need to focus on creating the same learning and growth opportunities for African change makers. When they do the potential for impact will be enormous.