Matthews Shaba Mpofu is pioneering something that a few Malawians have ever heard of. He is teaching people about Permaculture. This is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. Originally called Permanent Agriculture, it is often viewed as a set of gardening techniques, which has developed into a whole design philosophy, and for some people, a philosophy for life. Its central theme is a creation of farming systems that provide for human needs, using natural elements and drawing inspiration from natural ecosystems.
“Permaculture tackles how to grow food, build houses, create communities, and minimize environmental impact at the same time. Its principles are being constantly developed and refined by people throughout the world.” Mpofu says.
According to Mpofu, permaculture considers factors like:
- water conservation and movement,
- soil fertility improvement techniques,
- plant guilds and functions,
- plant diversity,
- macro climate and micro climate,
- wind direction,
- the land use.
You can see with the holistic approach to sustainably manage our environment, we can be resilient to challenges that we are facing today including that of climate change.— Matthews Shaba Mpofu
Mpofu, a teacher by profession, says he got introduced to permaculture in 2011, when he got involved in assisting an expatriate permaculture trainer, Chris Walker, with permaculture training outreach to schools in northern Malawi. The training was part of the School and Health Nutrition Programme of the Productive School Environment Project by the German International Development and Cooperation Organization (GIZ).
“I got very much interested with the holistic approach and decided to learn more. Then, in 2013, I decided to establish Permanent and Action for Natural Medicines Outreaching activities (Perm-A-Outreach).” He adds.
Through Perma-A-Outreach, a nationally registered environmental service provider, Mpofu is able to provide training on permaculture to rural women and youths, who are in majority in Malawi but are mostly grappled with poverty and high unemployment levels. Perma-A-Outreach focuses mainly on permaculture, action for natural medicines, and eco-entrepreneurship. These are achieved through training, facilitation, demonstration gardens, role modeling, and counseling for sustainable living.
He says their training have made some notable impact among women and youths in rural areas of Malawi, as they have empowered them by establishing their own soap making and selling groups, and herbal medicine entrepreneurship. These ventures have made trained women and youths to be self-reliant and accomplish what they could not have done if they were not involved in permaculture activities.
Ulunji Women Group of Rumphi, northern Malawi is one of the women groups which were trained in soap making from locally available resources. According to Felistas Mbukwa, a member of the group, through Perm-A-Outreach training, 10 members of the group were trained on how to make laundry tablet soap, which they use in their households and also sell to the community. She says they use locally available resources like palm oil, soda and powder made from burnt banana leaves to make tablet soap.
“We make laundry soap from locally available materials and sell it to the community to earn some money for our group. Additionally, the soap is also helping in promoting hygiene in the community.” said the 43-year-old mother of four.
Mbukwa says the support of the community to their soap making business is overwhelming. As a group, they are now investing some of the profits from the soap making business into a Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group. This is where a group people contribute an agreed weekly sum of money and then they lend money between themselves at an agreed interest rate payable within a fortnight. At the end of the investment cycle, which usually runs from March to December, the profits are divided between the members according to their overall investment.
“Using the profits from the soap making business, we started a Village Savings and Loans group which is helping us to access small loans with affordable interest rates, while at the same time seeing our investments growing and reap the rewards at the end of the cycle.” She says.
Edgar Kungapa, from Zomba, Malawi’s eastern region city, is a young man who started learning permaculture in May 2017. In just a year, he has learnt a lot, especially seed banking and land management skills which are beneficial for him and his household.
“With permaculture, I have learnt land management skills that have provided me with the knowledge how to maximize land use. It is especially important nowadays when land is becoming scarce due to the rise in population in our country.” According to Kungapa, even discarded plastic items like buckets and shoes can be used to grow vegetables.
Another person who is practicing permaculture is Stephen Njolomole. He says he got interested in 2016 and started a year long course of permaculture, which he completed in December 2017. According to him, the course comprised of online lessons and face to face sessions with Perm-A-Outreach in Blantyre. Now he is setting up his permaculture project in the lakeshore district of Salima. As a public health specialist, Njolomole realized that most of human illnesses could be prevented naturally.
Most the diseases that are common nowadays could be prevented naturally, and permaculture advocates for the same. If most people were to adopt permaculture, there would be significant reduction of illnesses.— Stephen Njolomole
Njolomole says he also find permaculture interesting as it preaches about conserving the environment, taking care of people and sharing of surplus food. At the moment, his permaculture project site in Salima runs on solar energy power and he is encouraging people to eat healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
Our focus is on Moringa products, Baobab, Hibiscus, and Artemisia, as they are rich in medicinal properties, known to cure multiple widespread diseases. We want to offer remedies made from these plants.Says Njolomole, the medical doctor in the late thirties.
He is also planning to expand his production in the near future and to involve local women, as a way to uplift their lives. However, he complains about the lack of financial resources. Unfortunately, large-scale permaculture project demands a lot of investment.
“Due to the large scale nature of our project, we at times lack adequate financing. Hence, we are appealing for support so that we can grow in capacity.” He says.
Mpofu agrees with Njolomole on the difficulties in finding large scale permaculture financing in Malawi, but he remains hopeful that one day they will be able to get a financial boost to their cause, which he believes is essential in the modern days of climate change and its negative effects on livelihoods.
Mpofu says that his permaculture exploits are being recognized internationally. In 2014, Perm-A-Outreach was selected for Eco-Peace Leadership Fellow program in South Korea, while in 2015, it was recognized as the Best in Africa and he made a presentation on Asia-Pacific Environmental Forum in South Korea. He hopes this recognition will help to attract financial and technical support to his permaculture activities, therefore enabling him to reach more disadvantaged people and improve their lives.
I am happy that my permaculture activities are being recognized internationally. I hope one day we will be able to receive some funding to help us with our activities.— Matthews Shaba Mpofu
Meanwhile, Perm-A-Outreach will remain committed to teaching women and the youth about permaculture and hoping that these two demographic majorities (and yet financially disadvantaged groups) can become financially independent, while at the same time help in conserving and restoring the environment through permaculture.
This is a guest post written by Deogracias Benjamin Kalima.
Deogracias Benjamin Kalima is a Malawian journalist based in Blantyre. He mostly report on environment conservation, agriculture, and rural development. His work has appeared in German (journafrica.de), American (earthisland.org) and African (ruralreporters.com) online platforms.