Paula Paananen, New South Wales Regional Meeting
“You could throw a bean out this taxi window and it would germinate” were my first thoughts when my family and I arrived at mainland Entebbe, Uganda in 2011. We were led there to teach permaculture to the fishing communities living on the Islands of Lake Victoria.
It didn’t take long to learn that the people living on the islands were experiencing very different conditions to the mainland. The islands were barren, crowded spaces without clean water, sanitation or medical support. Many traditional farming practices had been lost as people escaping war, persecution and a changing climate fled to Lake Victoria in the hope that catching fish would keep them alive. These fishing communities were experiencing 43% HIV/Aids rates.
Permaculture is a cutting edge, systems based, ecological science. Its approach is based on three ethics – Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. It gives people the skills to design and implement sustainable systems that work from the smallest balcony in a temperate city to a hundred thousand hectare farm in a dry, arid region. Most importantly, it encourages low tech, local solutions.
With a focus on water catchment and small scale, intensive food production, the communities in Uganda were harvesting water, growing food and implementing sanitation systems within a short time. They were saving seeds and sharing with others. We trained some students in facilitation and they formed a group of local practitioners that spread information and enthusiasm from Kyunga to the remotest islands of Lake Victoria. Ongoing work and independent monitoring over several years confirmed that permaculture was embraced by the fishing communities.
The environments that I have trained permaculture in since Uganda have become more challenging. For example, communities in the Pacific experiencing sea level rise are looking at alternative growing
methods as their water supply and growing grounds become salinated. Syrian refugees, having escaped the worst of war, are trying to adjust to life in dry, harsh and remote camps for internally displaced people in Northern Iraq. Such communities are experiencing extreme stress, trauma and ongoing conflict.
My concern for the “people care” permaculture ethic came to a head in 2017 when Friend Rowe Morrow and I were packing up our training equipment after a month long permaculture course in a refugee camp in Northern Iraq. There were a few seeds left over from the training and they were handed to a student to distribute amongst the group. All hell broke loose. There was shouting and threats as fellow trainees protested at the perceived lack of equity and obvious distrust of the person the seeds were given to. I was compelled to ask: if people are not able to negotiate peacefully over a few seeds, what chance do they have of working together to protect and restore essential ecosystems? What about those communities, already experiencing conflict, who are now also affected by sea level rise and needing to relocate? How will they ensure the needs of their people are met whilst navigating often corrupt government structures? We know that trauma can reduce people’s ability to interact with others, understand new concepts and retain information. What about those students in permaculture trainings who have experienced even secondary trauma resulting in an inability to engage, learn and implement change, despite their best intentions.
There is no doubt that the world’s natural systems are getting closer to the point of collapse. It is resulting in a grab for rapidly depleting resources and predictable mass migration. As the impact of climate change is felt around the globe, the knowledge and ability to rebuild ecosystems that incorporate human needs is becoming more urgent. Permaculture offers this knowledge. But for it to work, we need strong communities that are able to live harmoniously and adapt to rapid change.
This concern led me to participate in the 6th International Asian West Pacific Friends Peace Teams Training at the Peace Place in Pati, Central Java. Participants came from five different islands within Indonesia as well as from Honduras, Nepal, Papua, Korea, the Philippines, Samoa, US, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Britain, Singapore, and Chechnya. Over ten days, we explored what is required of ourselves and each other to build communities and cultures of peace. Learning how to lead peaceful, nonviolent lives in experiential workshops included empowerment, community, resilience, power, liberation and discernment.
I was invited in advance by AWP Friends Peace Teams to introduce permaculture to attendees, and it was embraced with enthusiasm. A working group was
established to meet daily, in addition to three prescheduled full day workshops. More than 25 people rose regularly before 6am to participate in the working group. Many enthused on the relevance of permaculture to the environmental problems and resulting conflicts in their part of the world. We looked at “Peace Place” as a venue and took stock of its impact on the planet by completing a site analysis. We planned how the site would be transformed into a place where peace training, education and earth care can sit comfortably side by side.
The journey between Friends Peace Teams and permaculture is just beginning. The links between food insecurity, environmental destruction, war and climate change are well established. There is much to be done and we are discerning the way. If we are to have peace, we need to stop waging war with the earth. And yes, we can throw a bean seed out of the window and it may well germinate; but there will be little gain if we will be fighting each other to harvest it.