Turkana women at the Amana permaculture hub

Greening the desert: Taking Permaculture to Turkana

In Nakukalas, an acacia-dotted, windswept town some 40-minute drive south of Lokichar, Akale Samuel (aka Anna), 46, has been working with five other widows at a permaculture hub that aims to connect the local community with future possibility.

Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape design, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. It uses appropriate technology giving high yields for low energy inputs, achieving a resource of great diversity and stability and is equally applicable to both urban and rural dwellers.

Known as the Amana (Turkana for shamba) Demonstration Farm is a sign that the traditional pastoralist lifestyle of the Turkana people has changed enormously.

The choice of Turkana was not by fluke. According to Barefoot Soulution’s Jessie de Boer, they ended up in Turkana: “Primarily because this is where our funding has allocated us – but more importantly for us as the implementers: if we can prove that this works here – we can prove it anywhere.”

Anna, a mother of two grown children, was living in Eldoret where she rented a 1-acre plot to grow maize, millet and leafy greens for sale. After several years, she returned to Turkana in 2002, where she ran a small duka, selling tobacco. Later, from a loan secured through her local woman’s group, she purchased her goats.

Turkana was hard-hit by the 2016 drought. Many roads lined with mountains of sun-bleached skeletons. Anna’s herd suffered enough for her to start looking for work … and this is how she encountered Amana.

Anna has been learning about the application of Permaculture for two months now. She is usually the first one to the site every morning, spending a good 15 minutes walking around ‘her’ designated area checking for pests and general wellbeing of the plants. The project has sparked her interest in a way that goes well beyond the concept of simply ‘growing food’ and into the interconnectedness of the natural and human worlds.

Akale Samuel (aka Anna), one of the women at the Amana hub

Just last week, Anna completed the first of a series of intensive training on the topic along with other members of the wider community + local government officers. She will then take part in subsequent bi-monthly ‘business development’ training that will help her put what she learns (and grows) into a framework of economic sustainability.

Anna hopes that together with her team that they can share the knowledge and skills learned at Amana to family and community: spreading the conscious link between the health & resilience of the environment and the humans that inhabit them.

Some of the challenges Barefoot Soulotions have to grapple with include limited capacity at the farm, harsh climate—the sun is hot and water is scarce— as well as a shifting climate outlook.

However, whats important is that the organization acknowledges that its going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to turn the yellow Turkana landscape green!

“Changing people’s mindsets will inevitably take time and patience too. We live in a country dominated by mono crop maize fields and chemical application (fertilisers, pesticides) which is a long way away from the roots of traditional agriculture that permaculture advocates,” de Boer adds.

“We want and need Amana to succeed in order to continue learning and spreading the word deep inside a continent where, according to the FAO 20  million people are at risk of starvation due to drought (changing climates) as well as other factors such as war & political strife,” she concludes.

 

Image: Courtesy of Barefoot Soulutions

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