When I left Malawi on July 4th 2011, I cried all the way to the airport…and for several months afterwards.  Fear and uncertainty were the root cause of those tears.  Uncertainty and fear for the permaculture centre staff and land, for Malawi as a nation with an increasingly unstable political and economic outlook, and uncertainty for me too as I left the place that I had co-founded and the country where I learned so much about myself to settle in yet another unknown place.  I didn’t know when I would be back in Malawi, if the permaculture centre would survive, or when I would have the chance to visit again.  As luck would have it, I was recently able to return to the warm heart of Africa and was very pleased by what I saw, heard, and experienced at the centre over those short four days.

Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology, which I most often refer to as “the centre”, is in great hands.  Since my departure, the centre has secured several partnerships and projects which has lightened the weight of the daily burden of month-end financial obligations.  And much to my delight- the projects and partnerships in no way compromise the centre’s vision and mission!  The Red Soil Project provided funding for the Centre to build the capacity of its own staff who have now begun to implement permaculture designs at their homes in the villages surrounding the centre.  The JANEEMO project, which receives funding from the Scottish Government for the planting of Jatropha, Neem, and Moringa trees, has allowed the centre to provide permaculture trainings and outreach while promoting the integration of these trees into more diverse eco-systems.

The residential garden: the most dramatic change, from cement to fruiting trees in under three years!

Despite a certain level of financial security from external projects, the team at the centre has not lost sight of the need to make money from the land itself.  After the land has provided for the staff and residents, surplus yields may be sold to contribute to the general coffers.  Income generation from the land is probably the centre’s most powerful marketing tool as policy makers and international donors (too often policy makers!) won’t take the centre seriously if the demonstrations can’t make money- after all, we still exist in a cash economy.  I saw the land making money or reducing costs in the following ways during my brief stay:

  • Nearly MK 300,0000 (about $1000.00) worth of tree seedlings were sold to various people and organisations in the past two months.
  • The commercial garden, despite have a few growing pains, is still going strong and the staff, interns, and volunteers are working tirelessly improve upon the commercial zone 1 system- which will always require the most amount of inputs.  At the moment, the commercial garden earns about MK30,000 (about $100.00) per week from 15 veg boxes subscriptions which means that the garden could support all of its own staff members at more than twice the national average monthly income.
  • As Carol Ngwira, first team leader of The Food and Nutrition team, left Kusamala for a diploma in nutrition, there were a few minor setbacks but the new team- Moreen and Rhoda are back on track and working hard to reduce the costs of providing daily lunch as they strive to grow as much of the food needed for daily lunches as possible.  Until the centre gets an oil press and finds a salt deposit, there will still be some things which are necessary to buy from our local market- but is always nice to support our neighbours in Landscape Market.

I didn’t get to spend as much time I would have liked chatting to everyone who is part of the centre at the moment, but I was encouraged by what I saw and those whom I did chat with.  I left the centre last Friday not with tears of sadness but with tears of joy as the fear and uncertainty present just 18 months earlier- were now long gone.  The centre is moving forward, the staff continue to work together, and Malawi seems to be more politically and economically stable.  I was also comforted by the fact that the management team on the ground has greater skills and abilities than I had to offer; the centre is spiralling upward!

Written By Hope Thornton, Kusamala Founder