Contributed by Luwayo Biswick.
It was a cool, cloudy and, chilly Monday morning. The weather showed no promising signs of fortune. Everyone thought it would rain and make the day’s work difficult. Suddenly the weather and the mood of all staff changed in a blink of an eye, when they saw Malawi’s leading television network, MBCTV, arriving at Kusamala. The station was here to tape an environmental program on how permaculture can address current global and local challenges. Two permaculture experts, Luwayo Biswick and Eston Mgala, represented Kusamala, and explained the work we are doing at the Centre and throughout Malawi, as well as provided an overview of permaculture principles.
While taping the program, we were able to point out that in terms of climate change, one of the things that we often see is that people keep thinking that we should keep the exact same agricultural systems to approach climate change, malnutrition, air pollution, water pollution, resource depletion, HIV/AIDS, and many other problems. Instead of changing the systems, we keep trying to change the foods: this is one of the reasons why we keep hearing about GMO’s and hybrid seeds neither of which is natural or ever will be. So people have spent a lot of time and energy to make maize suitable for growing in Africa even though it came from America. Rather, what permaculture is looking to do is to try to use plants that are well adapted to growing in local conditions. Crops like millet and sorghum have been growing in Africa for four to five thousand years. They are already drought resistant. They are already pest resistant. They are already high yielding. They already grow very well in depleted soils, and do not need fertilizer. It’s unfortunate that people talk about food security on paper and it often ends there. For example, the amount of land swept every day around homes in villages in Malawi could instead be used to grow food. And the ubiquitous grass and ornamental flowers surrounded by many homes in Lilongwe and abroad, provide beauty, but little else.
In permaculture we believe that whatever is beautiful to the eyes should also be beautiful to the stomach. When we buy food from the market and plant flowers or grass in our homesteads, it is, as Rumi said, like “searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.” Every village, city, or nation could feed itself if permaculture design principles were employed. To do this, we have to learn how to heal the wounds in our brains by bringing back common sense, which unfortunately is not common at all. We hope that through the MBCTV Environmental Program, we can start healing some of these wounds by introducing more people to permaculture, and how its design principles can be employed to address many of the challenges we face locally as well as globally.