13 Day residential PDC; Strawberry Fields, Konso, Ethiopia.

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  1. strawberryfields3

    strawberryfields3 Junior Member

    Jan 22, 2007
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    Full Certified 72h Permaculture Design Course to be given in Konso Special Wareda, SNNPRS, Ethiopia, lead by Mr Tichafa Makovere Shumba, hosted by Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge: December 01 – 13, 2008.
    (Contact Alex for more information: [email protected])

    Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge (SFEL) hosts Mr Tichafa Shumba Makovere, as resident Permaculture trainer, in Konso, southern Ethiopia, bringing his skills and experience from Southern Africa to aid the fledgling movement in Ethiopia (from December 2008). SFEL is a concept in applied community development: a sustainable business integrating a lodge, farm, and Permaculture training facility. It provides training for paying participants, who’s fees facilitate free training for local stakeholders. SFEL also benefits the community through employment provision and represents the local culture to visitors. It acts as a platform for volunteers to get involved locally, offering contacts to local community and organisations in the Konso Special Wareda and acting as a forum for the local and international communities to meet, exchange ideas, share skills and experiences, network and cooperate, but also enjoy together! Food is produced on-site, freshly harvested from the farm and gardens.

    Mr Tichafa grew up in rural Zimbabwe. He has trained in education, synergistic agriculture and Permaculture design and practised Permaculture for 14 years in Zimbabwe as well as more recently in Malawi. He administered the Permaculture Association of Zimbabwe (as chairman and secretary) and the Schools and Colleges Permaculture Programme (SCOPE) and won the best Permaculture implementing school in Zimbabwe award in 1995. His pastimes include raising nurseries and distributing seedlings to the community, eco-tourism and bird-watching, seed vending and writing on herbeological nutritional and environmental topics.

    Ethiopia should be the breadbasket of Africa, but has suffered repeated famines and food crises, even in the last ten years, due to bad agricultural practices, poor administration and erratic climactic trends. It is a land of awesome natural beauty, boasting over half of all Africa’s highlands and a great range of ecological wealth (including five distinct agro-climactic zones ranging from alpine to desert). It is one of the nine Vavilov centers of origin for genetic diversity of crop species; the mother-land of coffee, Enset, the sun-flower and t’eff. Ethiopia is also home to over ethnic/cultural groups, ranging from the fair-skinned Semites of the north, to the nomadic tribes of South Omo. But, of all the peoples in that ethnic tapestry, perhaps most remarkable are the Kushitic people of Konso.

    Konso is a land of dusky majesty strung along a basalt massive traversing the bowl of the Great Rift Valley. Konso is the final outpost of settled agriculture, as one descends into the arid badlands of Borena and the Omo valley. It has a semi-arid (k’olla) ecology, with sorghum, maize and sunflower as major crops. Konso’s unique people are well known for their hard work, complex social organisation and their sophisticated agricultural system which has been recognised as an example to others in the region. They make extensive use of stone walled terracing, for soil and water conservation, and tree crops like Moringa (the cabbage tree) and Terminalia (timber species) are integrated into an indigenous agro-forestry system, which yields their needs from the poor soils and steep slopes of the basalt hills that are their homeland. However Konso has faced repeated food crises (including this year) due to a growing population and droughts striking more frequently in recent years. SFEL offers you a chance to enjoy this fascinating place and put something back at the same time. Whether you are interested in studying permaculture or you are a seasoned development activist, or just an adventurous traveler who wants contribute a little through your enjoyment, SFEL wishes to say “Ogado!” Welcome to the magical land of Konso.
    Full Certified 72h Permaculture Design Course to be given in Konso Special Wareda, SNNPRS, Ethiopia, lead by Mr Tichafa Makovere Shumba, hosted by Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge: December 01 – 13, 2008.
    (Contact Alex for more information: [email protected])


    Ethiopia is a land of fantastic natural wealth and cultural diversity. In few places on earth can you buy locally grown apples and mangos from the very same market stall. But Ethiopia’s a huge range of climates, which result from its truly awesome topology, make this a reality. The great plains of Abyssinia sit atop two massive highland plateaus, cloven, as a coffee bean, down the middle, by the Great Rift Valley. From the sweltering dry deserts of Somali Ogaden in the east, Sudan in the west and the Danakil in the North, where Africa crashes into Arabia, the land sweeps up, rising through semi-aril lowlands and pockets of tropical jungle, to montane forests, to alpine pastures on the slopes of the Simien, Bale and Ghugi mountain ranges, all of which top 4000m, and all of which are home to numerous endemic species of flora and fauna. Ethiopia’s ecological diversity is mirrored by her cultural diversity, which is unrivalled on the African continent. No fewer than 87 distinct languages are spoken, belonging to four major linguistic groups. The fantastic diversity of culture and ecology is further expressed in Ethiopian agriculture.

    “When the Russian plant geneticist N.I. Vavilov arrived… to Ethiopia… in the 1920s, he was amazed... he found so much genetic diversity that he included (it in)… the few great centres of crop plant diversity (as)… the Abyssinian gene centre.” “On wheat variation Vavilov says that "Abyssinia occupies the first place" and on barley that there is "an exceptional diversity of forms". But then he also found impressive diversity of native African crops (such as teff) and of sorghum, millets and many grain legumes, oil crops, vegetables, spices and other species.” (https://www.grain.org/seedling/?id=374) It is also the mother-land of coffee, the world’s second most valuable traded commodity after oil.

    Of the nine regions which make up the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia today, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) is far the most culturally diverse, comprising a tribal matrix of 56 different ethno-linguistic groups. These range from fair skinned Semitic highland farmers of Ghuragie and Siltie, just south of Addis Ababa, to the archetypal African lowland nomads of the Omo valley, down on the Kenyan borderlands, who’s blood drinking, paganism and tribal way of life are shunned as primitive and barbaric by the majority Orthodox Christian habesha to the north.

    Of all the peoples in that ethnic tapestry, perhaps most remarkable are the Kushitic people of Konso; an industrious farming culture who populate a barren and rugged basalt outcrop, strung from east to west across the bowl of the Great Rift Valley, just parallel to the southern tip of the Ethiopian highlands. Surrounded by warlike nomads on three sides, the Konso are a notoriously hardy farming people whose quaint little civilization is structured for defense. It is the final outpost of settled agriculture, as one descends into the arid badlands of Borena and the Omo valley, that stretch away to the Kenya border. Their little hilltop villages cannot be too dissimilar from those of the Kelts in Roman Britain, ringed by rough hewn walls of stone and broken up into fortified compounds. The entire village is build of locally harvested materials and paved with the black rock of the earth around them. The Konso’s lives are governed by a deep, draconian and quite unique social order, to the point that the men of the village are obliged to sleep in a single giant house (the Mora), set to poor forth, as a swarm of bees, in the event of a fire or an attack, should their enemies come to steal their animals or run their own cattle through the Konso’s crops. Konso women sleep in their houses and the men are only allowed to sleep in their homes periodically. As well as a defence mechanism this also acts as a cultural form of contraception.

    Konso land is poor quality and is cut up by deep eroded gullies and canyons. Rain is unreliable, increasingly so in recent years. These harsh conditions have bred what some call ‘the toughest farmers in Africa’. Tough, they certainly are. And the Konso are very good farmers. “The major economic base is agriculture (80%) and 20% only is butchery, weaving, pottery, black smithery, petty local brewery trades, tannery and local carpentry.” (Korra Gara, 2008) The most notable feature their renowned agricultural system is its terracing, constructed over large tracts of the rugged landscape by centuries of communal labour. The terraces reduce erosion and are carefully crafted to balance the competing demands of maximizing water infiltration, with allowing adequate drainage so that the terraces do not collapse in times of heavy rain.

    The terraces are planted with sorghum and intercropped with a range of species; including trees, most importantly Moringa oleifera (the cabbage tree) Terminalia birowni, and Cordia Africana, grown for timber; shrubs such as pigeon pea, coffee and chat (Catha edulis) (a cash crop) and annuals including, sunflower, maize, millet, chick peas, various beans, cotton and cassava. They are fertilised with wastes from the villages, including partially burned plant residues mixed with animal dung, which acts to keep the soil fertile.

    “The Konso people are more focusing on intercropping systems and agro-forestry systems because some crops are early maturing, some are drought resistant, some are much productive even if they are less drought resistant to stand against side effects of inter-cropping systems, not to miss something to eat at least.” (Korra Garra, 2008)

    Within the villages, Moringa (the cabbage tree) is planted all around the family compounds and harvested regularly to form one of the staples of the diet. Its leaves, which are reported to be extra-ordinarily nutritious (NSM; June, 2005 “Versatile Moringa tree eyed as wonder drug in Africa”), are cooked and mixed with dumplings made from Sorghum flower, a dish called korkoffa. The other main food item in Konso is chagga, a sort of sorghum beer, though it more closely resembles porridge. It is drunk as a broth mixed with hot water, in the mornings and at lunch-time when the people are preparing for work. It is extremely rich in carbohydrate and provides plenty of energy for the farmers, but it also insures that people are generally drunk.

    Despite their tough character and all their hard work, Konso is suffering increasingly these days from food insecurity and environmental degradation. The average family plot, shrinking with population growth, is now down to half a hectare. Climate change is adding to the problem. “This condition leads to the deforestation actions to get new farmlands and sell wood for gaining incomes.” (Korra Gara, 2008) Deforestation further reduces the reliability of rainfall as desertification begins to set in. This year the Belg rains which usually come in March failed to materialise, and food aid has been brought in to cover the deficit. In recent times Konso has repeatedly suffered food insecurity. The UNDP’s Rapid Assessment Report: Konso Special Wereda, SNNPR (1999) states that; “since the 1950s, drought induced famines have hit Konso and the immediate area almost once every ten years… Konso was devastated by the droughts in 1973/74 and 1983/84”.

    The degradation of land and the degradation of traditional may come about as a result of exposure to modernisation, and seem to go hand in hand. Since Icelandic missionaries arrived in Konso in the 1950’s with the Gospel of evangelical Protestantism almost the entire population has converted to Christianity from their traditional belief system. Certain traditional systems of knowledge and societal regulation that were tied up with the old systems of belief are subsequently being lost. “Despite the advantages the protestant Church provided to Konso people, the influences of Christianity have attacked Konso society’s original culture by categorizing all their unique aspects of that culture into those of ceremonial practises paid to evil spirits. Because most of young people are now Christians, they never any more pay attention to their own traditions; the decreasing number of wise old people adds to it with the result that Konso cultural practises are disappearing.”

    Konso’s ethnobotany (the traditional knowledge and use of plants) is highly sophisticated in comparison the other peoples in the region. But erosion of the traditional knowledge is now occurring due to its association with “witchcraft” in the evangelical mind, and subsequent rejection. Konso’s traditional systems of land management have also come into conflict with the modern Ethiopian state, which has claimed sole propriety over all land in Ethiopia since the socialist government of Haili Mariam Mengistu. Lack of land tenure security in Konso and indeed across Ethiopia has encouraged farmers to approach holdings with a view to a shorter term return and place less importance on long term sustainability.

    Issues of legality and administration set aside, the solution to the problems of the folk of Konso, and many other places, lies in a successfully marrying the positive elements of the traditional and the modern societies, while rejecting the negative. Environmental degradation is a problem that besets most of the globe in the modern era. In the comfort of the west it will not lead to starvation and famine. We will simply use our high energy economy to import our nutritional requirements from further a field. We can even import energy expensive American wheat to Ethiopia to cover little deficits like the one in Konso this year. Strangely enough, however, there is more than enough food just down the road, and Ethiopia should in fact be feeding half the African continent. But as The West’s own oil fuelled climb to the tip of the energy peak begins to near its zenith, the foundations of our own limitless consumption are beginning to look decidedly unstable. Oil is no longer being discovered as fast as it’s being used.

    These days a world wide movement has begun to grow amongst those who look to a sustainable future, recognising that for any society to be truly sustainable, it must respect the function of the ecological systems upon which it relies for its sustenance. The movement is based on a methodology developed by two Australians in the 1970’s, called Bill Mollison and David Holngren. Their project is Permaculture. Forty years later, it has grown into a movement of global scope, with active associations on all five continents. Permaculture is the design of ecological systems to support human life, and the design of human life to fit within ecological systems without degrading them. For those in the west, this offers a way to climb down the far side of peak oil without crash landing too heavily. For the impoverished farming communities of Africa it offers an answer to the Siamese twin calamity of food insecurity an environmental degradation. Both brought about due to population growth, deforestation, soil erosion and over-grazing. Permaculture is a system for sustainable land management, production from a diverse and perennial base and the design of solutions to meet unmet needs and prevent unnecessary labour.

    In Konso the traditional systems of agriculture and land management have begun to break down. Yet this little nation has already been held up as an example for others to follow. The FAO has awarded them recognition of their agricultural system as an example for farming peoples elsewhere in Ethiopia to follow, and Konso folk have been taken to other areas of the country to train locals in dry-land agriculture. Konso’s terracing is now due for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet the Konso people continue to suffer from lack of food security, poor or non-existent infrastructure, lack of sanitation and health care. Women in particular spend much of their life in toil and drudgery without any hope of a significant cash income, most being illiterate and unable even to speak Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language.

    One project now establishing in Konso is the Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge (SFEL), a sustainable business which integrates a lodge, farm, organic restaurant, and Permaculture design training facility. SFEL is a concept in applied community development. It seeks to provide community benefit through a range of direct and indirect channels; economic stimulus, employment provision, education and skills training and promotion of improved resource management and food security for the local community. When handled correctly tourism offers the chance to benefit the local community. SFEL proudly stands against the rash of commercialization and exploitation of indigenous peoples that is happening in southern Ethiopia, most notably the “human safari” syndrome which besets the neighbouring Omo Valley, encouraging a rash of negative behaviors, antagnisms and cultural erosion. We believe tourism must, first and foremost, benefit the local community for it to produce a desirable result, an atmosphere of respect, understanding and mutual appreciation. Strawberry Fields offers accommodation to tourists as well as organising responsibly managed cultural tours and delivers a quality service, embedded in the local cultural landscape, tailored for the environmentally aware visitor to Ethiopia. The lodge represents the local culture, and the organic restaurant serves organic food, produced on-site, freshly harvested from the farm and gardens.

    As well as accommodation SFEL offers Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs) for both local community, local stakeholder organisations (including NGOs and GOs working in agriculture) and for foreign participants all of whom are trained alongside one-another and encouraged to interact and share ideas and experiences. In June and July 2008, SFEL hosted two PDCs given by Rosemary Morrow, author of The Earth Users Guide to Permaculture, training and feeding over forty across the span of two months. SFEL also intends to host a range of courses for skills in income generating activities (job skills and micro-business management) for local people in Konso, funded through support from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

    As well as providing service, SFEL acts as a platform for volunteers to come and get actively involved in local community development; assisting with training in the lodge but also, through networking with local organisations, SFEL can arrange placements for teaching in local schools or medical placements in local clinics, for experienced professionals who want to contribute in kind to community development. As well as this SFEL offers contacts to foreign and indigenous development orgnisations which are active in the Konso Special Wareda, thus acting as a forum for the local and international communities to meet, exchange ideas, share skills and experiences, network and cooperate, but also to enjoy together.

    Konso is a land of stunning beauty but harsh reality. SFEL offers you a chance to enjoy such a fascinating place and put something back at the same time. Whether you are a development activist or just an adventurous traveler who wants contribute a little through your enjoyment, SFEL wishes to say “Okado!” Welcome to the magical land of Konso.

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