PDC Uganda

villagers in Kumi district made us very welcome

villagers in Kumi district made us very welcome

This two week course will be a huge experience and the perfect introduction for anyone interested n working in East Africa in the future. We are partnering up with Dolen Ffermio, the farmers link charity that for the last 20 years has been building mutually beneficial links with the Eastern Ugandan region around Kamuli and Mbale.

The idea is bring together an international group of permaculture students, half from Europe and rest of the World and half from East Africa, principally Uganda. The course will cover the internationally recognised permaculture curriculum with field trips and practical sessions directly involved with local projects, with long established links with Dolen Ffermio.

In late 2014 14 of us from Mid Wales undertook a 2-week study of the region, visiting many of the projects and meeting many of the people concerned. It was immediately apparent from the this initial visit that there was much that could be achieved by running some permaculture sessions to help consolidate and the build on the many works already under way in the region as part of the project. The single thing that came over the strongest on our visit was how much people appreciated the international link. For a relatively small emerging nation such as Uganda the exchange of ideas, support and momentum that comes from these links is tremendously important and supportive, reinforcing the really important work they are doing there.

Many Ugandan's still live in traditional villages

Many Ugandan’s still live in traditional villages

Topics and practicals that I can see could have huge relevance and usefulness in the region include biochar production, wood gas, biogas and composting toilets. Most Ugandans cook on firewood every day.. by most I think that is as much as 80% and with a rapidly growing population that is a huge burden on the nation’s forests and scrub. Biogas and wood gas production might be able to help displace much of the wood use or at least make it much cleaner, less smoky and more efficient.

The soils there are deep and fertile so the need for composting toilets is not driven by a need for recycling nutrients, however, the smells from pit latrines and danger of pathogen spread from people using the fields means that is a huge benefit to be had by developing and trialling new systems. Village well development initiatives are now linked to improved toilet facilities, so the new wells don’t become contaminated, so this is important work

There is already a strong interest in agroforestry and agro ecology within Dolen Ffermio and the projects and schools they work with.. so adding this work and awareness to a broader framework of permaculture could really help authenticate and add momentum to these approaches. a common problem in the majority world is that the best aspects of traditional systems are undervalued in the light of exciting new seeds and technologies from the outside. Practices that have worked effectively for multiple generations are abandoned overnight in pursuit of a marginal gain from a technology that might be both expensive and unsustainable.

Background; Climate and History

Goat improvement project, one the key Dolen Ffermio projects

Goat improvement project, one the key Dolen Ffermio projects

The equatorial nation of Uganda is about the size of UK and sits just north of the massive inland lake Victoria. Especially in the southern half, where most of the people live it has excellent, deep fertile soils and people grow 90% of their own food locally and largely organically. The population of 33 million is young, and has grown strongly in recent years, the nations problems of tribal warfare, financial collapse and instability are now hopefully long behind them as 20 year  stable political period has allowed the country to greatly move forward. It sits at an interesting junction in its history as a nation, with choices to get drawn into the globalised economy or to concentrate on developing its own grass roots sector.

The Government tends to be drawn into large scale international projects and can be criticized for overlooking the localised sustainable agricultural sector.. and that is why the role of NGO’s like Dolen Ffermio is so important. 80% of the people   still live in rural areas, in Mud huts surrounded by crops with chickens and goats, fruit trees and more as the backbone of the rural economy.

The uptake of technology has been rapid and they have one of the highest rates of mobile phone use in the World, with better coverage than we have here in Wales. This,coupled with a new currency system based around the ability to transfer phone credit between users using SMS messages has greatly stimulated the local economy.. and it is this marriage of new technology and traditional, tried and tested systems that excites me the most. Uganda as a nation has the potential to lead the way into genuinely low carbon economies. They have the potential to evolve a set of technologies that could be exported across the globe, helping transforming the oil-addicted climate changing economies that predominate around the World.

More on this soon.. please get in touch with me if you are interested in this opportunity. I hope to be able to run a course in November 2015, or April 2016, depending on levels of interest.


Podcast004 Uganda, Reading and Existential panic

Robert Owen, aged about 50

I am excited to be heading to Reading this weekend for part 5 of the six part PDC I am running down there. We will be looking at perspectives, people and economic systems, before starting the design workshop phase of the course.

This draws on the historic work of Robert Owen, founder of the cooperative movement and perhaps the first real social entrepreneur.

I will also be drawing on the work of Radical Routes and Catalyst collective who are organizations that support the development of new housing and worker cooperatives. w will also be drawing heavily on Looby MacNamarra’s People and permaculture book, exploring how people can more effectively work together towards common goals.

Our ability to work together, as families, peer groups, projects, businesses or even as nation states defines the potential of what we are able to achieve. we really can only do so much alone.

The design task is a slightly new approach for me, but we will be tackling designing our own personal transformation. Identifying our key personal objectives and working out where those might intersect with others in community, per group or wider. The theme of how to deal with change local and global comes up as theme on the Podcast this week as well.

People and Permaculture

How to cope with the stress and anxiety that comes from having a full awareness of the implications of climate chaos and energy descent? These are massively challenging issues and the full realization of that fact can way heavily on the shoulders. Learning how to collaborate and work together better, how to find both an individual and a collective voice that has a potential political strength. Solidarity and collective bargaining and more have to be the building blocks of the sustainability movement, one that empowers people to take a much greater degree of responsibility for their lives and the resources they use.

Pod Cast004

Download Here

Hartibeast in Murchison falls national park, Uganda

Hartibeast in Murchison falls national park, Uganda

Power of Community

I noticed there is now a full version of the excellent documentary on You Tube. Totally relevant to the subject of people power in the face of adversity. Many lessons were learned in Cuba’s special period, well worth paying heed to.

This is pretty much essential watching for all permaculture students


The Death of Development

Excellent essay spotted on Red Pepper. Development as we know it has merely been the global extension of the Neo-liberal economic policies that are now decimating our own economy. 60 years of development has failed to eradicate poverty spectacularly – it has only made matters worse. Addressing poverty without addressing the causes of poverty fails to solve the problem.

death of dev

See the original article


Podcast 003 From Green Blob to #GreenSurge

The coffee producing region of Mt Elgon. Where a reafforestation project is creating new opportunities

The coffee producing region of Mt Elgon, Eastern Uganda,  home to the Gumatindo coffee cooperative.

Download the Podcast here

It is certainly exciting to see a sudden swing of interest towards green politics, not that I am too sure that the Greens quite have the mature policies to actually hold together a government but it is fantastically important to see environment issues becoming more centre stage.

While the political machinations rumble on I cant but fell we urgently need a much more dynamic and enthusiastic debate about what kind of policies we might actually want from a more sympathetic government.

One thing the coalition government has given us – is the possibility of  another coalition government.

Not that I sympathise in any way with Owen Patterson, our ex minister for the environment and his ‘Green Blob’ rant but just being against fracking, GMO’s, or anything else is not really enough.. we need to have much clearer ideas about what we do want, what is the green agenda and how are we going to achieve it? Getting some real power for the fist time would of course change this rapidly!

It is exciting to consider the seismic shift that might come about in British politics if the Greens won 4 or 5 seats at the election and ended up in Government as part of a new coalition.

The Greens might not have formed a fully fleshed out immigration or foreign policy but where they to get some actual power then they are instantly in the position to start leading on bottom up community-led sustainability agenda as well as a whole more as well.

All swept up by the Green surge and genuinely frustrated but the lack of meaningful responses on the ground,  long time friend and local resident Mark Burnett has thrown his hat into the ring to help Montgomeryshire have a Green representative at the next election.

I caught up with him at his home, a family managed eco-housing cooperative on Monday and we chatted about the political process and how slow and cumbersome  it is. Even for those in government like our local MP The Tory Glyn Davies, with whom neither Mark or myself share many views, don’t actually have any real power are basically left parroting the party line.

Stop Press: Congratulations to Richard Challenor who who has been returned as the Green party candidate for Mongomeryshire.

People’s Kitchen
Stand by to hear more news of our planned community get together, we are calling it the People’s Kitchen and the inaugural event will in Llanrhaeadr Village Hall.

References from the Podcast

 “Nuclear weapons are not only a permanent threat to all humankind but also a relic of the cold war that we must finally overcome. The international nuclear disarmament efforts require an urgent paradigm shift, not the least in light of the danger of further nuclear weapons proliferation”  Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz

A Paradigm shift in nuclear disarmament is due

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is a project to construct a 3,200 MW two reactor nuclear power station in Somerset, England

Music: Suck this! by the fabulous Mihangel Cusato, something he cooked up in the Chickenshack Housing coop Kitchen a few years ago. More of this on Soundcloud



Energy futures

A great deal has been said about the recent collapse in oil prices and different conclusions drawn. I hear SUV sales are up in the U.S. as the cheaper price of gasoline makes them more attractive again. Wow, that is short term thinking on a grand scale! As James Howard Kunstler has pointed out, at more than $70 a barrel the consumer is in trouble but at less than $70 a barrel the produces are in all sorts of trouble.

I put it to you that this price collapse is the beginning of the end of the oil industry. It was already losing money hand over fist on this marginal resource development and now the price has collapsed, then the investment money for continued production will not be there. We might be enjoying a price holiday as the difference between the $5 a barrel producers in the Middle East and the $80 a barrel producers in the USA is exposed but the long term prognosis for this situation is not a healthy one for producers and consumers of oil alike. Max Keiser the financial journalist suggests that it is actually demand that has peaked as the economy can’t afford oil at any price. Growth in China is slowing rapidly and the EU and US economies are stagnating which means we have been over producing and with oil at over $100 a barrel for a long period the world has been slowly running out of money, whilst pushing investment into marginal energy reserves. With a stalling global economy it might be fair to wonder whether true economic growth will ever actually get itself going again.

Success of the growth based economy relies on cheap and abundant energy. As conventional and easy to extract sources contract at at least 3% per year we are left with these marginal reserves which are now being promoted as the solution to our problems, despite all the evidence being to the contrary.

Jeremy Leggett talking about fracking and shale oil in August 2014, before the oil price collapse. Prescient words:

‘The boom will turn to bust. There will not be one single producing fracked well in the UK’. Jeremy Leggett

So the fracking ‘miracle’ is not going to save us. In fact it is a disaster for both the economy and the environment. Furthermore it is funded by junk bonds.. investment money that will not see a return, shale oil is another failed investment market that will have massive repercussions on the global economy.

The policies of the central banks have not been a success. 4 Trillion dollars have been pumped in the economy over the last 6 years and the main effect of that has been to inflate asset prices,stocks etc. and it has not benefitted the real economy at all. See video below.

And here is Russell Brand with some righteous outrage over HSBC tax evasion scandal and especially Tory party involvement: donations, peerages and the like. More evidence if you needed any that the current system is not working for our benefit, we have a ruling class who live seemingly on another planet from the rest of us.

The conclusion of all of this is that our banks, our political leaders and economic gatekeepers are in collusion. They simply cannot see beyond the current system which favours them and the choices they have made to continue to invest in growth and fossil fuels despite all of the evidence which has accrued telling us the the opposite is true. We cannot face climate change with the same economic policies that created it. We cannot beat peak oil by investing in marginal oil projects and we cannot keep a growth based economic paradigm alive and healthy if it takes trillions of dollars to be printed to keep it buoyant.


Podcast test run

So I like the idea of taking on the challenge of putting together a regular podcast. I only want to spend a certain amount of time doing this, so it is not going to be too elaborate or ambitious but hopefully producing it will create some momentum and extra discussion around permaculture and transition topics. It is going to be fun, diverse, and hopefully lively and entertaining, we will be visiting projects, talking to people engaged in transition, housing cooperatives, local food production and much much more!


Rock Art from Eastern Uganda