Preparing for East Africa’s first Permaculture Convergence, join us.

Preparing for East Africa’s first Permaculture Convergence, join us.

Design for Sabina school driveway orchard 2008

NB. This volume of Sector39 has now been archived. New  content available at

A convergence is a coming together, in this case we are hoping to bring together leading practitiners and advocates for permacuture design in East Africa. The aim is to accelerate the already considerable momentum in the region by profiling some of the amazing work already underway in the region.

Since 2015 Sector39 have taught two full PDCs in Uganda and are planning the third currently. We have also formed a supportive partnership with two Ugandan organisations to enable us to extend our regional ambitions. East Africa is literally hungry for permaculture and there is so much that can be done to significantly improve people’s lives and resilience utilising resources that are largely already available.

It seems an obvious step forward for our East African partnership to try to raise the profile for permaculture by creating an event that demonstrates the many possibilities for its positive application. We are inviting some of the region’s biggest enthusiasts as speakers and workshop leaders and planning for an event that can bring together students from our first three courses with school heads, politicians and other scoial and financial gatekeepers with whom we might build new and mutually beneficial relationships.

The planned venue couldn’t be more ideal as it is home the most mature designed food forest in whole region and the school has embraced permaculture design and ideas within its core curriculum, even the Head Teacher has completed a PDC!

sabina permaculture

Students and teachers from Sabinas permaculture class meet Steve from Sector39

Sabina school is near to Rakai in central Uganda, the region that was the epicentre of the global AIDS epidemic. They are still in recovery from the terrible loss of life, creativity and human resource but are well on track to have the situation fully under control by 2030. Modern drugs have massively reduced the mortality rate, it is no longer a death sentence and people are open about their HIV status. That said there are still many orphans in the region and a great deal of work to be done to compenstate for the terrible effets of the epidemic.

sabina permaculture garden

Sabina students in the school’s forest garden. Bananas, avocado, pumpkin, jack fruit, there is food everywhere!

The 2-day conference is intended to both bring permaculture practitioners, students and pioneers together as well as creating a platform to celebrate and showcase achievements to inspire and demonstrate possibilities for new and interested parties. There wil be talks, demonstrations, a permaculutre futures forum and a school partnerships proposal Launch.

As well as site tours and demonstrations at Sabina there will be a chance to visit The Permaculture Research of Uganda, (PRI-UG) which has an ecological farm and demonstration site less than an hour from the intended venue and that is en route for anyone travelling from Kampala. The day immediately before and after the actual convergence will be open days for the site with guided tours and discussion forums planned.

grace and charles

Grace an ex pupil from Llanfyllin High school with Charles an ex Sabina pupil with some of the current juniors.

Political persuasion.

Permaculture belongs in schools. Imagine the anxiety for young adults when confronted with the fact that the next 30 years of their lives is going to dominated by climate change, a dwindling oil supply and the possibility if never-ending resource wars accompanied by ceaseless waves of refugees.

Currently it feels like no one in the main stream is offering solutions or ways forward they are battoning down the hatches and tightening border controls. We need to offer more than vision of a sustainable future, we need to provide the mechanism for change and pathways for empowerment and inclusion in that process and where better to begin than at school?

We have the support of the minister for education for Buganda and the national minister for education was a founding force behind Sabina school where the event will be held  so there exists a solid foundation to link the event to movement on a political level. When arrived in Kampala some 6 weeks ago our first meeting was with Mr Mula, permanent secretary to the Vice President of Uganda, he offered us his full support and strongly endorsed the work of Charles Mugarura and partners BEU Permaculture. We are looking to the younger generation to take the lead he emphasised.


Launch of BEU permaculture, Uganda’s most dynamic permaculture team and partners with Sector39 delivering this event

Sector39’s education team have since began work on 12 educational units for use in school that will introduce permaculture’s key principles to the curriculum, not as a subject but as cross curricular themes.

The East African Convergence gives us a timeline now to develop and profile this work. We have a key partner school in Wales to develop and trial the materials with as well as an emerging school network in Uganda so we are absolutely ready to take this work to the next level.

Pre booking and sponsorship packages are available to help us develop these potentials and we are also reaching out to teachers and educators to help realise these ambitions.

Delivery Partnership

  • The Sector39 education team are taking a lead role in organising this event, please contact us for bookings, sponsorships and other offers of help. There will be volunteering and internship opportunities as well.
  • On the ground logistics, site development, volunteer hosting plus marketing support and branding services are being provided  by BEU Permaculture, Kampala.
  • PRI-UG are offering demonstration visits, networking a practical support fir workshops and site development.
  • PermoAfrica centre and K5 community permaculture are linking us to on the ground community permaculture practical work in Kenya and will be profiling their 2 years of developmental experience for the conference.
  • Key note speakers tbc. We are  inviting a leading Author on East African botany, a leading agronomist and politician in the educational field to outline the key themes of the conference.

Meeting the head and agreeing on outline plans for the coming event

PDC Uganda


Advert for our 2015 PDC in Uganda

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

map-uThe 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.

Goat improvement project, one the key Dolen Ffermio projects

Goat improvement project, one the key Dolen Ffermio projects

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.

Visit to the Reading Roof Garden

I always love gong back to the reading roof garden to teach, it is such an excellent example of what is possible and powerful place to teach about the possibilities and potentials of forest gardens, with one growing on the roof above you. The was an excellent turn out and the experience has prompted me to consider returning there more regularly, possibly to run a series of permaculture sessions or even a PDC.

The garden was planted in 2002 mainly so it is 12 years old now and maturing nicely. The size of the canopy trees is quite astounding, of the original 176 species of plants much of the under-story has now been shaded out, and those under-story plants that have flourished have also migrated around, choosing their own positions and self seeding successfully.

Village Farm Orchard, Stockbridge Liverpool

This was a 2 year project conceived and led by Squash Nutrition and for which Sector39 took the role of leading horticulture consultant as well as leading on the practical, planting sessions. Using an empty shop as a project base the idea was to create a drop in centre that ran little workshops and sessions to generate interest in food and food growing. With sessions on art, cooking, propagation, planting, permaculture and crafts the project engaged with people from the Stockbridge estate and introduced the idea of growing especially fruit trees in public spaces. The residential estate of 7,000 people has about 30 acres of open green spaces between shops, housing etc. and presented an excellent opportunity for urban growing. So far we have planted over 200 fruit trees, started a series of forest gardens and worked with the community find suitable spaces as well as developing the skills to do the work.

Post Project review I really hope this project can carry on indefinitely. What we have achieved in the first two years is only the every beginning of what is possible. my vision would be to see it through to the establishment of a community owned and run cafe and catering service largely supplied by local produce. Stockbridge has the potential to be an exemplar community in developing a strong local food economy as a community development tool. I also have to say it was hugely challenging and very rewarding working with this community.

I feel really grateful for everyone from the community who was involved with the project and who made me feel really welcome there. Participants created a genuine enthusiasm for the project and made it really warm and human experience.  I think it would be fair to say Stockbridge has had a troubled past, it has not flourished as an example of inner city redevelopment. It was one of those ’60’s urban redesign projects where a brand new dormitory town was created as a satellite of Liverpool to house populations being moved out of the cramped inner city. Significant new investment has gone in to the are to try and remedy its woes and it is now finally finding its feet as a functional place. All of this is of course very fragile ad it houses many low income households and vulnerable people with many heath issues resulting from lifestyle choices associated with that reality. For all those reasons this project could be very powerful indeed, in both contributing to the social cohesion that has always been lacking as well as making fresh wholesome foods much more available. By growing in public spaces and using the produce as a community development tool the scope of the project actually has to potential to transform the whole area and link in closely with the many other social initiatives in the area.

Welcome to the Green Blob

Out going environment minster Owen Patterson has expressed his frustration at us small-minded greens who oppose everything and stand in the way of progress and prosperity.He has lumped all us petition-signing, flag-waving, letter-writing annoyances under a single heading, Green Blob. The Times came out with an article this week saying he is basically right. Between greens and NIMBY’s we are consigned to return to the dark ages. It is time to get fracking, to break out the GMO’s and get busy building on the green belts, our economy needs it.

I have no doubt that there is plenty of well meaning but ill-informed and misdirected campaigning going on and plenty of NIMBYism to boot.. but lumping the whole environmental agenda together as a green blob is really unhelpful and actually is pretty revealing about how people like Patterson must actually think.

So we have been told that during his period in office Mr Patterson declined to be briefed by the Government advisor on Climate Change. Let’s say that again, declined to be briefed. Words fail. Anyway maybe from that we can deduce that perhaps those outside the Green Blob are more motived by political outlook and inner conviction then they are by science, debate and academic rigour (see video in previous post).  If we are to be charitable with our judgement lets say that the view is one of pursuing short term economic objectives rather than looking at the bigger and rapidly changing bigger picture.  Very short term objectives indeed as we rush headlong into the post peak world of uncertain energy futures and teetering global economy.

From where I am sitting the Green Blob isn’t about resisting progress and change, it is in fact the very opposite. We have a vision of economy that measures service provision, food security and biodiversity, not the simple throughput of materials ,as does GDP.  The growth model rewards the destruction of natural capital and rewards polluters, the exact opposite that is required to value and protect the biosphere. We have a vision of vibrant local economies that produce a majority of our food and energy and absorb and cycle most of our waste.  A largely localised system sharing heat, composting waste, building wildlife friendly low-embodied energy, affordable housing from natural materials like straw, mud, wool and lime that would actually add biodiversity to where ever they are located.  International trade will still have its place but the low carbon world will be a wonderful mix of high tech and low tech, a people-centric system that values nature and society as well as the freedom of the individual.

Unfettered capitalism is essentially a race to the bottom, a race to externalise the costs of production onto society and environment, to avoid social and ecological responsibility.  It is our values as expressed by economic indicators that need to change, rather than a growth based system driven by corrupt bankers seeking fat bonus to enable them to escape the mayhem the have caused. The scope for change required is well beyond the brief of an individual minister, and I for one am certainly not waiting for the government to articulate these ideas. But I am certainly getting on preparing and building for the post carbon world. Somehow we do need to find people brave enough and with the right profile to begin to frame the future in front of us honestly and positively.

Killing a few badgers wont solve the woes of intensive factory farming Mr Patterson sir and fracking the country side for the remaining pockets of natural gas smacks of desperation. In a world about to go fully digital we are investing in VHS players, in a world of renewable energy with the potential for a thriving and super energy efficient re-localised economy,  we are planning to burn tar sands and borrowing a load of money we don’t know how to pay back to buy everyone a new S.U.V.

Wake up Mr Patterson the Green Blob is more than a figment of your imagination, it is here to stay and it is a world of new opportunity.






Community growing in Liverpool

food pyramid

I like this representation of food priorities, we need much more local food, from outside of the monetary economy.

I have been working along side Squash Nutrition for the last year on community growing projects on the Stockbridge estate in Liverpool. It has been an amazing year and I have loved by trips to the city and getting to know some of the people there. It is especially exciting as three of the regular project volunteers from Stockbridge are planning to travel to Wales over the winter to take part in the 6 part PDC we are running over the winter.

Some maize we grew in a tunnel tunnel behind the shopping precinct

Some maize we grew in a tunnel tunnel behind the shopping precinct

We now have a really interesting project to get our teeth into when we start the Tarncliff community garden space over this winter. We have been offered a site to work with that is the footings of a high rise block that was taken down last year. The plan is to consult with the local community in a public meeting and to develop an idea that everyone can at least buy into.

Denecliff. overlooking the site for the new garden

Denecliff. overlooking the site for the new garden

View of the site we have been offered to buld the community forest garden

View of the site we have been offered to buld the community forest garden

We have got the go-ahead from the Housing association who manage the land and the buildings, so that is a very promising start. From when I first went to Stockbridge I was amazed how much open space there is, between high density housing, the potentials for urban forest garden is massive, as well as lots of other community growing spaces. But there is no culture of it here and it is all pretty new and hard work to establish. We have suffered vandalism and theft from some of our earlier projects but all in all we have made a lot of progress. We planted 107 fruit trees around the estate last winter and and have now been around and pruned and mulched pretty much all of them.

We have the ambition of planting another 100 this winter and at least 20 fruit trees, maybe as many as 40 might be used for the Tarncliff garden. It will be a beautiful orchard for the 180 flats and 100 or so houses adjacent to the site.

Propating plant roots at the base in the shopping precinct, to go in the garden

Propagating plant roots at the base in the shopping precinct, to go in the garden

We have 18 Welsh apple trees I bought last years,a ll on M25 and M26 root stock, so they w ill be fair sized trees to start with. And we will see what the community thinks and wants, whether they want some raised beds for annuals, or more want a garden for relaxing than a really productive one.

It has been a real thrill to try out growing produce in some really public busy places on the estate. Not every experiment has worked but we have had some surprise successes. I get very excited by t he potential of what could be achieved if we could get the whole community behind it somehow. At the moment we are very reliant on a small group of regular volunteers who have sustained this project over the last year. If it is going to be successful in the longer term that will only happy if the people can concerned can have real ownership over it.

Apple grafting workshop in Liverpool this summer. This is chip bud graft, a technique you can do in late summer to make a new fruit tree.

Apple grafting workshop in Liverpool this summer. This is chip bud graft, a technique you can do in late summer to make a new fruit tree.

With so many issues around money, food and energy currently and add to that climate change I feel certain that a much stronger and very localised food economy will be the only way to ensure a high degree of food security. It will take some years to transform our urban landscapes into food-scapes but it has to start somewhere and increasingly we are seeing more and more interesting examples of this kind of bottom up initiative.


forest garden section on the green in front of the supermarket and the bus terminus


One of the marrows actually didnt get vandalised.. pleasant surprise


Said marrow is already Marrow and ginger jam after the Jamming workshop last week


One we did earlier, Planting from last winter that we have returned to and pruned and mulched

Meanwhile here is a little story from Los Angeles, where a resident is fighting the local authority to keep her street garden.

From Gangs to Gardens..

Obviously, stories like this one below are very heartening, how community gardens transformed a gang-ridden drug-dealing neighbourhood into an inter-connected community.. but I guess the key question is what is the real lesson and how can we replicate this kind of success elsewhere? (Click on the image to visit the original article)


“A major reason our food system is so damaged —so dominated by corporate interests, rife with unhealthy products, and unbalanced by unequal access —is that we too often fail to consider food a social good or to understand that growing, selling, and eating food is by its nature a meaningful social act.”

Farmer Joel Salatin: Why Changing the Food System is Up to You

That is the farmer in the Food Inc movie talking above.. and he is so right. We need to reclaim food production for ourseles and to frame it according to our own values. My personal belief, which is developing ever stronger over time is that the core of our food, the day to day stuff, shouldn’t be part of the economy at all.. or rather certainly not the global economy.. we should be aiming to produce most of what we need to be healthy individuals locally, from local resources and outside of the globalised system. This is true resilience surely and it would generate thousands of jobs, right at the level and exactly where they were needed, locally.

So what is it that is stopping us from responding to this reality? Aside from access to land and the basic growing skills… which is a significant barrier I guess, there is also lack of time and perceived priorites of other activities which take us away from getting involved with the food system more directly. Cheap supermarket products have disempowered us really.. and made us slaves to the trollies and ailses. In many ways the spiralling energy and food prices can be seen as an opportunity or catalyst that can facilitate change in a more positive direction. The opportunites for community growing and for engaging with the areas of our communites where there are under-used resources; unemployed people, those in rehabilitation, retired, between things, looking to learn etc, coupled with the resources of under-used plots of land, the compost made from waste are simply immense.

The Stockbridge village area of Liverpool

I am thinking about this a lot at the moment, through work with Get-Growing, developing community garden plots in the Marches here in Wales but more recently I have been invited to develop ideas and training sessions to develop community gardens in this area of Liverpool.

There is a lot of high density housing, both tower block and terraces deployed in what is actually a rather open landscape. It was obviously developed with a sort of garden city feel intension.. but really the result is large, open, rather dead spaces which the residents have very little connection with.

My first impression was that could be a significant area of opporunity here to develop a productive landscape. Without wanting to criticise an area I am not familier with, it does strike me as one of those developments that has not really succeded to meet the needs of the community that surround it.

So just today I have agreed in principle to work 80 days over the next 19 months with this community via Squash Nutrition towards these aims. It is a very exciting challenge for me and a chance to take permaculture into a new area altogether… by all accounts there is a great enthusiasm in the host community to learn how to grow food and at the same time I hope the process of starting this happening can really invigorate the whole community. The process has aready begun and my first community engagement session is scedualed for 14th June.. so lots more to follow on this story!

Forest gardening day in September

It was a real thrill to go back to Reading to the Roof Garden last year, and so I am planning to go back there again on September the 22nd this year to run the day again. Past PDC graduates are welcome to come along for a £7.50 donation only towards the lunch.. and full is price is only £25 for the day. It is an excellent introduction to Permaculture design and approaches to problem solving and is a lively and fun day.

forest gardening at RISC 2012

One day introduction to forest gardening and urban permaculture

The garden is 10 years old this year and has matured wonderfully into a forest system. the understory plants have self-seeded all around the place and it is starting to have a genuinely wild feel about it.

It will be a great day out and I am arranging a special meal from Tutus Ethiopian Table… freshly prepared traditional style Ethiopian food will make it an extra special experience.

Lots of opportunites for chat and to ask questions and of course a perfect opportunity to explore the garden.

The RISC centre itself is well worth a visit, it has fair trades shops, bar and cafe, meeting rooms and is home to Reading International Solidarity who develop teaching resources on global themes, and are active supporters of fair trade and human rights.

I have just updated the Forest Gardening page on my website.. lots more info there if you are interested.

The other new Course we are developing is in conjunction with the Get-Growing project in Newtown Powys, where we are putting together a 5-day, how to design a community garden course.  This is specifically aimed at people with an interest or involvement in community gardening. we are very involved with community gardening ourselves in Newtown and have just been offered a new site from which to develop a our community growing hub… which is a 2 1/2 acre site on the Newtow FE College campus and we will be using the coruse process to design the garden.

Permaculture in Warwickshire

Permaculture in Leamington Spa

Permaculture and transition, Leamington Spa


Sector39 have been invited by Transition Leamington Spa to offer an introduction to permaculture weekend as well as a full Permaculture Design Course, spread over 6 weekends and starting in March, to help build interest and involvement in Transition in the Midlands region.

The 6 weekend PDC is proving to be a very popular format for the 72 hour, internationally recognised curriculum, which is typically taught in a 2 week intensive course. The six weekends give participants a lot of space to abosrb ideas and read and engage with the whole experience.

Embracing permaculture is the beginning of a journey, for many it is the start of an on-going process of taking on board the challenge of responding locally and meaningfully to huge global issues like climate change, Peak Oil and the economic institutions and the resulting environmental and social degradation caused by the current economic paradigm.

As Bill Mollison has said.. ‘The problems of the world are inreasingly complex, yet the solutions remain embarassingly simple.’

We need to relearn to work together, much more locally and democratically than what we have become used to and with economic systems based mainly on using local resources. To be sustainable we will have to rebuild resilience, and for our own security and social and economic cohesion that will mean mainly locally focussed economies.

The study of permaculture design can really help facilitate that process and help build ideas and action based on a community concensus and formulate meaningful grass roots responses to huge global challenges. Please get in touch if you would like to know more about this course.