Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is an approach to agriculture that uses natural resources to provide sustainable farming methods which have numerous environmental, health, educational, social and economic benefits. The majority of the Malawian population, particularly in rural areas such as Chikalongo, are impoverished subsistence farmers, with little access to education. This means the livelihood of many is reliant upon the environment that surrounds them. As it stands, Malawi is facing a number of pressing environment issues, which alongside its rapidly increasing population, puts the security of farming in jeopardy.
Last year Mlambe School became part of an exciting new pilot scheme created by Malawi Schools Permaculture Clubs (MSPC). Since 2015, MSPC has been running permaculture clubs in schools around the Nkhata Bay district. Following the success of these projects, they expanded their programs to include schools throughout Malawi.
Mlambe School was one of five schools to join their pilot scheme, which expanded their permaculture program outside the Nkhata bay district for the very first time! The Mlambe School Permaculture Club has now been up and running for over a year. It is being run by teachers Stella and Blessings. In July 2018 they attended a five-day training course in Nkhata Bay. Following their training both Stella and Blessings were felt very passionate permaculture and have lots of ideas of how it can benefit Mlambe School and the surrounding community. Stella and Blessings have enjoyed getting creative with the principles of permaculture. They have been teaching the students about waste management, water harnessing, composting, and crop diversification. Stella particularly enjoyed teaching the students about how to make compost from animal dung and garden waste. This helped the learners gain a greater understanding about how the Mlambe compost toilets work! Stella thinks teaching learners about compost is particularly important, because it teaches them that they don’t have to spend so much money on expensive fertilizer. The teachers have also enjoyed teaching the students about water harnessing through making swales and planting banana circles. An orchid has now been planted at the school and each student been given their own individual permaculture plot to plant and look after. The rainy season is now about to begin, which marks a particularly exciting time for the permaculture club. We are excited to see what the students and teachers create around the school during this rainy season!
The MSPC approach to permaculture is tailor made for primary schools in Malawi. It aims to empower teachers by providing them with the training, transferable skills, knowledge and basic resources to run their own permaculture clubs. MSPC have developed a learning scheme
which is focused on applied theory and skills. It encourages students to play an active role in the design of their surroundings and the implementation of permaculture at their own school.
MSPC understands that every school and community has different wants, needs and challenges. The program gives students and teachers the tools to implement their own permaculture initiatives, tailor made to their community and environment.
The principles of permaculture are grounded in teaching creative thinking and problem solving. Students are encouraged to utilize the natural resources around them. Stella plans to demonstrate to students how to ‘see solutions not problems’ and how ‘everything works in at least two ways’ by planting banana circles. This demonstrates how a problem within their environment (excess, stagnant water,) can be used to their advantage. Banana circles require a lot of water to grow. Not only do they absorb and utilize excess water, but they provide fruits too!
Through teaching students the principles of permaculture, Stella and Blessings have been able to create a ‘living classroom.’ Because the learning scheme is created specifically for primary schools, it fits in with many parts of the school curriculum. Students are able to get outside the
classroom and see for themselves what they learn in their agriculture, science, mathematics and health and nutrition. Permaculture encourages interactive learning, in which students ‘learn through doing.’ They are able to see the benefits of permaculture for themselves, rather
than just reading about them on a page. For example, students are taught how they can diversify their crops, which improves the quality and fertility of soil. It would also give them access to a larger range of vegetables, throughout the year, which will give them a more balanced and nutritious diet. Students are being given practical knowledge and resources that demonstrates what they are taught in their nutrition lessons.
The principles of permaculture are based around making the most of the natural resources available. All the knowledge and skills that students are taught are lessons they can bring back to their families. Mlambe School hopes to stand as an example of how permaculture can be beneficial to local farmers. The school will set up at seed share, in which students can harvest and save seeds at school, which they can take home to use in their family farm.
MSPC has created a permaculture network between its schools, in which the teachers can discuss the successes and challenges of their permaculture clubs and ask each other for advice. Mlambe School and the other pilot schools have working closely alongside MSPC to test and develop their permaculture program. In April, Stella and Blessings attended a follow up training, where they met the other teachers who took the MSPC training course. The teachers presented their permaculture design and were able share the successes and challenges of their program and exchange ideas.
This has been an exciting opportunity for Mlambe to become the flagship school for the program in the Balaka district and play an active role in its expansion to other schools not only throughout the district but the Malawi. We hope that Mlambe School can become a permaculture demonstration site, which shows the benefits of permaculture to the wider
community and district.