Permaculture classes are held at Nanthomba Full Primary School three times a week. Groups of students learn environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and resourceful agricultural methods that they can take home to their families. Students learn how to improve soil quality, conserve water, protect the water table, make their own fertilizer, and eat a more nutritious diet.
Agricultural yields in Malawi are jeopardized by poor rains, invasion by wildlife and pests, depleting soil quality, fluctuating fertilizer subsidies, and world market prices. The conventional strategy for a Malawian farmer is to grow a year’s supply of maize to feed the family and then specialize in one cash crop to sell at the market. Specialization can be profitable on a good year, but unforeseen complications can lead to financial straits and low nutrient diets. With 90% of the labor force working in the agricultural sector, it is imperative that the best practices are used*.
The name “Permaculture” originally comes from the combination of the words Permanent and Agriculture. As the name suggests, the concept is to use environmentally friendly farming methods that assure prolific harvests without depleting the soil. Practitioners of permaculture convert their own agricultural waste into fertilizer, thus lowering the financial burden during planting season. Through the method of crop diversification, the permaculturists grow a variety of different crops.
Properly implemented permaculture schemes are an excellent way to improve nutrition because the diverse crop selection offers a steadier, more consistent harvest and a wide variety of nutrients. This is vitally important in Malawi, where over half of children under five years of age have had their growth stunted, the primary manifestation of malnutrition in early childhood**.
Permaculture is vital to HELP’s food program, which provides students participating in after school classes with a nutritious meal. Several of the crops grown at Nanthomba can be sold, but the majority goes towards providing a nutritional supplement to the students. The food program faces various challenges but many have been mitigated through permaculture design. Rain catchment tanks store up to 18,500 gallons of rainwater to get the most out of Malawi’s low rainfall. Invasions of elephants, bush pigs, baboons, monkeys, goats and insect infestations can quickly destroy a crop field. HELP has planted a “living fence” of thorny plants around school to protect from animal invasion and aromatic plants on the perimeter of gardens ward off destructive insects.
Nanthomba has the following Permaculture Projects in place:
- Two Seasonal Vegetable Gardens containing cabbage, turnips, onions, radishes, tomatoes, and other vegetables
- One Tea Garden containing a guava tree, lemon grass, hibiscus, rose, passion fruit and peppermint
- One Orchard consisting of papaya, custard apple, washington navels, pumpkins and soya
- One Intercropped field of ground nuts (peanuts), maize, soya, and pumpkin
- One Vegetable Nursery used to germinate vegetables to be transplanted into gardens
*CIA World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mi.html