Permaculture in Action! Creating a Permaculture Island in Kenya

Elin L Duby, PRI-Kenya
Wednesday, 8th January 2014

With the knowledge learnt on a Permaculture Design Course, a group of people in Kenya have created edible gardens that also supply the community with an economic surplus. Now the group plan to create a community garden protected from wild roaming animals to create further yields to help them become even more self-reliant.

Julie lives on Rusinga Island. She is a woman, a mother, a farmer and a widow. Her husband died in 2002, leaving her with a half built house, only rough walls and no roof. Though her children were well educated they did not manage to find a job and were unable to support their mother.

Eleven years on Julie still lives in the shell of a house, just a few pieces of cast-off tin roofing covering one room, weighed down by some stones where she sleeps and cooks. But Julie does not complain, she is a hard working woman and since she took a PDC in 2012 she has been part of the group that formed as a result of the course, Rusinga Island Organic Farmers Association (RIOFA). Following the PDC, RIOFA received further training from PRI-Kenya (Permaculture Resarch Institute Kenya) in permaculture. Julie took her knowledge home with her and next to her dilapidated house she set up a wonderful kitchen garden, with greens, pumpkins, sweet potato, maize and beans as well as onions and chillies for pest control. Her kitchen garden is her pride and both feeds her and provides a surplus to sell. Now her eyes are really focused on her bigger, fenced area where she wants to set up her food forest integrated with cash crops such as Moringa. 

Not far from Julie lives Nancy. Nancy has seven children, most of which are her own and a couple who are orphans of close relatives she has taken on. Nancy is also a member of RIOFA and her kitchen garden is equally diverse and abundant and has the extra added feature of fruit trees. Her garden feeds her and her seven children and provides surplus to sell. She has also learnt to save seeds with PRI-Kenya and says this has reduced her costs significantly.

Well, in all honesty, she didn’t so much learn to save seeds as she was reminded of the practice of her grandmother who used neem leaves and ash to save seeds in ceramic bowls. When we ran the workshop on seed saving the women all nodded knowingly, it was just someone else had told them it was better to get them from the shop.

A little bit further down towards the lake lives ‘Professor’ Ezra Owmoma. Nobody knows why he is called Professor but he insists to be called so and he certainly likes to lecture. Professor's farm is right next to the lake and before taking his PDC he was using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow his crops. With the rains, excess fertilizer would run right out into the lake, disturbing the lake’s eco system and the already declining fish stocks. After his PDC Professor became the 'Permaculture Professor', his farm an abundant and integrated showcase for permaculture principles with buckets of natural fertilizers and pesticides brewing in a corner.

RIOFA are dedicated to making 2014 the year of change. Their vision is to see themselves become model farmers and peer educators for their community. Through permaculture they want to help their community address food insecurity, health and nutrition and environmental degradation and bring back the island to a lush and abundant state. They also want to do what they call ‘agribusiness’. They want to be fully fledged organic certified farmers selling both locally and to an international organic produce market.  PRI-Kenya want to support them in this vision through offering permaculture workshops and workshops in organic certification as well as with support for essential infrastructure needs.

Already with the support of LUSH Cosmetics, all farms have been fenced and can now start proper work without the disturbance of wild roaming cows and goats. As soon as the farmers got the materials for their fencing they also had to commit to starting their live fence. But still community members around now want to be part of the group in order to get a fence! So how do you approach this? You cannot fence every farm on the island! An overall community strategy is needed to control grazing on the island so PRI-Kenya has been working on this with local authority and elders.

We want to support RIOFA for this year and we have already secured some of the funding to take them towards their vision and RIOFA have also committed to contributing funds towards the project. But if we are to fully support them we need to raise more funds. We have just launched an Indie GoGo campaign which aims to raise the money needed to support RIOFA and anything we raise on top of our goal we will dedicate to putting a roof on Julie’s house.

Please have a peak at our campaign, which is in its last week, and help make this dream happen! And if you’re short of money to give right now, please help by forwarding the link below to all your friends!

PRI-Kenya is a Research Institute dedicated to the promotion of permaculture and traditional knowledge systems for efficient and ecologically sound management of food, water and energy systems and climate change adaptation. Visit for more information. 

All images from PRI Kenya.

Further resources

Find out How permaculture education in Kenya has lifted children out of abject poverty

Learn from permaculture farm examples in Uganda in Permaculture ethics and practice in sub-saharan Africa

Watch Geoff Lawton explore how permaculture can be used to green the world's deserts

Another great video from Allan Savory on greening the world's deserts and reversing climate change

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