I've been the coordinator at the Permaculture Association since 1999, and as a "busman's holiday" I attended the 2005 International Permaculture Convergence (IPC) in Croatia. There were interesting workshops, but overall the event could be described as "argumentative". So whilst colleagues had attended subsequent IPCs with good reports, it was with some trepidation that I made plans to attend IPC10. Would we spend hours in heated debate, and would I overheat in the 40 degree plus desert?
Overview of IPC process
The International Convergence started in 1984 and is the main opportunity to meet as an international network. There is no formal international organisation, so the biannual event is an important opportunity to share learning and find out how we are progressing around the world.
Including the 'majority world'
To reflect permaculture's diversity, it's vital that practitioners from low income countries attend. Donations from Association members, Permaculture Denmark and Permaculture Magazine readers raised £8000 enabling delegates from Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and India to take part. Their contribution to IPC10 was invaluable. Thanks to everyone that donated!
Proceedings started with a gala dinner. Bill and Lisa Mollison joined Nadia Lawton (convergence organiser) and many others including the Minister of Agriculture and attendees from around the world. Walter Nyika made the official handover from IPC9 Malawi, and we sat back to listen to Princess Basma bint Ali of Jordan. Here is part of her speech:
“...we see the consequences of our mistakes through encroaching desertification, which makes climate refugees, shortage in food security resulting in famine, and an unending list of natural disasters. However, all is not lost. I truly believe that we have the ability to change for the better, through permaculture! We can begin to mend the earth and alleviate the stress that many people are facing. Permaculture is the future - that is, if we want to secure a future of independence and dignity for all.”
Nadia welcomed us, ceremonies were completed, and congratulations given. Time to begin in earnest. First Cuba, Roberto Perez told us about the low cost ecological solutions they are using in urban projects. Next Jordan, Sameeh al Naimat spoke about rainwater harvesting and its potential to transform Jordan's water use and increase per capita share of water by an amazing 65%! West now to Tucson Arizona, with Brad Lancaster, master of urban rainwater harvesting. We learnt of ephemeral streams (rain water that flows at the edge of pavements), and how we need to “plant the rain, then the plants will plant themselves”.
Next stop, Niger, with Tony Rinaldo, who has learnt to “speak tree” and liberate the underground forests. After years of failure planting saplings, he learnt to recognise the shrubby remains of deforested land, and with the help of simple questions, local tools and farmer curiosity he has started a movement that is re-greening west Africa, using the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration concept. After lunch, Australia, for an introduction to the Demonstration Permaculture Sites concept with Geoff Lawton. Off to Somalia with Rhamis Kent who is developing new strategies for regeneration.
West now to Somalia and Warren Brush, who gave a beautiful presentation about 'Peacemaking in a thirsty world'. His work in Liberia to re-awaken a connection to nature and each other after a bloody civil war was truly inspirational. Lastly, Bill Mollison brought us back to the desert and told us about the
"Virtually unknown, rarely applied, yet quite effective", and it was. An incredible day, my mind was bursting and we'd hardly begun. I still had 150 people to meet, would my notebook last the first 2 days?
I can't possibly do justice to the convergence. We were in Wadi Rum, one of the most beautiful deserts in the world. We slept in camel hair tents and on rocks in the desert. Three days of workshops, over 70 in total, with people from across the world to talk to. Highlights for me were finding out about the 'blue economy' and 'fab labs', learning about biochar, and 'resilience in socio-ecological-systems'. New friendships were made and connections to other Associations and diploma systems strengthened. The next IPCs were agreed – Cuba in 2013 and Hong Kong in 2015. We talked about research and how to learn better as a network, and whilst walking out into the desert, the meaning of life and our part in it!
After three days of workshops, we used the Open Space methodology to ask: “Within ourselves and our communities, what do we need to change, what do we need to share, and how do we best support each other to grow a permaculture future.”
The floodgates opened and our creativity poured forth. The heat of the day couldn't sap our energy, it seemed to fuel us. The planet is getting hot and dry and we need to cool it down. So we planned how to re-vegetate the planet. We thought about how to bring peace in our communities and design abundant landscapes. Pattern thinking, and children's education, working with aid agencies and seed saving. Even the humble potato made an appearance.
We ended with some wonderful sharing. A Mediterranean food forest discussion was fruitful and morphed into an international cooperation strategy between middle eastern delegates. An incredible and emotional journey had begun with a commitment to working together to share common challenges in a creative and practical way. Research initiatives abounded – common protocols, sharing plant databases and on-site trials, connecting educational strategies and materials and helping Diploma processes to flourish.
As one participant said in their summing up, “there has been a coalescing of purpose and intention, a desire to share our tools, approaches and inspirations. Out of the desert, new seeds will grow.”
Greening the desert
Final day for me. The coach wound its way through the city and out into the countryside. We arrive to Bayoudah village and are greeted by Sameeh Al Nuimat, director for the Care Jordan and HSBC sponsored project. We gathered in the renovated building bequeathed by the 'father of the village', a beautiful cool space in which to learn about their work.
Their community organisation was set up in 1991, and has attracted considerable investment that has been spent on many practical initiatives: Soil and water conservation; home gardening; training in small livestock and inter-cropping; mushroom cultivation on straw; native plantings of drought tolerant trees; composting; awareness raising on environmental issues; and the participation of women in the economic life of the village. Fertiliser use has decreased and water held in the village cisterns and soil has increased. The project has high level support and the government want to learn from it to develop further villages. Farmer to farmer learning and a revolving loan fund are helping the initiative to spread to neighbouring settlements.
Back to the bus. We drive past irrigated banana plantations, and barren spaces, and drop past sea level into the Jordan valley, and at 350m below we reach the PRI Jordan demonstration site. Some of the surrounding land could be likened to the surface of the moon. I've never been, but the white dusty surface, strewn with rocks gave the same impression. So Nadia's site looked all the greener as we walked into their lush garden. Shaded vegetables on drip irrigation were thriving, and the many spot mulched trees followed the line of the swales that had been deep mulched. Grape vines and compost toilets, grey water and rainwater collection, chickens, ducks and two new buildings, combined to create a beautiful productive space. There's more to do, but it was amazing to see how much had been achieved in just two years. Bill Mollison sat in the shade, laughing and chatting. Time to go, we thanked our hosts, hugged new friends and old, said bye to Bill, running to catch the coach before it left for Amman and our final journey home.
There is something I am sure about, that was re-confirmed in Jordan. We can fix the planet, and ourselves, and we are. Permaculture has always been a connecting discipline, and at IPC10 it was clear that we are connecting powerfully to many networks. When we combine our efforts the results are truly incredible. I saw land written off as 'beyond repair', repaired. Nice pictures, and hard facts too. Rivers flowing again. Communities that had reversed the cycle of poverty and desperation. Farmers that had learnt to 'speak tree' and recognise the opportunities for regeneration that lie in wait in their fields. Genius inventors that turn combustion into pyrolysis. Farmers fixing carbon and enriching the soil. The challenge is to organise, spread the work, engage and empower communities. If we work together, we can change our world with permaculture!
Cuba will host the 2013 11th International Permaculture Conferenece & Convergence (IPC11). For further details keep your eyes on www.ipcon.org
You can find the full speech, videos, blogs, open space report and workshop presentations at
and more about the work of the Permaculture Association at www.permaculture.org.uk
For more of a flavour of IPC10 view these great links from the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia: