In Permaculture Projects, Water

On September 17th, 2011 I attended the tenth international permaculture convergence (IPC 10) in Jordan… (which also happened to be my birthday). To read Part I of this series, click here. For a summary of the conference day, read on.

Wow, what a conference! The day flew by and it was one amazing speaker after another. The day was full of stories from the field of people applying various techniques to repair the earth all over the globe, and the progress that was displayed was nothing short of astounding!

Watch Roberto’s presentation by clicking on the image above

Roberto Perez Rivero, a well known permaculturalist in Cuba kicked off the morning. Most people would recognize him from his interview in the documentary “A Community Solution, How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”. Roberto spoke at length about the fragility of the biomes that exist in Cuba. He showed some stunning statistics about the extensive deforestation in Cuba from the mid 1500s to the early 1900s. On the main island, less than 14% forest cover remained less than 100 years ago. Most impressively, Cuba has managed to bring forest cover up to 25% over the last 100 years, and at projected rates could be at 50% coverage within the next 50 years. It was amazing to see that despite the challenges of getting cut off from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the people of Cuba still managed to make improvements and increase forest coverage. This is no short feat when you are severed from your main energy source for cooking, transit and heat: oil.

Watch Sameeh’s presentation by clicking on the image above

Roberto finished his talk and introduced Sameeh Al Nuimat who spoke about rainwater harvesting in Jordan as a way of reducing the pressure on Jordan’s non-renewable water resources. Currently Jordan consumes 120% of its annual renewable water resources and unless major changes occur, Jordan, the third most water stressed country in the world, is headed in a very bad direction. One of the most interesting things I learned from Sameeh was that his team of researchers have been encouraging the people of his village and the rest of Jordan to go back to ancient forms of water storage that have been used for at least 5000 years. These structures, known as Roman and Byzantine-era cisterns are built on site in a matter of weeks by two or three men; the cisterns can function for thousands of years if built properly.

Brad Landcaster has written extensively about this project and photos of the cisterns can be seen here. It was funny to hear Sameeh talk about how Jordanians are always running into problems when building new foundations for homes because they are constantly having to excavate old cisterns from thousands of years ago which can be really dangerous. It always amazes me when we go back in order to go forward. I guess in this case they kinda fell into it…. 🙂

Watch Brad’s presentation by clicking on the image above

Sameeh proceeded to introduce Brad Landcaster who gave an amazing talk on rain water harvesting in urban areas. Brad is an amazing public speaker and has an amazing ability to take hard-to-talk-about concepts like sewage and make them funny and palatable. Brad’s talk told a story of discovery in his own life in Tucson, Arizona and how he arrived at his current walk of life as an educator, designer and author. He made it his priority to find ways to live within his annual water budget while growing much of his own food. This is quite an accomplishment considering the arid climate of Tucson. I had some time to catch up with Brad and it is always great to hear about all of his adventures. His latest project is converting his garage into a home; he calls it his “Garottage”, Garage-Cottage. Michelle and I are hoping to get Brad up to Calgary next spring to talk water harvesting to Calgary and area.

Watch Toni’s presentation by clicking on the image above

Brad opened the floor for Tony Rinoudo who gave one of the most inspiring talks I have ever heard! Tony currently works for World Vision and specializes in desert rehabilitation around the world. He spent the first part of his career in Niger, Africa where he tried everything in his power to stop the continual encroachment of the Sahara desert through afforestation. Unfortunately, after three years he found that nearly all of his hard work had virtually no effect. Almost everything he planted and every technique that he tried, failed. Just when he was about to give up, he made a crucial discovery which could actually be the lynch pin for the indefinite continuation of human settlements on this planet. This may sound like a tall order to fill, but it was this relatively small discovery that has basically halted the desert in its tracks and allowed him to start teaching this technique – it is so simple, so easy and so cheap that it boggles the mind. The Coles Notes are essentially this: it just so happens that desert trees are extremely good for coppicing so when they are grazed to the roots, burned, cut for fire wood, ploughed under or whatever the disturbance, the trees remain dormant in the ground until the next rain fall.

Tony realized that all of these little shrub-like plants scattered over the landscape were actually thousands of underground trees, and by doing a little bit of management to protect these trees, he was able to get a partial canopy up in the middle of the desert in less than three years. There is a general misunderstanding by local people that trees and cropping do not work together (i.e. the trees reduce the productivity of the crop, so farmers try to eradicate them), but the reality is quite the opposite. This technique increased crop productivity by 2 – 4 times, created a surplus of local fire wood for cooking which meant people did not have to walk 20 km for cooking fuel, a return of biodiversity to the area specifically birds which helped to control the locusts, borers, and other destructive bugs, a reduction in local wind speeds and thus a decrease in soil erosion and an increase in soil carbon which in turn increased the water holding capacity of the whole region.

Tony jokes about how his work only requires a 2 dollar pocket knife and a little bit of training in order to turn an entire region around. His little discovery has gone viral in Africa and has been so successful that you can actually see his work from space! Tony is yet another example of what one human being can do when you lead with your heart, and work with compassion and passion. He is a true example of how much power we have as individuals to do amazing repair of the land and the people on this planet! Great work Tony! I would encourage you to check out Tony’s work here, here and here.

After Tony’s talk we broke for the most amazing lunch I have ever had. I had to be sure not to overeat, as I was totally jetlagged and didn’t want to miss anything due to post-lunch fatigue!

The afternoon was chock-full of another group of amazing speakers; any one of the speakers could have easily been the keynote speaker for the entire conference!

Watch Geoff’s presentation by clicking on the image above

Geoff Lawton started us off and spoke about the importance of education as a key principle to re-skilling a wave of earth repair practitioners. One of the things that Geoff mentioned was the fact that Permaculture teachers have never been able to keep up with demand which Michelle and I can definitely relate to. Geoff also shared his goal of setting up PRI centres globally using a master plan which stresses self-reliance in everything, especially fiscally speaking. Getting to know Geoff over the last 12 months has been amazing, he is an inspiring educator and human being who has truly served the world and given us his all! The world needs another one thoudand Geoffs and I know how hard he works towards making this a reality. As he puts it, he is “working towards his own redundancy”.

Watch Rhamis’ presentation by clicking on the image above

Geoff opened up the floor to Rhamis Kent, a name that is synonymous with Permaculture. Since studying with Geoff I have heard this name over and over again, and it has been great getting to know Rhamis as his reputation truly proceeds him. Rhamis’ work focuses on repairing Somalia – no small task. Somalia has not always been in such dire shape; in fact, 20 years ago it was actually still generally intact with a healthy, fed population. It was through World Bank and IMF schemes that the country was ripped apart and sent into the downward spiral that it finds itself in now. Rhamis spoke of a project that he is working on to bring new economic opportunities to the poorest of the poor using permaculture principals to find crops that can help reduce the pressure on the people and the land.

One of the most interesting stories that Rhamis spoke about was a project that a colleague of his was working on. His colleague noticed that pomegranates grew very well in the regions of Afganistan that poppies flourished, so he successfully created a market for pomegranate in the UK and has since been able to get opium farmers in Afghanistan a better price for pomegranates than for opium. Rhamis is looking for ways of bridging the gap between earth repair and profitability, arguing that you don’t have true profit without biodiversity and stable ecologies. He is one heck of a warrior and I would encourage you to keep an eye on his blog posts and comments on the PRI website. This man is making waves in the permaculture world and he is not far from creating a tsunami of earth repair!

Watch Warren’s presentation by clicking on the image above

Warren Brush is a man that I have been looking forward to meeting for many years! Warren runs Quail Springs out of California as a permaculture education institute and sanctuary for troubled youth. Warren’s entire talk was inspiring and full of insight, but the one thing that I would like to highlight was his discussion on people and peacemaking. He made some amazing points about how we have lost our peacemaking traditions to reductionist thinking which has led to mono-cropping, mono-culture (both in agriculture and in society) and an overall loss of biodiversity.

He talked about how the peacemaking process starts with our children and that their understanding of the world around them is based on their world view which is entirely a function of their sensory input and mind focus. That is to say that our view of the world is based on the environment we spend the most of our time in and what we focus our minds on. Warren mentioned a study that was recently released which found that 90% of American kids spend 90% of their time indoors. That translates their sensory input into a world view that is simplified into buildings that are rectilinear, meet code, and are controlled for temperature, humidity and light at all times. In short, this leads to a very shallow understanding of how the world really works.

The second pillar that forms our world view is our mind focus. The majority of us focus on mass media, negative news radio, TV and newspapers, and Warren spoke about how this reduces our ability to see the world for what it is. When we engage negative media, our mind closes out the positive opportunities that exist around us, and we are unable to navigate using our minds. Instead, we revert to fear and fight or flight responses which rarely result in good problem solving. If you have an hour to spare I would highly encourage you to watch Warrens talk on Permaculture and Peace Making in a Thirsty World. It is an inspiring hour of wisdom and thought provoking metaphor that can change the balance of power in the world to a more positive and equitable one. It starts in our communities with the way we engage one other, but comes down to how we care for one another.

Bill Mollison took up the rear of the day talking about three different dry land solutions that are virtually unknown, rarely applied, yet quite effective. Bill spoke of how these solutions can be used to fast track trees in tough to grow locations. He spoke of the immense (though unexpected) water storage capacities on mesa plateaus and how this water is extremely useful at establishing trees. He then spoke about rock mulches as a way of condensing water from the air in virtually rainless ecosystems to get trees back onto the landscape. This made me think about some of the landscapes that we have in Southern Alberta which are windswept, arid and generally challenging for establishing trees. I did not catch his entire talk, but Bill left off with some words of wisdom and received a standing ovation.

Luckily, all of the presentations were recorded (thanks to Craig) and are available for anyone to watch.

It is important to mention that all of this would not have been possible if it were not for Geoff and Nadia Lawton, Craig Mackintosh and everyone else that helped them to make this successful. I know that a lot of time, energy and money went into making this conference a reality. Thanks for everything that you have done and continue to do to make permaculture such a vibrant community! The planet is a better place for it.



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