Tag Archive: community


Part III: Reinventing community

All projects are dependent on the participation of a group of people who, through their common practices or purpose, form a ‘community’.  Group cohesion and commonality of vision are therefore essential to the sustainability and resilience of a project. Conflicts within community are often the key cause of a project collapsing. Two particular projects in Zimbabwe that, having both run for over 10 years, demonstrated resilience also had inventive and quite radical ways of re-making community: Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT) in Manicaland and Kufunda Learning Village in Mashonaland. In both these projects, building vibrant and sustainable communities has become the main focus, with food and agriculture being only one element contributing to that overall sustainability.

These projects are continuously and consciously building and re-building their communities and there are three inter-connected aspects of this that I wish to highlight here.

1)    Practices of governance

Participatory practices are integral to both these communities. At Kufunda, I was fortunate to join one of their regular Monday morning community meetings. We all sat in a circle and a ‘talking stick’ was passed around the circle, with all respecting the sole right of the holder to speak (or not to speak) at that time. As the object moved around the circle, each person shared how they were feeling and what had been going on with them in the past week.   This patient process is designed to encourage active, democratic participation and honours each person’s unique talent, standpoint and contribution. After this process of ‘tuning in’, specific village tasks and issues were discussed with different issues then passed on to delegated cluster/interest groups. There was no individual leader or ‘chief’; instead all were equally invited to participate in making collective decisions.

At Chikukwa, their model of learning also follows a participatory model, having been ‘horizontal’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ since the project began. They started their own “permaculture school” in 1995, where people in the community would take it in turns to address each other on topics that they were deemed to have a particular interest in or experience with. So for example, farmers with a fruitful orchard at home were invited to talk about agroforestry. The community would then be encouraged to put into practice what they were learning, to ‘look and learn’ by visiting good examples and eventually, clusters of specialist groups formed. So the community are their own teachers and all teachers are also learners too. This is not unlike the ‘communiversity’ concept that is active at Kufunda, although there, more trainers tend to visit from elsewhere and their remit is much broader than permaculture.

In both projects, various forms of conflict have arisen. As Phineas Chikoshana from Chikukwa put it, “conflicts are everywhere. As an individual, you always have conflicts within yourself (…) and when one is not at peace with him or herself, then that person is bound to have conflicts with others as well. So it’s very important to cultivate a spirit of peace within the community.”  In 2006, in response to the emerging community conflicts, CELUCT initiated their ‘Building Constructive Community Relations’ (BCCR) program. This has since, out of a natural necessity, become a central pillar of the Chikukwa project. As time passed and new problems began to arise, (as people worked together in new ways or with new agendas), it was recognized that conflicts (always) arise and so people must know how to effectively deal with them.  Through the BCCR program, CELUCT members worked to sensitize each other to conflict resolution methods, in particular the ‘Three Circles of Knowledge’ approach (Westermann 2008), so that the community could move forward and not allow conflicts to destroy what they had achieved. As Phineas shared with me, “development needs peace [in order] to thrive” and so “we must learn how to transform conflict situations”. In other words, as an organization, CELUCT identified that one cannot avoid community conflict and so the project had to integrate these conflict management trainings into their core practice. This, I feel, is likely the key to their success in maintaining a community-led project over such a long period (22 years!).

Likewise, at Kufunda, the community has integrated several peace-building tools into their village life, including personal tools for transformation such as yoga, aikido and Warrior of the Heart practices.  Like at Chikukwa, the villagers have experienced periods of conflict and crisis but have learnt to (a) expect these as part of community life, (b) to minimise them through community practices and (c) to address them through innovative participatory communication methods. These aspects of community governance have ensured that such projects thrive and endure.

2)    Opening up subjectivities and reconfiguring power relations

As can be gleaned from the brief overview of community governance practices above, both projects stand out as sites of inventive and radical experiment in “what it means to live in community” (Knuth- Kufunda founding member). This obviously has implications for the subjectivities of those participating in such communities.  While respecting and valuing many ‘traditional’ (ancestral and gender-based) roles through, for example, gender-specific meetings, consultations and celebrations, both communities have also found ways to adjust or reform power relations to integrate and honour a spirit of democracy. This, I think, has had considerable implications for gender relations and youth subjectivities in particular. In contrast to more ‘traditional’ communities, these villages have empowered women and young people through an emphasis on participation and encouraging the individual spirit, as well as the community, to flourish.

Many of the initial and current volunteers at CELUCT, for example, are women, as this is a community with high levels of male-outmigration; men often leave to seek employment on Chimanimani’s forestry estates or in the cities.  Patience Sithole, a founding member and one of the original six volunteers, described how the project has acted as an empowering force for women, who learnt how to make their own decisions, manage and solve their problems together and create their own livelihoods through activities such as bee-keeping, jam-making and selling garden produce. The community-led nature of the project also acted to bring people together in a more democratic and constructive way, which enabled issues such as gender violence and abuse to be discussed more openly. Moreover, in the act of coming together to take collective responsibility for problems such as deforestation, soil erosion and flooding, the people also began to address other issues such as HIV/AIDS.

In both projects, youth are a central focus and are offered various leadership training programs and are invited to participate in village meetings on an equal footing with elders. They are found to be active leaders in various fields at both sites and this is celebrated and respected by those that benefit from their energy and enthusiasm. This is rather different from more traditional community dynamics where younger people are often expected to be quiet and to honour the wishes of those older than themselves.

3)    Connecting with other communities

The third characteristic of these two projects is their active and long-term connections with other communities. CELUCT is funded by various overseas donors and has received international attention in permaculture circles.  They now act as a host organisation for training workshops and also have outreach programs. They network and collaborate with other regional organisations such as TSURO and Kufunda. CELUCT host conflict resolution trainings and even ran such a workshop with Kufunda Village in 2013.

Kufunda is remarkable in Zimbabwe in the way it is shaped by contemporary emergences at the international level, such as the internet, social media, the global village concept and the transition movement. This is evident in, for example, the inception of the project through an international email invitation. International volunteers and trainers, researchers and visitors like myself, as well as youth trainees, also regularly pitch up and participate, becoming an ephemeral part of the local Kufunda community. Moreover, through social networking sites such as Facebook, such participants are able to maintain an emotional and discursive connection to and involvement with the village. In fact, most of the material donations that fund the youth program and other developments are generated through these online and trans-local connections. Kufunda is thus actively participating in global networks and mobilisations, whilst simultaneously it is embedded in a unique context and constellation of villagers.  In communion and connection with other communities in disparate geographical locations, Kufunda receives not only funding and in kind trainings from outsiders, but is also exposed to alternative configurations of power in community, and to wide networks of ‘emotional’ support. This, I suggest, enhances the resilience of the project, which is highly conscious of its own significance and is able to learn from further afield. However, the dependence on outside sources of funding is a risk, common to most of the other projects in Zimbabwe and must be addressed.

To conclude, the longevity or sustainability of these two particular projects, I would argue, is deeply connected to their innovative and holistic approaches to community-building. Both projects are attentive to local conditions and traditions while remaining open to cosmopolitan influences.  As such, I found that at these sites, people conveyed a broader outlook and sense of interconnectedness, were fluent in global environmental concerns (eg. climate change) and also had a more radical sense of social justice. Moreover, at both Chikukwa and Kufunda, there is close attention and responsiveness to the dynamics of local community, whilst they remain open to (and expectant of) change.  Finally, both projects communicated a sense of responsibility to share their experiences and we must thank them, as there is much we can all learn from them about resilient and inspirational ‘re-inventions of community’.

References and key readings, Part III

Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Hocdé, HJ. E. Vázquez, E. Holt-Gimenez and AR. Brown (2000) Towards a social movement of farmer innovation: campesino a campesino. ILEIA Newsletter, July, 26-27.

Holt-Gimenez, E. (2006) Campesino a campesino: voices from Latin America’s farmer-to-farmer movement for sustainable agriculture. Oakland, CA: Food First Books.

Kinpaisby, M. (2008) Taking stock of participatory geographies: envisioning the communiversity. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33: 292–299.

Mukute, M. (2009) Cultural Historical Activity Theory, expansive learning and agency in permaculture workplaces. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 26, 150-166.

Murwira, K., H. Wedgewood, C. Watson, EJ Win, and C. Tawney (2000) Beating hunger, the Chivi experience: a community-based approach to food security in Zimbabwe. Intermediate techbology Publications, London.

Njovana, E., & Watts, C. (1996). Gender violence in Zimbabwe: a need for collaborative action. Reproductive health matters, 4(7), 46-55.

Søndergård, B., Hansen, E. O., Holm, J., & Kerndrup, S. (2004). Creation and sharing of environmental knowledge across communities and networks. Aalborg Universitet.

Uphoff, N. (2002) Agroecological innovations: increasing food production with participatory development. London: Earthscan.

Westermann, E. (2008) The three circles of knowledge: how to build constructive community relations by understanding conflicts in rural African communities. Tien Wah Press: CELUCT.

Wheatley, M., & Frieze, D. (2011). Walk out walk on: A learning journey into communities daring to live the future now. Berrett-Koehler Store.

Wolf, P. R., & Rickard, J. A. (2003). Talking circles: A Native American approach to experiential learning. Journal of multicultural counseling and development, 31(1), 39-43.

Woolcock, M., & Narayan, D. (2000). Social capital: Implications for development theory, research, and policy. The world bank research observer, 15(2), 225-249.

 

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Zephaniah Phiri Maseko is a well-known pioneer of what has come to be known as ‘water harvesting’ and is the founder of the Zvishavane Water Project. A visionary with no fear of hard toil, he has over many years transformed his family plot in Msipani- an ‘Area 5’ dryland- into a veritable ‘wetland’ agro-ecosystem. Having faced many struggles in his life, (which are beautifully documented in “The Water Harvester: episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri” by Mary Witoshynsky), Phiri began his experiments by modifying the Rhodesian government’s protocol ‘contour ridges’ to create sand traps and water infiltration pits. He sought not only to prevent soil erosion but to ‘harvest’ and ‘plant’ the water that fell as rain or ran as surface runoff on his land.  Looking for a ‘poor man’s method’ that would be useful to himself and other small farmers in the community, he experimented with various ways of capturing water.

A key activity was to dig contour ridges with infiltration pits (or swales) along every field, as well as planting trees here to stabilise the soil and prevent erosion

A key activity was to dig contour ridges with infiltration pits (or swales) along every field, as well as planting trees here to stabilise the soil and prevent erosion

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Storing water is not too difficult; the biggest challenge was to channel water to the right place; the fields. Phiri lay underground channels with pipes and used natural gradients to direct the stored water to his crops.

Storing water is not too difficult; the biggest challenge was to channel water to the right place; the fields. Phiri lay underground channels with pipes and used natural gradients to direct the stored water to his crops.

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…”that streambed I mentioned? Well, today that seasonal stream is a pond. It is quite large, about a quarter of an acre, and the water in it was harnessed over the years by my water harvesting ideas. A pond is a rare thing in this part of our country and many people have come to my farm to see it for themselves. It never goes dry. During drought, people walk as far as five miles to get water here”. (p 42)

 

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As well as sharing his experience of water harvesting, through the Zvishavane Water Project, Phiri encourages organic and permaculture practices such as mulching and composting. “We are also discouraging chemicals. (…) These artificial fertilizers damage our soil. I wish farmers would really understand the importance of using nitrogen-fixing plants in their fields. These would serve the soil for quite some time. (…) People should be encouraged to use composts”. (p 49)

Thanks to his own great endeavours and to support from Oxfam (GB), EEC microgrants and NOVIB, he established the Zvishavane Water Project in 1987 and has since supported the local community in replicating his successes with water harvesting. We can see that there are multiple benefits from the socio-ecological transformations brought by water harvesting; for Phiri, the main goal is self-sufficiency at the community level.

TSURO Trust is an NGO that started in 1999 after communities in Chimanimani started to catch on to value of the work being done, since 1991, by CELUCT in Chikukwa. NGOS and government, together with the community, came together to establish a district-level program to complement CELUCT’s village-level activities. TSURO began without funds but by 2001, had managed to get Kellogg Foundation funding to work in 3 wards (out of a total of 23 wards in the Chimanimani district). They have since been awarded funding by the Weltfriedensdienst (WFD) and Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), the Japanese Embassy and the Tudor Trust, among others. They are a membership-based organisation with a $5 per village annual fee.

Currently having 30 staff on board, TSURO work in the Chimanimani district focussing on capacity building at the local level. Their mandate involves the application of permaculture for improving food security, nutrition and value-added livelihood activities. They take a holistic approach to agro-food interventions and practice participatory village-based planning. These plans are then consolidated at the ward level and consulted at the district level.
Their philosophy is to start interventions in food security and livelihoods right at the doorstep.

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Rainwater drainage feeds these easily accessible kitchen herbs

They also take the ‘lead farmer’ approach (i.e. training of trainers); they now have about 250 ‘lead farmers’, identified by the community, whom they train in permaculture techniques in order to train others in the community. Frequently organising fieldtrips for communities to learn from each other, they also initiate ‘starter groups’, whereby one community member teaches a small group on a topic about which they are knowledgable and then these groups develop their skills and cultivate different specialisms. Skills are then shared with others through ongoing farmer-to-farmer workshops.
TSURO holds regular workshops and meetings, promoting key permaculture techniques such as the integration of livestock and crop management, as well as agroforestry, mulching and importantly, rainwater harvesting.

Swales channel rainwater along slopes, slowing it down to encourage increased infiltration, trapping it in pits and reducing soil erosion

Swales channel rainwater along slopes, slowing it down to encourage increased infiltration, trapping it in pits and reducing soil erosion

Guttering to harvest rainwater into a storage tank

Guttering to harvest rainwater into a storage tank

These trees provide shade, fruits, soil stabilisation and increased water-holding capacity in the soil

These trees provide shade, fruits, soil stabilisation and increased water-holding capacity in the soil

Trees can also generate income through sales

Trees can also generate income through sales

Mulching increases the water retention of the soil and reduces evaporation

Mulching increases the water retention of the soil and reduces evaporation

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TSURO also promote the use of nitrogen-fixing plants as an organic and low-cost method of soil enrichment. Lucina, sesbania beans, pigeon peas, comfrey and acacias are examples of the plants used for this purpose.

Outreach and training programs encompass irrigation schemes, composting and permaculture home designs. Great work has been done with local township women in Ngangu, Chimanimani, TSURO dedicate much work to the promotion of open pollinated varieties, seeing this as essential for food security. They organise ‘seed fayres’, seed saving and sharing schemes, and run competitions to motivate people to get involved in preserving indigenous seed varieties.

Simple A-frame solar dehydrator under construction at Ngangu home, for drying fruit and veg

Simple A-frame solar dehydrator under construction at Ngangu home, for drying fruit and veg

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They also provide valuable marketing assistance in the form of Temz, which is a private company run by TSURO that buys produce directly from farmers to assist them with processing and distribution. They also help to locate other markets for community production and assist with value-added production. Truck hire is available to members at $0.70/km.

One of their most inspiring projects is the community health initiative, Zunde Tamambo, which brings the permaculture principle of caring for people alive by promoting community support for vulnerable individuals (such as orphans and the elderly) by cultivating food crops on special plots of land on their behalf. Alias Mlambo reported that there is a low adoption rate of permaculture by conventional stakeholders, who have been trained in conventional agriculture and agro-economics. There is resistance among these influential actors and so it has been difficult to influence policy at the national level. However, community level interest in Chimanmani is high; poorer rural people have been more open to seeing the benefits available to them and adopting permaculture principles and techniques.

TSURO fosters a vision of Chimanimani becoming a ‘Permaculture District’. Experience, they argue, has proven the benefits of permaculture for livelihood generation, food security and environmental conservation/rehabilitation in this context. Moreover, they suggest, permaculture is ‘closer to traditional practices’ and its principles and practices foster community-building, encouraging unity and cooperation between people.

Mountain of Hope is an organic farmers association with a community garden project, founded in 2011.  The project is jointly facilitated by the Fambidzanai Permaculture Training Centre (FPTC) and the Zimbabwe Organic Producers Association (ZOPPA) based in Harare. While the FPTC provides training for the farmers in organic production methods, organisational management and business skills, ZOPPA are working with the farmers to ensure that ‘organic’ criteria are met to the international standard required by the new ZimOrganic certification scheme.

The  farmers in the group democratically elect a committee and regularly hold meetings. They are guided by ‘lead farmers’ who receive trainings from the FPTC and are then required to pass on their skills with the rest of the group.

When I visited the site in May 2012, farmers Catherine Manhando and Rachel Taruvinga told me that the project has been successfully contributing to household food security, firstly by providing a rich variety of vegetables for the family pot, but also through income received via sales of organic produce. The project and project members sell to neighbouring households, nearby boarding schools and to supermarkets in Harare.

The ‘Organic’ movement is not widely recognised in Zimbabwe, although there are important pockets of concern and interest, and therefore a small market does exist. However, the ZimOrganic certification program is still in its infancy and requires much broader publicity. ZOPPA bemoan that organic producers are still unable to demand a premium for their goods, as retailers and consumers are unwilling (and in many cases unable) to pay extra.

However, as can be gleaned from lead farmer Didymus Taruvinga in the short video here, concerns about the health consequences of conventional food production are growing in Zimbabwe, especially given the context of high levels of HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancers and other serious health issues.

The association members are confident about the sustainability of this project, citing the increasing demand for and awareness about organic produce, the strong support from a local boarding school that purchases from the site, and also the multi-skilled ‘get up and go’…‘we can do this for ourselves’ attitude that the members have cultivated in developing this project. The project also has the full support of local traditional leaders, who allocated the project land on which to develop the community garden.

One of the key challenges identified by the four female farmers that were interviewed here was a lack of policy support at the national or provincial level; government extension services remain staunchly pro-conventional in that they support the distribution of chemical fertilizers and pesticide sprays, yet do not provide trainings in nutrition and organic methods of production.

Other challenges that were cited revolved around a lack of capital to invest in key infrastructure such as fencing, irrigation piping, a water pump, and transport to take their produce to market. The ZimOrganic label requires strict adherence to organic principles and this requires discipline and constant participatory monitoring of member activities, which may also prove to be a challenge should institutional support dry up.

The garden itself was impressive; well-kept beds, mulched and highly productive. They grow a wide variety of upmarket vegetables including baby marrow, broccoli and baby gem squash.  It was interesting to hear how the farmers were incorporating this new range of produce into their own diets as typically, rural Zimbabweans grow and consume mainly spinach, kale, beans, tomatoes, onions, sweet potato, squash and seasonal indigenous vegetables. It is rare to find broccoli and suchlike in a rural community garden project. The farmers here were very positive about their expanding diet and nutritional knowledge base, but the main focus was on selling this range to the more urban markets where a higher profit margin could be reaped.

It was a humbling and encouraging experience to tour this young garden, where community farmers are investing their immense energies in learning and creating something healthy and positive to uplift themselves, foster a healthier nation and protect their environment. The project is in its early days but it is clear to see that this garden is indeed a monumental Mountain of Hope in a landscape of increasing environmental degradation, conflict and human disease. Let’s all hope that this project will continue to rise with the tide of growing ‘organic’ awareness.

Introducing Mountain of Hope organic farmers association, (high resolution) from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

 

Kufunda is a living, learning village and hosting centre located approximately 40km from Harare. It began as one woman’s personal vision and became a material and collective process of community-building. It is an active residential community that hosts training courses in youth leadership, permaculture, and other sustainable living themes.

Initiator, Marianne Knuth, hails from Zimbabwe but with Danish family on her father’s side, spent many years undertaking her formal education in Denmark. As a student, she was deeply involved with establishing Pioneers for Change. Shaped by living ‘between worlds’ and inspired by collective gatherings of people motivated to create a more sustainable world, Marianne shared her vision of Kufunda with her family in Zimbabwe and negotiated to utilise part of the family farm in Ruwa to begin the task of materialising this vision. She sent a ‘call’ out, by email, to all friends and contacts, communicating her idea for co-creating what has become a “communiversity” and inviting kindred spirits to join her.

Kufunda thus started as a group of 20 or so volunteers, with much emotional and physical support from the Knuth family. Supported by their own vivacious energy and passion, and donations from overseas friends, they began in 2001 by building eco-logical buildings that would form the physical structure of the hosting centre. Diving in with open hearts, Kufunda recruited and hosted their first youth leadership training in 2002.

The centre practices and offers workshops and training in permaculture, herbal medicine, sustainable technologies and leadership skills. Integrated into this, are regular yoga, aikido and other holistic therapies, community development activities and ‘art of hosting’ events. There is now a whole village complex of thatched dormitories and rondovals, A-frame houses, a communal dining room and kitchen, pre-school, classroom, bomas, herb lab and gardens, nestled amidst verdant forests and fields. In summer, you’ll find an uncanny array of wild mushrooms sprouting up from the carpet of dense leaves and rich humus beneath the trees. Cutting down trees for firewood is not allowed here and the ground is not swept bare of all life, for fear of snakes, as in most Zimbabwean homesteads.

The core community comprises of about 15 resident families, who either began as founders or joined after participating in a Kufunda youth program. Different tasks and roles are delegated among the community depending on skill base and interest. There are cluster groups, such as the technology/energy group, the herb team, the permaculture team, and the youth team. There are also paid cooks and pre-school teachers, for working with the resident children and the visiting youth.

The community have a meeting every Monday morning, where a participatory communication and learning model is followed. The group passes an object around their circle gathering, and all respect the sole right of the holder to speak (or not speak) at that time. As the object moves around the circle, each person shares how they are feeling and what has been going on with them in the past week. This patient process is designed to encourage active, democratic participation and the honouring of each person’s unique talent, standpoint and contribution. After this process of ‘tuning in’, tasks and issues are discussed. The cluster groups also have similar, more focussed meetings on a regular basis to plan and deal with their special responsibilities.

A wonderful and pioneering aspect of this community is their human waste management! Early on in its development, the community had to grapple with these ‘toilet’ issues. As a rural project, there is no sewerage or mains water system here. Unlike most other rural communities in Zimbabwe (where unproductive ‘long-drop’ loos and, in some places, open defecation, are the norm), at Kufunda, they recycle human waste (or ‘humanure’) using composting toilets. There are two types of composting loos at Kufunda. One is the ‘arborloo’, where a mobile upper loo is put above a pit, and moved on once the pit is three-quarters full. Topsoil is added and a tree is then planted in the pit. The other type is the twin composting loo, which cycles the process of decomposition and compost production over a period of about two years. Two pits are made inside a permanent outer structure. Once the first pit is full, it is covered with a concrete slab and the other pit is then utilised. After about a year, the excrement in the first pit has decomposed into a safe compost and it can be emptied and used as an organic fertiliser. The cycle continues as the second pit fills. In both of these types of toilet, one puts a few cups of leaves, ash and soil into the loo after use and this helps to ward off evil smells and cover the deposit, as well as aiding the production of a fertile, well-structured compost. In this way, human energy ‘outflow’ is transformed into a valuable input to the agro-ecological system; waste is transformed into non-waste, at no cost.

The village has existed for over 10 years and it has been a changing and challenging journey so far. As with all projects that are embedded in community- indeed, as with anything that involves people working together- conflicts of interest and divergences in opinion have arisen many times. A key challenge has been for individuals to develop full a sense of collective ownership and responsibility. Particularly when times are tough, it has been difficult for some residents to come to terms with the challenges of joining a volunteerist and collective enterprise, given that most of the time, people are living without a salary/income. In hard times, it is all too easy to question one’s own past decisions and current options, or to look to displace responsibility onto someone else, a presumed ‘leader’. But at Kufunda, the goal has been to consciously distribute and collectivize leadership and responsibility at the whole community level. This is a courageous and inspiring model of community living, not without its challenges.

But ultimately, Kufunda is a place of hope. Having first visited in 2011, I have since returned five times and each time, I come away with a sense that despite existing in a context where economic hardship, political unrest and environmental degradation are rampant, another world is possible and is in action here. This is a community that constantly seeks to be together in a way that nurtures and values each individual, while at the same time working to appreciate and sustain ecological life.

Although deeply grounded in a local, place-bound community, this project is very much shaped by contemporary emergences at the international level, such as the internet, social media, the global village concept and the transition movement. This is evident in, for example, the inception of the project through an international email invitation. International volunteers and trainers, researchers and visitors like myself, as well as youth trainees, regularly pitch up and participate, becoming an ephemeral part of the local Kufunda community. Moreover, through social networking sites such as Facebook, such participants are able to maintain an emotional and discursive connection to and involvement with the village. In fact, most of the material donations that fund the youth program and other developments are generated through these online and trans-local connections. Kufunda is thus actively participating in global networks and mobilisations, whilst simultaneously embedded in a unique context and constellation of villagers. In communion and connection with other communities in disparate geographical locations, the village actively experiments with building a more compassionate community, positively transforming relationships and thus creating more holistic, healthy and sustainable socio-ecology. In pursuing this agenda, Kufunda eschews any sense of completion and is instead an exciting place of promise, consciously unfurling like a spiral.

Other resources:

http://kufunda.org/

http://kufunda.org/author/kufunda/

Wheatley, M., & Frieze, D. (2011). Walk out walk on: A learning journey into communities daring to live the future now. Berrett-Koehler Store.

Watch a Kufunda video introduction here!

The Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT) in Chikukwa, Chimanimani district, is an inspiring community permaculture project that began in 1991. In October 2011, I was fortunate to tour the area and to interview two of the project’s core members, Patience Sithole and Phineas Chikoshana. Chikukwa is a beautiful, lush and mountainous area that encompasses six villages and is home to about 1000 people.  At the time of the project’s inception, however, the place looked very different and the community faced a troubling and deteriorating situation; the whole environment was is a state of degradation with landslides, soil erosion, hunger, droughts and flooding characterizing the area.

These problems were much discussed and bemoaned in the community and in 1991, a group got together and decided to try and do something constructive about it. To begin with, thirty farmers received some initial training in permaculture and natural resource management. The training took place in a forest where participants were encouraged to make their own observations of the surrounding ecosystem and apply their insights to problem-solving at home. In 1992, a refresher course took place with 52 people. In the same year, Chikukwa experienced serious floods. As a result of this confluence of the trainings, concern and the crisis point precipitated by the flood damage, six dedicated souls decided to work together as volunteers, to act as agents of change. They became the catalysts of the incipient community program that was to transform Chikukwa.

From the beginning, they cooperated with the local chief, headmen and sorbhuks and organised regular community meetings. Through various activities, they began to transform their degraded environment, bringing more and more people on board as the months passed. There were/are three project levels, depending on the actions being taken: household projects, such as establishing a fish pond or kitchen garden; group projects (involving 5 families) to develop, for example, an orchard or to create a terrace or hedgerow along a contour; and community projects, such as rehabilitating a hillside or water source. Impressively, the community managed to transform local gullies and springs to restore their water supply and to manage surface water runoff during the rains. They then built a community-wide water storage and distribution system. As a result, nearly all homesteads now have piped, clean tap water fed by a rehabilitated local spring.

Permaculture practices such as agroforestry, inter-cropping, mulching, holistic design and the use of open-pollinated indigenous crop varieties were enrolled to reverse the damage that had been wrought by past over-grazing, mono-cropping and poor environmental conservation practices.  Nutrition gardens, home orchards, seed-sharing, hedging and terracing became common practices and as a result, hunger and apathy in the community were greatly reduced.

After the initial experimental stage during 1991-95, with positive results observed by all, CELUCT was ‘officially’ born. In 1995, the community came together to build a community hall and in this new facility, a farmer ‘permaculture school’ (or permachikoro, as they termed it) began. Here, local farmers became teachers, sharing their particular skills and knowledge with others through regular peer-to-peer sharing sessions. In 1996, the Trust and Board were formed.  In 1997, a training centre was established with some overseas funding assisting the- by now many- local volunteers. The Centre is now well-equipped with offices, guest accommodation, classrooms, a kitchen and a preschool, as well as a beautiful demonstration garden. Permaculture trainings are facilitated at the Centre for people travelling from far and wide to learn from this model of community-led, holistic development.

Many of the initial and current volunteers are women, as this is/was a community with high levels of male-outmigration; men often leave to seek employment on Chimanimani’s forestry estates or in the cities.  Patience Sithole, a founding member and one of the original six volunteers, described how the project had acted as an empowering force for women, who learnt how to make their own decisions, manage and solve their problems together and create their own livelihoods through activities such as bee-keeping, jam-making and selling garden produce. The community-led nature of the project also acted to bring people together in a more democratic and constructive way, which enabled issues such as gender violence and abuse to be discussed more openly. In the act of coming together to take collective responsibility for problems such as deforestation, soil erosion and flooding, the people also began to address other issues such as HIV/AIDS. Working closely with the clinic, CELUCT initiated community councelling and information-sharing sessions.

However, the Chikukwa project has had its own challenges and crises to face. As Phineas Chikoshana put it, “conflicts are everywhere. As an individual, you always have conflicts within yourself (…) and when one is not at peace with him or herself, then that person is bound to have conflicts with others as well. So it’s very important to cultivate a spirit of peace within the community.”  Phineas joined the project in 2008 after starting as one of the first trainees on CELUCT’s ‘Building Constructive Community Relations’ (BCCR) program in 2006. This has since, out of a natural necessity, become a central pillar of the Chikukwa project. As time passed and new problems began to arise, (as people worked together in new ways or with new agendas), it was recognized that conflicts (always) arise and so people must know how to effectively deal with them.  Through the BCCR program, CELUCT members worked to sensitize each other to conflict resolution methods, in particular the ‘Three Circles of Knowledge’ approach (REF), so that the community could move forward and not allow conflicts to destroy what they had achieved. The original 40 BCCR trainees then ran three-day outreach workshops in the community and CELUCT now hosts conflict resolution trainings for many other organisations and communities. As Phineas shared with me, “the permaculture projects were in a context of community conflict and often led to conflicts over resources and how to manage resources”…but ultimately “development needs peace [in order] to thrive” and so “we must learn how to transform conflict situations”. In other words, as an organization, CELUCT identified that one cannot avoid community conflict and so the project had to integrate these conflict management training into their core practice. This, I feel, is likely the key to their success in maintaining this ongoing community-led project over such a long period.

Permaculture, as an approach and design tool, has no doubt been successfully mobilised in Chikukwa to   harness local indigenous knowledge systems as well as active and contemporary ingenuity. The area’s initial problems of deforestation, hunger, drought and flooding have been ameliorated through grassroots collective action and consciously developing new relationships with socio-ecological systems.

Patience identified a few challenges that the community continues to face: difficulties in generating a cash income given the remoteness of Chikukwa’s location from markets (it is 170km to the nearest city, Mutare); fundraising in the context of a global recession; maintaining proper records given inadequate resources to employ professional administrators; and more largely, the threat of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the might of the corporates that promote them to maintaining local food sovereignty and safety.

CELUCT are in the process of obtaining organic certification for their agro-processing activities and offer farmer peer-to-peer training in organic production, certification and standardization. Their goal is to continue offering and developing trainings in permaculture and conflict resolution for the youth, to ensure a succession of skills and to foster sustainable livelihoods, water catchments and living systems.

Check out the video page for some visual clips.

For more information, see:

CELUCT (2007) ‘Chikukwa, Then and Now: 15 years of building community and securing life’. Pemba Productions.

http://www.chikukwa.org/

I first met Julious Piti and his wife, Taurai Mutembedzi, at their home in Chaseyama in October 2011.  Driving through the dry and dusty valley on the approach, to arrive at the Piti family property provides a surprising contrast.  This is a 14ha permaculture site that acts as a demonstration project for anyone who would like to learn about the benefits of this way of living/farming in such an environment.

Piti registered the PORET Trust with three other expert Board members in 2006, having spent the previous 10 years slowly transforming his land from a rocky desert to a verdant green haven. It is the central hub of Chaseyama Permaculture Club, which has 31 members and developed around the site as the community saw, with their own eyes, the benefits of permaculture.

The project aims to create food, employment and inspiration at the community level. There is a nursery with indigenous trees and herbs, but the main focus is sustainable food production. “People must see that permaculture is not just about planting trees and conserving the environment; we must also grow food and get rid of hunger” said Piti. At Chaseyama, they grow herbs, sorghum, sugar cane, cassava, sweet potatoes, mango, passionfruits, lemons, nartjies and other seasonal vegetables.

They practice zero-tillage, meaning that NO ploughing is done and the soil is minimally disturbed during planting. Bagasse (waste from the sugar cane plants) is used as mulch.  Nitrogen-fixing crops such as sunhemp, pigeon pea and comfrey are grown to organically enrich the soil, rather than applying any artificial fertilizers. In fact, the whole property is ‘organic’, in that no chemicals are applied to the crops.

A key aspect of the land rehabilitation project has been the recovery, harnessing and intelligent management of the local natural water sources and catchment flows. Piti uses swales and tree-planting to reduce soil erosion during the rains. The community are now protecting the forest around the springs to help stabilize the area’s water supply. PORET has a tank atop the hillside, which is fed by one of the natural springs and uses gravity to bring piped water down to the house and garden.

The Permaculture Club is perhaps the most inspiring aspect of this project. It began in the form of “look and learn tours” and internships for local Jinga Village farmers. The project “inspired many farmers and stakeholders to learn non-destructive methods of production, and to participate in the project’s decision making processes (community-based planning)” (www.poret-zimbabwe.org). At Chaseyama, they have created a space in which people can learn and adapt permaculture techniques and methods that improve the quality of community life. Piti stressed that ‘a sense of community ownership’ was essential to a project like this, which can raise local potential and capacity, and transform the socio-ecological environment in a positive way. “People need to learn how to live with their natural resources in a sustainable way, without hunger” said Piti.

In 2007, the project won the National environmental award.  The Trust has a long-term vision of creating an on-site education centre where students or farmers and their families can attend courses and be properly accommodated. They also plan to build a kindergarten and a library.  Piti’s more immediate goals include continuing to expand their outreach program to support farmers in developing their own permaculture systems and also to plant more trees in the Chaseyama area to stabilize the soil and restore the catchment area more widely.

Watch this video for a brief introductory tour of PORET Trust with Julious Piti as your host!