Permaculture ethics lie at the core of the Mangwende Orphan Care Trust (MOCT) and were the primary motivations for its creation in 2015. The founders, Evans Mangwende and his wife Maud Tonha were, however, far from familiar with the named concept of permaculture. Yet, what they later learnt to be called 'People Care' and 'Fair Shares' are the guiding elements of their vision and mission. Indeed, in response to the various national crises in Zimbabwe, the Trust’s initial goal was to reinforce the local communities' social structure with the aim to care for its vulnerable members (orphans, widows, elders, disabled).
As the governmental maize support for schools declined, the number of children and orphans in need of a feeding program grew from 66 to over 1300 in four years. There was an urgent need for self-sufficiency to cater for more to come. MOCT could only help by supplying basic necessities (uniform, educational materials, salt and cooking oil). The decision was made to grow food to tackle a range of social, economic and ecological challenges.
Zimbabwe was and still is facing high inflation rate, unemployment, desertification, loss of natural habitat, biodiversity and fertile soil as a result of degenerative and exploitative agricultural practices. The current pandemic has added to the stress with the collapse of the education system and lockdown measures forcing children to work for survival. Rural communities suffer the most as they are dependent on unreliable or erratic rainfalls to rehydrate the semi-arid landscape, they are forced to keep digging wells (for drinking and irrigation) as these frequently dry out.
Nourishing the community was no longer possible using these unsustainable methods. The founders researched how to extend MOCT responsibilities with the aim of improving agricultural techniques and restoring the ecosystem. The vision for a Permaculture Education Farm and Demonstration Centre was born. It is based on the revival of the local social security culture, called Zunde ReMambo, as a redistributive approach. In this traditional system, collaboration prevails, with the community working as a whole on a plot of land lent by their chief (community leader). The harvest is stored as one collective unit in the granary, and shared by the chief amongst the disadvantaged community members whenever needed. This way, all members can contribute and benefit fairly.
Building for the orphanage
Weaving the bridge
Evans Mangwende is often referred to as the 'Chief' not only because his father was the chief of the biggest district, acting as the president of all chiefs of Zimbabwe, but because he deeply cares for, listens to and involves his people. Evans is highly respected across Murehwa district, as he often travels from one village to another to visit the elderly and the needy. He therefore has the power to call on village gatherings easily and the capacity to trigger and implement changes at social, ecological and economic levels. He understands the interconnections between all these elements as well as the concerns of his community and the importance of empowerment, social cohesion and environmental education.
As Evans discovered the term permaculture he saw a correlation with his dreams. After he attended a permaculture course (by Steve Cran, Sector39) in Uganda in 2018, his vision was refined to uplift communities through community food growing projects. A rural area of Murehwa was picked as a pilot, starting with the 16 closest villages and extending to all the 336 villages in the region in the hope of scaling up beyond, following the idea of replicable ecovillages.
MOCT initially secured two plots of land. A smaller site of 4.8ha located by the town was to host an orphanage with a vegetable garden to be used as a demonstration site (unfortunately due to lack of funds, the building is as yet incomplete). A larger site of 18ha, near the river, would serve as the main farmland and subsequently as an Education Permaculture Centre. The whole project was selected by Gaia Education as a case study to develop a holistic framework for a sustainable business model, ecosystem restoration plan and healthier socio-cultural livelihood.
Very soon, the project attracted a handful of dedicated volunteers. Thanks to their support, MOCT online presence, networking and donation improved. The Trust secured $15k funding in 2019 and a similar amount by August 2020. The project could finally be kickstarted. The site was immediately secured from major threats (free roaming grazing animals and drought). New fences protecting the area to be cultivated were erected. A solar irrigation kit could be purchased and a water tank was built. The huts for the orphanage village are still under construction.
Most importantly the priority was to reinstate the natural hydrological cycle and secure long term abundance in the scale of permanence. In the past year, efforts were focused around digging swales and testing different crops and plantations. Cabbage, maize and onions have already been harvested, and either sold or given to the needy. This is MOCT's first celebration of success.
The new direction
As an investment in the future regeneration process, MOCT favours the rehabilitation of ecosystem cycles and services. It puts emphasis on seed collection and fruit trees with the creation of an indigenous species seed bank and the planting of a full food forest system mimicking all the layers of natural forests. To maximise multifunctionality, a living fence is also planted for wind protection, to provide additional fodder and shade, as well as contributing to increasing biodiversity, and especially preserving native species. Local farmers are already involved in the propagation and growing of papaya, avocado and other plants. By leaving some of the trees to the farmers, MOCT began a decentralized nursery project at almost no cost.
Neighbouring communities have already expressed their interest in gaining training from MOCT on tree planting, water harvesting, land design and recycling.
Having attended courses at PORET (Participatory Organic Research & Extension Training Trust) and ACHM (African Centre of Holistic Management), Evans is now partnering with both these organisations to jointly design and implement permaculture and holistic land management courses on site. MOCT has become a living classroom and hopes to soon deliver the Farm Field School education system, as part of the Permaculture Centre, to offer other skills and management based courses.
The Mangwende Orphan Trust website can be found at https://mangwendeorphancaretrust.org and the trust’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Mangwende-Orphan-Care-Trust-315653568626213/
To support the Mangwende Orphan Trust, please visit their crowdfunding page: www.gofundme.com/f/mangwende-permaculture-center
Mangwende Orphan Trust is a runner-up in the 2020 Permaculture Magazine Prize.