Taking Permaculture to Schools, Community and Those in Need

Monday, 11th May 2020

Sector39, a Welsh charity, is bringing permaculture to schools and communities in Wales and East Africa.

Over the last 12 years, Sector39 has delivered 42 full permaculture design courses. These have included traditional two-week residential courses, weekend courses, evening courses and so much more. Sector39 has brought permaculture to a wide rnage of people, teaching across Wales and Africa.

Overtime their teaching resources have become more modern, allowing their message to reach far and wide.

A main strand of Sector39’s current work has been to take permaculture into the community, especially into the local high school. Children are learn about climate change and mass extinction in a way that is not scary, but with real-life solutions to these issues. Work is taking place to transform the local monoculture of sheep to a more diverse landscape, with the aim to educate local farmers rather than stigmatise them.

Permaculture is featured in GCSE subject areas linking to land-based studies, the Welsh Baccalaureate and arts subjects. It has not been easy but supported by three year’s funding from the EU to expand these ideas as the ‘One School One Planet’ project has lead to headway. Although the national curriculum is yet to totally transform, Sector39 has had many small victories along the way, through exploring how to raise these complex subjects in both school and community settings. A textbook for schools, with a supporting narrative of how this challenge was approahced is in the pipeline. 

A real posiitve from Sector39's work is the devlopment of a heritage orchard by the school and local community. Now named ‘Cae Bodfach’, this rich diverse landscape embraces the same principles being taught across Sector39's work. One hundred fruit trees have been planted, each a different variety, protected from cold northerlies by a dense planting of indigenous species of hedging plants, rich in hips, haws and sloes to feed the birds. The orchard has been underplanted with bee friendly pollinator plants and a central herb garden of edible, medicinal and dye plants, once used to be common in our landscape, has been added. Even the RSPB are happy, as this new site is abundant in wildlife friendly habitat.


Taking permaculture further afield

In 2016, Sector39 extended into East Africa, bringing permaculture to a new audience and new environments. The PDC process was adapted for this new climate, becoming more practical for the Ugandans and Kenyans ready to create edible landscapes and sustaible livelihoods. More recently, Sector39 has trialled permaculture as a community development tool in Uganda's Bidibidi refugee settlement. Currently the world’s biggest home for displaced people and far to the north in the West Nile region, these spontaneous communities proved to be both challenging and extremely rewarding environments to work in. Sector39 recruited a training team from the best of their recent PDC graduates and won the six-month contract with the Norwegian Refugee Council to continue bring permaculture to those in need. 

Mud huts, thatched churches with branches as seats, no power and vast distances to travel to reach our audience, this was a genuinely new setting to work in. It was also a huge challenge to be thrown back into the world of flip charts and minimal props whilst teaching a highly diverse audience, stemming from 12 Central African tribes and between them speaking eight different languages. It begs the question, what is the universal aspect of permaculture? Also, what are those elements that transcend place and culture and remain relevant in every context? For example, the following...

  • Only plants can store the energy of sunlight in a usable form, sugars and starches
  • Plants thrive in moist, uncompacted soil, alive with microbes and fungi
  • Plants also grow better in guilds, alongside complementary species
  • Water always flows downhill, thus revealing a set of strategies to trap surface flow and direct it where needed
  • Organic matter decays to compost, revitalising soils and improving the ability to accept and hold moisture
  • Warm air rises

Regardless of religious or cultural background these observations are universally true. This is the basis for permaculture and has been expressed most succinctly and beautifully by David Holmgren through his 12 principles. These expand insightfully on the mechanisms of the natural world as well as how to approach design from a dynamic systems approach. The 12 principles are easy to memorise, translate well and seem to bridge different cultural perspectives effectively.


Based on this idea, Sector39 has produced their own training manual, now being used in both Uganda and South Sudan as a tool to facilitate peer to peer learning of these vital concepts and their applications. Cob built thermal mass stoves, slow sand water filters, biochar, compost, keyhole beds, chicken tractors, leguminous plants, plant root/ mycorrhizal associations, forest gardens, plant guilds and compost toilets all make sense and connect into an integrated whole when viewed through this framework of understanding. The combination of very practical sessions such as building compost heaps and planting banana circles each day, framed by these principles created a group vision and coherence that was truly inspiring. The work continues.

Permaculture is a conceptual language of sustainability and regeneration. It is an enabler that facilitates action and co-ordinates responses powerfully. Whether we are confronting global issues, refugees, displaced people or simply impoverished first world communities, it has much to say and offer. Sector39 are a permaculture team and enterprise based in Wales but with a view to helping shape the world. Permaculture speaks a universal truth that has never been more urgently needed!

Sector39 (www.sector39.co.uk) was one of the 20 finalists for the 2019 Permaculture Magazine Prize.

Useful links

Permaculture Magazine launches third year of prize

How the garden works in educating children

Bioremediation and regeneration in oil-damaged Ecuador