Using Permaculture Design to Create Multifunctional Farms

OSA Ishiara
Thursday, 1st October 2020

OSA Ishiara in Kenya are bringing permaculture to local communities through demonstration farms, educating in water management, collaboration and diversity.

Order of St. Augustine – OSA (Ishiara parish) a church based organization in catholic diocese of Embu works with the vulnerable community of ASAL Embu County, Mbeere North Sub county, particularly Evurore Ward in Kenya in its attempt to protect and improve the rural livelihoods (community resilience and climate change adaptation) with financial support from Trócaire and Misean Cara.

OSA Ishiara largely adopts a strategy of working with vulnerable communities, partners from government and private sectors in delivering its goal. Commonly adopted approaches are community capacity building, stakeholders engagement, CMDRR, community based livelihoods interventions/projects, progress follow ups, success story documentations, learning/exchange visits, peer learning and evaluations, financial literacy among others.

The permaculture approach began in March 2017 with the establishment of two demonstration farms which were designed together with the community using the permaculture principles. The demonstration farms were set up to serve as training/learning centre for our farmers, aggregation of farm produces, research centre and a reference to the beneficiaries implementing permaculture in their farms.

The project is implemented by 14 staff and 14 trainers of trainees. The programme manager is the overall head of the organization. The project is working with 4170 households and community members work together with farm activities.

Demonstration farms serve as a training for the project beneficiaries where they are trained on permaculture design, principles and ethics. When the farmers were trained, the demo farm gave them an opportunity to carry out practical activities that built their skill to adopt permaculture practices. After trainings, farmers started the adoption immediately as the already established demonstration farm motivated them.

The project officers mentored the project beneficiaries through follow ups at group level and at household level. During the follow ups, farmers were guided through in their implementation process. Within three months of implementation, farmers enjoyed the short term benefits of the design. These were, harvesting vegetables from their kitchen gardens for consumption and sales. These yields improved their nutritional status, and increased their sources of income. Groups members worked together in doing the manual work that includes: digging of the sunken swales, zai pits, water pans, establishment of group tree nursery, and demonstration farm communal work. This built their social coherence. Three groups established group farms with vegetable gardens and rain fed farms. From the sale of the vegetables, the members shared the income that helped them to begin savings and internal lending committees SILC.

The project also works with poultry groups, as part of the permaculture adoption, the farmers were encouraged to diversify their livestock. They have been able to access improved kienyenji chicken from the demonstration farms. From this, farmers have been able to make sales from egg and poultry. This has also increased their sources of income.


The swales reduce the flow of water, spreading it across the farm and encouraging infiltration. This helps in soil conservation in the farm and encouraging succession and natural regeneration. The project has worked with communities to build two sand dams and also regenerate one. Several gabions and check dams have been made through the group communal. This has raised the water table, reduced erosion, encouraged natural regeneration and provided water for community livestock during the dry spell. Relative element placement in the design encourages efficient flow of energy from one element to another. Elements are also placed in such a way that they are interrelated and are together to help in managing the waste as one element’s output is another input.


For instance, in the demonstration farm, roof catchment is placed in a way that the rain water feeds to the larger tank, the overflow from the larger tank feeds the medium tank and the medium tank feed the small tank. Water storage facilities are placed at the highest point of the farm, thereby the rest of the farm is watered with gravity. Chicken waste from the chicken coops are fed to the fish in the fish pond, waste water from the fish pond is used to water the kitchen garden where the vegetables benefits from water that is rich in ammonia. The waste vegetables are used to feed the chicken.


Tree nurseries established at the demonstration farms and at group level contained indigenous seedlings with fruits, timber, fodder, herbal ornamental, water catchment species. The group members were able to plant the trees in their food forests, donate them to the neighbouring schools and plant some along riparian land. Group members also sell the trees to non-group members. These trees are growing to build the microclimate.


On farm water harvesting structures such as swales and water pans have improved water conservation and retention in the beneficiaries’ farms, this has contributed to improvement of farm yields and diversified crops even with insufficient rains that have characterized the area in the last 10 years.

The rest of the communities who are not project beneficiaries have had an opportunity to duplicate the permaculture approaches in their farms. The project also organizes farmer’s field days and seed fairs where the project beneficiaries were able to showcase their agro-ecological skills and produce to the rest of the community and policy makers. This influenced the larger Evurore Ward community to adopt permaculture practices. This also informed climate change policy and the climate chnge fund bill for Embu County.

OSA Ishiara ( 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