Permaculture: overcoming the challenges of climate change

Rozie Apps
Thursday, 2nd May 2013

Permaculture design is being used in Malawi to turn around the effects of climate change. It is helping farmers beat malnutrition through diverse produce and rejuvenating the soil.

Permaculture design has helped the village of Chikhawo in Malawi to turn around the effects of climate change.

The village is located between the banks of the Lilongwe River and a small hill that shades the area from water. Deforestation has left only a few patches of forest, the soil is infertile, there is a lack of water and lack of food. Malnutrition is high due to monocropping and there is extinctions of species in the ecosystem. Soil has been carried away by running water and the sun is too hot. Crops are failing which leaves a low harvest.

Climate change is making this happen all over Malawi.

By using permacultures designs of polycultures, farmers could cultivate their yards and the bare area's around their homes, and produce fruit and vegetables year round. By using soil and water conservation, fertility practises such as animal manure, intercropping nitrogen-fixing plants, no-til beds, irrigating with re-used grey water, swales, mulching and agro-biodiversity, these farmers can build resilient systems to survive the eight month drought periods.

There are both economic and environmental benefits from using permaculture systems. Economically the farmers have less food purchasing costs because they grow a variety of produce, their agricultural bills are less because they use animal manure and compost instead of fertilisers and chemicals, their labor costs are less as the systems are self-sustaining and require less maintenance and they even earn an income from their surplus produce.

Environmentally, permaculture systems: improve soil conditions through returning nutrients to the soil and building up organic matter and use water harvesting which helps maximise the use of the rainy season, with potential to store water in the ground. Farmers plant tree's that are useful to them, which combats deforestation and agro-biodiversity helps improve diets and fight malnutrition. The use of ecosystem biodiversity and less dependance of fossil fuels are another benefit, helping to boost farmers handling of climate change. 

Permaculture principles allow farmers to work with nature and their available resources, planning and implementing their own designs. Small changes can give huge effects, having a positive outcome for their societies. By copying nature, and growing around their homes where they can look after their produce, the people of Malawi could have green and healthy villages and an abundance of food.

More resources

Permaculture Education in Malawi: taking practical skills to rural communities

African Biotech Specialist Disputes Concerns Over Genetically Engineered Food

Watch Regeneration which shows how desertification can be reversed.