Our first Permaculture Design Certificate course at the latest Green Warrior Permaculture Field School in Palawan finished on a high note. The 40 members of the course came from some pretty diverse backgrounds. We had international students from New Zealand, Australia, United States, France and Taiwan mixed with local native students and Filipinos from around the country.
As well as the mixture of cultures we also had a wide range of educational backgrounds from various university degrees to tribal people that dropped out of school after grade one because they couldn’t travel the distance to school each day safely. Regardless of their schooling the native people were sharp and intelligent and they also had the edge when it came to field skills in farming and construction.
If you have ever seen Filipino movies, a great deal of comedies centre around the country bumpkin or farmer coming to the city and getting in all kinds of trouble, out his depth in the concrete jungle. On this course the opposite occurred. The city folk had to contend with life in the rural outback of the Philippines.
To add to the mixture we had a young permaculture trainer from Kenya, Wycliffe Yongo, co- teaching with me. He brought valuable experience from his country where rural farmers face the same kind of poverty as here in the Philippines. Yongo shared his experiences bringing solutions to rural Kenyan communities. None of the native people have ever seen, let alone spoken to an African before but they are pleasantly surprised that he is no different than them. At night Yongo and our Taiwanese intern, Toto, show the locals all the latest dance moves. To me it looks like two dudes getting electrocuted to the beat of bad rap music but the locals and internationals loved it.
Our Green Warrior courses are 50% hands on. The students were broken up into 3 teams and each team must build a project as part of their training. Together the mixture of cultures and backgrounds put their collective skills together and built working models of permaculture systems that will be used by the native people to upgrade their food security and improve their livelihoods.
The soils here in southern Palawan are very poor as there were once mighty rainforests here. Rainforests are a very efficient ecosystem so the soils are very fragile and die as soon as the forest is removed. The poor itinerant farmers migrating here burnt down patches of forest, turned the timber into charcoal to sell and farmed the land for 2 to 3 years, then moved on when the last fertility washed away in the heavy rains. This has been a common story for many years here so slowly the jungle is eaten up and the poor soils begin to erode and lose any fertility they had.
With limited education the native people have tried to work the land using conventional agriculture with its systemic chemicals and artificial fertilizers. Any money they make goes into paying for these external inputs. They also use many toxic farm chemicals without knowing the dangers adding to their health problems and pollution problems.
Of all the places I’ve worked in the Philippines, these people are the poorest but they are also the most hardworking and intelligent Filipinos I’ve met. I’m sure having no TV or Internet has something to do with it.
Eric Roxas is my interpreter for the entire course. Eric is a gung-ho Green Warrior and he also is an amazing musician. Several times I got Eric up to sing part of my lesson, which went over well with the entire class. He has written many excellent permaculture songs in English and Tagalog. I’m sure Eric will write the first Permaculture Design Course opera in the future! Stay tuned for that one.
Other Green Warriors from the Philippines joined us to support this course and learned how to run a PDC. I’m determined to produce some solid Filipino permaculture trainers in the next 2 years.
To repair the soil fertility problem here we need to introduce quality organic fertilizer with little or no cost to the farmer. Our solution is the “FREE FERTILIZER FACTORY” or the FFF. Simply put, it is a raised goat pen where the goats are corralled at night. Underneath is a Vermicast system or worm farm with a compost bay feeding composted farm waste and food waste into the worm pit. Compost plus goat poo and goat piss feed the worms. This mixture, once digested by our special compost worms, makes a high value organic fertilizer. When operational the 6 goats are sent out to graze during the day and at night are fed nutritious legumes to counter the poor nutrition of the local grasses. From this simple system the farmer gets fertilizer, goat milk, goat meat eventually and he can keep the vegetation tamed by tethering the animals where needed.
On another team project we build a native home garden around our “tree house” as a model for local families to copy. Raised beds are planted with all kinds of vegetables, herbs and flowers. The fences made from split bamboo become trellises for beans, squash and cucumbers. Every nook and cranny has some kind of food planted. Our motto is “Grow too much!” Once the garden is grown the family here will have a living supermarket outside their door.
The third project is a raised chicken house to increase the egg production and quantity of native chickens a family can raise. The native chickens here are excellent egg layers and mothers but predators and other mishaps drop their numbers dramatically so a family gets little benefit from their poultry. The new “Chic-Vegas” as we call it, can house 28 hens and 2 roosters. It catches all the manure to add to the FFF and allows the native hens to raise their brood without losing any to predators and weather conditions.
In the field the natives are king. Their skills with the Bolo or machete are amazing as they teach the city guys how to use the blade to split and skin the bamboo and weave the splits into walls and roofing structures. Every farmer has a razor sharp Bolo and soon the city dudes are using them like pros. Its great to see the native peoples confidence and self esteem rise as they realize that in this land they are the professionals.
Each morning we start out n the field building the various projects in teams. Sometimes the weather beats us and we end up in the classroom. Intense rains can pound Southern Palawan in the wet season. Some rains are so intense we just stand in the classroom while Mother Nature smashes the tin roof with a deluge. I can scream as loud as I can and nobody can hear because of the rain. It doesn’t last long but wow it’s intense.
A few tent sites get drowned and a few students move to new locations but our morale is high as we co-create together each day. Good food and good humour help overcome any hardships caused by the weather. Sabina, our Malaysian nutrition teacher trains up a team of local ladies to provide amazing tasty nourishing food. Every meal was a pleasant surprise for the local people who have never been to a café or restaurant in their whole lives. At first they were hesitant to try the strange spicy food but by the end of the course they were hooked. Health through nutrition is one of the pillars of our program to boost people out of poverty. Sabina’s food was one of the highlights of the training.
Simon Denby from Lionheart Agro Tech came for the community forestry session and showed how their organic coconut plantation will be beneficial to the local economy and environment. This was great for the local people to see as there are a lot of rumours that confuse people about what Lionheart will do. Simon listed a few of the livelihoods like honey production and livestock fodder that could be produced alongside the coconuts by the locals to increase their incomes. Lionheart’s intern, Holly Voorspuy also gave a great insight into natural pesticides available in nature, eliminating the need for dangerous chemicals in farming and forestry.
By the end of the 2-week PDC the class had bonded amazingly. Building things together brings people closer and creates a strong relationship between team members. Their last task is to design the land we occupy into a permaculture demonstration farm school. Using mud, sticks, bamboo and other natural materials the 2 teams make 3-D models and put their ideas into the design. With 20 people in each team the models take shape in a few hours for their final presentation. 3-D models are better than maps when it comes to training native people is design concepts. From the 3-D model they can begin to understand 2-D mapping that us educated people take for granted. Each group presents their design with every person giving their own input in the co-creation of the model. The results are remarkable. Great designs and very practical too.
We hold the final party under the stars and various groups perform songs, skits, tell jokes and even do martial arts demonstrations to entertain their team members. We eat wonderful food and have an incredible night together.
The final day I organize the students to gather in a circle as I give out the certificates. Each student comes to the dais, which is a tree stump, and receives the certificate and poses for a photo with the training team. I give my signature; “end of course photo” cheesy grin and they have to make a short speech about what they will do with their new skills. Everyone was emotional and many people native and international, cried as they told how this course has changed their lives for the better. The native students told how they now could see a way out of poverty and they will take the skills home to their families. Most of all they said how much they loved each other and how much they will miss each other. Very touching. The native people learned so much from working along side city people and people from other countries.
By lunchtime the final van had departed and 5 of us staff collapsed in a heap and breathed a sigh of relief. Running a course with such a wide scope of people in our half built field school takes a massive amount of energy. Our field school team juggled a million difficult problems and the final result was truly miraculous. A big thanks too to Eugene for getting our infrastructure to this stage in such a short time. The local people now understand our mission here in Rizal. The bush telegraph will be humming now with the news of the training and all the things they learned. For the past two and a half months the local people weren’t too sure who we were or what we are here for but that has all changed now. I learned from them and they learned from me and now we can begin to make real changes in the lives of these marvelous people hidden in the rural lands of southern Palawan. Their native wisdom has touched people from many countries and other places in this country. I count myself lucky to be a part of this change.