Summary of our recent evening on permaculture & agroforestry in Malawi

We often hear that people were sorry to miss one of our evening talks/film events and so we’ve decided, when appropriate, to write a useful summary for those who couldn’t make it or for those who’d like to focus their thoughts and follow up with action.

IMG_0822-1BCCF talk Permaculture and Carbon – here and across the globe 12

February 2020

Ben Yeomans is qualified in permaculture design. He has created a permaculture garden at his home in Sandy.

He started with an explanation of what permaculture actually is: a design science of working with nature, not against it. It is the ethical combination of permanent and agriculture: living lightly on the earth and ensuring a flourishing future. The original proponents of the concept of sustainable living design system were the late Bill Mollison, and David Holmgren. Holgren proposes 12 principles of permaculture, as explained in this excellent Youtube film:

Many now wonder why the principles of permaculture weren’t taught at school, given that following them could help deliver the sustainable lifestyles, which are increasingly urgent. Ben pointed out that the UK has a cool, temperate climate and should naturally produce vegetation that is FULL FOREST, rather than huge areas covered in unnatural lawns or hard surfaces. Balanced ecosystems, or life support systems, should be the natural default and damaged areas, if left alone naturally revert back to forest by means of ‘succession’ where pioneer plants (AKA weeds!) gradually build up increasing layers of soil etc. Ben used another Youtube film to demonstrate how seemingly ‘dead’ land can be reinvigorated:

A huge difference that Ben said a permaculture approach would entail would be a significant change from growing annual plants to growing perennials which have a 3-year life cycle – herbaceous (die down in winter) and woody (ie trees and shrubs). When considering incorporating permaculture design into an area of land it to ask ‘what can this space offer’ rather than trying to please any owners or clients of that land.  This changes the whole mind-set such that issues such as thinking in terms of incorporating layers of plants, diversity of plants (system plants, beneficial plants, companion plants, resilience to climate change). This should lead naturally to the question, why does our current agricultural system not follow the design rules of nature? The discussion which followed Ben’s talk raised issues about disease resistance and the increased resilience of planting plants/crops in the right niche area with good soil management. UK farmers are now starting to think increasingly about the importance of sustainability in agriculture.

Will Rawes  – Neno Macadamia Trust

Will, formerly of the Open University and Cranfield University, now works full time for the NMT together with Andrew Emmott. The Trust supports smallholder communities in Malawi to plant macadamia trees to address issues of forest deforestation and desertification exacerbated by the current system of maize monoculture in Malawi. Smallholder-owned macadamia crops are already addressing food security and poor nutrition in some communities, generating local income streams and helping with deforestation recovery.  Increased local shading provided by the macadamia trees provides some respite in the hot climate in Malawi (temperature of the soil under trees is 26.9 oC compared to 55.2 oC in sun).

We saw hundreds of seedlings ready for planting, a moving sight especially for Will Rawes who has invested himself and done so much to support the work. The newly planted trees take 3 to 4 years to produce a harvest but the high nutritional benefits of the macadamia nuts and their cash sale value is recognised by farmers with families to feed and educate.  The Trust encourages minimum spacing between trees in order to enable intercropping and avoid another monoculture. Other benefits are the nut and shell waste products which are used as a fuel for gasified flame cookstoves, so that trees are not cut down for fuel. The Google mapping of the area showed how the trees could be planted to maximise the available water on permaculture principles.

The NMT recognises that planting macadamia trees is only part of the solution to the current compromised agricultural system in Malawi – increased diversity in agriculture to replace mono-cultures of maize is required. More details are on the NMT website explain how they are trying to raise money to fund increased macadamia tree planting by selling ‘carbon damage mitigation certificates’ for example to professionals who need to fly to attend conferences

You can support this worthwhile charity through Paypal, Credit card, or Just giving, see the website.


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