Friday, 30 January 2015

Get ready to celebrate International Permaculture Day 2015!

International Permaculture Day takes place on May 3rd this year, and plans are already underway to celebrate in a variety of exciting ways!

Edible Landscapes London, just one of many fantastic projects within our network of permaculture demonstration sites, regularly host an annual plant give away to celebrate the event. This year's plant give away takes place on May 4th.

Edible plants at Edible Landscapes London
Edible Landscapes London is a volunteer-led project which aims to help Londoners grow more of their own food. They propagate edible plants which are then used on local growing projects. They also teach people how to recognise plants, identify which parts of the plant are edible, how to propagate them, how they are grown in a forest garden, and even how to cook with them.

Because we're based in a busy London park, we're very used to having people wander in to visit our project. International Permaculture Day is a great way of explicitly bringing the permaculture elements to the surface.
This year we're celebrating by showing people around our site and letting them leave with a few perennial plants for their community food growing project. - Jo Homan of Edible Landscapes London

A plant give away is a fantastic way to celebrate International Permaculture Day, as it gives people the opportunity to come together and meet like minded people, learn something new about permaculture and keep it in mind as they watch their new plant thrive throughout the year.

There are many other simple ways to celebrate throughout May. Why not host a permaculture coffee morning, share one of your permaculture designs with a local group, or invite friends to a permaculture meal?

This year Permaculture Association members can add their events and courses to in association with International Permaculture Day - we will promote these to contacts in your area.

Be sure to had your events to International Permaculture Day website so that the Uk is well represented during this global celebration of permaculture!

Competition winner shares her story.

Dorothy Allen, Permaculture Association member

This month, Permaculture Association member Dorothy Allen won our prize draw as part of a campaign to encourage people to share the benefits of permaculture, and the work of the Permaculture Association, with their friends and relatives. Dorothy won a Cafe Direct hamper, kindly provided by Ecotricity.
I heard the word permaculture about 25 years ago and have been inspired ever since; for me it's a way of life. 
Recently, instead of throwing our kids trampoline out after years of fun, we decided to make it into a polytunnel, for even more fun, this winter enjoying veg and salad through the colder months.
I have no lawn left in my garden, well, a wee bit around the kids swing! Over the years I've turned it into an edible garden with lots of perennial fruiting trees and bushes, perennial veg and herbs, growing plants that are useful and beneficial for the wildlife too, leaving the annuals for a garden share plot I have on the other side of the town. 
Family, friends and neighbours all enjoy the garden and the food that comes out of it which is important to me sharing the produce propagating plants for them inspiring them to find a patch in their own garden to grow some of the food they eat working with nature making bug homes looking after and enjoying the space we live in. - Dorothy Allen, Permaculture Association member 

Dorothy's trampoline polytunnel

For more inventive techniques, practical solutions and productive ways to re-use and re-cycle, like Dorothy's trampoline polytunnel, why not check out and contribute to the Permaculture Association's Knowledge Base? 

Not yet a member? Join the network today.

Friday, 23 January 2015

EU to allow member states to grow GM crops

by Mike Hutchinson

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have recently voted for a change in the rules governing the growing of GM crops in Europe.

Although needing final approval from the EU council, this change will allow member states to opt to plant any GM seeds that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, states can still ban single GM crops, providing that the evidence on which the ban rests does not go against the EFSA's opinion.

So where does this leave those of us who advocate a true sustainable approach to agriculture?

It's probably reasonable to assume that most permaculture practitioners are opposed to GMOs. Not in the Ludditist, anti-science way that the GM agro-industry and some scientists feel, but because we think there are other - and probably better - ways of farming.

A move from an EU-wide ban on GM crops to one where individual member states can decide does weaken the situation. 

Original image: PL Tandon
Some states, such as France and Germany, may choose to continue to ban GM crops. Others - the United Kingdom, for example - have governments that look more favourably on this form of biotechnology. And, it is thought, new GM crops could be planted somewhere in Europe as early as 2016. The only GM crop currently cultivated on a commercial scale in Europe is maize (MON 810), which has been modified to protect it against the European corn borer, but there are others in the 'regulatory' pipeline.

Of course, environmentalists and probably most permaculture practitioners have concerns about the wider implications of such transgenic crops. 

The EFSA recommends 'buffer' zones between GM and conventional plants, but campaigners feel the UK's distance of 200 metres is too small to be effective.

Confocal micrograph of Bacillus subtilis, found in soil.
Original image: Wellcome Images
While the spread of ‘transgenic genes’ into neighbouring areas, with unforeseen consequences, remains a concern, it isn’t the only one. Many GMOs have been developed to be especially tolerant of pesticides and herbicides. Heavy applications of these may guarantee farmers a decent crop - for some time - but will take a toll of other life, including micro-organisms in the soil. 

However, evolution being what it is, it isn’t long before pests begin to develop tolerance towards the chemicals and increasingly higher doses are then required. This, of course, isn’t a problem for the biotech giants as they are developing and selling both the GMOs and the pesticides and herbicides. A win-win situation for the companies, but not for anyone else, including farmers.

But will the biotechnology giants such as Monsanto or Dupont be aggressively pushing GMOs in Europe? Monsanto spokesman, Brandon Mitchener, told Chemistry World [1] that he didn't expect to see new biotech crops being planted in Europe in the coming decade because the investment in time and money was too great.

A related debate is going on about the Transatlantic free trade deal, known as TTIP. Campaigners have applied a significant amount of pressure on this and the EU's agricultural commissioner, Philip Hogan, has pledged that the EU would continue to label products containing GM foodstuffs, something the biotech industry is opposed to.

At present it's not easy to see what, in practice, will result from the new GM rules. The situation - for those opposed to GMOs - has certainly been weakened, and biodiversity could be under a greater pressure than before. If this is indeed the thin end of the biotech wedge, then permaculture needs to respond by continuing to campaign strongly for truly sustainable farming that serves the interests of growers, consumers and the earth itself.

For research on permaculture approaches to growing, see our Research Digest.


Thursday, 8 January 2015

2015 Oxford Real Farming (ORFC) conference

by Phil Moore
If ideas were food then the 2015 Oxford Real Farming (ORFC) conference was a veritable cornucopia of nourishment.
A project of the Real Farming Trust, the 2015 ORFC was the sixth annual instalment of a hugely successful two days of ideas and debates. Presentations and discussions ranged from the dairy industry, flooding, permaculture research, soil fertility and the looming idiocy that is the TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

Colin Tudge (, biologist, author, and co-founder of the ORFC (alongside his wife Ruth and author Graham Harvey), said:

“At the heart of all the world’s affairs – social, political, economic, environmental – sits agriculture. It’s the thing we absolutely have to get right, but we have to do things differently.”
The ORFC is very much the embodiment of Tudge’s phrase “Enlightened Agriculture” which, he explained, “can be defined loosely as agriculture that is expressly designed to provide good food for everyone forever, without wrecking the rest of the world.”

Writing about food and farming for the past 40 years, Tudge  - avuncular, articulate and eminently sensible - explained to me the origins of the ORFC. Both a response and invitation, the ORFC was borne from the idea of “Enlightened Agriculture”, and as a challenge to the The Oxford Farming Conference, the voice of the establishment that has been running for over sixty years and is currently led by corporates and chasing the neo-liberal line. In a world of suits and ties (see the Oxford Farming Conference website - farming no longer appears to be about good food, but the maximisation of wealth.

The ORFC is both a direct challenge and an invitation to those seeking to create sane and sustainable alternatives. For an excellent overview of Colin's ideas and the spirit behind the ORFC, read Tudge's piece for the Ecologist.

Oxford Town Hall - 'look up'. Photo: Gina Wilson
Over 600 people came together under the roof of the Oxford Town Hall, an historic building from the Victorian period. The seat of local government, the ostentatious building was adorned with huge oil paintings.  The high ceilinged Main Hall, where proceeding began, furnished in ornate modelled plaster, with a series of Arms, lent an indubitable presence to the felt excitement.

Perhaps it was the start of the new year and the idea of alternative possibilities, but there was certainly a buzz that was only magnified by the busy tweeting. The ORFC reported that the conference hashtag #ORFC15 reached over one million people during the event.

Over 40 sessions across four strands - ‘farming outside the box’, ‘digging deep’, ‘new generation, new ideas’ & ‘nuts & bolts’ - brought together farmers, growers, activists, academics, permaculture people, NGOs and campaigners to ask what is it that we want farming to do for us.

International soil expert and key note speaker, Dr. Elaine Ingham opened the conference with characteristic warmth and wit delivering a brilliant lecture ‘The Roots of Your Profits.’ Making the distinction between ‘soil’ and ‘dirt’ Ingham stressed that farmers (and growers) are well served  to understand life in the soil and make sure it is present. By putting biology back into soil, and getting off chemicals, we can redress the soil food web. As she reminded us all, “We [humans] are the gardeners of the planet - that is our charge.”

With sessions titled ‘Soil, stomachs & Livestock’, ‘Radical Retail’, ‘Food, farming & the TIPP’ and featuring speakers such as Gill Barron (The Land Magazine), George Monbiot, Vicki Hird (Friends of the Earth), Patrick Holden (Sustainable Food Trust) and Kate McEvoy (the Real Seed Catalogue) it was hard to decide where to be.

It would be well worth taking a look at the full programme and speaker biographies online as well as the official YouTube videos here.

The energetic and hungry (for change!) The Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) had a large presence at the gathering. Launching their policy manifesto - Feeding the Future: The Landworkers’ Alliance - the declaration set out four key policy recommendations for the main political parties. These include: 

  • A National Food Policy. This currently doesn’t exist in the UK - imagine what a joined up strategy linking farming, health & the environment would look like; 
  • A Level Playing Field. Redressing farm subsidies; 
  • Supporting New Entrants. Who is going to farm in the future?; 
  • and Land Access. Measures to limit the concentration of land ownership & increase opportunities for affordable access to land.

Ed Hamer, grower and LWA organiser, said: 
“This manifesto gives a voice to a growing number of UK farmers who feel their views are not represented by established farming unions. Every single one of the recommendations we are calling for in this document can be achieved within the existing framework of the Common Agricultural Policy. All that is lacking is the political will within the UK government to support small-scale producers and ensure their livelihoods are not undermined by political bias.”
The manifesto, and the presence of the LWA, are a vital part in the conversation about the challenges facing UK agriculture. Take a look at the manifesto here.
Full sessions at the busiest ORFC yet.
Over two sessions (both with full audiences) the Permaculture Association delivered work and progress on research in the UK. The first session, ‘Initiating Permaculture & Integrating Research’ saw Andy Goldring, Permaculture Association CEO, comment on how people, rightly, are sceptical about the lack of evidence from permaculture plots and the need to address this “data gap.” One such response has been the creation of citizen scientists, with the aid of the Permaculture Research Handbook.

Andy then went on to introduce introduce two vibrant permaculture projects and LAND centres: The Inkpot in South Lincolnshire and the Apricot Centre in north Essex.

Hannah Thorogood, teacher, designer and diploma tutor, of the Inkpot smallholding whizzed the audience through an excellent presentation of how to approach a piece of land using ecological design, wisely reminding us that, as an approach, permaculture “doesn’t have all the answers, but gets you asking the right questions.” Marina Brown-O’Connell spoke about her background as an horticulturist and how she has worked to combine permaculture design with biodynamics both at the Apricot Centre and the Huxham's Cross Farm and Wellbeing Project in south Devon.

The afternoon session, ‘Permaculture Research in the UK’, continued the theme of “the journey to build our [Permaculture Association] empirical base.” 

Teaming up with The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Senior Research Fellow at CAWR, Julia Wright gave an overview of the Centre’s work in transdisciplinary research on understanding, and developing, resilient food and water systems internationally and working more closely with the Association.

The panel presentations from Federico Fillipi, an independent researcher and farmer at New Gokul farm in Hertfordshire and Dr. Immo Fiebrig, a qualified pharmacist, professional permaculture communicator and translator for Sepp Holzer, gave us examples of large scale permaculture in practice and the beginnings of more concrete research aiming to close the gaps between assumptions, experiences and actual measurements.

Interestingly, as Fillipi reminded us, permaculture is an alternative and as such is as much a way of living as it is a method of measuring. Depending on what your rubric is, the science of permaculture doesn’t necessarily have to be the world of graphs, charts and percentages but is actually a very good example of a common sense approach to science: employ a method of practice, observe the results, and if not tenable or working, start again and along the way be open to revising your conjectures and sharing any knowledge you may have gleaned.

A hugely successful conference and as one key organiser told me, by far the most busy. The Oxford Real Farming Conference was an excellent event that all people involved in food, farming and growing would be better off to attend.

For more info: and @ORFC on Twitter.

Phil Moore is one half of Permaculture People
@permapeople us  at the International Permaculture Convergence and Conference, London, September 2015. 

We are welcoming permaculture enthusiasts and world leading practitioners to join us for an engaging, contributory programme of events, aiming to design the world we want.
The conference is open for contributions until the end of March 2015.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Habiba Community – building sustainability and community resilience in South Sinai

by Alice Gray

Workshop for local farmers with technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture, November 2014. Photo by Habiba Community. 

Nestled between the rugged Sinai Mountains and the gently lapping waters of the Red Sea in Nuweiba, a small port town in southern Sinai, lies Habiba Community: a pioneering organic farm, a community agriculture initiative, a learning centre and a beach lodge.

The vision of Habiba is to support the Sinai community in creating a secure and abundant future for themselves, transitioning away from dependency on tourism and government handouts. Maged El Said and his wife Lorena started the project in 2007, motivated by their love for the community that had become their home over the past 20 years. 

Nuweiba village is in South Sinai, an area traditionally populated by Bedouin tribes, which saw rapid development as a tourist destination during the latter half of the 20th century, as the beguiling beauty of the Red Sea’s pristine coral reefs combined with the austere splendor of the Sinai peninsular’s granite and sandstone mountains was recognized.

Unfortunately, all too often, this development took no account of either the environment or the local communities, and much damage has been done to both. In Sharm el Sheikh, the most popular resort in the region, there is barely a single Bedouin owned business and the local community has been almost completely disenfranchised from the lucrative tourist industry that has sprung up. Hotels with swimming pools and lawns guzzle scarce water resources and pollute the environment with their wastes. Many tourists travel to Sharm el Sheikh on all-inclusive ‘package deals’, some barely leaving their hotels and many not venturing outside the town. Today, over 45% of Sinai’s Bedouin community live in poverty according to the Social Fund for Development’s 2013 Poverty Map (read report here: 

In Dahab and Nuweiba, on the south-eastern coast, the story was a little different, as development was more often done in cooperation with the Bedouin communities. The resorts that grew up had a very different feel to them, with sea-side beach lodges constructed of local materials, and sometimes with Bedouin owners, offering rustic accommodation and Bedouin guides offering safaris and camel treks into the interior. Maged (originally from Cairo) founded Habiba Beach Lodge in 1994, and for many years ran a successful business in cooperation with his neighbours. Today, however, tourism is in decline, due to growing political instability in the region, and cannot be exclusively relied on to provide livelihoods. Due to the heavy investment of Egyptian businessmen in Sharm el Sheikh, this area is protected inside a security cordon maintained by the Egyptian army, but this protection does not extend to resorts further north, like Nuweiba. 

Hence, Habiba Community was born, in an effort to diversify income and create food security through pioneering and promoting sustainable, organic agriculture. First, Maged bought land and set up Habiba Organic Farm, to pioneer successful techniques for desert farming and experiment with novel crops. 

Moringa oleifera trees at Habiba Farm, November 2014. Photo by Alice Gray.

The farm is a mixed orchard and vegetable production system, with poultry and other small livestock. Maged was the first farmer in Sinai to grow Moringa oleifera, sometimes known as the ‘miracle tree’ – a fast growing, nitrogen-fixing, drought tolerant tree with a multiplicity of uses. The leaves are edible and are a ‘superfood’ with enormous nutritional benefits: containing more Vitamin C than oranges and more iron than spinach (find out more here: The seeds are high in nutritious oil and are also edible, or can be used as a flocculant for purifying water. Maged has had enormous success with this crop and is experimenting with inter-planting it with Date Palms – a signature crop of the Sinai.

Maged has worked hard to share his ideas and successes with others, inviting experts to give workshops for aspiring farmers free of charge, supporting several new farmers to start up their businesses, distributing seeds and equipment and building a network for marketing organic produce. Every week, he attends the Dahab Community Market, holding a stall all day to sell produce and raise awareness of Habiba and its work. 

Maged El Said managing his store at Dahab Community Market, February 2014. Photo by Alice Gray.

He also started the Sinai Date Palm Foundation as a way for community members to buy in without having to buy land or start their own farms. This innovative but simple strategy is to sell ‘shares’ in a date growing business, where high quality Medjool date palms are grown and maintained by the Habiba Farm team, and processed and sold by the Date Palm Foundation. By buying a share, a community member becomes the owner of one tree and receives 80% of the profit from the sale of the raw product (20% is taken to cover the costs of running the farm). The Foundation undertakes to buy all the dates from the farm and process and market them, providing jobs for local people. Profits are used to expand the business, and buy more equipment or more land (or you could say, surpluses are returned to the system). 

Never content to rest on their laurels, Habiba have recently started a brand new Learning Centre to help educate the children of Nuweiba and equip them with the skills they need to face an uncertain future. Education in the Sinai is generally poorly funded and somewhat ineffectual as the Sinai Bedouin remain one of the most marginalised sectors of Egyptian society. Lorena Al Said is leading an initiative to support the education of local children, teaching English, Arabic, Music, Art and of course, farming skills in an after school club, open 5 days per week. The Learning Centre has proved enormously popular and now has around 40 regular participants. 

Lorena Al Said working with Nuweiba children at Habiba Learning Centre. Photo by Habiba Community.

Indeed, the program is so popular that new facilities need to be built so that it can continue to grow and prosper. In cooperation with ECOntACT (, an Italian group promoting all forms of reuse and exchange, Habiba Community will construct a strawbale building to serve as a classroom and laboratory. Funding is being generated through the participation of paying volunteers and through the sale of arts and crafts made by the children in the after school club, at Dahab community market. The build is set to take place from January 1-7 2015, and there is still time to sign up if you would like to support a worthwhile project while soaking up some winter sun (go to to find out more)!

In the seven years it has been in operation, Habiba Community has gone from strength to strength. Although Maged is not a PDC holder, and did not set out to create a permaculture project per se, the principles of permaculture are evident in a lot of what he has done; and furthermore, his goal of achieving a sustainable and resilient community is the essence of what permaculture is about. The success of the farm speaks for itself, and the farm manager (Tha’er) is a superbly skilled technician, with a lot to teach about arid zones farming. They have a growing awareness of permaculture design as a strategy that could be of real benefit to the community and are eager to learn more, to apply design principles to existing projects, to innovate and experiment, and to host courses: building local capacity as well as gaining international attention and financial support for their work.

Habiba is open to receiving volunteers all year round, and it is a wonderful place to relax, let the sound of the sea fill your ears and the quiet, green growing energy of their desert farm transport you to a vision for a sustainable and abundant future. 

Maged Al Said (left) with farmer Abu Rami (2nd from right) at a desert farm that Habiba Community helped establish between Nuweiba and Dahab

Find out more and keep updated at

Contact Maged on