Friday, December 11, 2009

Ezemvelo Biointensive Workshop report in Ecology Action Newsletter

Click to enlarge

Why we left our farms to come to Copenhagen

Speech of Henry Saragih, general coordinator of Via Campesina

Via Campesina in Copenhagen 12-09

Opening of Klimaforum - Copenhagen Dec 7

Tonight is a very special night for us to get together here for the opening of the assembly of the social movements and civil society at the Klimaforum. We, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, are coming to Copenhagen from all five corners of the world, leaving our farmland, our animals, our forest, and also our families in the hamlets and villages to join you all.

Why is it so important for us to come this far? There are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, we would like to tell you that climate change is already seriously impacting us. It brings floods, droughts and the outbreak of pests that are all causing harvest failures. I
must point out that these harvest failures are something that the farmers did not create. Instead, it is the polluters who caused the emissions who destroy the natural cycles. So, we small scale farmers came here to say that we will not pay for their mistakes. And we are asking the emitters to face up to their responsibilities.

Secondly, I would like to share with you some facts about who the emitters of green house gases in agriculture really are: new data that has come out clearly shows that industrial agriculture and the globalized food system are responsible of between 44 and 57% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Continued here

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Emotional scenes at Copenhagen: Lumumba Di-Aping @ Africa civil society meeting – 8 Dec 2009

"Africa has been asked to sign a suicide pact.”

The leak of a so-called ‘Danish text’ that would sideline the UN in future climate deals is reverberating around the Copenhagen negotiations. (see

Today I witnessed an unexpected and extraordinary outburst of candour from one of the key players in these negotiations — Lumumba Di-Aping, Sudanese by birth and chief negotiator of the so-called G77 bloc (which mostly consists of poor countries).

I attended an ad-hoc meeting in a meeting room of the Bella Center attended by about 100 African representatives of civil society and a few African parliamentarians (among them Lance Greyling, an MP from South Africa) this afternoon. The meeting was called at short notice and its agenda was not announced. After a few minutes of introductions Di-Aping was given the floor to speak to fellow Africans. Requests were made by organisers to turn off all microphones so as not to record what was going to be said, although Di-Aping made a point of turning his on, saying half-jokingly “they are probably listening anyway”.

He did not start his speech immediately. Instead he sat silently, tears rolling down his face. He put his head in his hands and said “We have been asked to sign a suicide pact.” The room was frozen into silence, shocked by the sight of a powerful negotiator, an African elder if you like, exhibiting such strong emotion. He apologised to the audience, but said that in his part of Sudan it was “better to stand and cry than to walk away.”

Continues here:

Friday, November 20, 2009

New short film on western threats to traditional farming in Africa

A Thousand Suns tells the story of the Gamo Highlands of the African Rift Valley and the unique worldview held by the people of the region. This isolated area has remained remarkably intact both biologically and culturally. It is one of the most densely populated rural regions of Africa yet its people have been farming sustainably for 10,000 years.

Shot in Ethiopia, New York and Kenya, the film explores the modern world's untenable sense of separation from and superiority over nature and how the interconnected worldview of the Gamo people is fundamental in achieving long-term sustainability, both in the region and beyond.

For more information and to view other great films like this one, please visit the Global Oneness Project.

The film is free online and will be aired in USA in April on PBS television. There is also a short trailer on YouTube - click on the lower image above.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

President Chissano learns about Biointensive Agriculture

We had a four hour meeting yesterday with Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique about the situation of increasing population, and increasing scarcity of food, water and farmable soil in the world and especially in Africa.

The President expressed great interest in the 37 years of research on these issues by Ecology Action in the USA under the direction of John Jeavons. President Chissano sits on the Board of the World Food Prize and the Gates Foundation's Global Development Programme as a member of the programme advisory panel.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

UN Favours Organic

Organic agriculture combines modern scientific research with traditional farming techniques in a sustainable, efficient farming system. By working with natural processes and making use of locally available assets, poor smallholder farmers can build up the fertility and productivity of their farms while avoiding dependence on expensive external inputs. Growing markets for certified produce mean that organic agriculture offers an important opportunity for the rural poor in developing countries to benefit from international trade.

Increased food security

Organic agriculture builds up stocks of natural, social and economic resources over time, thus reducing many of the factors that lead to food insecurity.

Full report here

Manor House Agricultural Centre, Kitale, Kenya

Training session for farmers
The Manor House Agricultural Centre was founded in 1984 in response to a three-year drought. The Centre's training and research complex includes demonstration gardens and livestock facilities that provide a working model of bio-intensive agricultural systems for trainees, visitors and members of local communities.

The Centre provides practical training to young people, farmers and staff of government agencies and NGOs, as well as conducting adaptive research. By 2005, over 70,000 Kenyans had been taught bio-intensive agriculture either directly or indirectly by the Centre.

The main impact has been on vegetable production. Many have doubled their yields by adopting double digging and composting techniques, using local natural methods of pest and disease control (such as planting sunflowers to attract predators, using local plant extracts to control maize stalk borer, and intercropping to reduce tomato blight). There have been big savings on pesticides, as farmers have cut out their use.

A former pupil at Manor House, Susan Wekesa, tells how learning to use bio-intensive farming methods has impacted on her life: "My 0.3 acres of land is producing plenty and healthy vegetables that bring money to knock at my door in the wee hours of the day. I mean, people come knocking at the door of my house before 6:00 a.m. wanting to buy vegetables. Apart from food and money for my family, I am able to fertilize my soil from material that it produces and supports. BIA has recreated hope in me and my household. I can now face the future proudly".

From UNCTAD report here

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Essay on Biointensive is finalist in World Bank Essay Competition

Local Actions, Global Benefits

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ezemvelo Biointensive Workshop report on World Scouting Website

Swazi Scouts attend workshop on sustainable farming

From 16 to 20 September 2009, a five-day workshop on bio-intensive farming was held at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in South Africa. Participants came from England, Kenya, Ireland, South Africa, Swaziland, USA and Zimbabwe. Swaziland was represented by members of the Swaziland Scout Association (SSA), Wandile Simelane and Sibonakaliso Mdluli. Simelane is a teacher and Scout leader at Manzana Primary School while Mdluli is a full-time volunteer of the Thirst for Life Scout Initiative.

The workshop put emphasis on small-scale farming that can be done on family back yards. Participants were taught the benefits of bio-intensive farming with regards to water conservation.

SSA has an initiative project known as Thirst for Life (TFL) whose flagship activity is a garden project that benefits over 150 HIV/Aids orphaned and vulnerable children from the project area community.

For more details, please read their full report here

Director of the Mozambiquan Farmers Union addresses Rural Poverty

Diamantino Nhampossa’s speech at the EU Forum on Sustainable Rural Development

Link to full speech

My country – Mozambique – is one of those African countries in which the consequences of colonization, neo- or re-colonization, and structural adjustment programs are visible. There is a growing number of poor people living in rural areas without basic public services like water, health services and education, while our main urban centres are showing a concentration of wealth in the hands a small group of people. The suburbs are becoming more crowded than ever, and everyday life is a big challenge. countries have many experiences of the negative impacts of mono-culture, and of GM crops, however this same methodology is being promoted in African countries such as Moçambique – why? We must learn from the lessons of the past, and be innovative and courageous in our aid and agriculture policies. If not, the errors of the past will simply be replicated, and small holder farmers will become even more impoverished, all in the name of globalization.

It is important to recognise the difference between “development” and advancement in technological terms. Technological advancement does not necessarily equate to improved standard of living for poor rural peasant farmers – more often than not it further entrenches their impoverishment. Technology is not always the panacea.

One alternative that is left to fight poverty on the Continent is the proposal that comes from the movement of peasants, indigenous, migrants, women and rural communities, confirmed during the international forum held early this year in Mali: that is Food Sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers. Food sovereignty gives priority to local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal - fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just income to all peoples and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pictures of Biointensive Workshop at Ezemvelo

Click to Enlarge

President Chissano visits the Maharishi Institute

Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique, visited the Maharishi Institute in Johannesburg yesterday. This visit was inspired by his recent visit to Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa USA. Chissano was in Iowa as a member of the UN’s World Food Council, in which capacity he presented this years World Food Prize in Des Moines.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sustainable Mini Farming Centre to be established at Ezemvelo

Click on images to enlarge.

Tracy Gonzalez and Raj Solanki, along with their five-year-old son Makaiah, are just completing a six month internship learning biointensive sustainable mini farming with Ecology Action in Willits California, USA. From there they return to Fairfield, Iowa, USA to assist with setting up the Midwest Sustainable mini Farming Center at the maharishi University of management.

This will be one of three centers being established in the USA and part of a global network of teaching centres with at least one in every country. The first such sustainable mini farming in Southern Africa is being established here at Ezemvelo.


My introduction to GROW BIOINTENSIVE came from a workshop I took from Alex Kachan, a professor in the Department of Sustainable Living. ...He showed a video on the Tula project [in Mexico], and how it changed people’s lives in the area was so inspiring. I was in tears. I really connected with my desire to help people. I wanted to learn ... to be able to teach and help others. Raj and I talked for a long time about taking an Ecology Action workshop which we did last November. Meeting John [Jeavons] was life-changing as well. It was after this that I realized that sustainability is a much higher goal to shoot for (much higher than just organic) when looking for the best possible food, and, growing it sustainably yourself, well, you can do no better.

PDF version of the newsletter can be read online, click here. (You need to have a free google acct to read)

Monday, September 28, 2009

South Africa has widest gap between rich and poor

Study finds SA now falls below Brazil

By Donwald Pressly

South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, according to figures put together by a leading South African academic.

Haroon Bhorat, an economics professor at UCT, told a briefing at Parliament on Friday that South Africa was now "the most unequal society in the world" with a significant increase in income inequality.

"In the long run it is bad for growth. It is a threat to social stability and to growth itself. The long-run trend is a worrying one," he warned.

Bhorat said South Africa's Gini coefficient index - which shows the level of income inequality - stood at 0.679.

This figure is drawn from figures collated by Bhorat using Statistics SA's income and expenditure survey. The figures are based on household income in the 2005/06 year.

The coefficient has risen from the All Media and Products Survey figure of 0.66 in 2007, but is down from an uncomfortably high 0.685 in 2006.

He argued that South Africa had enjoyed a long period of growth which had sustained a growing social security bill, but the country was now in "a high deficit" environment and its ability to maintain these payments was being challenged.

But the news may not be as bad it seems.

According to presidential policy adviser Joel Netshitenzhe, the figure may not necessarily be accurate because state benefits targeted at the poor - and particularly the unemployed - of free basic water and electricity, access to health care and the social welfare grants which now go to over 13 million of the poorest of the poor may not be adequately reflected in the Gini coefficient.

In the 2009 Development Indicators report, issued by the Presidency's deputy director-general, Alan Hirsch, the Gini coefficient reached 0.666 in 2008. Bhorat puts the figure at a higher 0.679.

A value of one reflects complete inequality while a value of zero reflects complete equality. A Gini coefficient above 0.5 "is unacceptably high", according to the report.

Bhorat's office pointed to World Bank figures for 2007/08 which give South Africa a slightly lower 0.578 and Brazil at a wee bit lower - but still unacceptably high - 0.57. While other countries such as Bolivia at 0.601 and Botswana at 0.605 are higher, the figures are based on old household income figures - 2002 and 1993 respectively. Colombia's figure of 0.586 is also based on 2003 data.

Netshitenzhe's view is backed by National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, who said even French President Nicolas Sarkhozy had asked for a review of the manner in which gross domestic product was measured "and what it tells us about anything".

Manuel said he was not sure how relevant the Gini coefficient data was "any longer".

Manuel, indicating that the indicators were presented "warts and all", gave the assurance that social welfare policies would continue.

While the indicators showed more and more people were moving out of the very poor bracket - ascribed largely to the welfare grants - Manuel said the country would not retract its welfare policies.

Bhorat made the point that Brazil might have improved its position because it had allied upliftment grants to educating children. Thus a parent received a grant on condition that a child was sent to school and attended regularly.

Hirsch attributed Brazil's success in moving down the inequality ladder "to more successful industrial policies" than South Africa. Brazil had implemented "a greater variety of industrial development programmes and small business support programmes".

The indicator document noted that the living standards measure in South Africa showed that those households earning the equivalent of just R1 080 a month had dropped to about 1 million. This was down from 3.4 million households earning the equivalent in 2000/01, when the comparable income was R742 a month.

The document noted that this could be ascribed to economic growth, expanding employment as well as the government's poverty alleviation initiatives.

Published on the web by Business Report on September 27, 2009.

© Business Report 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Washington Post Reports Meat Eating is 'Huge Contributor' to Climate Change

Last week, the Washington Post summarized a number of recent reports indicating that one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint or greenhouse gas pollution is to reduce your meat consumption. Here are some quick highlights:

-A Carnegie Melon study found that the average American would benefit the planet more by being vegetarian one day per week than by switching to a totally local diet (heck, why not do both?).

-A University of Chicago study found that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading your gas guzzler for a Prius.

-The head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recommended that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere.

-According to a 2006 United Nations report, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Although we've reported similar studies in Organic Bytes over the years, it's refreshing to see a mainstream media outlet finally bring attention to the topic. Americans seem okay being told they should recycle, drive less, and weatherize their homes, but something short-circuits when you ask them to reduce their meat consumption.

Read the full story here...

Group faults UK's £100m support for GM crops in Africa


By Roseline Okere

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has criticised plans by the government of the United Kingdom to spend about £100 million to support the growing of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Africa.

According to ERA, a new white paper shows that the UK government will dramatically increase spending on high-tech agriculture in the next five years, much of which will be on GM crop research.

The breakdown of the funding, ERA/FoEN explained, shows that bio-fortified crops, containing so-called added vitamins, will receive £80 million of development money, while £60 million will go into researching drought-resistant maize for Africa, while pest resistance will be funded to the tune of £24 million.

Reacting to the development in a statement issued in Lagos Monday, ERA/FoEN depicted the gesture as an "attempt to control, colonise and contaminate food supply under the guise of helping the Africa continent.

The group added that the white paper avoids the terms "genetically modified" even when scientists and development experts were clear that much of the money would be spent on GM crops.

ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey said: "It is extremely ridiculous that the British government overlooked contentious issues such as under-investment in African solutions to hunger, lack of infrastructure and extension services in rural communities and only narrowed our hunger challenge to yields and so-called vitamins. It is shocking that the British government would believe the claims of biotech industry to GMOs yield better than organic or conventional varieties at a time when empirical evidence has shown that such claims are not true."

Bassey reiterated ERA's position that Africans must be allowed to determine what they want to eat as well as how and where they want it grown, explaining that, a recent report from South Africa revealed that even indigenous chickens have refused to eat GM maize.

"If chickens will not eat it why should we? Do chickens have more brains than people? This unholy gesture should be an eye-opener to African governments that hobnob with the biotech industry and their allied research institutes that are only interested in providing un-African solutions to our challenges.

"Time and again we have said that the true test of the sincerity of the global North in addressing the food crisis in Africa is not the thrusting of GMO foods down African throats but to sincerely and without hidden motives listen to Africans and support ecological solutions being developed on the continent. Any attempt to arm-twist African countries into accepting GMO in the guise of aid will not be accepted," Bassey warned.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Smart chickens weren't be duped by foul play

The Sunday Independent, Aug. 2, 2009

By Eleanor Momberg

Chickens refusing to eat the maize they had been fed has led to the discovery that their feed had been genetically modified to include a well-known weed and insect killer.

Strilli Oppenheimer was recently approached by Dawid Klopper, the head gardener at the family estate, Brenthurst, informing her that her indigenous African chickens were refusing to eat the mealies in the chicken feed bought from a large supplier.

Concerned that the birds may be ingesting genetically modified maize, she instructed Klopper to have the maize tested.The chickens' diet was immediately changed to include organic vegetables, Oppenheimer stopped consuming the home-grown eggs and the maize was sent to the GMO testing facility at the University of the Free State for analysis.

The results confirmed Oppenheimer's initial suspicion - the maize had been genetically engineered to produce proteins that are toxic to certain insects and weeds. "It contained BT1 which makes the maize insect resistant, as well as Roundup which makes it weed resistant.

This is the first report we have had of chickens not eating GM feed," said a GM expert. While small quantities of BT1 and Roundup weed killer were found in the seeds, the concern remained with the cumulative effect of GM feed, not only on the chickens, but also on the eggs they produced for the family.

"This is of serious concern. Do you know that 96 percent of soya-based foods are genetically modified and that maize in South Africa is contaminated," asked Oppenheimer, pointing out that research by well-known scientist Dr Arpad Pusztai had shown that rats fed on GM potatoes suffered from a weakened immune system and stunted growth of their internal organs, including the liver, kidneys and brain.

Pusztai was fired by the Rowett Research Institute in the UK in 1998 after his research into the human nutritional consequences of GM. His findings had far-reaching implications for the biotech industry, which had contended that GM crops and products would not adversely affect human health.

International research has shown a direct link between certain types of genetic engineering and cancer.

Gundula Azeez and Coilin Nunan of The Soil Association, a UK environmental charity, stated in their paper, "GM Crops - the health effects", that international research had shown that milk, eggs and meat from GM-fed animals contained GM crop DNA, concluding that it was likely that people were frequently being exposed to GM DNA.

They concluded that because of the lapses in extensive safety assessments, there were "very good scientific reasons for being concerned about the safety of GM crops".

Rose Williams, acting director of Biowatch, said globally there was great concern that GM products had not been adequately tested in terms of their effect on people, animals and the environment.

"There has been no testing on humans, very limited testing on animals and very little research on environmental impacts. This is the case globally, but in South Africa even less work has been done, even though the commercial release of GM maize, GM soya and GM cotton has been approved."

Williams said concerns by NGOs such as Biowatch, the African Centre for Biosafety and SAFeAGE about the lack of control over GM crops and contamination of non-GM crops had largely been ignored.

"Government has not done enough to protect the public from the potential threats of GM foods. There is also the matter of liability - who will take responsibility for people's losses and any health problems relating to consumption of GM foods, whether they are for people or for animals.

"Williams said the contamination of non-GM crops was a real problem, with the biotech industry leading people to believe that co-existence of GM and non-GM crops was possible. "But it is not," she said.

While the recently implemented Consumer Protection Act called for the labelling of GM foods, the regulations linked to the measure had yet to be finalised.

About her chickens' refusal to eat their maize, Oppenheimer said: "They're smart."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When You Can't Go 100% Organic

Even if you can’t afford to buy everything local and organic, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog and research nonprofit, has identified the “dirty dozen”– those fruits and veggies that contain the highest amounts of pesticides. For these, it might be worth paying for the organic versions. Among conventionally grown, try sticking to the “cleanest 12.” The produce ranking was developed by EWG analysts based on the results of nearly 51,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005. An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets showed that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90% by avoiding the top 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.

Or better still eat organic instead. Note conventionally grown peaches are the top of the "dirtiest" list.


Monday, July 20, 2009

New study: Nearly three-quarters of U.S. families buy organic products

Organic Trade Association PRESS RELEASE here...

GREENFIELD, Mass. (June 16, 2009)—Tightening their spending habits amid economic uncertainty, U.S. families, however, are not giving up their purchases of organic products. In fact, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. families buy organic products at least occasionally, chiefly for health reasons according to a new study to be unveiled this week.

Findings from the 2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study, jointly sponsored by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and KIWI Magazine, also show that three in ten U.S. families (31 percent) are actually buying more organic foods compared to a year ago, with many parents preferring to reduce their spending in other areas before targeting organic product cuts. In fact, 17 percent of U.S. families said their largest increases in spending in the past year were for organic products.

“These findings reinforce the data collected in OTA’s 2009 Organic Industry Survey that showed continued healthy growth in U.S. sales of organic products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s executive director.

“We are pleased that so many parents are continuing to choose organic. It’s inspiring to see the degree to which these parents are leading the charge for a healthier way of life among their families and friends,” said Maxine Wolf, chief executive officer for KIWI Magazine.

OTA collaborated with KIWI Magazine on the national research study to gauge attitudes and behavior of families concerning organic product purchases. Managed by RMI Research and Consulting, LLC, the study was fielded among U.S. households during April. Highlights of the findings will be presented in Chicago at the All Things Organic™ Conference and Trade Show keynote session “Into the Mouths of Babes—Parents’ Reflections on Organic for Kids” Thursday, June 18, at 9:30 a.m.

Compiling results gathered from 1,200 families across the United States, this research identifies and profiles those who promote buying organic among family, friends and co-workers, specifically exploring the role parents play as potential influencers. Data reveal the typical path of organic purchases, beginning with the most common points of entry and tracing this through succeeding product category purchases. The study also explores families’ organic grocery shopping experiences and their preferences for the way organic products are organized and displayed on the retail level. In addition, it examines consumers’ understanding of organic product labels.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy (

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bucket Drip Irrigation

I received this photo today from Kyomya, Uganda. Click on picture to enlarge. The system is described below courtesy of Ken Hargesheimer at

The bucket must be suspended at least l meter above the ground. A tube is connected to the dripline and the other end is placed in the bucket to siphon the water out. Assuming the bucket is 20 liters, fill it twice for each row of vegetables. The dripline can be moved to another row for irrigating. Each row of vegetables is irrigated every other day. Plant a row of vegetables on each side of the dripline and use 40 liters of water.

Bucket Kits
The key to the simple drip irrigation system that we use is the gravity fed "bucket kit". The bucket kit consists of four 8m lines [or two of 50 ft or one of 100’] of drip tape connected to a bucket suspended 1m above the vegetable bed. Water is poured into the bucket and is evenly distributed to 100 watering points. By filling the bucket twice a day, a small kitchen garden can be watered. Studies in Kenya have shown that two of these kits can provide the water needed to produce enough vegetables to feed a family of seven during the dry season. These bucket kits are available in most countries (US$15), save water, save labor, and are easy to use. Go to

Using sleeves
Farmers in Honduras invented a VERY cheap drip irrigation system. They buy the regular black poly hose. Then they punch holes in it where they want them with a nail or ice pick. A hot nail is best. Then take short sections [5 inches] of the same hose, cut it lengthwise to form a sleeve, and place a sleeve over each hole. This sleeve applies pressure to the hole, only letting a little water out, like a drip. This technology is quite cheap, VERY simple to do. Maintenance is also simple, because if a hole plugs up, you can often unplug it merely by taking the sleeve off and then replacing it.

Using screws
Farmers in Nicaragua are using cheap round tubing and wood screws. If drip tape is unavailable, this is a great alternative. We tried it with great success. The screw is inserted completely into the tubing at each planting location so that it protrudes through the opposite wall. It is then backed off to allow water to drip through that side. The flow is set by screwing it in or out as needed. This even allows for variations in pressure due to terrain.

DIY drip kit:
Roger Pigott [San Diego workshop] decided to use two bucket drip systems on a bed in the garden but he did not want to siphon the water. Kits from are $25 each. He went to the hardware store and purchased: 100' of ½" black poly tubing; a post to hang buckets on; a faucet rosette washer and nut; ¾" ring washers; ¾" swivel tubing adapter; union - ¾" pipe threads and garden hose threads. One for each bucket. He drilled a 3/4 inch hole in the bottom of the buckets and installed the fittings. He then connected the tubing from the buckets to a header. He has five driplines connected to the header using tees and ells. He used wood screws for the drip outlets. There is about 60' of dripline. He planted seed in the five rows and laid the dripline over the seed. Very original thinking!

Buy enough hose to connect the drip line to the top of the bucket to siphon out the water. It takes about 1-2 hours for the bucket to empty. The dripline can be moved to another row of vegetables or plant a row of vegetables on each side of the dripline. Use more water. If one is willing to carry the water, one line will irrigate several rows during the day.

Plant green manure/cover crops to cut and leave on top of the soil to improve the soil. This is a MUST. Also, can be intercropped with the food crop.

Ken Hargesheimer

Friday, July 10, 2009

We Want This World to be like Heaven - Prof Muhammad Yunus

Speaking today at the annual Nelson Mandela Foundation annual lecture, Prof. Muhammad Yunus concluded his remarks by saying "We want this world to be like Heaven. This is the challenge we face".

He was picking up on a comment from the audience, which was asked to envision the world we a would like to live in in 2050.

One person stood up from the audience and said "Heaven on Earth". So Prof Yunus selected this from the many comments to conclude his remarks to the audience assembled at CIDA City Campus, in downtown Johannesburg.

Three young people were invited by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to join the Nobel Peace Prize winner on the stage. A CIDA City Campus graduate Dumisani Dladla was among them and spoke eloquently of his own work in the field of social development with a project he worked on to help school leavers in Orange Farm to further their education with business skills.

Solly Mhlongo and Director Nhlongo from Ezemvelo were also in attendance today as part of the internship programme at Ezemvelo studying Biointensive methods of organic agriculture.

More pictures here

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Building with Rice Hulls

The earth bag building project I mentioned in an earlier post here on Building with Earth is rapidly taking shape. It is a home for a family of orphans on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, USA. When I visited them last February, they were living in a mobile home with constant plumbing problems and very high heating bills.

So an inspiring group called Natures Compassion in my home town in Iowa decided to do something about it. They organized a fund raiser at Fairfield's new Convention Center led by the mayor of Fairfield. Funds were enough to build the family a home. Volunteers are now on site and building the home. They want to attract public support for other families on the reserve by building a first class eco home at very low cost and already some major magazines are interested to publish stories.

Owing to the extreme cold they decided to do two layers of bags - one earth and one with rice hulls on the exterior for insulation. The main structure should be in up in 2 weeks. Then comes the finishing - they will use only the best natural ingredients and energy saving technologies.

More pictures here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

San Francisco Signs Mandatory Recycling & Composting Laws

Just yesterday On June 23rd, the City of San Francisco signed into effect the nation’s first law mandating that all residents and businesses separate their recycling and compost material from normal trash. While many other cities in the US require recycling, no other city requires separation of food scraps and foot material to be composted. The measure, which will take effect this fall, is intended to help increase landfill diversion rates to 75% by 2010 as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

San Francisco is already well known for it’s impressive recycling and participation rates. The city diverts 72% of it’s trash from the landfill, and if everyone in the city participated in the new mandate, the Department of the Environment expects they could reach a 90% diversion rate. Ultimately though, the city has a goal of zero waste by 2020. The Department of the Environment conducted a study and determined that 36% of what is sent to the landfill is compostable and 31% is recyclable, most of which is paper.

Every residence and business in the city will be expected to have 3 different color-coded bins to separate their trash: blue for recyclables, green for compostables, and black for the remaining trash. Residences and businesses that cannot comply with the mandate can write the city a note explaining why it is unfeasible.

The purpose behind the mandate was to encourage businesses and residents who currently don’t recycle to start participating. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to “get recycling and composting happening in buildings where it is not currently provided.” And while there are fines associated with noncompliance of the recycling and composting ordinance, fines are not expected to be handed out except in extreme cases. The potential for fines is meant to increase awareness and add a sense of urgency to the matter, but they will only be implemented after repeated notices and phone calls. Additionally, a moratorium on fines is in effect until 2011.

The Board of Supervisors passed the measure, which is the first of it’s kind in the US, 9-2 on the first read through. “San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation,” Newsom said, praising the board’s vote on a plan that some residents had decried as heavy-handed and impractical. “We can build on our success.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wyoming University Students Study Grow Biointensive in Kenya

We just received these pictures from Philip Munyasia, a GROW BIOINTENSIVE instructor in Kenya. The pictures from top: the bountiful harvests possible using this method of agriculture, Philip with Professor Rick Smith from University of Wyoming USA, Kenyan students demonstrating the making of compost the Grow Biointensive way (using plant material and soil only), and Kenyans demonstrating biointensive planting to University of Wyoming students using close spacing in double dug beds. Click on pictures to enlarge. More pictures at Philip's blog site:

An inspiring vision of possibilities for Ezemvelo!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Rural Empowerment is Important

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, the ten-year-old star of Slumdog Millionaire, lost his home ten days ago. It was torn down by authorities in Mumbai. The Guardian reports that city authorities said the land was needed for a garden.

So writes Robert Neuwith on his blog SquatterCity. "These neighborhoods--which dominate most of the cities of the developing world--are vibrant and energetic, but horribly misunderstood. My book, Shadow Cities, is an attempt to humanize these maligned settlements."

Having spent two years living in squatter communities across four continents, Neuwirth finds people living lives of complexity, challenge, and surprising resiliency.

To understand more about this pressing problem of migration of the rural poor to the cities please see this video here.

Also see our earlier post on a thriving organic farm that has arisen in the midst of Kenya's largest squatter city.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Biointensive Garden Progress-2

We've double dug 22 raised beds in 4 weeks. Each bed is 100 square feet or 9.2 square meters. First we thoroughly soak the soil for at least 24 hours. Then remove all grass and weeds for composting. Then double dig the soil to 2 foot depth (6oomm) below the surface. When the soil is returned it is higher due to air added to the soil, so overall the cultivated depth is 600-850mm. This is much deeper than most systems of farming and allows for a closer spacing of plants.

Research at Ecology Action has shown that 40 such beds will adequately supply all the nutrition needs for one year for one person as well as carbon crops to compost for the soil and sufficient income for one person. In South Africa, organic produce sells for approximately double the rate of non-organic produce. So 40 beds should enable a good income as well as healthy food for the family.

We’ve made both the curved top beds used in biointensive gardens (bottom picture, click to enlarge) and the “flat top” often favoured in Africa for raised beds (top picture). We found that the planted area is up to 25% more for the curved top so this is our preferred design. It does require more care with watering until the plants are well established to prevent soil erosion.

Most of the crops we’ve planted initially are soil building cover crops including clover, Luzerne alfalfa grass, fodder radish and fodder rape. The GROW BIOINTENSIVE method encourages planting by the moon, which we have done. Additionally we are doing some planting using a Biodynamic calendar based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. The Biodynamic Calendar considers the moon and also the planets for choosing the best planting times. Ezemvelo means "return to nature" and so we teach methods which have been verified by science to be in harmony with and be supported by nature.

The top picture shows biointensive agriculture instructor Simphiwe Tinini demonstrating the biointensive method for spacing plants in a hexagonal pattern which maximizes foliage cover of the soil to reduce soil erosion and inhibits weed growth by shutting out the light.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grow Bio-Intensive – a Brief Description

Onions, avg yield 380lbs/100 sq ft


Bio-Intensive agriculture is a millennial old production technique that uses low tech methods for food production.

Over the last 35 years John Jeavons has developed these timeless techniques into a system that can be used to attain sustainable food production. He has developed a matrix of these dimensions: calories for people and carbon for the soil in the smallest area possible using the least amount of resources. These developments are being called Grow Bio-Intensive to differentiate them from the older potentially unsustainable methods.

Grow Bio-Intensive is based on a balance of eight important elements:
* Deep soil preparation, with Raised Beds
* Composting
* Intensive Planting
* Companion Planting
* Carbon Farming
* Calorie Farming
* Open Pollinated Seeds
* Holistic Farming Method

GROW BIO-INTENSIVE mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using:
* 67% to 88% less water
* 50% to 100% less organic fertilizer
* 99% less energy than commercial agriculture

These techniques can also:
* Produce 2 to 6 times more food
* Build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, if properly used
* Reduce by half or more the amount of land needed.

More information on Grow Bio-Intensive can be found here and at our upcoming 5 day workshop at Ezemvelo, September 16-21.


This impala has been coming into the campground every night for the last several weeks, along with a herd of about 15 smaller impala. This photo was taken last night at sunset, his usual time for arriving at the camp. They come for the proximity to humans at night as the leopards hunt at night and thankfully keep their distance from humans. At the last count in 2006 14 leopards were counted at Ezemvelo and Telperion Reserves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Interns Get a Lesson on Thatching

One of the interns today gave us a demonstration on thatching by reroofing our small kitchen at Eland Lapa. Pictured is Director from Hazyview in Mpumalanga.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cob Homes in Cullinan

I visited two delightful homes today in Cullinan, just a short drive west of Ezemvelo. I helped with construction of a home made of cob in Iowa, USA, last year. Cob refers to the clay-sand-straw mix used to make the walls. It comes from Europe where there are homes that have survived for 100's of years made of cob. It's very suitable for South Africa as it is very inexpensive, and the homes are cool in summer and warm in winter. And unlike in USA, cob homes can only get building permits in South Africa if the walls are not structural. This turns out to be an advantage in that the roof must go up first, supported by round wood poles. So the slow process of making the walls can proceed in all weather conditions under the roof.

The creativity that this method allows is seemingly endless. The homes I saw had very beautiful recycled glass windows of all shapes and sizes, shelves, bathtubs, sinks, counters, nooks and bench seats all made of cob. I was truly impressed and present some pictures here for something to consider for exhibiting different sustainable building technologies at our planned eco-campus at Ezemvelo.

See our earlier post on Building with Earth.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Greenhouse Expert coming to South Africa

Steve Moore was affectionately termed the "Gandhi of Greenhouses" by his students for his low tech innovations to keep his plants warm in winter without using fossil fuels.

He is coming to Ezemvelo in September to assist John Jeavons in the Food and Our Future 5 day workshop we're presenting here. In the relatively mild winters of South Africa it is possible to grow year round with only modest protection from the cold winter nights.

Some of his low-cost greenhouse innovations are described here:

Pictured above is Steve and his wife Carol on the cover of Home Power magazine in 2004.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Food and Our Future: Hope and Solutions through Biointensive Farming.

John Jeavons and Steve Moore present the GROW BIOINTENSIVE™ farming method in a 5-Day Workshop, Wednesday to Sunday, September 16-20 at Ezemvelo.

(click here to download the Ezemvelo April Newsletter)

The GROW BIOINTENSIVE method gives farmers and
gardeners of all skill levels the potential to use up to
67-88% less water, and 94-99% less energy per unit of
production compared with conventional farming and
gardening methods. At the same time the method creates
a substantial increase in soil fertility and yields.

The workshop will cover eight essential aspects of the
GROW BIOINTENSIVE method including: Deep Soil
Preparation, Raised Beds, Composting, Intensive Planting,
Companion Planting, Carbon Farming, Calorie Farming,
Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds, and A Whole-System
Farming Method. John will also provide time for questions
and answers concerning small-scale farming, long-term sustainable soil fertility, climate and market challenges.

John Jeavons has been the director of Ecology Action’s Mini-Farming programme since 1972, is the author of How to Grow More Vegetables...” (the textbook of the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming system), and has authored, co-authored and/or edited over 30 other Ecology Action publications. He directs research and education in GROW BIOINTENSIVE food raising methods, advises biologically-intensive projects in 141 countries around the world, and holds a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University. He has received the Boise Peace Quilt, Santa Fe Living Treasure, Giraffe, and Steward of Sustainable Agriculture awards for public service.

Ezemvelo is offering special 5 day accommodation packages including all meals and course tuition as follows (R/person):

Rhino House (2 persons/ room) R3250
Legae-Chalets (3 persons / chalet) R3175
Family Huts (3 persons/room) R3025

Group rates:
Hikers Huts (16 per dorm room) R2850
Impala Lapa (8 per dorm room) R2850
Caravan & Camping (max 6 per stand) R2700

Workshop and meals only R2300

Accommodation is limited and will be allocated on a first come
first served basis with full payment.

For bookings and further information:
E-mail: or
Tel: 013 680 1399 / 083 440 5886 /083 655 3638/ 083 287 6832

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Economies of Small Scale in Agriculture: A lesson for Congo

I post this recent story as case study for sustainable development pertaining to South Africa. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has decided to deal with food shortages and poverty by giving free 99 year leases on 10 million hectares of land to South African farmers to produce maize, soybeans, poultry and dairy farms. It raises serious questions such as:

• How many local people will be displaced in this process of giving land away to foreigners?

• What will be the environmental cost of destroying rain forest up to twice the size of Switzerland to make way for genetically modified maize, soybeans and poultry and cattle farms?

Here at Ezemvelo, natural wildlife habitats have been restored by removing cattle farms, and poultry and pig raising buildings in order to create a nature reserve over 10,000 hectares (Ezemvelo adjoins the private Telperion Nature Reserve).

Research at Ecology Action in the USA has shown that with GROW BIOINTENSIVE agriculture farmers can approximately double the output per unit area of land of conventional agriculture, and sometimes up to four times the yield. These biointensive food raising principles are based on a foundation of traditional forms of agriculture that are thousands of years old. Moreover, unlike with modern conventional agriculture, soil is not diminished in the process but is increased. The conclusions are clear: there are significant “economies of small scale” in food production.

The Government of Congo could serve it’s people far better by improving food production on currently farmed land with biointensive farming methods. These methods, combined with a better understanding of crop calorie efficiency of predominantly vegetarian diet versus a meat-based diet could enable up to half of the world’s present farmland to be returned to wild areas to preserve the plant and and animal biodiversity that is essential to promote balance in the global ecosystem.

There is no need to destroy more rain forest to feed the world.

Congo Republic Offers Huge Land Area to South African Farmers News 04/16/2009

The Republic of Congo has offered South African farmers 10 million hectares of farm land in an effort to increase the country's food security.

The area of land is twice the size of Switzerland and is to be used for growing maize and soy beans as well as poultry and dairy farming.

South Africa has one of the most developed agriculture sectors on the continent, and is Africa's top maize producer and No.3 wheat grower.

"They've given us 10 million hectares, and that's quite big when you consider that in South Africa we have about 6 million hectares of land that is arable," said Theo de Jager, deputy president of the farmers union Agriculture South Africa.

The deal, which is to be finalized next month, will be a 99-year, no cost lease.

Source: Reuters

Monday, May 4, 2009

Scholarships for September Grow Biointensive Five-Day Workshop

We have some scholarships available for the 5 Day Grow Biointensive Workshop we're having at Ezemvelo taught by John Jeavons. For more information about the course go to the post Food and our Future.

One student in the US is raising funds for a teenage woman to attend the workshop. Sarah Moore was assigned a High School Freshman Project. As she thought of what she might do, her thoughts focused on hunger throughout the world. A preliminary investigation revealed that children and women suffered the most. Sarah had a basic understanding of GROW BIOINTENSIVE (GBI) principles and felt that supporting a GBI project she could make a difference. She studied hunger and the geographic distribution throughout the world. She thought initially about raising money for seeds, but an e-mail to Brian Horsfeld in South Africa revealed a financial need to sponsor someone to the fall 2009 John Jeavons South Africa Workshop. Sarah raised over $200 to sponsor a teenage woman to the workshop. If others are interested in sponsoring or would like to refer a young women to be sponsored please contact Sarah at

Hey! My name is Sarah Moore and I’m a freshman at the Wayne School of Engineering in North Carolina. As part of a humongous project for my school, I had to research a subject and present it to a panel of judges. I chose to do mine on world hunger, and specifically, on solving world hunger through GROW BIOINTENSIVE principles. I studied hunger and these principles, and realized that women and children suffer the most from this world problem. So, as part of my project I raised over $200 at school and in my community to sponsor a young women to go to the September 2009 John Jeavons South Africa Workshop at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve. If you want to contact me or help me send a young woman to this workshop, e-mail me at Can’t wait to hear from you!!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Biointensive Garden Progress

Biointensive gardening is progressing well. We created an inexpensive storage tank for our free gravity fed spring water system. The tank is made of one piece of poly sheeting 7 x 6 meters supported by poplar posts and some old fencing (top picture). It stores 2000 liters of water for a total cost of R118. Filling buckets and watering cans is much quicker from this tank than from a hose.

We also started biointensive beds 9 and 10. Each bed is 100 square feet or 9.3 square meters. In order to double dig to 2 foot (600mm) depth it is much easier if the ground is moist. Since we have a free supply of water 24 hours a day we made a trench to irrigate the 2 beds for 24 hours. It's amazing how easily a spade will slide into properly moistened soil. Our motto is "if it is hard work, STOP before you break something, you're doing it the wrong way." Done properly double digging should be easy and fun.

The third picture shows our temporary nursery area with 22 seed flats planted so far. The seed flat trays are 3 inches (75 mm) deep and made from old apple boxes lined with plastic, with drain holes in the bottom. We will move the nursery into one corner of the main garden soon.

The last picture shows our system for making seed flat soil. We don't yet have compost made so we are improvising by collecting leaf mold (the top 5 mm of soil raked up under leafy trees). A quick way to sift this is to use a 15 mm mesh screen tilted at a high angle (in this case supported by an old bed frame). Though the mesh size is larger than ideal, when tipped at a high angle the coarse particles roll down easily off the screen and the sifted material is about 6mm or less. It's much faster and much easier than the traditional horizontal 1/4" (6mm) screen often placed over a wheelbarrow.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

A new article by Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute in the latest issue of Scientific American Magazine examines this question. This is a highly important issue, and the GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach we are teaching here at Ezemvelo produces food with a fraction of the energy, water and soil amendments of conventional approaches. 34 students on a the Leadership Course here this week, spent this morning learning how to make new soil from plant based compost and how to conserve water and promote healthier plants with higher yields by double digging a new vegetable bed for our new GROW BIOINTENSIVE demonstration garden.

The following two posts are alarming, and one needs to remember that the root of the word "crisis" has the same origin as "circle", ie that a crisis represents lack of balance, and the beginning of a return to balance again. It seems we humans need to be pushed to the brink of catastrophe before we will change our ways! Also the word for "crisis" in Chinese is associated with the word "opportunity".

From the May 2009 Scientific American Magazine

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

The biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries to cause government collapse

By Lester R. Brown

  • Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos.
  • Such “failed states” can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.
  • Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production.
  • Without massive and rapid intervention to address these three environmental factors, the author argues, a series of government collapses could threaten the world order.
One of the toughest things for people to do is to anticipate sudden change. Typically we project the future by extrapolating from trends in the past. Much of the time this approach works well. But sometimes it fails spectacularly, and people are simply blindsided by events such as today’s economic crisis.

For most of us, the idea that civilization itself could disintegrate probably seems preposterous. Who would not find it hard to think seriously about such a complete departure from what we expect of ordinary life? What evidence could make us heed a warning so dire—and how would we go about responding to it? We are so inured to a long list of highly unlikely catastrophes that we are virtually programmed to dismiss them all with a wave of the hand: Sure, our civilization might devolve into chaos—and Earth might collide with an asteroid, too!

For many years I have studied global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. The combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies. Yet I, too, have resisted the idea that food shortages could bring down not only individual governments but also our global civilization.

I can no longer ignore that risk. Our continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy—most important, falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures—forces me to conclude that such a collapse is possible.

Full article here...