Thursday, January 29, 2009

Organic farming 'could feed Africa'

Traditional practices increase yield by 128 per cent in east Africa, says UN

Organic farming offers Africa the best chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and malnutrition it has been locked in for decades, according to a major study from the United Nations to be presented today.

New evidence suggests that organic practices – derided by some as a Western lifestyle fad – are delivering sharp increases in yields, improvements in the soil and a boost in the income of Africa's small farmers who remain among the poorest people on earth. The head of the UN's Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said the report "indicates that the potential contribution of organic farming to feeding the world maybe far higher than many had supposed".

Full report...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Building with Earth

There's an inspiring project to build a Youth Centre at nearby Dennilton using Earth Bag Construction. Pictured here is the recently completed Administrative Office (above) and Performance Space (left).

The great advantage is that this utilizes a resource that is already on the site, and can be done entirely by hand without requiring machinery. Among the many volunteers who have helped with construction were seventy five students from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls who visited in October 2008.

In the USA, students from Maharishi University of Management and community members from Fairfield, Iowa are planning to build a home made of earth bags for a Native American family in Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. The group's aim is to give the indigenous people of North America the best that the permaculture and sustainable living world has to offer. Learn more about this project at the group's website: Nature's Compassion.

Another approach is to use compressed earth blocks. These can be made by hand as has been done at Tlholego Ecovillage near Rustenberg. Here buildings are made with compressed earth blocks in a system called The Tlholego Building System. Says founder, Paul Cohen: "we have shown that it is possible to construct a 45sqm family home for around R18 000 plus sweat equity using the TBS (Tlholego Building System)". The project was supported with a grant from the Cottonwood Foundation.

Compressed Earth Blocks can also be made using a machine which greatly speeds up the construction. One machine is manufactured in Johannesburg by Hydraform.

These are some of the building technologies we are exploring for new building at Ezemvelo.

Some good links on Earth Bag Construction:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

One of the most immediate ways entrepreneurs can generate income for schools in rural areas is by growing organic food for sale. To address the economic challenges of small family farms competing against "agri business" the concept of "community supported agriculture" (CSA) was born in the United States in 1985. Since then it has grown to a movement of over 1300 farms throughout North America and spreading to other countries as well. South Africa is ripe for this!

We're very happy to have a leader in this field, Steve Moore as a presenter for the upcoming Workshop on Food and Our Future to be held at Ezemvelo 16-20 September, 2009. Steve is the Small Farm Manager at North Carolina State University's Center For Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). He has farmed organically since 1973 and has used Biointensive techniques in market scale production for the last 15 years. He was the past Director of the Center for Sustainable Living, Wilson College, where he founded the Robyn Van En Center for CSA resources and co-founder (with his wife Carol) of Harmony Essentials. He is an associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, a board member of Ecology Action and past member of the board of Directors of PASA (Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture).

Some online resource lists for CSA's:
USDA Resource list for CSA's
UK Soil Association's Links to overseas CSA's

Some CSA's at University Organic Farms:

Cal Poly Organic Farm
Clemson University CSA
Michigan State University Student Organic Farm
Maharishi University of Management/Abundance EcoVillage CSA
Rutgers University Student Organic Farm
Washington State University CSA

In 2008 North Carolina State University's CEFS unit started a very innovative extension of the CSA concept by coordinating production from seven farms into one CSA with a central pickup:
Research Triangle Park CSA, Raleigh, NC

The CEFS webpage also has many resources for CSA's and small farms, including a CSA Calculator to determine planting schedules. To download the Excel file click here

Friday, January 16, 2009

Education That Pays For Itself

Watch an inspiring 13 minute video of the recent Teach a Man Fish conference held at the Eden Campus, near Kynsna.

From the Teach a Man to Fish website:

The 'Education that Pays for Itself' model
Creating jobs requires creating entrepreneurs. We believe that the most successful institutions at producing graduates equipped for running their own businesses are those that themselves take an entrepreneurial approach to managing their programmes.

By incorporating production into the educational process not only can students gain a first-hand knowledge of the subjects they study, but useful income can be generated to finance academic overheads.

A realistic long-term goal
Could a school eventually be 100% financially self-sufficient? Yes!

Our first school, the San Francisco Agricultural High School in Paraguay is now covering all of its operational costs in this way - including depreciation! - while meeting internationally recognised standards for excellence in education.

This school uses the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system of 100% organic agriculture.

Ezemvelo Nature Reserve Maps & Newsletters

The Google Earth Image above shows the Reception Area (left), Chalets (top left) and Camping Area (to the right) also shown on the map (left). Click on images to enlarge.

New map at:

Past newsletters and articles on Ezemvelo including photos and accounts of activities and research at the Nature Reserve:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Africa Agriculture News

"Organic agriculture has actually increased yields by 120% in some areas of Africa"
- UN Food Production Report, October 2008

How youth in Kenya's largest slum created an organic farm
An interview with an organic pioneer, Su Kahumbu

Kibera is one of the world's largest slums, containing over a million people and one third of Nairobi's population. With extremely crowded conditions, little sanitation, and an unemployment rate at 50 percent, residents of Kibera face not only abject poverty but also a large number of social ills, including drugs, alcoholism, rape, AIDS, water-borne diseases, and tensions between various Kenyan tribes.

However, the majority of Kibera's residents are just trying to live as well as possible under daunting circumstances. Proving that optimism and entrepreneurship are very much alive there, in July of this year the slum's only organic farm began selling its first harvest of ripe green spinach and kale, while sunflowers unfurl upward from soil that had once been a garbage dump. The idea of the farm came from boys and girls in Kibera's Youth Reform Program. They had the vision and the ambition, but in order to make their dream a reality they needed help.

Su Kahumbu in front (Paula Kahumbu)
Su Kahumbu, a tireless advocate of organic farming in Kenya, was quickly enlisted. Her participation came with one request: it must be an organic farm.


Mozambique in food crisis warning

Flood victims in Mozambique (Archive picture)
Thousands have been made homeless by recent flooding

The UN has warned it is running out of funds to help the 350,000 people in Mozambique in need of food aid.

Source, BBC News Wednesday, 14 January 2009:

Welcome to Ezemvelo Eco-Campus Blog

This blog is a forum to develop ideas for expanding the educational programmes at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, in Gauteng, South Africa. The property has recently been gifted by the Oppenheimer family to the Maharishi Institute in Johannesburg.

Please see:

Oppenheimers donate nature reserve to free university
Maharishi Institute
Ezemvelo Nature Reserve Website

It consists of 4,500 hectares of game reserve, with accommodation for visitors up to about 300 including campsites. It is used frequently by schools and other groups as well as tourists. Last year horseback riding was added to the amenities offered there. This blog is primarily for those working with the Maharishi Institute to develop ideas for expanding the educational programmes at Ezemvelo. And also to share current news related to Eco Tourism, Eco Construction and Sustainable Agriculture that will be helpful for designing our educational programmes. At present our blog is unmoderated, and we welcome comments and contributions from anyone interested.

Food and our Future: 5 Day Workshop

South Africa's first GROW BIOINTENSIVE Teaching Centre was started at CIDA City Campus in 2007 by Sandile Nkosi and Simphiwe Tinini and was featured on 2008 cover of Ecology Action's Seed Catalogue (pictured left) which is mailed to subscribers in over 120 countries.

Click on images to enlarge.

We are very excited to be able to offer a 5 day workshop at Ezemvelo in September on GROW BIOINTENSIVE agriculture by John Jeavons.

For over 30 years Jeavons has been a trail blazer in the field of sustainable agriculture, developing a mini farming system known as GROW BIOINTENSIVE.

This method has been extraordinarily successful in over 141 countries worldwide.

"There are probably a billion people in the world who are malnourished. The Jeavons approach could enable that segment of the population to feed itself adequately for the first time ever. That would be a remarkable development in this world, and would do more to solve the problems of poverty, misery and hunger than anything else we've done."
-Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland

In Africa Kenya is a leader in this field. 2008 was a record year with over 20,000 Kenyan farmers attending 5 day workshops taught by graduates with 2 years training from Manor House Agricultural Centre. See: 2008 Biointensive Report in Kenya

A leading teacher and proponent in Kenya is Joshua Machinga. He has taught over 37,000 farmers in this method at the Common Ground project. Their website provides a great online resource for farmers at:
Village Volunteers: Sustainable Village Library

Ezemvelo is offering special 5 day accommodation packages including all meals and course tuition as follows:
Rhino House (2 persons/ room) 3250
Legae-Chalets (3 persons / chalet) 3175
Family Huts (3 persons/room) 3025

Group rates:
Hikers Huts (16 per dorm room) 2850
Eland Lapa (8 per dorm room) 2850
Caravan & Camping (max 6 per stand) 2700

Workshop and meals only 2300

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

See our more recent post here: