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

From: http://harmony-essentials.com/biointensive.html

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: horsfield@lisco.com or ezemvelo@telkomsa.net
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

SustainableBusiness.com 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 goldtkdgirl@gmail.com

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 goldtkdgirl@gmail.com. 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.