Rachael and I took advantage of an afternoon babysitter (grandparents!) to make a visit to the first Monday Visitor Day at Guba Swaziland. Rachael found Guba on the internet before we left Texas in her search for organic foods and farming in the area. We were excited to make the visit (especially Rachael) and even more excited when we left.
Many of the ideas and practices were familiar to us (especially Rachael), but this was the first time we had seen them being done in one place.
The guys who started Guba are Swazi and had jobs as agricultural educators with the Moya Centre (a popular local organization working primarily with AIDS orphans). Three years ago, they began to put the principles of permaculture into practice on this homestead. To (over)simplify it, permaculture is a very intentional way of sustainable living where everything is related and plays its part.
Highlights from the Guba Tour
They had detailed plans for each part of their farm and are already showing much progress. Here’s some highlights from our visit and a gallery of photos of some of these items:
- Guba used a natural filtration system (plants that purify water) to clean up polluted water coming in from the nearby river. Then a solar-powered pump moved the water into water tanks that used gravity to then get the water to the appropriate places on the farm.
- In construction, they are using natural materials. One finished building was built using rammed earth (which is what it sounds like — ramming earth until it is very hard as the walls). Another was done using mud bricks (stick and mud houses are still the method of the poor in Swaziland). Each used wood framing and also a lime plaster (also natural and allows for breathing) as the outer layer so you couldn’t tell they weren’t concrete construction (the other popular local method and “look”).
- Water is not wasted with the compost toilet. In its simplest form, this toilet is a bucket with a toilet seat over it. Rather than flushing, you put in ashes (for the smell) and sawdust (to keep it dry). When full, you put it in the compost pile were it decomposes for a year. No, it didn’t smell at all — even though people had done their business in it. Currently this compost is not used for the veggies in the garden. 🙂
- A rocket shower provided hot water in the bathroom. A large pipe encased a small one where water flowed. Pour in a little paraffin, light it and the flame inside the pipe (rocket) warms the water instantly. When finished, stick in the plate and out go the flames. No electricity for hot water! (Since we don’t have any type of air conditioning or heat — except windows — the water heater is our biggest electricity culprit).
- The nursery provided a great place for growing seeds and seedlings to continue the cycle of crops without needing to purchase plants.
- The garden was a beautiful place of diversity with plants intentionally growing amongst other varieties to help enrich the soil, deter bugs, and strengthen each other. For instance, the diversity places nitrogen-hungry plants next to plants depositing nitrogen; and plants that naturally repel certain harmful bugs next to plants that attract them. It certainly made it more interesting than rows of kale or cabbage.
- We also visited the farm tractor– two large pigs in a movable pen. No part of Guba’s farm had been plowed by human-power or machine-power. Pigs root out the thick thatch grass, weeds, and anything else as their food and soil preparation.
There’s a lot more to say about the permaculture side and the amazing ways they had put the pieces together. I didn’t talk above about rainwater harvesting (and the thoughtful ways they practiced it — even thinking about what to do when the collection bins start overflowing), the compost tea, bird sanctuary, and numerous other things.
Addressing Food Security through Community Development
To me, one of the most exciting things revolves around purpose. They aren’t doing all this to feed only themselves (or only to sell to those with money). They do this to teach other Swazis about permaculture and its value for providing food to families. Food security is a problem in Swaziland — high unemployment, high HIV/AIDS rates, high food prices are some contributors.
The first big class of Swazi students graduates this month. These people — young and old, educated and illiterate — participated in a year-long education program spending one week per month at Guba and the other weeks implementing this new knowledge at their own homestead. According to Guba, success at the homesteads has been tremendous. Guba staff monitors the student’s work, helps with questions, and will continue to monitor and evaluate success for the next two years with these students (even as they take on more students in another round).
We’re planning on a return trip next week with some visitors and staff to begin imagining and thinking about ways we can be more intentional with our gardens and our campus in our efforts toward financial sustainability and faithful care of the earth’s resources.
(If you heard something you wanted to know more about or wished I had taken a picture of, please let us know — maybe we’ll take one next time we go). Learn more about Guba online at http://www.gubaswaziland.org.