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USAID to Use Permaculture to Assist Orphaned and Vulnerable Children

Nearly one quarter of children in the developing world are underweight, and one third are experiencing stunted growth, according to a UNICEF report. In addition, many of these children have a family member, or are themselves, afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Jacob, a student in Malawi, explaining permaculture to other boys. (Photo credit: NeverEndingFood.org)

According to the Joint U.N Programme on HIV/AIDS, worldwide, 16.6 million children aged 0 to 17 have lost parents due to HIV. Families afflicted with HIV have less help harvesting and planting crops or selling them at the market. Additionally, when a parent dies prematurely, their children are denied their generational agricultural knowledge and skills. But this missing information, and other lessons on ethics, patience, and responsibility, can be taught in schools through the use of permaculture.

A new USAID project, Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, is focused on providing long-term food security solutions to orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) that are coping with the challenges of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Permaculture is their means to achieving this food security.

Kristof Nordin is one of the co-authors of this initiative. He and his wife, Stacia, a registered dietician and previous School Health and Nutrition Advisor for the Malawi Ministry of Education, live in a home outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. On their land, they have been demonstrating permaculture practices for several years to help educate the community about indigenous vegetables and to reduce the cultural fixation on monocropping.

Unlike most feeding programs that rely heavily on international donors, this USAID permaculture initiative is an innovation that can help maximize local reliance, ensure sustainability, and – internally– meet many of the food, shelter, and energy needs of participating communities for the long run.

Permaculture embraces the interdependencies and balance of natural ecosystems while still providing for human needs. It draws from elements of organic farming, sustainable development, and agroforestry to create a self-sustaining and durable system. In the backyard of Kristof and Stacia, they intercrop trees with indigenous crops, and raise bees to help pollinate. In addition they recycle greywater, the water used for domestic activities, for more sustainable irrigation and use a composting toilet to help fertilize crops naturally.

Permaculture is an ideal way for orphaned and vulnerable children to grow food. The systems are designed to work with locally available crops and materials, making them low cost and eco-friendly by conserving energy, inputs and impact. Through its hands-on, organic and sustainable principles, permaculture teaches community members about selecting nutrient-rich foods for a well balanced diet, which helps them build stronger immune systems. Although permaculture sometimes requires a bit more manual labor than high-impact farming, the workload steadily decreases as the system becomes fully functional.

As part of its School Health and Nutrition Program, permaculture was introduced by the Malawi Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to several schools and development centers in Malawi in 2007 and 2008. These programs have helped train more than 150 teachers, committee members, and agricultural extension workers in permacultural procedures and has had great success in most of its locations.

The students and community members in each location planted over 2,500 locally sourced, food bearing and medicinal trees and other plants. From these vegetated areas, they are harvesting fruits and vegetables, improving teaching and learning environments, increasing water table storage, and establishing closer connections with the land.

Local interest in these projects is growing, and surrounding businesses and institutions are beginning to copy these permaculture activities. With the help of a prominent agency like USAID, there will hopefully be many more success stories like this one in the future. Where previous efforts have failed them, this initiative, with its focus on local sustainability, has the potential to provide long-term food security to children that have been victims of malnourishment and HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

Do you think that permaculture can help these regions in need? Let us know in the comments.

To read more about these topics see: Nature’s Gift Permaculture, Permaculture Institute, USAID Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Programming, The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, Sweeping Change, Never Ending Food

Stephanie Buglione is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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