Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving forward with food and water security at Sabina

James Kalokola, Assistant Program Manager, Sabina Food and Water Security

My name is James Kalokola and I am the Assistant Program Manager at the permaculture project at Sabina, which has been renamed: Sabina Food and Water Security, or FWS for short.

About me and my journey to permaculture
My journey to FWS and permaculture started when I spotted an advertisement for the position of program assistant with FWS. I applied, hopeful that my qualifications and experience in agriculture would get me to the interview stage. To my pleasure I was shortlisted and, after an interview with representatives from Children of Uganda as well officials from the Rakai District Agriculture Department, I was chosen for the job.

But I don’t want to call this just a ‘job’ – it is much more than this for me. I’m passionate about the aims of this project and the values it represents, and I’m committed to improving it and achieving the best outcomes possible.

As a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation biology, I met the qualification requirements for the position. But I think that what is perhaps just as important is that I was born into and raised in a family that not only practices agriculture but values it, something which is unfortunately not always the case in modern Uganda where the lure of the city is strong. My training and my additional part-time work as a teacher at a local agricultural high school has also given me considerable experience interacting with students and the community.

Permaculture enters my world
To be frank, before I was appointed to this position in January 2010,  the word ‘permaculture’ was not part of my vocabulary. The first time I heard it was when I met Jan Smart, Vice Chair (Programs) of Children of Uganda Board of Directors, to discuss the position. Jan introduced me to Dan Palmer, an Australian volunteer who was one of the designers of the original permaculture site plan. Dan is a softly-spoken man. After greeting me, he asked a question of me: “Have you ever heard of Permaculture?”. I knew immediately I was in the hands of a good teacher. I replied immediately: “No”.
Then Dan said simply and quietly, “It is permanent agriculture“, and stopped there, leaving me wondering . He knew instinctively that I would be intrigued.

I left the meeting full of curiosity, determined to investigate further and leave no stone unturned in my quest to understand the concept. When I got back to my home town of Kyotera in Rakai district, I jumped on the internet and did some research. Oh my, what a lot of information on permaculture there was. But I still did not dream that this new word would be such a crucial part of my role at Sabina. And the idea that someday I might even start to teach it was not even on my horizon of thought.

Learning about permaculture
Attending the January 2010 Permaculture Design Course at Sabina School was really the turning point in my journey from conservation biologist to permaculturist. This was the first Permaculture Design Course ever held in Uganda and I attended along with 50 other participants from different corners of the world, including Kenya, Tanzania, Canada, Australia, and the UK. You can read more about this course here and in earlier posts in this blog, including this one.

The main instructor was Rosemary Morrow, a world famous permaculture practitioner and teacher based in Australia. Her teaching colleagues were Dan Palmer, Amanda Cuyler, Lindsay Dozoretz, Claudia and Rachael Otuyar. Rachel is an African lady who works on a farmer-extension project in Kenya run along conservation farming lines. Her knowledge of permaculture came from her time working at St Judes, an organic farming training site in the Masaka district close to Sabina. St Judes is designed along permaculture principles,

On the first day of the course, Rosemary Morrow introduced the concept of permaculture  and explained its origins and context. As the course progressed, my understanding of permaculture kept expanding and changing, as we moved from topic to topic. At one point, I saw it as ecology, at another I understood it as organic farming, and then further as physical planning , disaster management, and much more. This segmented understanding continued until the final days of the course, when it all started to come together holistically.

In a way, my initial disjointed understanding of permaculture is instructive. Permaculture does indeed have many disciplines embedded in it. All the topics and approaches above are part and parcel of permaculture. The confusion I faced is one that I suspect anybody new to the field of permaculture would be likely to succumb to .

I now realise that the ‘ingredients’  of  permaculture can be found in other areas of knowledge, but the way they are presented creates a unique style of designing and living, which I would urge anybody to venture into. But  I have one word of caution, based on my own short but intense experience of permaculture: once you decide to investigate, you will end up digging into it deeper and deeper.

A word of thanks
Though my professional background helped me adopt permaculture practices, I would also like to thank all the permaculturalists who have been involved in FWS, including: Rosemary Morrow, Dan Palmer, Amanda Cuyler, Mike Cloutier, Ralph Skerra, Kim Glasgow, Clive Mullett, Michele Sabto and Andy Trevillian, Cameron Cross and Symmone Gordon, and of course Jan Smart.

Stay tuned to find out all about recent progress at FWS. New posts will be up very shortly!

James Kalokola, FWS Assistant Program Manager

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