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FTFA: a South African permaculture pioneer

Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) has been a South African permaculture pioneer for 30 years. FTFA ensures funding is allocated to worthy causes. We lay strong foundations for sustainable, long-term food security projects. We do this through consistency and a commitment to working alongside local communities. 

“When we first introduced permaculture in South Africa, the concept had to permeate at grassroots level. Initially, it was an environmental response, but it shifted rapidly to focus on issues of food security,” explains Bharathi Tugh, FTFA’s EduPlant Manager.

In the 1990s FTFA ran permaculture projects that made clear the need to understand the many cultural systems. “While we had a planting calendar, traditional knowledge systems were so great that it was important to listen. Older people especially had cultural knowledge to share,” explains Tugh. “If a gogo on the field said, ‘we must plant next week because the moon phase allows it’, we started to adjust to accommodate that knowledge. Water and soil were also integral elements of cultural teaching.”

‘Africanising’ permaculture

FTFA has moulded its approach to permaculture to suit the South African landscape. The design and creation of our Permaculture Starter Packs (PSPs) reflects a responsive approach to working with different communities that has been honed through vast interactive experiences. 

Tugh points out that imposing knowledge as an authority always creates a disconnect with communities: “In on-the-ground training sessions, we started to draw in the local knowledge base, and we started to grow. Cultural protocols must also be followed. For example, women during their menstrual cycles could not access a kraal to gather cow dung for soil conditioning. We value tradition, therefore we worked our systems into a magical synergy between our expertise and the rich traditional knowledge of our country.”

The most important aspect has been a mutual respect shared with the communities where FTFA works. “Gradually our materials started to take on and enhance that functional pre-existing system. This process tied up the relationship between permaculture and agroecology principles – it was a perfect fit, and the materials we produced incorporated all of these different elements,” says Tugh.

As a pioneer, FTFA continued to evolve. We developed a broad implementation masterplan based on solid agroecology and permaculture principles. “The plan is informed by what we need to teach. It has always been a localised approach, based on understanding soil, communities, and food preferences,” Tugh elaborates.

“As we began to expand with more and larger-scale projects, we never forgot about household food security. This is where we really see impact. You cannot work a big piece of land if your family at home is not satisfied or nourished.”

Local knowledge is the key to PSPs

Tugh says that leveraging local knowledge is key. “This is integral to the PSP programme. The curriculum is flexible enough to cater for every single cultural dynamic and specific community needs.”

This feeds into curriculum development. “We take community feedback and use it to create suitable, applicable, and viable materials and packages which are accessible to everyone. We translate documents into local languages and cater for different literacy levels. FTFA obtains feedback verbally as well as using pictorial symbols for beneficiaries who have literary challenges.”

Creating an entire PSP syllabus not only provides food, but actual economic benefits. Offering personal holistic development includes training that allows people to monetise their produce. 

Championing the role of women in agriculture

This is especially evident in the role of women, who form the backbone of FTFA; Women in Agriculture is one of FTFA’s longest-running and most successful projects.

“Women, especially in rural and impoverished areas, benefit immensely from agroecology techniques & the infrastructure support FTFA provides. Our training ensures that these farmers turn a subsistence living into income production, so they can feed and clothe their families,” says Robyn Hills, FTFA Head of Programmes. 

As FTFA continues to pioneer local permaculture and food security projects, it is this inclusive and interactive approach that empowers communities to safeguard their own food security. As Tugh highlights, “We have the overall blueprint and we respond to a community’s needs. By not imposing knowledge, our responsive approach will continue to allow us to stay relevant and push boundaries.”

Donate now if you are interested in getting involved in permaculture projects and our campaign to bring food security to schools and communities across South Africa. You can also contact us for more information about different PSP applicants and funding options through Food & Trees for Africa.

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