Exploring Permaculture Design in Caring for Our Common Home
We are marking World Environment Day 2023 by remembering the recent permaculture trainings at MMS’ Eco-Education and Healing Centre, which took place in May over 12 days. Participants, both from MMS and local community representatives, explored together how permaculture principles and Laudato si’, Praise be to You, Pope Francis’ Second Encyclical Letter about Care of Our Common Home, relate to each other.
Permaculture is defined as a design approach based on understandings of how nature works.
Here are some of the meeting’s main observations:
- Observe and interact with nature - is a permaculture principle that is also highlighted in Laudato si', where Pope Francis calls for greater attention to the natural world and the consequences of human actions on the environment. He invites us to contemplate the beauty of creation and recognise the inherent value of all living things which, in turn, leads us to make responsible choices to protect and preserve it;
- Catch and store energy - is a permaculture principle that can be applied to energy conservation and renewable energy sources. In Laudato si’, this translates as encouraging the transition towards renewable energy and the development of sustainable technologies designed to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Permaculture design also emphasises the importance of catching and storing energy, whether through the use of solar panels or the creation of water catchment systems. This principle can be applied not only to energy, but also to the management of other resources, such as water and food;
- Obtain a yield - as a permaculture principle highlights the importance of producing a yield in a sustainable and ethical manner. Similarly, Laudato si' stresses the need for a just and sustainable economy that prioritises the common good over profit. Laudato si’ calls for a new economic model that promotes human dignity and the well-being of all people, rather than the accumulation of wealth for a few; permaculture design seeks to create sustainable systems that provide for our needs in a way that is respectful of the earth and promotes social justice;
- Use and value renewable resources - is the permaculture principle that aligns with the emphasis Laudato si’ puts on the importance of using renewable resources and reducing consumption of non-renewable resources. Laudato si’ calls for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, as well as the promotion of sustainable agriculture and the protection of biodiversity; permaculture design seeks to use and value renewable resources, and to create systems that support the regeneration of natural resources over time;
- Design from patterns to details - means that permaculture design emphasises the importance of understanding and working with natural patterns and systems. This aligns with the Laudato si call for a holistic and integrated approach to addressing environmental issues. Laudato si’ urges recognition of the interdependence of all living things and a move away from a fragmented and reductionist approach to environmental problems; permaculture design seeks to work with natural patterns and systems and to create integrated and resilient systems that promote the health of the earth and all living things; and finally
- Integrate rather than segregate - highlights how permaculture encourages the integration of diverse elements in a system to promote resilience and sustainability. This principle also aligns with an emphasis in Laudato si’ on the importance of interconnection and collaboration between individuals and communities in caring for our common home. Laudato si’ calls for a recognition of the interconnectedness of all living things with a move away from an individualistic approach to environmental problems; permaculture design seeks to integrate diverse elements in a system and to create communities that work together to promote sustainability and social justice.
The training participants took part in many ‘hands on’ activities designed to help them learn how to apply permaculture principles in practice; for example, for water catchment and harvesting techniques, they were taught how to practise ‘slow, spread and sink’ through mulching, swales and zai pits. Swales, for example, capture surface water flowing downhill during rain, slow the movement of surface water across the landscape and put it to use, rather than letting it flow off. Having captured rainwater along the length of the swale, the water can soak slowly into the soil. In a region, facing the unpredictable impacts of climate change, this type of activity made the Medical Mission Sisters aware of their responsibility to help local communities to prepare for heavy storms - like Cyclone Freddy that hit Malawi hard recently, with the sheer force of so much water, sweeping away whatever lay in its path, whether homes, villages or human lives.
The focus of the follow up training session was on briquette-making. It is considered by some that this environmentally friendly green charcoal solution can save Uganda's forests. Instead of using wood as household fuel, the briquettes can be easily made from agricultural waste - whether dry banana peels, coffee husks, plant and tree leaves, papers, rice husks or potato peelings. In future, the sisters in Tororo plan to train women in each of the surrounding 44 parishes to make briquettes as an income-generating activity and to pass on the methodology to others.
Through small ecological solutions and steps, such as these, MMS’ Eco-Education and Healing Centre is committed to embedding integral ecology and care for planet Earth, practically and locally, by equipping households and communities for sustainable futures and stewardship of their environment.