Badilisha Ecovillage Trust
managed by E. Odula
Just off Kenya’s Lake Victoria shore, Rusinga, at 46 square kilometers, is a small island. Several hills rise nearly 1,000 feet from the shore of but have lost much of their former forested glory to firewood and overgrazing as the island’s population has grown.. The lack of tree cover allows heavy rains to wash the soil down the hills and in many areas the land is eroded right down to the underlying rock. The community here has relied traditionally on a combination of fishing and subsistence farming, so loss of soils, together with diminishing returns from the lake (for a number of reasons) and increasingly unpredictable rainfall is a very serious problem. Food insecurity and malnutrition, low levels of literacy and educational achievement, poor provision of infrastructure and one of the highest levels of HIV infection in Africa make this a very fragile place.
It was in response to all these issues that, in 2007, Evans Odula founded Badilisha Trust, now a registered Community Based Organisation. His initial idea was for a multi-purpose centre which would include a library and ICT resource centre, offer courses on a variety of sustainability issues and demonstrate organic farming practices. Badilisha would also respond to the urgent needs of the community, especially in relation to education and health, and develop partnerships with individuals and organisations from other parts of the world. Evans worked with friends from the local community, from further afield in Kenya and from other parts of the world to develop his idea. True to its name, Badilisha (a Swahili word meaning ‘change’) would help the community to which it belongs change, creating a better place to live in.
During the first year several courses in non-violent communication were run for communities around the island and an educational sponsorship programme was started.
Early in 2009 the trust acquired nearly an acre of land close to the lake at very low cost. With donations from friends at home and overseas and the involvement of the community, an office, meeting rooms and several other buildings were constructed, a small photovoltaic system was installed, and trees were planted.
It was around this time that Evans got inspired by permaculture and its ideas became central to Badilisha’s development.
To practice permaculture is to design consciously for sustainable human activities. The idea was first developed in Australia in the 1970s in response to environmental problems, in particular the effects that modern farming practices have on the environment. Permaculture design is enveloped in three overarching ethics: people care, earth care and ‘fair shares’. It takes its principles from the study of natural ecosystems, working as far as possible with nature, not against it. Permaculture smallholdings around the world have been shown to maintain soil fertility, and to be at least as efficient in food production as large-scale monoculture agricultural systems. Because of their rejection of fossil fuel based agricultural inputs, and their use of practices such as planting trees, using recycled materials and keeping soil covered, they reduce carbon emissions and so address climate change. Permaculture solutions are increasingly being adopted in African countries as an effective route towards sustainable farming.
In March 2011 the centre hosted a Permaculture Design Certificate training (PDC) which produced a design for Badilisha as a permaculture resource centre. The vision includes a demonstration garden, community space, facilities for running trainings, a roadside shop for selling farm produce, a library and an internet and computer services centre, which would provide income as well as offering a much needed service to the community and local schools, and a visitors’ accommodation area, to include a small house and a camp site. Evans’ original ideas of offering outreach programmes for farmers and responding to urgent issues in the wider community are also still a major part of Badilisha’s mission.
In the design these elements are combined with ‘voluntourism’ which offers people from other communities and other countries the opportunity to stay as volunteers, learning and sharing their knowledge about permaculture, immersing themselves in local culture, and seeing the sights. Volunteers pay a small charge for food and accommodation with a little going towards Badilisha’s work; they are hosted by local families, and in future will be able to choose between that and camping at the Badilisha site.
Several elements of the design are now in place, including a duck pond, rabbits and chickens, a mandala garden for indigenous vegetables, banana circles, the beginnings of a food forest, a herb and medicinal plant spiral, and a rain water harvesting and drip irrigation system (paid for by a generous one-off donation from a foreign sponsor). There is much still to be done, including a lot that needs funding.
The centre is already well used by the community for meetings and courses, where the ethics of people and earth care are clearly seen. Workshops on low energy cooking have been offered, with more in the pipeline. An orphans’ feeding programme will start within the next couple of months, with the generous support of a Canadian branch of the Rotary Club. Another PDC training is scheduled for December 2012 and an organic farming course is in the planning stage. Badilisha has also been working with communities outside of the centre, for instance installing sanitation facilities for fishermen at nearby beaches and engaging children in food production by helping local schools develop sustainable food gardens.
Permaculture’s third ethic, fair shares, or sharing of surplus, is in constant evidence, and demonstrates our commitment to co-operation as a way of working. For instance, a local farmer brings his three cows to graze in the camping area: Badilisha gets the grass cut and keeps the manure; the farmer gets well nourished cows. The school a few metres up the road brings its spare mulching material and gets our input in its garden.
We are applying the ethics and principles of permaculture to the challenge of getting Badilisha financially self reliant and sustainable. (Although originally devised for designing food growing systems, permaculture can be applied to pretty much any area of human endeavour.)
To be resilient we need several sources of income. Currently, some cash is generated from the sale of farm produce and phone charging, and from the payments of volunteers. Courses and workshops cover their own costs and generate some additional funds. Donations through our website add a little, and we have received some larger one-off donations. In the near future the campsite will be ready, and we expect to generate some income from that. However these sources are unpredictable, and cannot be relied upon to cover our regular expenses (mainly staffing costs). To become sustainable, the project needs reliable, regular income.
It’s clear that the ICT resource centre has great potential to meet a significant proportion of our needs regularly and reliably. It also has high start-up costs. We’ve been promised a donation of solar panels which should provide the necessary power, but we still need an inverter and batteries to get the system up and running. And we need the ICT hardware (which, even from computer recycling charities, still comes at a cost).
There are several other areas of need for funding: we want a windmill to pump water from the lake for irrigation during the lengthy dry seasons: the pump we use now is gas powered and thus not sustainable; the biogas system requires funds, and we want to enlarge our permaculture and sustainability library.
We'd love you to help!