The Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (Celuct) in Chikukwa, Chimanimani district, is an inspiring community permaculture project that began in 1991. In October 2011, I was fortunate to tour the area.
Column by Pamela Ngwenya
Chikukwa is a beautiful, lush and mountainous area that encompasses six villages and is home to about 1 000 people. At the time of the project’s inception, however, the place looked very different and the community faced a troubling and deteriorating situation; the whole environment was in a state of degradation with landslides, soil erosion, hunger, droughts and flooding characterising the area.
These problems were discussed in the community and in 1991, a group got together and decided to try and do something about it. To begin with, 30 farmers received some initial training in permaculture and natural resource management.
Permaculture is an approach to sustainability that has the motto of “caring of earth, caring of people, and returning of the surplus”.
Permaculture is primarily a set of design principles and techniques, all deeply attentive to the specific location. Burnett’s Beginners Guide to Permaculture states that “permaculture is about creating sustainable human habitats by following nature’s patterns” (Burnett 2008, p8).
From the initial training, six dedicated souls decided to work together as volunteers, to act as agents of change.
They became the catalysts of the incipient community programme that was to transform Chikukwa. Through permaculture-based activities, they began to transform their degraded environment, bringing more people on board as the months passed.
There are three project levels, depending on the actions being taken: household projects, such as establishing a fish pond or kitchen garden; group projects to develop, for example, an orchard or to create a terrace or hedgerow; and community projects, such as rehabilitating a hillside or water source.
Impressively, the community applied permaculture methods to transform the local gullies and springs, restoring their water supply and managing surface water during the rains.
They then built a community-wide water storage and distribution system. As a result, nearly all homesteads now have piped, clean tap water fed by a rehabilitated local spring!
Practices such as agroforestry, inter-cropping, mulching, holistic design and the use of open-pollinated indigenous crop varieties were used to reverse the damage that had been wrought by past over-grazing, mono-cropping and poor environmental conservation practices.
Nutrition gardens, home orchards, seed-sharing, hedging and terracing became common practices and as a result, hunger and apathy in the community were greatly reduced.
In 1995, the community came together to build a community hall and a farmer “permaculture school” (or permachikoro, as they termed it) began. Here, local farmers became teachers, sharing their particular skills and knowledge with others through regular peer-to-peer sharing sessions.
The centre is now well-equipped with offices, guest accommodation, classrooms, a kitchen and a pre-school, as well as a beautiful demonstration garden. Permaculture trainings are facilitated at the centre for people travelling from far and wide to learn from this model of community-led, holistic development.
Permaculture, as an approach and design tool, has been successfully mobilised in Chikukwa to harness local indigenous knowledge systems. The area’s initial problems of deforestation, hunger, drought and flooding have been improved through grassroots collective action, developing new relationships with each other and with the environment.