I FIRST met Julious Piti and his wife, Taurai Mutembedzi, at their home in Chaseyama in October 2011. To arrive at the Piti family property provides a surprising contrast to the dry and dusty valley that surrounds it. This is a 14-hectare permaculture site that acts as a demonstration project for anyone who would like to learn about the benefits of this way of living and farming in such an environment.
Permaculture is an approach to sustainability that is deployed by some agrofood projects and can be characterised as a global movement with the motto of “caring of earth, caring of people, and returning of the surplus”.
Permaculture is a set of design principles and techniques, which are modified to suit the specific location. Deploying practices such as composting, recycling, and inter-cropping, permaculture encourages ecological living, sustainable technologies and local food sovereignty.
Piti registered the PORET Trust in 2006, having spent the previous 10 years using permaculture methods to slowly transform his land from a rocky desert into a verdant green haven.
It is the central hub of Chaseyama Permaculture Club, which has 31 members and developed around the site as the community saw, with their own eyes, the benefits of permaculture.
The project aims to create food, employment and inspiration at the community level.
There is a nursery with indigenous trees and herbs, but the main focus is sustainable food production. “People must see that permaculture is not just about planting trees and conserving the environment; we must also grow food and get rid of hunger,” said Piti. At Chaseyama, they grow herbs, sorghum, sugar cane, cassava, sweet potatoes, mango, passionfruits, lemons, nartjies and other seasonal vegetables.
They practice zero-tillage, meaning that NO ploughing is done and the soil is minimally disturbed during planting. This reduces soil erosion. Nitrogen-fixing crops such as sunhemp, pigeon pea and comfrey are grown to organically enrich the soil, rather than applying any artificial fertilizers. In fact, the whole property is “organic”, in that no chemicals are applied to the crops.
A key aspect of the land rehabilitation project has been the recovery, harnessing and intelligent management of the local natural water sources and catchment flows. Piti plants trees to reduce soil erosion during the rains.
The local community is now protecting the forest around nearby springs to help stabilise the water supply. They have a tank atop the hillside, which is fed by one of the natural springs and uses gravity to bring piped water down into the valley.
The Permaculture Club is perhaps the most inspiring aspect of this project. It began in the form of “look and learn tours” and internships for local Jinga Village farmers. The project “inspired many farmers and stakeholders to learn non-destructive methods of production, and to participate in the project’s decision making processes (community-based planning)” (www.poret-zimbabwe.org).
At Chaseyama, they have created a space in which people can learn and adapt permaculture techniques and methods that improve the quality of community life.
Piti stressed that “a sense of community ownership” was essential to a project like this, which can raise local capacity, and transform the environment in a positive way. “People need to learn how to live with their natural resources in a sustainable way, without hunger” said Piti.
In 2007, the project won the National Environmental Award. The Trust has a long-term vision of creating an on-site education centre where students and farmers can attend courses and be properly accommodated. They also plan to build a kindergarten and a library. Piti’s more immediate goals include continuing to expand their outreach programme to support farmers in developing their own permaculture systems and also to plant more trees in the Chaseyama area to stabilise the soil and restore the catchment area more widely.
Contact Julious Piti for more information on +263 773 025 438 or see www.poret-zimbabwe.org
Watch a video about PORET Trust at: https://vimeo.com/72088415