Kusamala- seeing the difference we’ve made

In the last of this Malawi blogs series, Amanda talks about her and Sarah’s visit to Kusamala, the host organisation for our project with William Jackson Food Group. Whilst there she saw the difference that the project had made, not only to the environment but also to the lives of the people who work there.

Today we went to visit the Malawi host organisation for the College’s project with William Jackson Food Group, Kusamala. The project itself is situated on the outskirts of Lilongwe, very close to the site of the very grand Presidential Palace, with its imposing gates flanked by carved lions, palm trees and exotic flower gardens. We entered through a low brick and thatched building that used to be a stable block and was converted into the project offices. Kusamala worker Biziwiki showed me around the site, which is zoned into different areas comprised of a variety of demonstration plots, chicken and pig enclosures, staple crops and forest garden.  There is also an outdoor classroom, a communal kitchen and accommodation area along with various compost toilets.

The site of the main market garden plot used to be a riding school, so the soil was very compacted and hard to develop and it has taken many years to create the rich-looking growing plots that are there now. We talked about the fact that indigenous varieties of vegetables suffer from a lack of perceived value, but how they are often hardier and more nutritious than the imported varieties, which is very similar to what I observed in West Africa. I asked Biziwiki what had inspired him to get into permaculture and whether he had studied horticulture. He told me that he had discovered permaculture when the International Permaculture Festival had been held in Malawi in 2009. As he came from a very poor family with 12 children, he said they had suffered from hunger very often when he was growing up. After learning about permaculture and its potential for poorer families he was keen to learn more and eventually came to work at Kusamala in 2012. Since then he has become enormously knowledgeable, running courses and also travelling to Europe to share learning with others.

It was a joy to walk around the garden and identify both familiar and unfamiliar varieties, the deep rich purple-crimson of the Amaranth, and shade trees such as Acacia used as nitrogen fixers to make the soil both more fertile and protect leafy plants, such as chard and Chinese cabbage, from the harsh sunlight. One of the most interesting plots was the ‘home garden’ plot. This is used to show people how best to make the most of the area around their homes by growing a range of crops at different levels and with mixed vegetable beds of complementary plants. This ensures that there is always something in the garden to eat, even when water is scarce. The forest area houses bee hives and the honey is sold by the project. According to Biziwiki it sells out almost instantly as the flavour is so good. Biziwiki told me they had made a fresh batch of honey in the past 2 days, so I took advantage of the availability to buy myself a tasty souvenir to bring back home.

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