Permaculture Forest Garden - Enviromental Education Centre
The main focus of our attention is on the sustainable development of five principal areas:
• Environmental Education
• Health Care
• Healthy Diet
• Non-violent Communication
• Support of Democratic Processes
Our main target groups are the 500 or so residents in the surrounding settlements; the pupils, students and teachers from Badagry and Lagos; as well as interested farmers and landowners.
Gberefu is part of the peninsular between the lagoon of Lagos and the Atlantic Ocean. In the past, the whole region was covered by thick rainforest. Due to logging, slash and burn farming and over grazing by cattle these forests are almost gone. The nearest bridge is some distance away, and the main methods of transportation are canoes, small speed boats and bikes. The island is not connected to the public grid and there are no roads. The settlements on the Island are connected by small footpaths which are temporarily flooded during the rainy season.
The almost 4000sqm is located close to the lagoon. The northern part is very swampy and the natural vegetation almost undisturbed. To the south the land rises, and is much drier due to the sandy soil. This part of the land was heavily eroded as an effect of logging, slash and burn farming and over grazing by cattle. Only the hardiest plants and scrubs could survive here. At some parts the soil was completely unprotected and exposed to erosion
We started teaching in July 2011 with a Permaculture Introduction Course. Since then we have held seminars, courses and workshops at the Forest Garden. Some of the subjects covered were the fundamentals and broader principals of permaculture, environmental protection, healthy diet and health care. Even general subjects like human rights, especially the rights of children and women. Non-violent communication and conflict resolution strategies were a main focus and discussion point.
With time, more and more school classes and student groups came to visit the Camp. We involved neighbours and participants with hands on workshops in the construction of buildings and the development of farms and gardens. We also counsel interested farmers and landowners on their own land. Some of them have already started to redesign their land according to permaculture principles.
Periodically, we organise and host information events at the Heritage Museum in Badagry.
Our library of books and dvd’s is growing constantly due to many generous donations. It is used by staff and visitors likewise.
Zoning (according to permaculture principles)
We took our time to observe, make a proper analysis and then implement some fundamental interventions. In 2012 we completed the final design with zoning for the use of the land at the environmental education centre. We avoided many potential design errors by taking a whole year to observe the land in the rainy and dry seasons. Gberefu, the name of the island, means dry land. We will create a fertile oasis.
One of the main challenges was to establish the living fences. We dug seven big sponges*, holes which are filled with bio-mass to store moisture and nutrients in the soil, along the fence line. Their edges are densely planted with young trees, scrubs and groundcovers
The public area in front of the multifunctional house will be the only relatively open space; the rest of the land will be turned into a forest.
Zone 5 (Wildness)
The swampy area in between the lagoon and the Camp we declared as a protection zone. The lush vegetation offers habitat for an abundance of forest plants and animals. Amongst others there are monkeys, monitor lizards and alligators. One family of monkeys lived there already when we arrived, and because monkeys are very clever, there are now up to five big males that come with their families to spend the night in safety. Every day we observe big and small changes; new plants, butterflies and birds none of us know.
Zone 4 (Harvest Forest)
In the upper, southern and eastern aspects of the land the soils are heavily eroded through logging, slash and burn farming and over grazing by cattle.
We dug horizontal ditches which catch water and nutrients and stabilise the soil. Along these swales**we planted pioneer trees and legumes***. On Gberefu, fortunately, wonderful trees like mango, cashew, guava, coconut and oil palm as well as Neem count as pioneers. We watered 243 trees over their first dry season. Alone, barely any could survive. We need to cover shade and stabilize the soils up here as soon as possible. The ground level of the swales are shared by beans, groundnuts watermelon and pumpkins
Zone 3 (Farming)
At the northern part of the land, close to the lagoon, we developed a water garden with plants which need permanent moisture. In the first year we planted bamboo, sugarcane and bananas which already grow well. We did not plant extensively at this time because we did not know the land well enough. How high will the water rise at this part?, will this path still be usable? If the water gives way again we will implement some ponds and waterholes. This rainy season we will plant rice, corn and vegetables and much more guava papaya and bananas.
Around the seminar hut we developed a small demonstration farm. The soils here are poor and are temporarily flooded in the rainy season. These extreme conditions are a concern for most farmlands on Gberefu, and we continuously search for best practise solutions to share with our neighbours.
Zone 2 (Orchards)
At the western side of the camp the soils are much more fertile due to the slope towards the lagoon. Here we planted a food forest, which following the pattern of a natural forest, gives home to a large variety of plant communities which support each other. Here we could immediately plant more sensitive and “exotic” trees like date palm, star fruit and avocado. Protected by pioneers and legumes they grow very well.
We have three brooding hens, and after construction of the stable we will extend the livestock with four more chickens, four cane rats (locally called grass cutters, and much bigger than common rats), two sheep and two goats.
Zone 1 (Care dependent plants)
Around the living and working areas we developed our kitchen gardens, since it needs our attention most frequently and also needs to be watered in the dry season. Now it supplies us constantly with different spinaches, fresh green beans, okra, groundnuts, watermelon and herbs. Even the most delicate herbal medicines settle here. We dug five sponges and filled them with huge amounts of biomass. They feed the kitchen garden with nutrients and moisture. We keep the soil permanently shaded with living groundcover to allow a mulch bed to develop. We already have fewer ants in the garden beds and are seeing our first earth worms, which fortunately are part of the wild livestock at zone five. To affect the microclimate in the kitchen garden positively we installed two small tyre ponds. Through evaporation they cool down their surroundings and increase the amount of moisture in the air.
The tree nursery under the mango tree is now developing well after some setbacks at the beginning. We are growing five different legumes and twelve types of fruit trees in plastic bags to plant them this rainy season. The tree nursery is surrounded by seed beds where we also grow vegetables for the kitchen garden. We could grow more than 300 young trees per season. Now they are waiting to take their place in our growing forest.
We plan to use some of our surplus to plant an avenue along the path from the lagoon to the village. The many different seedlings in the nursery make it clear that the first extension is needed already. The twelve seedbeds and the seedlings stay under the protection of the mango tree. For the “big ones” there is almost no space anymore. We have to build four shade roofs at the other side of the way. Here we can keep them separated as fruit trees, legumes, pioneers and medicine. We will also grow climbing fruits and vegetables at these locations.
*Sponge – hole filled with organic materials which are able to hold large amount of water and nutrients.
**Swale – ditches alone couture lines which catch water and nutrients.
***Legumes – plants which are capable to catch nitrogen from the air and store them at their roots
Zone 0 (Buildings)
In order to start work on the land we erected a small hut out of local materials, including fig trees, coconut, and a palm called bamboo here. The stem of the coconut was cut into beams by a chainsaw. The rafters and roof cover we made out of bamboo palm. Very comfortable, especially in the rainy season
The multifunctional house, which has to protect equipment and materials, we built out of handmade cement blocks. The grass roof we decided to use gave us headaches for weeks. We bought the materials at a very exorbitant price (a lesson well-learned). Half the village worked together to get the better of us. To finish the roof as we wanted it, we cut, bundled and fixed the grass by ourselves. Now we know a lot about grass roofs and are intent on building more. The material is available for free. Window blinds and door we made only using hand tools out of massive mahogany wood. The multifunctional house is used as office, store and as a safe accommodation for guests and from bad weather.
The kitchen hut complements the house and protects the rocket stove**** and fire wood.
Since the first hut was attacked by termites after just a few weeks, we decided to build the seminar hut out of living trees. We chose a species of fig tree which is well known for growing together quickly and easily. We completed the whole construction of the hut by ourselves, without any power tools or advice and support from local experts.
Another challenge is the logistical situation on the island. We have no roads; the settlements are just connected by foot paths. As an alternative to walking you can take a bike taxi (Okada). On the sandy soils of the island this is always an experience. Because the next bridge to the mainland is some distance away, the main transport to Badagry and Lagos is by boat. The next jetty is about 15 minutes to walk. We have a small jetty aside our land which is used by the neighbours with their canoes. Unfortunately it is not deep enough for a motor boat to dock so we have to walk through the swamp to reach the camp. In our meetings the neighbours complained about this situation often.
The island is not connected to the public grid. We started at the camp with a used solar powered system which could only run two bulbs for light. To charge phones and laptop we had to travel to Badagry. This was a great effort of time and money. To use the beamer (?) or printer we had to use a generator. We’ve upgraded the solar energy system which now allows us to run a small office.
The water of the surrounding wells is potentially polluted. Infections of typhus are quite common. At first we dug a small pond to supply us with water for irrigation. This water is not suitable for human needs, since it is possible that water from the lagoon may seep into the pond. The lagoon water is heavily polluted by the unfiltered sewages from Badagry and Lagos.
Our ponds are now dug above swamp level. We use this water for irrigation and filter it through gravel, sand and charcoal for washing purposes. We harvest rainwater in two large plastic tanks. Drinking water we still have to buy in small nylon bags, but we can use the empty bags for the tree nursery to grow tree seeds. The pond is protected from surface water and has three steps, following the rise and fall of groundwater level. We planted it densely with natural vegetation to stabilize and protect the edges and clean and filter the water.
At one of the highest points of the land, close to the path to the village, we made a bore hole from where we can get clean water (by now pumped by generator). We hope to be able to install a solar pump soon to supply the Forest garden and the Neighbours with clean water. This water will also be used to feed the plantings through a drip irrigation system covered with a shading mulch bed.
Sanitation & Hygiene
Our banana shower impresses everybody, even ourselves. It is surprising how fast and strong everything is growing. We can harvest green beans and spinach every day. For showers we use a 100% vegetable soap called Dudu Osun. The fig stems we dug in to carry the construction are growing and the bananas start to cover the construction.
We build already two compost toilets. Unfortunately they are not in use because there is a strong resistance against it at parts of the team and even with the visitors. The traditional method, a small hole in the ground which is just used once, is experienced as sufficient and easy while the dealing with faeces seems to be a serious taboo. At this point more enlightenment and a sensitive handling of the situation are necessary. A way out could be the installation of a small biogas plant, because the financial benefit may make it easier to deal with the subject
Most discussions with the neighbours are concerning the protection of our zone 5 wildernesses, which includes hunting and logging bans. The animals living and hiding there are a desired prey of the local unauthorized hunters. Repeatedly, armed poachers invade the small sanctuary at night-time, but up to now they always could be sent away. Only once it came to a physical argument. Because the food situation in our region is tense this conflict is not so easy to solve. It needs more discussions and alternative solutions to find a way out which is satisfying for all parties.
In the first year, we lost a majority of the young trees because cattle herds broke through the fences. After many fruitless talks with the owners we lost patience and caught one of the cows and kept it on the land. We were not aware that with this we started a principle debate among the community. Many small holders had given up their farmland already years ago. The problem was not new at all. Today the cattle are monitored by a herdsman and tied overnight. Since then, many neighbours started to farm again. We gave back the cow after 5 days in good health. This gave us even the respect of the cattle owners because by local law we would be allowed to keep, even to sell or kill the cow
We like to learn more about food forests and tropical agriculture as well as about alternative technologies. A second permaculture design course in Nigeria is planned for that. This course should find its completion in a sustainability conference in Lagos. We like to contribute to the public debate about practical solutions to the environmental and economic challenges our country has to face today. We need answers to the question how Nigeria can survive peak oil. And we are ready to take our part to shape this transition.
Another challenge is the establishment of the Permaculture Institute Nigeria as an umbrella organization for Nigerian permaculture activists.
Aside the production of food and medicine our future focus should be on processing and preservation. For this, a solar drier must be installed and some tools purchased for the preparation of soap, crèmes and extracts.
It is important that we become independently mobile to transport participants and visitors and reduce our own transportation costs. For this we have to build a proper jetty and get a boat and bike. With this we could even reach out to target groups which we could not win up to now because they were deterred by the situation on ground. Even the village would profit from good access to the lagoon.