Written by Bakhusele Mathupha

It all began on a warm November day in 2021 when my partner and I decided to venture beyond conventional farming practices. We started by cultivating the traditional African trio: Mealies, Beans, and Pumpkin, a harmonious combination known as the “3 sisters”. This method, with beans providing nitrogen, maize offering a trellis, and pumpkin shading the soil, reduced water usage and input costs significantly.

However, we soon realized the need for diversity in our plates and in our fields. We craved herbs, leafy greens, fruits, and fodder for our animals. Our yearly cycle of planting the 3 sisters, followed by grazing and tilling, felt like a repetitive dance with nature, but we knew there was more we could do.

That’s when I stumbled upon permaculture, a philosophy that resonated deeply with me. Inspired by its principles, we decided to transform a 3-hectare plot of land owned by my father into a permaculture food forest.

Our first step was to define our goals. We wanted to create a sustainable ecosystem that required minimal water input, while providing organic, healthy food for our community. Water scarcity was a significant concern, given our region’s susceptibility to drought and extreme weather events.

With the help of willing hands from our community, we fenced off the land and began our journey. The site had lain dormant for some time, so we enlisted the help of a tractor to till the soil and planted cover crops to regenerate it.

To address our water needs, we opted for borehole drilling and installed a solar-powered pump system, along with Jojo tanks for water storage. Recognising the threat of soil erosion on our sloped terrain, we implemented rainwater harvesting techniques, including swales on contour lines, to capture and retain water.

Dividing the site into four quadrants, we carefully planned each area’s purpose: from housing and nurseries to mass vegetable production, livestock grazing, and our cherished food forest.

Our journey into permaculture food forests is just beginning, but already, we can see the potential for a sustainable future where nature and agriculture coexist harmoniously. Stay tuned as we continue to cultivate this vision of abundance and resilience. 🌱🌳🍎🐓