Households as Permaculture Nodes: a promising sustainable living system for community in Eastern and Southern Africa

UNICEF Generation 2030/Africa estimated that Africa will have a population of 2.4 billion people by 2050, the majority women and youth. This prediction summarises the scale of our agricultural and urbanisation challenges: to feed and shelter Africans, to create wealth for them, and to conserve resources for future generations.

In this scenario, small scale farmers in Eastern & Southern African countries are resorting to various counter strategies to meet the growing demand and to avert food insecurity and famine. However most modern farming systems are eroding the natural and traditional resources. The question is why small scale farmers are poor and food insecure whilst they produce more food than urban areas or commercial farming system, and seem to be an integral part of reviving traditional and local economy systems.

The approach we envisage to reinstate and replicate sustainable living systems can be referred as Household Nodes for Sustainable Living. Through intensive literature review, this paper first examines definitions and characteristics of sustainable community systems, household food systems and how permaculture can be the tool to review, reinstate and improve sustainable living systems. The study will recognize positive impacts of indigenous systems and nodes towards addressing poor living systems, nutrition insecurity and environmental injustice.

Other benefits will be to improve the local economy, livelihood opportunities for resource-poor families and a number of biodiversity conservation services. While providing a general overview of some of these studies, this review investigates the household living system experiences of Eastern and South Africa, where Ukuvuna is working with communities. As we will emphasis multiple benefits, we will also highlight constraints to household living systems. In conclusion, we emphasize the need for more research and empirical data to appraise the role of creating nodes for sustainable household living systems.


John Nzira is a specialist in Permaculture and urban farming in Southern Africa. He has two decades of experience in community development. He has grown food his whole life and last bought groceries in a supermarket 17 years ago. He was instrumental in bringing Permaculture to Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa.

John has received the Conserva Individual Award, sponsorship for training in Canada, USA and Israel, the MTK award and a Silver award from the Chelsea Flower Show. John has contributed to several books including Drought Mitigation in Southern Africa (1998), Learning about Livelihoods: Insights from Southern Africa (2002), Permaculture Manual: Creating sustainable food and medicinal gardens (2008).

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