So, dear friends, I know it has been a while. I want you to know that, despite the fact that I have posted very little on the permaculture4peace.org website or facebook, that I am having an exciting, life-changing experience working with GreenPath Food in Ethiopia.
I have the most incredible job in the world! While there is no typical day in Butajira, it generally involves some of the following: I ride on a motorcycle across mountains and fields to meet with small-scale Ethiopian farmers and co-develop permaculture strategies that help them produce more avocados and diversify their crop base. The farms I visit are usually under 2 hectares in size, and are family-run. They vary widely from those that are practicing strong agroforestry techniques and permaculture intuitively, to those that need A LOT of help with even the basics of managing their annual vegetable crops and water needs. The people are generous and kind, the food is amazing, and the culture is fascinatingly beautiful. And don’t let me get started on the fantastic “Bunna” coffee everywhere you go : )
The farmers are so excited about what we are doing. They’ve never met an entity like us- We’re not a charity, we’re not the government, and we’re not an exploitative corporation. We made our first harvest last Friday- our partner farmer’s first profit off of avocados! They had never gotten so much money for this “monkey food” before. The local markets are flooded with all the same products- we’re creating a supply chain that gives them access to markets that will pay fair money for organic avocados, as well as hopefully other crops in the future.
My biggest challenge? Getting information and materials. A lot of my job involves keeping my eye out for seeds/cuttings so I can collect them and propagate them out of our nursery at the Ethiopian Horticulture Center for Excellence. There is not a lot of crop diversity here, and farming practices are very destructive of the soil. I’m initiating restoration agriculture, but without access to cover crop seeds. When you go to the local seed union, the list of seeds is a half a page long, while the list of chemicals is 3 pages long (No exaggeration!) Also, there is little to no internet (I’m lucky if I get 2G on a good day.) Google is futile. But I find that all I need to do is walk outside with my eyes open, draw plans in my notebook, and solutions present themselves from the permaculture muse. My latest hacks? Creating rooting hormone with aspirin and water, planning a freshwater kelp harvest from a local lake to deal with Boron deficiency, and creating harvest bags out of used concrete bags.
I am in constant creative problem-solving mode, and loving it. I feel like I’m “Growing my hands.” That, even if I’m not a master permaculturist yet, by the end of my time here, I will be. I’m creating designs for 17 different farms- long term visioning but also day-to-day problem solving. Everything about this job is exciting and meaningful, on every level.
I am working with an incredible team of brilliant, compassionate people from all over the world. Sidhanth Kamath, our General Manager, is an incredible visionary, and one of the smartest, most capable people I have ever met. Ezra Nigussie, our operations manager, is the most solid team-mate I’ve ever worked with- always on the ball, honest, positive, and on top of things. I don’t know when he sleeps : ) Amerga Menji is our horticulture specialist, and is an expert on avocados. His experience and good sense of humor fill my farm visits with joy, and we are learning a lot from each other. Eden Getachew is my woman in Addis- she works for the Tony Blaire foundation now, and was integral in establishing GreenPath. She used to hold my job, and I have very big, classy shoes to fill. Eric Couper is a Technology Wiz, a voice from across the ocean that makes magic happen in digital space. Mirafe Marcos provides us with visionary guidance from the Agricultural Transformation Agency, and I like to call his Mom is the “Patron Saint” of GreenPath. She is an entrepreneur herself and has pulled many administrative strings to help us. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mohammed, the 21-year old Butajira-native who is learning English as he assists me with all kinds of odds and ends. He holds the other end of the tape measure, and takes me to the clinic when I’m sick : ) I think great things are in store for him as he grows with our company.
Overall, I am honored and grateful to work with such an amazing team on such an important venture. I could never have imagined being part of something so incredible, but now that I’m here, I feel like I am exactly in the place I need to be at this stage in my life. The level of professional and personal growth I am experiencing right now cannot be expressed in words. I am honored and excited to take on the challenges before me.
With love and gratitude,