Discovering the long-lost link with nature in farming
Fertilisers, pesticides and machinery are the drivers of modern-day farming that often ignore the roots of the age-old trade based on understanding and working with nature.
But tucked on a hill in Baħrija is the base of the Permaculture Foundation that is working to help people, including farmers, rediscover the long-lost link with nature.
“Permaculture is about cultivating something more permanent rather than short-term, which is common in agriculture nowadays,” said Peppi Gauci, who set up the foundation 10 years ago.
He pointed towards a nearby piece of land where the farmer used imported seeds and needed fuel-driven machinery, pesticides and fertilisers to grow crops on the over-used soil.
Right next to it stood the foundation’s seemingly untouched land where several species were planted in a carefully-planned way to maximise the properties of the crops.
So, for example, crops that require shade were planted beneath evergreen trees that offered constant protection from the sun.
“In the same area as the farmland we have a wider diversity of species carefully chosen so they can benefit from each other,” Mr Gauci said.
“We are trying to plant the seed of Permaculture.
“We are cultivating a culture…. It’s about rediscovering our roots and integrating them with new technology, including low tech, like mills, and high tech, like solar panels.”
Sometimes, farmers from the area visit the foundation to see what it’s all about.
“Old farmers get emotional as they see something has happened that reminds them of their fathers… It brings back memories and they share old methods they learnt as children,” he said.
Mr Gauci, 35, always had a passion for nature. In his younger days he travelled the world and visited tribal communities, fascinated by the way they lived closely with nature.
When he was in Australia all his belongings were stolen. He came across an advert to work on an organic farm and started learning about Permaculture and sustainable agriculture.
As his interest grew, he researched the subject and when he returned to Malta he started a project to put what he learnt into practice. He landscaped a parcel of land in Baħrija and planted some trees.
He then left Malta again to study Permaculture and completed his Masters degree in advanced energy and environment studies in Wales.
“Now what I feel with passion is that we really need to teach all this to the younger generation,” he said.
When he returned to Malta he started an educational project on water harvesting through the EU’s Youth in Action programme.
As interest in the project grew, he formed the foundation with Malcolm Borg, Joseph Caruana and Ramona Ciantar Mansueto. The foundation now offers a range of courses and workshop during which those who are attending are encouraged to network and practise just what they have learnt.
“Rather than show people on a screen we give them the full experience,” he said.
Courses are held in a tent at the Baħrija site where students can stay for the duration of their course and sleep in smaller tents. Everything there is about working with nature. Students wash themselves in rain showers that utilise harvested water and use the humanure toilet where human waste is collected for composting. The walls of the toilet and wind breakers are made of dried bamboo from the nearby valley.
The foundation is now working on a new research project.
It submitted a proposal for a research and innovation project with the Malta Council for Science and Technology to develop an efficient agricultural system in terms of water use, the locking up of more nutrients and reducing the need for artificial fertilisers.
The idea is to then share the findings with local farmers.