Agroecology & Aquaculture

A Plan for Mbita, Kenya

As a participant in the Fall 2009 Certificate in Regenerative Ecological Design, Simon designed plans for a fish farm at the Dorothy Byrne Vocational School in Mbita, Kenya. Working on the project inspired him to continue his studies at Ecosa Institute where he created independently created a solo project to lead the implementation of the fish farm in Mbita. Simon is intending to continue his work and is looking for sponsors or partners to help develop future projects. Contact Simon at Project summary follows.

Kenya in Crisis

“How did civilized man despoil this favorable environment? He did it mainly by depleting or destroying the natural resources. He cut down trees or burned most of the useable timber from forested hillsides and valleys. He overgrazed and denuded the grasslands that fed his livestock. He killed most of the wildlife and much of the fish and other water life. He permitted erosion to rob his farm land of its productive topsoil. He allowed eroded soil to clog the streams and fill his reservoirs, irrigation canals, and harbors with silt… Then his civilization declined amidst the despoliation of his own creation…” (Tom Dale and Vernon G Carter).

aerial lakeKenya faces serious interrelated environmental problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, water shortage and degraded water quality, poaching, and domestic and industrial pollution. Water resources are under pressure from agricultural chemicals and urban and industrial wastes, as well as from use for hydroelectric power. A shortage of water is expected to pose a problem in the coming years. Water-quality problems in lakes, including water hyacinth infestation in Lake Victoria, have contributed to a substantial decline in fishing output and endangered fish species. Output from forestry also has declined because of resource degradation. Overexploitation over the past three decades has reduced the country’s timber resources by one-half. At present only 3 percent of the land remains forested, and an estimated 5,000 hectares of forest are lost each year. This loss of forest aggravates erosion, the silting of dams and flooding, and the loss of biodiversity (FAO).

Lake Victoria or Victoria Nyanza is one of the African Great Lakes. Spanning three East African countries – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; it supports over 30 million people, employing millions either directly or indirectly in fishing and fish-related industries. Lake Victoria is a sick giant. A rapidly growing population, clearance of natural vegetation along its shores, the loss of many of its indigenous fish species, the prolific growth of algae, dumping of untreated industrial effluent, and a booming fish-export industry.

environmental concerns webMy focus as Environmental Designer & Project Coordinator: is to design and build a fully integrated, semi-intensive, plant–animal-fish-aquaculture practice; implement a number of agroecological land based farming strategies to rehabilitate and regenerate degraded farm lands and implement a number of agroecology farming practices. The aim will be to subtly connect regional human and natural design concerns to meet growing environmental, social and economic demands. The aim is to provide diversity and abundance, restoration and regeneration, as well as balance and permanence.

The Guiding Philosophy For Development

Permaculture embraces the concept of wholeness. The philosophy of permaculture promotes an exploration of the potentials of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions. It is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components, providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. In sum, permaculture embraces a deep exploration of ecological and sustainable concepts of design and offers alternatives to traditional empirical methodologies.

Target Objectives

simon-woman workingIntegrated aquaculture systems will provide the economic stimulus and the financial backbone of longer-term profit and non-profit objectives. – agroecology farming systems; educational programs – staff training and extension services; the construction of a girls vocational school; the development of an eco-village which include housing for farm employees. Agroecological land based farming systems will primarily target soil conservation, soil fertility and organic farming methods which focus on whole farm improvements – which aim to characterize traditional Kenyan farming practices.

Establishing a Food Forest – Imitating How Nature Repairs Itself (Function to Form)

A key design objective is to establish a number of food forests throughout site – breaking up the monotony of the banana plantation; establishing guilds in support of existing climax trees and food forest pockets; introducing new fruit, nut and timber tree species; establishing sufficient ground cover to protect from wind and water erosion; enhancing diversity, establishing and utilizing niche pockets with co-dependent companions; establishing, regenerating and supporting the natural environment.

Establishing an herbaceous ground cover is the first stage of developing a food forest. In the early stages the majority biomass is in the form of leafy legume species. As the food forest becomes more established the supporting ground covers give way to medium-term support species, which in turn give way to the ‘desired’ longer term canopy tree species (fruit and nut). The climax species constitute the great biomass.


The adjacent plot to the west of site, I would classify a wetland. The area approximately 2km² consists mainly of short grassland, more often than not flooded (wet season). With much of the water-retaining vegetation grazed down to the stump, the water sheets across the flats toward the low point on our site. The long term solution to this problem is obvious, but in the short term we must control the flood waters. As aforementioned, we will do this by digging swales and drainage channels across site where needed, and keeping them well maintained and well managed, clear of debris and with heavily vegetated dykes to promote water uptake.

Push-pull Integrated Agriculture

push-pull“Push-pull” technology combines knowledge of the chemical ecology and agro-biodiversity of the stemborer, as well as tackling with Striga management. Furthermore, the ‘Push-Pull’ system is completely independent of genetically modified seed, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Instead, push-pull exploits natural insect–plant and insect–insect relationships, harboring an integrated pest management approach to controlling the insects. This, in turn, improves natural and agricultural ecosystems by reducing soil erosion, and enhancing decomposition and nutrient cycling, as well as mitigating climate change by its moisture-retention and ability to survive droughts.

Alley cropping and integration agroforestry – mixed tree species – including legumes (Acacia, Sesbania), livestock fencing (Erythrina abyssinica with Euphorbia tirucalli), understory cropping of Asteraceae shrubs (Tithonia); understory cropping of flowers (marigolds) – bee integration; livestock forage grasses (pangola, bahia, bracia); ‘push-pull’ integration common grains (maize, sorghum, millet) intercropping desmodium and border napier and bracia grasses; swales control flood waters. No tillage zero grazing system.

simons plan 1Implementation Phase

The following is a photographic account of work that Simon started with several teams of workers, totaling more than 50 men.
The labor comes from within the district of Kisi and many are from the neighboring town, Luanda. The men were organized by local groups and village chiefs. Some are local farmers, some fisherman, some teachers, pastors, community volunteers… Interestingly all feel as they have a vested interest in the project and seem proud to be developing such an influential project with such great potential within their very own community. A number of Boys from a local orphanage which we have previously worked with and partly trained, are acting managers. They are continuing their training to become fish farm managers, agriculturalists, and so on. Many have specific skills in say, rice cultivation, catfish prorogation, plumbing, and so on.

simon work 1“Water is the driving force of all nature” – Leonardo da Vinci. Water, the lifeblood of a forest – These dykes have been cut-out by the natural flow of flood water (above). We simply cleared them of any debris, allowing the water to pass freely into the lake. These channels divert flood water away from site, preventing the heavy flooding of the upper grasslands. This allowed our excavation team to begin digging the fish farm and our agriculture team to work the crop lands. You can see by the ripples on the surface the water moves a quite a pace and handles thousands of gallons of water on a daily basis during the wet seasons. Eventually we will look to thin-out the banana trees as before and establish a forested contouring strip.

This section of the plot is on the south west corner of the banana plantation. This buffer area between the densely populated banana plantation and the upper grasslands holds a rich abundance of young plants (woody species). This young forest is in its infancy, but holds a rich diversity of species. Yet the flood waters which sheet onto site have enabled the banana plantation to encroach onto the young forest and suppress the slower growing woody trees. Thinning out and removing the banana trees will enable the young forest to become fully established. To give a helping hand, we will further stack the area with short and medium term legumes (seed and potting), as well as introduce our longer term productive trees (potting). New species will include custard apple, fig, passion fruit and jackfruit.

simon work 2Sustainable long term permanence – putting together the right elements at the ground level is paramount. Building on natures very own eco-systemic building patterns and processes we can speed up the establishment of a highly productive food forest. Clearing the banana trees; widening and deepening the swales; and building and compacting banks – these resulting swales direct flood water from the central crop areas, slowing it and allowing it to sink into the surrounding vegetation. Here (above) after just one month, a rich ground cover crop of cow pea, lupin, yam beans and arrowroot is well established – fixing nitrogen, enriching soils and stabilizing the banks. The cleared banana trees have been turned in to the soils as mulch. The next stage will be to introduce the short and medium term legumes and begin to nurture our food forest. The plan is to create diverse forested strips which hug the contours of the swales, maximizing gains from the rich ‘edge-effect’ and making best use of the water availability. These food forest strips break up the monotony of the banana plantation supporting an abundant variety of productive tree species. They provide a rich food source for human consumption as well as livestock fodder; plants with medicinal properties; a timber and material crop (construction, fuel, arts and crafts, etc.); sound water management and erosion counteraction; balanced and eco-systemic soil management; and wild habitat provision.

A Final Note

Without knowledge there can be no self-reliance; without self-reliance there can be no true development. It is all too easy to flaunt terms such as ‘development’, ‘sustainability’, and so on, without having any understanding of their meaning, or how to achieve them. So what exactly is development and how can it be achieved? Firstly, the question that should be asked is – what is needed?

“The gift of material goods makes people dependent, but the gift of knowledge makes them free” (E.F. Schumacher).

The main objective of development work should be to help one become self-reliant and independent through developing one’s intellectual property. Mere ‘gifts’ of ‘foreign’ material goods encourage dependence; gifts of knowledge based on self-help lead to independence and true self-reliance. The ability of an organization to truly ‘aid’ or ‘develop’ lies in its ability to assemble, organize, and communicate the required knowledge, experience and know-how.

The key to ‘true’ design is the appreciation and adoption of a multi–disciplined practice of thought and application. To fully grasp the true nature of a project in all its complexity one must cross conventional empirical boundaries and bridge the dividing lines of theoretical and technical disciplines. At the core of environmental design is an interdisciplinary understanding of the synthesis of ecological, technological and social systems; as the basis for successful design interventions to achieve contemporary human goals and intentions. Our reductionist approach to natures’ complexity has failed to achieve this, proving a fundamentally flawed epistemology. We must strive to embrace complex, integrated and diverse systems of design which promote and harnesses practices which ‘actually work’. This is paramount in protecting the carrying capacity of our planet.

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