Agriculture in harmony with nature

Guided by the concept of permaculture, Fabian von Hase teaches the San in the north-east of Namibia the ­basics of organic farming, making the leap into agriculture easier.

18 August 2019 | Environment

“Sustainability so often has negative connotations,” says Fabian von Hase. He finds the term “ecological health” more fitting.

“Sustainable means that we do less harm to the world. Under ecological health, I see the attempt to do more good. That's why I like it better,” he says.

While the 31-year-old Von Hase now lives in South Africa, he visits his native Namibia four to five times a year to share his knowledge with the San living in north-eastern Namibia.

As a freelance consultant for the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation in Namibia, he teaches San the basics of organic agriculture through courses and workshops. “They are used to living as hunter-gatherers, but these days they have too little land to meet their needs.”

He says that for the San the leap into agriculture is a major change in consciousness, “so we try to make it easier for them,” he said, adding that his methods are based on nature. “We try to teach them with what is available and without using much technology.”



Simplest model

The simplest model is a small garden for self-sufficiency, Von Hase says. “The first step is to create a microclimate. Your garden should always be a bit cooler, wetter and more shady than the actual dry Namibian landscape. This can be done in a few ways,” he says. “For example, hedges can shield the beds from the hot and dry wind, and shady trees keep the water from evaporating more slowly.”

During the workshops he hosts in the San villages of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, he focuses mostly on practical experience. Von Hase says he has found that nothing stays in your heart or in your head as well as practical work.

When it comes to what should grow in the beds, he also looks to nature. “We want to make it as difficult as possible for pests without using chemical pesticides that are not healthy for nature or for humans.”

He feels it would be better to put many different plants from different species in a field or garden. “Insects that feed on beetroot, will generally leave millet alone. Thus, crop failure is limited during a pest infestation.”

Better still is that the cultivation of different plants has even more advantages. “Different plants extract different nutrients from the soil or can create shade,” he explains. “If I plant millet and beans in a field, then the beans – supported by the millet and in its shadow – can grow. At the same time you could still use pumpkin as a ground cover.”



Method

Von Hase's methods are based on the principles of permaculture, a value system for organic agriculture: Fair share, earth care and people care. “Basically this means we try to be as sustainable as possible while aiming for profitability at the same time. If there is some surplus, we can share with others,” he says, which sums up the basic premise of permaculture. “At the end of the day, we all want to enjoy our lives. Thus 'people care' is an important aspect of permaculture.”

Von Hase knows what he's talking about, having gained experience in organic farming from around the world.

Growing up on a farm on the edge of the Kalahari, he studied environmental geography, zoology and botany in Cape Town following his high school graduation.

Thereafter he worked on an organic farm of Indian activist Vandana Shiva, which amongst others, intervenes against the patenting of seeds in India.

In Sweden, he completed his Master's in agro-ecology and worked on an organic farm on the edge of the Negev Desert in Israel.

Since October last year, he has been living on the Garden Route in South Africa. For him – being used to dry and barren landscapes – this is a special place.

“Everything is green here and I have to learn a lot more,” he says.

“Nothing stays in your head or heart better than practical work”.

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