Send a Cow was invited to present at the International Permaculture Conference in London. Sheila Taylor, a Farming Systems Consultant for Send a Cow in Uganda, went along to share some of our work with smallholder farmers in rural Africa and to learn from other experts in the field of international sustainable agriculture.

‘‘It was great to meet other people also concerned with improving soils, working with natural ecosystems, making community linkages and providing sustainable food sources and solutions in ways that don’t harm the resources available in their locations.

It was also fascinating to hear about urban initiatives such as Transition Towns in the UK and elsewhere, as well as rural development in India and other parts of Africa. Taking the opportunity to learn what is happening around the world right now, and to use this to ‘design the world we want’ was the theme of the week. Send a Cow was happy to be there, sharing as well as learning from other participants – farmers, university lecturers, development workers, architects – all working out how to live in more sustainable societies.

Different perspectives

The keynote speakers presented some interesting perspectives: ethical approaches to livelihoods is important in the permaculture community, and Jonathan Porritt definitely challenged the participants in his presentation of some of the choices that might need to be made in our rapidly populating, yet wasteful world.

One of these is the possibility of producing petri-dish ‘animal-like’ protein through genetic engineering. The ‘sharp intake of breath’ reaction of some of the audience amply demonstrated the tensions between improving animal welfare, less intensive farming, whilst also avoiding genetically modified organisms in the context of greater numbers of people worldwide, many of whom aspire to high animal protein diets.

Reuse, recycle and regenerate

Dr K Vala Ragnarsdottir, a geochemist by training, but now heading up the Institute for Sustainable Development in Iceland, presented incontrovertible data showing the use of finite natural resources over recent years of human development. She graphically illustrated how not only have we passed peak production and lowest cost for oil and coal, but suggested we have used more than half the earth’s phosphate and degraded much of the world’s topsoil.

The gauntlet thrown down by Geoff Lawton is to reuse, recycle and regenerate all our resources using positive solutions with ethics at the core.

A lunchtime meet up with others from Africa was a great networking time, providing the chance to stay in touch about things that work in different countries not too far from our projects, and some good connections for future learning. A few days in central London well spent.’’