Penan Permaculture Project - Borneo

$3,327 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 39 people in 41 months
I am seeking funds for a permaculture based alley cropping project in Borneo that aims to change the way the Penan people carry out agriculture, improve their nutrition and health, and save intact rainforest from destruction. The Penan were hunter gatherers just a couple of generations ago and are relative newcomers to swidden/ slash and burn agriculture. Their traditional carbohydrate was from sago palm, which they still process and eat in addition to rice. The project focus will be an alley crop trials initially based around the Penan village of Long Bangan. Once these trials are shown to be successful the techniques will be spread to other areas and tribal groups in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). I personally have a long history with this village and lived with the people for two years in 1991-93, teaching permaculture strategies for living a settled lifestyle. I am one of the very few outsiders who speak the Penan dialect (albeit a bit rusty), and the people have adopted me as an honourary member and given me the Penan name of Uyau Amet. Much of their traditional lands have been already lost due to logging, palm oil, and monoculture timber plantations. During that first project I introduced the concept of planting native fruit seeds in containers then planting the seedlings where they want. The village ended up raising and planting 10,000 fruit trees in the logged over forest surrounding the village, then with the help of Mark Biddle went on to plant 10,000 sago palms well. The area is now a magnificent tropical permaculture 'food forest', and as a bonus the wild animals have returned to the area so the people don't need to go so far to hunt. The knowledge of how to plant fruit trees spread to other Penan villages very fast and every Penan village now have fruit trees around their houses. The village still has a reserve rainforest area that has escaped 'development' so far due to steepness and inaccessibility and the people still hunt and gather in this area for their meat, fruit and medicinal plants. In 1991 the village had a population of 300 but it has now risen to around 500. Unfortunately, as the village has grown in population there has been increasing pressure on this rainforest reserve area with some families already clearing sections for rice growing. An area once used can take many years left fallow before natural processes restore the fertility sufficiently to grow food again. With alley cropping the trees maintain the fertility of the soil and the same area is used every year, drastically cutting down the amount of land each family needs for food growing. Most of the funds raised will be used to take a Penan tribesperson and subsistence farmer, Paulus Lucas, from the village to a 2-week 'Green Warrior' Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) in the Philippines this September. Although I will be initiating the alley crop trials and providing ongoing support he will ultimately be the one organising and managing the trials. I first met Paulus on my first trip to Long Bangan when he was a young teenager and he is now in his late thirties with a wife and three children. (He is one of Paren's grandchildren, the lovely old guy in the photo with me). Paulus has wanted to gain his permaculture qualifications ever since that first project back in 1991-92 and is very excited about attending the course. I will be flying from Australia to Borneo and then on to the Philippines with him and am helping teach the Philippines PDC so will also help him through the course. I am teaching at the Philippines course for free as all the money raised from course fees is being used to fund locals to attend at a quarter the cost and to fund local projects.  The alley crop trials in Borneo will be along the lines of those run by Mike Hands and the Inga Foundation in South America (but with much less funding). In addition to airfares and PDC course fees for Paulus the donations raised will help fund the first stages of the trials. Some funds will also be left with Paulus's wife and children to purchase food while he is away on the course. The remainder will be left with him to purchase project materials such as rock phosphate, seedling trays, etc. and to pay children to collect seed and pot them up. Children enjoy collecting Inga seed as they love the sweet pulp around the seed that taste a like vanilla icecream. Some food supplies will also need to be purchased as the trials will take people away from hunting and gathering. The trials will be conducted voluntarily and only by those families that wish to be involved. I will be spending a week in Long Bangan prior to the Philippines course to explain the project and  to make sure the full and informed consent process is followed. I have been a permaculture designer and teacher for around 25 years and know this project has a fantastic chance of working. In addition to a Diploma in Permaculture in Education and Community Services I have a Bachelor of  Natural Environments and Wilderness Studies (UTas). I was awarded the Permaculture Community Service Award in 1992 for my work pionering permaculture in Malaysia. I know the people, the culture, the terrain, and the climate. Of more importance though is that it will be run and managed by a local person, who will have the necessary training and skills as well as local knowledge.  Unlike other Dayak groups in Borneo the Penan have no long cultural or religious traditions tied up with the growing of rice and so of all the groups they will be the most amenable to trialing other growing systems to swidden agriculture.   Paulus is the secretary of the village development committee and also helped organise the Penan Cultural Festival I funded a few years ago (with the help of some wonderful people) . He is a born leader and teacher and has the respect of the village.  Please help him become the first fully qualified Penan Permaculture Design Consultant, and also help kickstart this important alley cropping project. Like most Penan he is a shy and quiet person and the permaculture course will give him the skills and knowledge he needs to run the project and also will boost the confidence and respect the other villagers have in him and his abilities. There is some more info about me and my permaculture experience on my LinkedIn profile. The Inga edulis trials in South America had 2 million euros in funding. Lets see what we can achieve with just AU$5,000 :-)
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Now to the not so good news. I've had osteoarthritis in my knees ever since a bad fall in 1996 while loading a large rock into the back of a utility. I was working with the women in an outback Aboriginal town building backyard food gardens. While loading a large rock for one of the raised garden beds I slipped and twisted, tearing all meniscal cartilages. Unfortunately the local rural hospital misdiagnosed it as muscle strain and put me through 6 weeks of physiotherapy, which tore the meniscal cartilage to shreds necessitating it's full removal. In 2001, not long after my second knee operation, I slipped on rocks and cracked both heels 'like eggshells' and was diagnosed with osteoporosis. I used a walking stick till about 2010 which unfortunately led to damage to the rotator cuff in my right shoulder, and I now also have arthritis there. I've had fairly constant pain for the past 21 years and have been on oxycodone for about 16, and although I've tried to remain as active as possible I'm starting to develop conditions linked to a sedentary lifestyle. In 2009 I had another bad fall, this time falling 5 metres onto rocks. I cracked my right collar bone, four right side ribs, one left side rib, and one rib punctured and collapsed my right lung. The bones possibly cracked easier than they should have due to the osteoporosis, though it was a nasty fall by any accounts. I then caught Swine Flu, but fortunately rather than getting really sick the coughing helped reinflate my right lung and three weeks later was off to Borneo for two months to try to establish a carbon offset area as a way of saving some Penan rainforest.

In addition to osteoarthritis I've had a number of other health problems including post-viral fatigue syndrome, which I was diagnosed with in 2002 after repeatedly falling asleep during the day. I had recently contracted Epstein-barr (glandular fever) for the second time but had also been infected with Hepatitis B and C, dengue fever, and tuberculosis while doing overseas aid work. About two years ago I started having episodes of breathlessness while lying in bed, so my GP had a chest x-rays done and a few other tests and informed me I have chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma which is collectively known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). My GP put me on puffers and I finally gave up cigarettes and attended a couple of dozen exercise physiology sessions, and actually had built up about 6 kilo of muscle through exercise and diet.

One nasty statistic I was unaware of is that more mild to moderate COPD sufferers are more likely to die of cardiac problems than lung problems due to the strain it puts on the heart and the metabolic inflammation associated with COPD. In April of this year I noticed my heart rate seemed to be very arrhythmic so my GP finally organised an echocardiogram, a 24-hour blood pressure monitor and a 24-hour holster heart rate monitor test. This was followed up with a CT-scan of my heart and lungs and other internal organs. None of the results were good, but clearly explain the arrhythmia and chronic fatigue and breathlessness. Both the bronchitis and emphysema are more chronic and widespread than my doctor had thought and he now believes I'm Stage 3 rather than Stage 2 COPD. My heart has a number of conduction issues including a partial right bundle branch block and a left posterior fascicular block causing bradycardia, as well as sparking in the wrong places and timing leading to tachycardia. This has been causing it to miss beats and drop as low as 37 beats a minute then suddenly shoot up to over 200, making me feel weak as a kitten and giving me chest pains. There is also moderate calcification of the coronary arteries, which could be the cause of the conduction issues. I finally get in to see the cardiologist tomorrow but going by the scans I've had already the prognosis isn't good. I stopped both the gym work and taking my supplement mix when I noticed the arrhythmia and have dropped back from 72 to 66kg, with most of it being muscle loss.

The downshot is I don't know how much longer I will be doing anything except concentrating on my health, and my planned 'overseas aid' trip in November may be my last. As part of my legacy I would like to see the BioWicked Grow Box in commercial production and the BioWicked inoculate brewed up cheaply and used by rice farmers everywhere. I don't have children (except my wonderful stepson Dougie) but would like to help provide the tools to mitigate climate change as much as possible so future generations have more of a chance.
In November/December I'm planning on travelling to India to attend the International Permaculture Convergence, where I'm a guest speaker talking about the use of probiotic inoculate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. I haven't been to a national or international permaculture convergence before so it will be good to go to at least one before retiring, after nearly three decades as a permie. I'll be briefly stopping off in Sarawak (Borneo) to see Paulus and give him more inoculate to brew up from and some mycorrhiza powder. In addition to pulling in atmospheric carbon and nitrogen the inoculate makes phosphate more available, and phosphate is often the limiting factor in tropical soils. Through the application of guano soaked in the inoculate and mycorrhiza it may be possible to keep growing on the same area continuously rather than shifting every couple of years.

I also want to take enough inoculate to India to distribute to some of the participants and farms I'll be visiting. From just 2.5 litres it is possible to brew up 1,000 litres in just two months and so I'm hoping I can stimulate some rice field trials there. I'm also trying to raise funds to send inoculate to a number of Facebook friends in developing countries including Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. I provide the inoculate for free but the postage costs are higher than I can currently afford. I'm also considering taking the plywood prototype of the BioWicked Grow Box over to take to some plastic recycling factories for feedback. I'd love to see some of the mountains of plastic waste in India converted into low-maintenance food growing boxes, providing both employment and healthy food.

Anyway I'm flat broke and too crook to do much to make money in the near future and could do with some financial help. I've paid for my airfares tickets and convergence registration but haven't the money for excess baggage to take the inoculate and grow box over or for accommodation or food etc. I usually have an emergency buffer when travelling of a couple of thousand available on my credit card but that's maxed out paying for the airfares and registration. Because of my health I can only rough it so much and am worried I may have an exacerbation due to the air quality over there, and not have the funds for either medical help or evacuation. I'll get travel insurance but you sometimes need to pay an excess or up-front. If you can help out a poor sick permie it will be greatly appreciated. I wish I had enough spare cash for a weeks Ayurvedic treatment while I'm over there, but more realistically I may see an Ayurvedic practitioner for a one hour appointment in between dragging the prototype grow box around.
Trial of the the BioWicked inoculate.
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Hi all. I've mixed news in this update, some good and some not so good. The good news is in relation to the climate-friendly food growing and composting system based on soil probiotics I've been developing over the past five years. The base of the main inoculate I make is a very stable form of EM (Effective Microorganisms), often referred to as bokashi. I add rock mineral dust and other additives and use it in my soil-only BioWicked wicking beds to stop the lower saturated soil area from creating methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The purple non-sulphuric photosynthetic bacteria in the inoculate both suppresses the methanogenensis bacteria and pulls atmospheric nitrogen into the wet soil, providing free plant fertiliser. This negates the need for ammonium based nitrogen fertilisers which emit nitrous oxides, a very powerful greenhouse gas around 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The same bacteria when in drier aerated soil switches function and instead of pulling in nitrogen it pulls in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it to soil carbon. This improves soil structure and water and nutrient holding capability as well as turning the BioWicked garden beds into urban carbon sinks. I also inoculate the beds with beneficial mycorrhiza which both binds to the plant roots and feeds the plants minerals in exchange for simple sugars as well as helping to convert lignums and cellulose from dead roots and organic matter in the soil into soil carbon. Over the past five years I've been building these beds mainly in public and community areas, usually with attached seating and trellising. I'm currently working on a smaller commercial model about 50cm cubed to be made from recycled plastic and have a plywood prototype almost complete. Once I have feedback and quotes from some plastic recycling companies I'll probably launch it on Indegogo to raise the capital needed. I want it to be cheap, durable, water efficient, carbon-negative, and be made from waste plastic so it doesn't add to resource depletion and also helps solve the plastic waste problem. The current design opens lie a cardboard box, with the four 'flaps' clipping together to form sides. They have a triangular water reservoir in the base and an inlet and outlet hole so they can be connected in series, with the first box used as a worm farm to feed nutrients to the rest. Each BioWicked Grow Box will come with a small bottle of inoculate to pour over the lower soil layer and another to pour over once the box is full of soil, which will permanently inoculate the soil with beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae.

Another use for the inoculate I use in the BioWicked beds came to me a few years ago when I was helping out on a Green Warrior Permaculture Aid Certificate course in the Philippines. I was looking across some wet paddy rice fields and noticed bubbles coming out of the flooded soil. I realised this was most likely methane as wet paddy rice fields are the second highest agricultural contributor to anthropogenic methane emissions, with only cattle production being higher. After some research I found that around 90% of the methane actually travels through the rice plants before being expelled to the atmosphere, so the visible bubbles were only a minor amount of the total. It suddenly came to me that by applying the 'BioWicked inoculate' to the paddy fields, either by spraying the flooded fields with a backpack sprayer or just trickling it into the channel when flooding the field, it could possibly stop the methane emissions completely. I realised this could be a 'game-changer' as far as developing a climate-friendly method of wet paddy rice production. I had just read a report from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, who are the Monsanto backed group responsible for the so called 'Green Revolution' involving genetically modified crops and agrochemicals, that found organic wet paddy rice can produce more than double the methane emissions of chemically grown rice. This research could easily be used by Monsanto and others to convince governments to ban organic rice growing as a way of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions. The BioWicked inoculate is the only way I know of that could be used by traditional and contemporary organic wet paddy rice growers to cut their methane emissions to potentially zero, and produce organic rice that is also climate-friendly. Unlike agrochemicals it is safe to use in polycultural systems including ducks and fish etc. and actually provides a beneficial probiotic boost to poultry and aquatic organisms.

Earlier this year I finally managed to convince someone with a wet paddy rice field to give it a try. Anam Masur, a Facebook friend in Java (Indonesia) and a fellow permaculturist, brewed up enough inoculate from some I sent him and applied it to the field prior to planting. Amazingly he used no fertilisers whatsoever and yet got a bumper crop! The main fertiliser used in rice growing is nitrogen and so to grow a bumper crop the plants must have been receiving sufficient atmospheric nitrogen via bacterial action in the saturated soil, which both sequestrates nitrogen and converts it into a form usable by plants. Hopefully this means the beneficial purple non-sulphuric photosynthetic bacteria in the inoculate supplanted the methanogenensis microbiome completely, totally stopping methane emissions. After seeing photos of this initial trial a person working for a Balanese NGO is interested in extending the trial to a group of poor farmers he works with. It is cheaper to brew up sufficient inoculate in the village than to purchase the nitrogen fertiliser it replaces so is a very cheap and easy method of converting to organic growing. I'll try to get a local Indonesian university involved so proper gas exchange measurements can be measured.
A mountain of plastic waste in India.
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Thankfully Paulus's son Pearlery seems fighting fit after his horrendous fall last October. I was so thankful to be there when it happened to give support and to raise funds for the family. Pearlery will have to fly down to the capital city Kuching for annual check ups for the next few years but hopefully there is no longer term damage. I bet he doesn't go climbing around in roof cavities again. Unfortunately it put the Inga edulis alley crop trials behind schedule as I spent most of my time over there at a hotel near the hospital. Prior to Pearlery's fall I had managed to pick up some sacks of rock phosphate and guano and took those into the village. Paulus and I also built a small mulched food garden behind the village preschool with the kids. He will start the Inga trials when the trees close to the village are next in fruit. I'm booked to fly back over in November, when I plan on approaching the Sarawak State Government to try to talk them into the BioWicked methane-free wet paddy rice growing trials. I'll post more details on my next update.
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PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN. My Penan friend Paulus needs funds urgently so he can be with his sick child. Paulus is the first Penan to gain his Permaculture qualifications and is setting up demonstration food gardens in his village of Long Bangan in Borneo. The Penan are the original inhabitants of Borneo and were nomadic hunter-gatherers gatherers for around 40,000 years. They gained media attention in the late 1980s and early 1990s through their peaceful blockades to try to stop the rainforest logging that was destroying the Borneo jungle. Paulus's village only settled in the 1970s, about five years before he was born, and the people still rely on the forest for much of their food. Paulus is doing what he can to document their culture and botanical knowledge and to save what species he can by planting them near his village. He dedicates himself to helping the earth and his people and now needs our help. He has no source of income as the only jobs near his village involve destroying the forest he holds so dear. His only son Pearlery had a bad fall at boarding school on Thursday and had to be rushed to hospital. He broke his arm but more seriously he banged his head on a concrete sink so hard it caused bleeding in his skull. The doctors in Miri Hospital operated to put a shunt in to relieve the pressure on his brain but he needs to be flown to Kuching to be seen by specialists there. I have given Paulus all the money I have but this will only cover part of his expenses. He needs money for transport, accommodation and food as he will probably have to stay in Kuching for a few weeks. This earth warrior and fellow permie REALLY needs our help so if anyone has a little 'excess' money to contribute please donate. I have set up a PayPal account for him via his <> Gmail account, or contact me for bank details or donate to this page if you don't do PayPal. Even a small amount will help.
Pearlery after his first head operation.
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$3,327 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 39 people in 41 months
Created July 26, 2015
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Hilary Stocker Stocker
7 months ago

Thank you for the work you hope to be doing. Much love and support in changing lives. Hilary

Anne Henderson
13 months ago

Great work - take care. Anne.

Karl Treen
16 months ago

Best wishes from Karl and the Food Forest card game. Be well and travel safe!

26 months ago
27 months ago
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