PERMACULTURING YOUR HOME

Home may be a box cottage or a mansion on a hill; make the most of it by integrating with the outside, sky, sea, wind and trees. An approach and philosophy called permaculture assures every householder and land-owner a nurturing and sustainable environment around “home.” Pat Ganase talks with Erle Rahaman-Noronha in Tobago Newsday, February 8, 2017


To Erle Rahaman-Noronha, the design principles of permaculture are home grown – on his own farm – and to be shared. In Barbados, Mustique, Grenada and Dominica, permaculture is reshaping citizens and landscapes. A permaculture approach takes care of water and soil resources, and builds resilience in the face of extreme events (storms, flooding) and climate change. We take a walk through the permaculture principles that Noronha lives.

Erle Rahaman-Noronha of Caribbean Permaculture Consultants.
Photo by Anjani Ganase

Noronha’s home is Wa Samaki (Swahili, about fish) – so named because his first business (1997) was breeding tropical fish for export – in Trinidad’s Central Range. As the fish business became less sustainable, Noronha turned to growing heliconias for the cut flower market while considering other crops on the 30-acre estate which is muddy in the wet season, and prone to fires in the dry.

“Wherever you are, take note of sun, water, wind. Everyone lives in a watershed. You may be at the top of the watershed: and need to be responsible for the water that runs off your property. Most of us live downstream of someone else. Here at Wa Samaki, we do have a river running through. Because of the high risk of fire in the dry season, we have created several ponds on our tributary of the Caparo.”

Ponds collect water in the rainy season; retaining water for the dry season. Photo by Anjani Ganase

Noronha’s house is cool, surrounded by many trees. “This used to be a citrus orchard; with trees planted at regular intervals and spaces kept low by brush-cutting. We have planted or allowed many other native trees. We harvest rain water off the roof. Around the house – what we call Zone 1 in permaculture – we have vegetable beds and herbs.” Concrete ponds still support fish and some have been converted to support hydroponic crops. 

Further from the house, we come to Zone 2, where there’s a mix of fruit and forest trees; we see guava and teak. “Here in Zones 2 and 3, we have located the permaculture teaching sheds: one was built from bamboo by the class taught by Venezuelan craftsmen. They also facilitated the building of a bigger shed from teak harvested from our trees. We also have two box huts which sometimes accommodate participants in our permaculture courses; and composting toilets.”

Permaculture classroom shed from raw teak saplings. Photo by Anjani Ganase

In Zones 2 and 3, livestock may be reared: chickens or pigs forage in the trees and return to sheds in the evening.

Further away from the house, Zone 4 is semi-wild forest which might support wild food and timber for harvesting. Wa Samaki’s Zone 4 provides a space for the El Socorro Wildlife Centre which houses animals which were rescued and are being rehabilitated for release into the wild: a baby corbeau, agoutis, monkeys, macaws and occasional ocelots. Pastures in this area also support three pet donkeys. 

Wa Samaki’s Zone 5 abuts nature’s forest; thick and shaded with native trees: fiddlewood, crappo, locust, petrea. Flowering trees support colonies of bees. Ponds are fed and drained by the tributary of the Caparo river, providing habitats for caimans and otters.

Wa Samaki's Zone 5 populated by local trees. Photo by Anjani Ganase

Every home – however small your yard – can be zoned according to permaculture. Your herbs and vegetables may be right around the house in containers or barrel gardens. Chickens in the yard will take care of insects, eat green waste from your kitchen and roost in fruit or flowering trees that ring your yard. Just a few trees –lime, mango, breadfruit and a banana clump in the typical Trinbagonian yard - will attract hummingbirds, keskidees, tanagers and the occasional migrating visitor.

“Permaculture is design,” Noronha reminds us. “It uses technology to cycle resources, and to recycle sustainably. The intention is to create the best living system around your home for your immediate needs: holding or harvesting water; wind breaks; food for animals or emergency. When communities do this together, you acknowledge and protect the watershed; you contribute to biodiversity, carbon sequestering, providing shade, conserving water. Food or fruits are the by-products of a wholesome environment.”


Bamboo shed with Dragon seat in mud by artist Justine Garcia. Photo by Anjani Ganase

Wa Samaki is just one of Noronha’s works in progress. In 2007, Noronha and his partner in Caribbean Permaculture Consultants (CPC), John Stollmeyer, took on the project to design and plant the buffer zone between the Atlantic LNG plant and Point Fortin. The project evolved to include a community with over 30 schools in Trinidad’s south-west peninsula. Students participated in collecting seeds of forest trees, creating a nursery which provided seedlings to the buffer zone as well as to the public. CPC sessions in schools shared information about permaculture and waterways; and inspired a generation of children to grow food. 

Since then, CPC has conducted seminars and training sessions for communities in Tobago and Trinidad; as well as in Grenada, Suriname, Dominica, St Lucia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Two-week intensive permaculture design courses are held at Wa Samaki twice a year: the next runs May 8 to 18, 2018; see details on the Facebook page Permaculture Trinidad - Wa Samaki Ecosystems (www.wasamakipermaculture.org).

In 2014, the CPC team started reforesting spent areas of a sand-mining quarry in Barbados. Walkers Reserve is 300 acres bordering a mile of beach – where leatherback turtles nest - on the Atlantic side; 120 acres were quarried; the quarry is still active. Noronha explains, “We are providing permaculture design for 300 acres; and with a team, we are rehabilitating the already mined areas. We have a nursery for seedlings. We buy mulch from Sustainable Barbados.” (See walkersreserve.com or the Facebook page Walkers Reserve Barbados.) 

Overview of permaculture plantings at Walkers Reserve, Barbados (from the Facebook page)


On another island, The Mustique Company commissioned CPC to assess and prescribe management of the watershed for the island. The island resort features 90 villas whose gardens are maintained by a village of gardeners. CPC designed systems to limit flood and erosion during storm events; and prescribed mitigation responses. They are working with the gardeners on food gardens for the staff village in Grand Bay. Next are composting systems to utilize all the organic waste developed on the island.

With an eye to flood and erosion events on small islands in the Caribbean – experiencing more catastrophic storms – Noronha advises that each community on every small island should manage their watersheds, plan emergency food supplies (what in the landscape is edible after a hurricane? What can the wildlife eat?) and reserve botanical stock (seeds) for regeneration.

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