Permaculture design for orphans and vulnerable children

Permaculture design for orphans and vulnerable children

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Among children under five years of age in the developing world, nearly one-quarter are underweight (127 million) and one-third are stunted (195 million). Over 90 percent of those who are stunted live in Africa and Asia (U.N. Children’s Fund [UNICEF] 2009, 2011a).

These forms of undernutrition can have long-lasting and
damaging effects on children, especially when it occurs during critical developmental years.

The situation is even more concerning for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) living in communities with a high prevalence of HIV; many of these children and their families are food and nutrition insecure as a direct consequence of the epidemic. Severe and moderate acute malnutrition (wasting) among people living with HIV, including children and youth, occurs where HIV prevalence is high, and there are delays in seeking treatment.And among infants living with HIV, low birth weight (a major determinant of mortality and morbid- ity) is not uncommon (Regional Centre for Quality of Health Care 2008).

A recent AIDSTAR-One review of promising practices in food and nutrition security programming for OVC revealed very few models of sustainable program- ming that directly impact long-term food and nutrition security for OVC and the families who care for them. Programs attempting to address these challenges are mostly small-scale, short-term, donor-reliant, and/or ex- pensive in terms of inputs per child.
For most countries attempting to meet food and nutrition security challenges at scale, school meals have been the intervention of choice because of the positive impact on school attendance, cognition, and educational achievement, particularly when supported by complementary actions such as deworming and micronutrient fortification or supplementation (Bundy et al. 2009).

School feeding programs, unfortunately, often rely heavily on resources external to communities and even to the countries themselves. Additionally, these inputs may not be available beyond a given donor’s project cycle.While school meals can deliver important short-term value, especially in terms of OVC retention, they do not address long-term food and nutrition insecurity in a sustainable manner.
One development approach that shows promise for OVC programming, particularly in an HIV context, is permaculture. Permaculture is a framework that works toward sustainability of human habitats. It maximizes the use of local resources, applying ecological principles to meet human needs for food, shelter, energy, and a sense of community. In the context of OVC program- ming, permaculture helps guide communities toward permanent solutions for food and nutrition security while ensuring that these options exist harmoniously within their environment.

Importantly, bringing a perpetual source of food and nutrition to OVC through households, schools, and other community institutions is only one aspect of what permaculture offers to OVC programming. It also offers opportunities for income generation, and on a more philosophical level, it teaches children about their relationship with the environment and how to meet their needs in a responsible, environ- mentally-friendly manner.

The purpose of this technical brief is to provide an overview of permaculture programming as a response to food and nutrition insecurity for OVC. It emphasises the role of permaculture as a sustainable, non-donor dependent tool for improving the health, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods of OVC and their families.

Specifically, this brief aims to:

  • Define permaculture as a development approach and design process, and describe some of its key concepts and principles 
  • Explain why permaculture is relevant to OVC programming, particularly in the context of HIV, and list some of its benefits
  • Explain the theory and step-by-step practice of applying permaculture design in primary and secondary schools
  • Delineate the costs of integrating permaculture into school curricula, and into communities more generally
  • Identify the implementation challenges and make recommendations on how to overcome those challenges
  • Provide brief summaries on the use of permaculture in schools in South Africa and Malawi
  • Offer a list of resources and networking opportunities to OVC programmers interested in applying permaculture within their specific country contexts.

This technical brief is not intended to offer an exhaustive review of permaculture’s methodology. Instead, it serves as an introduction to its principles, and provides initial guidance and examples on how it can be used to benefit OVC and their families.The geographic focus of this brief are countries in Africa with high HIV-prevalence.