In this episode of Sense-Making in a Changing World, my guest is permaculture humanitarian, Kym Blechynden. As an aid worker with the Red Cross, Kym has worked in some of the most challenging places on earth – post-conflict regions, disaster zones. I am in awe of the work she does and the calm courageousness and humanity with which she does it.
She shares her insights about what permaculture aid and humanitarianism is and how permaculture helps design integrated and appropriate responses to disasters and crises.
Kym’s background is in public health, food security & nutrition. She has worked extensively throughout Australia and internationally in places like Bangladesh, Chad, Pakistan, Vanuatu, DPRK, Mongolia, Japan, South Sudan, Philippines, Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos, Nepal, Cambodia, Fiji, Malaysia, Jordan, Turkey, Syria, Maldives, PNG, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Sri Lanka, Thailand, DPRK and more!
Kym is a permaculture teacher and has lectured in international nutrition and public health at the University of Tasmania. She’s the current President of Permaculture Tasmania, part of the Permaculture Australia core team and inaugural co-coordinator of Permablitz Tasmania. She’s also member of the South East Asia Permaculture for Refugees network and is on the Permafund Committee.
She recently returned from living in Kuala Lumpur for several years working across 38 countries in the Asia Pacific region, including the Cox’s Bazar population movement. She is now based in the West Tamar, Northern Tasmania and since she can’t travel right now, you can find her in the veggie garden, visiting second-hand markets, making cheese and ferments and enjoying a glass of Tassie white with her partner, two dogs and chickens.
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Read the full transcript here
Morag Gamble: Welcome to the Sense-making in a Changing World Podcast, where we explore the kind of thinking we need to navigate a positive way forward. I’m your host Morag Gamble.. Permaculture Educator, and Global Ambassador, Filmmaker, Eco villager, Food Forester, Mother, Practivist and all around lover of thinking, communicating and acting regeneratively. For a long time it’s been clear to me that to shift trajectory to a thriving one planet way of life we first need to shift our thinking, the way we perceive ourselves in relation to nature, self, and community is the core. So this is true now more than ever. And even the way change is changing, is changing. Unprecedented changes are happening all around us at a rapid pace. So how do we make sense of this? To know which way to turn, to know what action to focus on? So our efforts are worthwile and nourishing and are working towards resilience, regeneration, and reconnection. What better way to make sense than to join together with others in open generative conversation..
Morag Gamble: What better way to make sense than to join together with others in open generative conversation. In this podcast, I’ll share conversations with my friends and colleagues, people who inspire and challenge me in their ways of thinking, connecting and acting. These wonderful people thinkers, doers, activists, scholars, writers, leaders, farmers, educators, people whose work informs permaculture and spark the imagination of what a post-COVID, climate-resilient, socially just future could look like. Their ideas and projects help us to make sense in this changing world to compost and digest the ideas and to nurture the fertile ground for new ideas, connections and actions. Together we’ll open up conversations in the world of permaculture design, regenerative thinking community action, earth, repair, eco-literacy, and much more. I can’t wait to share these conversations with you.
Morag Gamble: Over the last three decades of personally making sense of the multiple crises we face I always returned to the practical and positive world of permaculture with its ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. I’ve seen firsthand how adaptable and responsive it can be in all contexts from urban to rural, from refugee camps to suburbs. It helps people make sense of what’s happening around them and to learn accessible design tools, to shape their habitat positively and to contribute to cultural and ecological regeneration. This is why I’ve created the Permaculture Educators Program to help thousands of people to become permaculture teachers everywhere through an interactive online dual certificate of permaculture design and teaching. We sponsor global Permayouth programs, women’s self help groups in the global South and teens in refugee camps. So anyway, this podcast is sponsored by the Permaculture Education Institute and our Permaculture Educators Program. If you’d like to find more about permaculture, I’ve created a four-part permaculture video series to explain what permaculture is and, and also how you can make it, your livelihood as well as your way of life.
Morag Gamble: We’d love to invite you to join our wonderfully inspiring, friendly, and supportive global learning community community. So I welcome you to share each of these conversations, and I’d also like to suggest you create a local conversation circle to explore the ideas shared in each show and discuss together how this makes sense in your local community and environment. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I meet and speak with you today.. The Gubbi Gubbi people and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Morag Gamble: My guest today on this episode of Sense-making in a Changing World is permaculture humanitarian Kym Blechynden who for two decades has worked in some of the most challenging places on earth. Post-conflict places, disaster stricken, and camps that have been flooded by those fleeing from genocide. What Kim does highlights so clearly the people care and fair share aspects of permaculture, but also why it’s so critical that we care for the earth because the most vulnerable communities suffer first and suffer the most. And like Greta recently tweeted, “Stop saying that we’re in the same boat. We’re in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.” So Kim plays a really key role in organizations like Permaculture Tasmania as well, Permaculture Australia, and the Permafund. She’s lectured at the university of Tasmania in public health and has worked for over a decade in Red Cross. She’s also a member of the Southeast Asian permaculture for refugees network. And it’s my really great pleasure to welcome her to the show today.
Morag Gamble: Well, thanks so much for joining me today on this show, because the work that you’ve been doing in the world with permaculture is absolutely phenomenal. And it’s something that I would love to learn more about and in thinking about how I wanted to learn from you, I thought I’m sure everyone else would love to hear what it is that you’ve been doing too, because I hear that you’ve been, you’ve been working with places like red cross and UN and all different organizations around the world. Places like Syria, Nepal after the earthquakes and Pakistan, in Bangladesh, Fiji, South Sudan, the places that you’ve been and the things that you’ve seen and the ways in which you’ve been taking your work in public health and permaculture is phenomenal. And so I’d love to hear a little bit about firstly, how did you end up doing that work and what drew you to do permaculture in that way?
Kym Blechynden: So, thanks for having me, first of all, it’s lovely to chat. I’ve been working as a nutritionist and in public health for about 20 years and as a new graduate, I thought, I don’t want to have a 9 to 5 job. I want to be doing lots of different things. And I shifted to central Australia and started working for an Aboriginal controlled organization in malnutrition in remote Aboriginal communities. And it was an incredible experience as a new graduate. So pretty young being able to learn about different cultures, about different food supply, about different challenges that people had in being able to access affordable, appropriate, and healthy foods. And my boss wanted me to be running food demonstrations outside the clinic. So I drive for 10 hours out to a remote community of maybe 300 people. And they want me to be standing at the front, you know, doing little cooking demonstrations and handing out recipe cards. And I was thinking, you know what, I’m pretty sure there’s a better way to do this. And I asked her, why are we doing it this way? And I said, well, this is what we’ve always done. And I went sure, but we’re bringing food in from 10 hours away because it’s too expensive for us as a large organization to purchase. It’s food that’s not available locally. So people can’t access the food that I meant to be teaching them how to cook anyway, is this really going to address the problems that we’re seeing there with food security and food access and the health issues we’ll say with high rates of diabetes, and other things. And she said, well, okay, then what do you think we should do? And I said, well, I’m going to ask the community.
Kym Blechynden: So I drove out there again in my troopy for 10 hours. And we sat down and had a chat with the clinic and with some of the women, because culturally, I only worked with the women said, well, we want to learn more and take our kids up for bush foods and for hunting and the foods that are available here. I said, okay, well, what’s stopping that happening now? The men usually have the car because they’re out hunting. So we had a chat about how that could look and the shopping list ended up looking like me purchasing some little x’s about this big, which I was at, what are we gonna use these for? Um, some, you know, some camp ovens, foil containers of water that we could refill, some crowbars and all these different tools, which I had a pretty hard time trying to justify to my finance department, why I’m buying these as part of a nutrition program. But what ended up happening was that we’d go out with the clinics. So we’d take two cars, we’d go out with the women and the take lots of different children out as well. And that’d be showing the children and reinforcing these really important skills of how to catch a goanna, how to catch food, what foods are edible, which plants aren’t edible, where can find water, and then we’d sit down and eat it together.
Kym Blechynden: That then led to other conversations about, okay, what are the other issues in the community? How can we address those and what are your solutions to these? And it was a really important moment in remembering that the community has a lot of the solutions and answers for the problems that they’re facing and the importance of us coming in as guests, listening to those and helping to facilitate if needed and requested some of those solutions. And, you know, it got to the stage, I’d go out there and stay for a week. And every time I’d turn up, there’d be this growing number of women and children standing there with these crowbars and Xs waiting at the door, like, all right, conga, which means young, white women, time to go hunting. And then we’d take a couple of clinic cars and, you know, that women would all be then getting their blood sugars tested while they’re out there. And they’d have chats about health checks and different things. And it was just really cool. And I think it had a lot better impact than, you know, me handing out recipe cards to people who couldn’t access that food, may not have had the electricity connected that week anyway, they generally may have cooked over the fire on the electric fry pan on it type thing. You know, it was, it was more real and it was community-focused. And I took that work with me when I then worked in other States and territories. So in far North Queensland in Northern WA as well, where again, it was a lot of work on telling people what they should eat, as opposed to addressing the issues of why people were not eating healthy foods in the first place. And it helped a lot with understanding and reinforcing, I guess, with people I was working with saying, well, you know, we need to actually understand the why, what the issue is, and then come up with the solution, not the other way around and make our solution fit the problem.
Kym Blechynden: I then started working internationally and have been doing that for about 15 years in about 40 or 50 different countries around the world, some in conflict zones. So working in Syria for several years in the camps there, which was incredibly tough for the communities there and the conditions and, you know, the conflict still going, as we know now, and a lot of people are still living in other countries and not their country of choice. Working in disease outbreaks where public health and permaculture can play such a main, a key role, you know, cholera outbreaks, we’ve got these vaccine and these other preventable diseases, which should not be happening in the 21st century, but still are that people are getting sick from unsafe water and poor sanitation, as well as lack of available healthy foods. And then working in a lot of natural disasters, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, droughts, any natural disaster, which we’re unfortunately seeing an increase number of as well as ferocity as we have a changing climate around the world. But also as we see differences in where people are living, we’ve got more people living in urban areas now in crowded areas, perhaps where, when we have big storms, like in Bangladesh where their lands may be becoming inundated or making areas unsafe. And so I spent a couple of years living in quite a lumper I’m covering 38 countries across Asia and the Pacific for emergency response, nutrition and public health. And then also spent a year living in Nepal as well, which was great, again, working more in the nutrition and public health sphere as well. And now I’m in Tazzy. So not traveling anywhere at the moment due to COVID restrictions, but still doing, international work as well as working for permaculture Australia one day a week, and doing a lot of volunteer work with Permaculture Tasmania and teaching and wearing many hats as do many people as well, like you as well. So that’s me in a nutshell.
Morag Gamble: So that’s an incredible experience that you’ve been having around the world. And I love what you said about starting really in the early days of about responding rather than going in with the idea. I guess that’s a really, a lot about what permaculture is about. So, where in that journey that you just described, did permaculture enter into what you’re doing and how are you seeing it helping both you as a professional, but also the communities that you’re working with?
Kym Blechynden: I mean, I think depending on which components of permaculture you look at, it’s been throughout all of the work or organizations I’ve worked for. So if you’re looking at the ethics of people care, earth care and fair share some of the organizations I’ve worked with very much embodied those ethics in the way that they work and what they do. And the same for some of the international work that I’ve done, you know, we’ve got 8 agencies and community groups that are looking at water harvesting that are running biodigester trials that are looking at local food production rather than bringing in food from other countries as well. So it may not be called permaculture, but lots of the different strategies or the principles or the ethics under pin a lot of the work that’s happening. And I think that’s why when I did do my PDC – permaculture design course, I’ve sort of like, AH! this is what this stuff’s called. I’m kind of already doing bits of that and being exposed to that. And, Oh, here’s some new ideas and here’s some things that could be done differently. And so it, I think it’s always been there, but now it’s got a name in my mind, but as I said, it’s a lot of these activities do happen that people don’t call it permaculture. They may call it building resilience in some of the aid agencies or activities that are happening, or, you know, localization where making sure that local communities and local organizations are leading the way and they’re doing the work and the activities. And we’re not bringing in international people and where we’re looking at solar, or we’re looking at fuel efficient stoves, or, you know, these other activities there.
Kym Blechynden: From doing the PDC, I then started getting more engaged with permaculture organization. So I’ve started working with permaculture organizations, so Permaculture Tasmania, doing some volunteer work, and then as their President running different activities there and building community activities, and then got involved with Permaculture Australia as a board director incredible skills and learning. And now as one of their paid staff members as well. And we’re also doing some, some activities with permaculture for refugees, which is an incredible learning opportunity, but also to see the great activities that are happening with organizations in Bangladesh and in the Philippines and Malaysia, which, you know, all these different parts of the jigsaw puzzle are forming, I guess. So that’s giving me more confidence and ideas to then advocate for in my other work with the international organizations to say, Hey, you know, what have you thought about this? And don’t be scared of that P word permaculture. It’s not this, you know, random hippie thing that people have said to me before. What do you mean to that stuff for that? Well, it’s not stuff it’s actually based on ethics and principles there. It’s looking at addressing some of the big issues that we’re facing at the moment. It’s not the only solution, but there are some great activities and ideas there that we can use to improve the work that we’re doing, which ultimately then improves the, the livelihoods and the activities and the community. And that’s what we want.
Morag Gamble: Do you think that somehow you’re talking about, you know, some people are working on a, like a biodigester here, or another technology there, have you found that by using permaculture approach, you’re able to kind of like connect up some of the dots of different projects? I mean, cause I feel like that’s where permaculture comes in. It’s rather than it just being a recipe for some’thing’ it’s actually about how you can kind of redesign the way that all of that happens. And when I was talking to Ro the other day too, about, she was saying the three key things, she feels the value of permaculture education in refugee camps are for example, one is that a lot of people living in refugee camps are there for a long time. And so it’s actually how they can be feeding themselves and creating a good life there now as best they can with what they have. The second one is that they’re not just learning gardening skills, but they’re learning design skills, which means that when, when, and if they get to move somewhere else, they can assess that place and design that they get the chance to go back home. Then they have the new capability to see that place and to redesign it and redesign it maybe better than what it was before. So I think that kind of that design and the systems approach seems to me to be where maybe the sweet spot for permaculture in this thing and like the connective thread that it could bring. Is that your experience with it? How do you feel are people relating to it apart from going the P word..
Kym Blechynden: I totally agree. Because we as humans seem to get trapped into this one size fits all, what’s worked here, we’ll work there, we’ll work here and we’ll just run in and do this straight away. And it reinforces it is a design. We do need to look at the different principles and ethics and see what’s best suited for that climate or that community or the skillset they’re available there, or the resources that are available. And I think that’s where we should be doing that in our work activities anyway, as, as I’d work as, or government workers or whatever, but it’s a good reminder of the different steps to take before committing money, but before also running programs and doing your assessment, that’s basically what it is, but making sure that your solutions are a fit for the community, but also fit for what you’re trying to do as well. To again, it’s about making sure that we’ve gotten the best result for the community members, not for us. And so it may be something that’s out of our comfort. So if it’s going to work there, then that’s what we should be advocating for and making sure that that happens and building on the skills that already exist, any camp or community that you go to, you know, you’re not starting from ground zero. You’ve got people there with incredible knowledge and skills who, you know, working in the camps in Bangladesh.
Kym Blechynden: I remember when those 10,000 people crossing the border one day, these people had been living on limited food and water and escaping conflict for up to three weeks and trying to stay safe and helping the community, and then setting up in a new country. This really overcrowded camp where there wasn’t access to the amount of water needed or food or other things. And you know, this incredible resilience of, okay, we’re starting again, we’re safe. This is what we’re going to do now. And moving forward, I think if I was in that situation, how would I cope? And I don’t think we give enough credit to the community members we work with on just how incredible the journey people have gone on and how they bounce back. And sometimes continually bounce back and still are able to put food on the table for their kids, keep their family safe and continue to try and make a better life for them. And you know, that’s really incredible. And it’s something that we can’t teach if we’re not from that country or haven’t been through that, our role is to help facilitate the solutions that the communities is saying. We think this will work. Yep. Cool. Okay. So how can we make that happen? I see that that’s what our role is, but I see so many people that have a different mindset. They’re there as the saviors or they’re there they’re coming in, this is what we’re going to do. It’s like, have you ever been to this country? Do you know how to grow food here? Oh no. I live in a temperate climate and I’m now working in the tropics. Well, perhaps I don’t say this, but it’s thinking shouldn’t you be listening first and finding out a bit, a bit more. And I think that’s where the permaculture can play a key role also in that it does build on, on localization. And it does make sure that you look at all of those different elements rather than just jumping in head first and saying, this is what we’re going to do because we’ve always done this. Or, you know, no dig gardens, you must have an no dig garden or a herd spiral for it to be permaculture. No, you don’t actually! Look at the context and the environment. So anyway, jumped off my soap box now, sorry!
Morag Gamble: No, thank you for saying that because it is so important. I mean, the key part is about the observation and the listening and the responding and being very locally contextualized. And that’s a lesson that is so obvious when you’re working in places like that, but they remind you when you come back home also how absolutely critical it is here, that, you know, the idea that, you know, permaculture is a herb spiral. You know, often I say to my students, if I see a herb spiral in your design, I’m actually thinking.. because it’s just taking a pattern that seen somewhere in a book, which is a great idea, but it doesn’t necessarily relate to every context and what it is, what you need to be doing is going back into those principles and thinking about how they apply in that particular context. So can you give us some examples maybe of how you’ve seen permaculture practically applied in some of those landscapes, which are beyond most people’s imagination because of the, you know, the lack of space, I’ve seen pictures of some of the places you’ve been to. I’ve been to some places, but not where you’ve been doing, I just, I couldn’t even begin to imagine where you would actually even start with some of those places. So can you maybe share a little bit about how, how you manage in that context with permaculture, but also on a personal level? How do you internalize what you see as an aid worker?
Kym Blechynden: Yeah, I mean, for Bangladesh, that’s definitely the hardest place I’ve worked from being there from the very start, when there was tens of thousands of people crossing and I’ve been there on and off, I think 10 times over the last two years, doing, working with the same organization and doing similar activities. And so it’s been great to see the changes in the communities. Like in the start that was old rice patties and rainforest where elephants used to live, which has now been cleared for close to 1 million people in a very small crowded area. And some of the times I went, it was that, well, you know, there’s landslides, you’re walking up steep inclines like that in knee deep mud, because there’s been all of this land clearing quickly trying to find places for, for people and, you know, setting up toilets and latrines in wrong areas, which then go down into the water supply because, you know, everyone was working so quickly or there was some people that didn’t have the perhaps necessarily skill set of, of designing the where able to supply should go. But then going back over the years, there’s now a lot more greenery. There’s been a focus on re-planting. There’s fish farms. There’s pumpkin vines and, and plants growing over these little, you know, bamboo shelters where people are living. So making stacking functions, making the use of vertical spaces, which also then makes it a bit cooler for people in their houses. If they’ve got greenery, you know, this water catchment happening where possible, then there’s this real focus now on livelihoods and system, local food and people are given cash rather than food rations. So they can go to the markets and buy what’s useful for them, for their family, which you know, is a nice sign of dignity as well. Give people the choice. They know what’s important to their family, but it wasn’t like that in the start. And it was incredibly tough. One, not sitting under tab pole..Now it’s about nine o’clock at night. We still had people arriving. We’re providing first aid and vaccinations and, you know, screening children for malnutrition, if they needed to go and get treatment and rehydration and so forth. And I remember just looking around under this tab pole and just drenched and covered in mud, surrounded by tens of thousands of people thinking what is going on, how is this happening in the 21st or any century for that matter that we have this situation and how are we going to make sure we’ve got resources available for these people that are going to be here for a long time? You know, Syria conflict has been going for six or seven years and I’ve worked when it was first set up on the border of Jordan and Syria. It’s still there now. We’ve got people living in Lebanon and other other countries. So as RO said, and as you mentioned earlier, it’s about looking at long term activities. And when we’re setting up camps, if we have the time, which we didn’t for bazaar due to the rapid influx, designing these aspects in there for safe water, for safe sanitation, for food growing areas. So there is space for people to safely grow food that’s not contaminated, or that for women don’t need to go outside of the camp where it may or may not be safe for them to go to the fields or perhaps it’s landmines or other things to consider.
Kym Blechynden: But then working in places like Laos, where I was working with the ethnic minority groups in Southern Laos on a project. All of these factors had been considered for food supply and the program wasn’t looking at, you know, go down to the markets, which is two hours drive away and it’ll cost you this much money to get a tuktuk to get there. It was actually looking at the local foods available and how to prepare them and how to preserve them and food preservation techniques and these other really cool things that are looking at the food supply there. And that was great watching that activities. And that was funded by a major UN organization that was doing that work rather than bringing in this continuous food rations. It was creating some more independence, but also focusing on people’s cultural beliefs and I guess, traditions and acknowledging and supporting those rather than wiping them out sometimes with bringing in food from another country. So there’s heaps of great stuff that, that you see, the things that could be tweaked. Nothing’s perfect, but it’s a continuous making sure that you’re a strong advocate for your community members or your staff and your team members. If they’re saying, look, we don’t like this, or we think this could be done better, then you can take that role and be that voice where people may not feel comfortable to be able to do that in dealing with the donors who may have very strict ideas of this is what we want you to do. And you’re going back to them and saying, that’s great, but perhaps we could tweak it a bit and do this. What do you think about that? And this is why, and you be that strong voice and let people on the ground get on and do the job that they do so well there as well. So that’s where I see the role of where I’ve seen the greatest, I guess, benefit and the greatest outcomes in really cool stuff happening, which is just such a privilege to be involved with and learn from each time.
Morag Gamble: Yes. But you’re right though, you know, like this issue of displaced people, refugees is growing from conflict and from climate and environmental degradation, you know, just land being no longer suitable for people. And I worry at the moment too..and I’d love to get your input on this. I’ve been having people reaching out to me in the work that I’m doing, saying, you know, our food rations have gone down. People in these camps, the ones that I’m talking about, the ones in Uganda and Kenya in particular, but like we’re going around and checking on these families and people are starving and there’s less food aid getting to these communities. There’s not enough gardens that are already set up there. The prices of the local food is starting to spike. And so there’s this domino effect that is rippling out for these camps, which is, and then with all the lockdown as well, because they’re all being locked down into their little, can’t go further than a certain space and devastation in some communities is possible through this. And it worries me a lot. The news is not actually getting out about that this is happening in the world. I’m not seeing that reaching out. And so one of the things that I’ve been doing in the capacity that I can is really trying to support those people, reaching out to access them to, as I need to start the community gardens, kitchen gardens. I mean, so it’s kind of just like the one thing that they wanted. They have been asking for help to get their own little kitchen garden around their homes and around their little community center or school happening so food first rapidly growing things. So just, you know, getting seeds, getting tools, getting, you know, watering equipment so that they can do that. And then get to a stage where they can show other people and then they can keep rippling it out as being kind of teachers from that point. So they’re asking actually for support, for creating like a little permaculture school in one of the communities I’m working with, which is with teenagers and the teenagers are wanting to go through and get there to be qualified as permaculture. So then they see in the future that they can be either designers or better farmers or make it a livelihood from this. So, have you seen this trend of, there being less food available in camps and what is the, what’s the number that you’ve heard of lately of the number of displaced peoples around the world?
Kym Blechynden: That number… I’ve heard many numbers for that. Um, that varies, I think, depending on what source. But it’s too high, it’s too high. We’ll stick with that. The number is absolutely increasing with the number that are displaced internally, as well as those that are refugees. Those that are crossing borders as well. And, you know, the, the changing climate is going to see that increase. It’s not just conflict. That’s leading for people to move, to find safety somewhere else. Now we’ve got rising sea levels in parts of the Pacific. We’re seeing people moving to, to other islands, which they can no longer grow food or home.. Their housesnow no longer there, because the water has risen to where it used to be. We’re we’re seeing people moving due to land use changes. So a number of countries, which I won’t name that I’ve worked in, people have been forcibly removed either due to new projects that are creating money for other people, whether that’s mining, whether that’s large dams or areas to be able to produce hydro, whether it’s people now using the land for cash crops. So for biofuels or for rubber plantations or date plantations. So people are being forcibly removed as well as I’ve got other people who are moving for climate or conflict races as well. And so we’re seeing this. It’s getting more and more complex, basically why people are moving and while we’re getting an increasing number, but it’s also making the solutions really tough as well.
Kym Blechynden: We’ve got a lot of people stuck in really dire conditions. Then, you know, before COVID, we had challenges with people being able to access safe places to live and set up a new life. Before COVID, we already had people that were struggling to find somewhere safe to live and set up a new life for their family. And that’s only going to increase when we’ve got people moving to more and more cities. So we’ve got an increased rate of urbanization. We now have climate change diseases that we’re seeing an increasing, you know, we’ve got increased rates of mosquito-borne disease because people are living in closer quarters. There’s more construction rubble, there’s warmer climates where mosquitoes are now thriving more. And we’ve got food supply further away from people because land is having taken by people to live on, or it’s been unindicted by water or other uses. And when we look at all of those factors together, it’s going against what we know will help people access food better by having it closer to home where it doesn’t rely on fossil fuels so much for growing and transport and processing where it helps reduce some of the issues we’re seeing from climate change in the climate crisis at the moment. And that we’ve got this system set up in some places where food security is so incredibly tough for people with the global food system and tariffs and trade regulations and rules, which don’t necessarily help those that probably need the help, the most, the poorer communities who are being squeezed out of the markets or who are producing cash crops rather than food for themselves to be able to eat or not being able to access seeds, that they can seed to continue with their, with their crops. And I think permaculture can, can look at local activities, but it can also advocate for changes in a community and a regional and a global level as well, because unless we dismantle and address some of those systems, which are restricting food security or health of communities, we can have as many kitchen gardens as we want, but we’re still not going to address some of the big picture stuff as well. And so we need that pronged approach with kitchen gardens and not just veggies, but also looking at animals in kitchen gardens. So we get the full nutrition requirements of the eggs or the dairy, or of the larger bean crops, which are so important for nutrition. And then looking at why are we going into the supermarket and buying lemons from America where in Tasmania every… Person has a lemon tree. Why are we not using those lemons in the supermarket or from roadside stalls or bartering? Why are we not looking at local food supply and strengthening that? Why do we not respect farmers more? And look at farming as an incredible occupation which provides food that we need to survive and respecting those farmers and looking at support for local farming and food sovereignty and seed sovereignty and all of that good stuff. But why are we focusing instead on these other, other activities. So I don’t think I answered your question. I talked around in a circle there, but I think it’s important and why can play a role.
Morag Gamble: Yeah. You know, you answered it perfectly. And a lot of the things that you raised there, I think are critical for us to focus on. One is seed sovereignty, because this, I see everywhere is being one of the biggest issues, like say for example, in Kenya, they’re telling me that it’s actually illegal for them to save and sell local seeds. And so, you know, it’s that advocacy level that you mentioned. So it’s all well and good to create the gardens, but there’s this other shift that needs to happen to unlock the potential for the local food movement to flourish. I mean, it’s what they keep saying they want to do. And they see the benefit of it, but they keep getting blocked by these government regulations that are been done in conjunction with the big corporation. So it’s kind of just locked everything down. Um, but there are seed saving organizations that are.. it seems to be challenging for them to access them. And also, you know, a lot of education around because…. It’s such a fast, I’ve seen people grow things like I need to grow things really fast because I have this family that’s hungry. And so the plant and you eat everything that you’ve planted rather than saving the ones for next year. So it’s that kind of being able to stretch into that longer term thinking or in, you know, starting with the very fast then moving to the perennials and the tree crops and the animals, but that takes that longer term thinking of, well, I’m just here in a refugee camp for short time, or am I actually going to be here for long? You know, this is the long haul, but..So seed sovereignty is one thing. And actually really looking at what kind of seeds are available to people to even get started. I mean, giving, you know, seed for them to start, they can’t be saved to the next year is, is also so problematic. Then you mentioned food sovereignty and that was a term that I think is a really important one. It’s not just about food security and having enough calories is that it’s actually about, as you were saying several times throughout our conversation so far about, you know, what is appropriate food? What is the food, what is the food system that enables people in that situation to be able to make the choices and the decisions and to actually meet their families and their cultural needs appropriately and with dignity and that, that kind of food sovereignty concept is something that I think permaculture also does bring in really nicely into things. So with this multipronged approach and we thinking big and thinking local simultaneously, what can the international permaculture community be doing more to help people who are in the global South who are really suffering?
Kym Blechynden: Look, I think it’s a really great question. And, you know, thinking we have these global systems and it can be, you can look at them and go, well, how much are you going to make a difference there? They’re so ingrained. It’s such a big problem of how we can address food security or access to water or access to land for people around the world. But it’s about starting with what we can do. And, you know, we do have powerful voices that we can use for advocacy, not just within our own networks, but for you, for example, with the tens of thousands of people, you are reaching with your YouTube, with your other activities that you’re doing with teaching, when we’re teaching people, it’s about reminding them of how we can make a difference and obtaining yield from the work that we’re we’re doing. And, you know, look at some of the permaculture principles in how we work, know that we do need to address some of this big stuff, but also do some of the local and community stuff as well. So you can actually see that you’re making work with organizations that are based there, you know, working with a number of the organizations I work with. The stuff from that community and that country there on the ground. And there may be me or one other person that pops in and out to work with them. But, you know, you’ve got that long term knowledge that longterm understanding of people living and working in that country and community build with the communities and the organizations that are there and that are asking for help and help them continue to come up with the solutions with what they’re trying to do with working in the camps and other settings. There’s a lot of international and national on civil society organizations they’re.. Infiltrate some of them and say, Oh, you know, you know, what you’re doing is actually permaculture. Can I, can we work together on some training or some activities there and really value added, you know, donors are looking for this these days, we have these sustainable development goals, for example, which donors and agencies and organizations are meant to be, and government submit to be looking towards with the work they’re doing. And, you know, one of them is climate change. One of them is sustainable food production. One of them is looking at these local activities. We can use that to our advantage as can the organizations to leverage funding, which unfortunately funding is needed for some of these activities, but also it gives access to the communities to be able to help them with the solutions they’re coming up with to make sure that there is local food activities happening, that people have access to water, to sanitation, to these basic fundamental human rights, which it makes such a huge difference to people’s lives.
Kym Blechynden: So looking at where we can obtain a yield and working with what exists and how we can infiltrate and value add that with the different policies that we can use to our advantage, like the SDGs, they’re not perfect, but they’re there. And we can use them for leverage. At a more national level, join your local perma organization or other group get involved. Whether it’s PA, whether it’s your state or territory organization, there’s a local seed savers group, a local community garden, whatever it is, get involved with something, get involved with more than something and learn from those activities you’re doing as well as contribute as well. So it’s that two-way learning and activities, because there’s so much we can do, and we can get bogged down with what we can’t do, that we may sit there for so long to say, Oh, it’s too frustrating. It’s too much, what are we going to do? Or I must go off and do another course, or I’ll learn some more, you’ve got skills and knowledge already use that. Use what you’ve got. Join up with other people who have got other skills and join up and become a force, become that snowball that keeps growing and growing to be able to address some of these issues, because we don’t have a lot of time. We know that things are getting worse and funding is going to get harder to access for international work anyway, with COVID. But with the economic ramifications that are happening from that, you know, aid budgets are going to decrease and we need to get more creative and savvy in how we continue to do these lifesaving activities with people and improve the lives for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Box again, sorry!
Morag Gamble: Absolutely! What you’re saying and what I’m, what I’m hearing, is an absolute passion and a deep understanding of how the change can happen. And that through your experience in all these different places that permaculuture is something that can make a difference in these places. And I think that’s something that needs to be heard. So that it gives people a sense of confidence and to advocate for it. Because, you know, sometimes there’s been a question like, Oh, is it actually what is needed in those places? And I think what you’re saying is yes, absolutely contextualize, localize, driven by local communities. It does provide a platform, then they can actually make a huge difference. And it’s something that has this kind of a global connection, which means that you can also then talk to larger organizations. And so my, I loved what you said about just start doing it wherever you are, whatever skills you have, contribute them, whatever skills you have share them and teach other people. You don’t have to be an expert to start teaching whatever, you know, and whatever you can do in your local community. And it’s a way to build up your capacity, your confidence, your skills. And so then at some point, if there’s a way to actually reach out and help other people, then you have a skill base. You’re not going in fresh to do that. So if someone did actually want to do something like what you’re doing, doing permaculture work, professionally, helping people in other parts of the world, what would you recommend that they would do to be able to enter into that path? And I know it’s not one little answer, and I know it’s a lifetime of experience and it’s all of those answers as well. But is there anything particular that you’d.. you would say to them.
Kym Blechynden: I mean, I think it’s about doing your research about where your skills may or may not be needed because it is acknowledging that there is capacity that exists in lots of places already. And that’s great. We want to build on that and use that local skills, but start from home first, there’s so much we can be doing here. How many people were caught out with the COVID-19 pandemic of not being prepared? You know, we had the great toilet paper buyouts of 2020, and then the veggie seedlings and then the seeds and, you know, the activities we can do from here, from home in seed saving, in local food supply, building skills and knowledge starting from disasters, with bushfires, with pandemics, with floods, with whatever may be coming in the future as well. Look at what we can do locally here as well. If you see a gap overseas, and there’s an organization that asks for help, then by all means, see how you can do that together. But I’ve seen a lot of people who, who are so keen to help and that’s, you know, that’s the nature of our human nature. We wanted to help and do things, but make sure that help is wanted and also that the skills match up as well. And perhaps the best way you can help is be a voice from your land or wherever you’re based to advocate for funding for those people and help get that funding over there rather than you jumping on a plane when COVID-19 restrictions lift and flying over there and helping. So I guess it’s about looking at permaculture and doing that assessment again, where will you have time? Where will the greatest yield be obtained and where can you help the most? But don’t forget that there’s a huge amount of work that can happen here in Australia with having our communities. So not our individuals, but our communities being resilient to be able to respond. And then if requests come from overseas, by all means work together with local groups and help value them and help with how they’re asking you to help and help that way rather than going and saying, well, this is what we could do. It’s like, okay, what would you like to do? And how can I help best and matching it that way? If that makes sense. Cause there’s heaps of opportunities out there. It’s not saying don’t go overseas. It’s about look at where the best yield comes from and where the skills are required, where you can value add the best as well.
Morag Gamble: And just, you’ve mentioned bushfires there. And I know that there was the droughts, then there was a bushfires and then COVID hit. It almost feels like there’s this whole waves of community that have just been almost forgotten. And you were involved. I know in doing an assessment, is that Kangaroo Island?
Kym Blechynden: Yeah, it was.
Morag Gamble: Can you just share just a little bit of your experience? I know we’re sort of getting to the end of our time and have many questions. I’d like to find out more about that, your experience there, how that, how the bushfires impacts those communities and maybe how you’ve seen possibly a permaculture type approach can help rebuild.
Kym Blechynden: Yeah, I mean, working in kangaroo Island, I was there a couple of, probably a month or so after the bushfires supporting some of the grants programs and assessments and the scale of damage was immense half of the Island impacted, you know, tourism largely shut down because a lot of the national parks were closed due to safety, but also because the fire had gone through there and people’s livelihoods disappeared overnight, basically. Plus the, you know, the rebuilding of when you’ve got houses you have to wait for people to be able to come in and safely remove that and then transport it off an Island that added element of it, an Island context. And, you know, there was some great activities that were happening afterwards. So there’s a number of permaculture-focused people that were doing activities in the national parks, helping with the rebuilding infrastructure and looking at some of the disease reduction of, you know, spreading and other things in there. But ialso community gardens were springing up with, I think Sophie Thomson from Gardening Australia went over and did some activities and looking more at, okay, if this happens again, what do we have in place to be able to look at our food supply? Cause we’re on an Island, are we growing local foods? Have we got access to water to be able to defend? What designing for disaster aspects do we have in play? And some I spoke to lost not only all their fences, which is pretty important when you’ve got animals, but lost all of their livestock as well and you see these big mounds, which is where that actually just buried their livestock, that perished. And then other farmers had said, well, we kept some of our paddocks just have green grass. We didn’t graze on it. And we kept that there as a buffer. So when the fires came through, they moved their livestock there and the fire didn’t burn that area. And it saved a lot of their livestock. They had sprinklers set up, they had buffers set up, they had all these other things that they’d thought off to minimize the impact, which unfortunately, some of the people who didn’t have, or they lived closer to the plantations and, you know, the just whipped through so quickly, um, there with the heat and the fuel.
Morag Gamble: I think what you’re saying is really in many ways that permaculture seems to be an under underpinning way of thinking a way of design that, you know, we need everywhere and, you know, it’s something that we need to be able to, to share in so many different places. And one of the current projects that I’m trying to find out information about is there, is there a set of materials that’s available for young people in particular, you know, teenagers to be able to teach permaculture in refugee camps. So the teachers there and have these kids, do you know of anything that’s available, but because I know that people go in and they teach it and then they teach it and it keeps going word of mouth, but we can’t get there right now. And so I’m just wondering what, what exists that’s usable for working with the local teachers that they can then use that as materials to teach other people.
Kym Blechynden: Yeah. I mean, it sounds fantastic and I wish it did exist. I don’t know of anything, but if I do find anything, I’ll suddenly.. Connection could be such tricky if people are doing zoom or, or online teaching, there’s not always internet connection to be able to do though. So it’s going back to the flip chart paper and the hands on resources and sketching in the, in the dirt, in the outdoor classrooms, which you often need to be there or train someone beforehand that they do that, of course, but it sounds very exciting.
Morag Gamble: We’ll see. I hope. Fingers crossed. I’m looking for some resources, maybe, you know, maybe a few of us could kind of put our heads together to work out what might be the best, most appropriate, simple set that can kind of be the catalyst for this. Cause who knows how long it’s going to be before we can actually get back to various places.
Kym Blechynden: Exactly. That sounds really cool.
Morag Gamble: Thank you so much for your time today, Kym. It’s been an absolute pleasure and an honor to meet you I mean the work that you’re doing in the world. I mean, thank you, thank you for everything that you do. And also thank you for being at the helm of Permaculture Australia and the local permaculture Tasmania stepping up and being a kind of a local leader in that because you know. It takes time and takes effort, but it’s so rewarding. And I encourage other people to, to step up and speak up in your local communities. You know, if there’s a local group, join it, put your hand up, don’t sit on your hands. Um, you know, if there’s not a local group, maybe think about starting with one up. Well, thank you so very much, Kym, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting today and I’m sure..I’m definite, there’s so much that is absolute gold that people can learn and take away from this conversation.
Kym Blechynden: No worries. Thank you so much for having me. Thanks for your support to PA as well. It’s greatly appreciated. Thanks for all the great work you’re doing as well. It’s amazing.
Morag Gamble: Thanks, Kym. Thanks for tuning in to the sense- making in a changing world podcast today, it’s been a real pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe and receive notification of each new weekly episode with more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regenerative and core positive permaculture thinking of design interaction in this changing world. I’m including a transcript below and a link also to my four-part permaculture series, really looking at what is permaculture and how to make it your livelihood too. So, join me again in the next episode where we talk with another fascinating guest, I look forward to seeing you there.
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Thanks for tuning into Sense-making in a Changing World today. It has been a pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe (via your favourite podcast app like iTunes) and receive notification of each new weekly episode.
Each Wednesday I will share more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration and common sense for living and working regeneratively. Positive permaculture thinking, design and action is so needed in this changing world.
What is permaculture?
Take a look at my free 4 part permaculture series or Our Permaculture Life Youtube and my permaculture blog too. For an introduction to permaculture online course, I recommend The Incredible Edible Garden course. I also offer an online Permaculture Educators Program (Permaculture Design Certificate and Permaculture Teacher Certificate) and involve young people in permaculture through Permayouth (11-16yos).
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I acknowledge the Traditional owners of the land from which I am broadcasting, the Gubbi Gubbi people, and pay my respects to their elders past present and emerging.
Thank you Rhiannon Gamble for audio editing – a challenging task this week with poor connection
Thank you to Kim Kirkman (Harp) and Mick Thatcher (Guitar) for donating this piece from their album ‘Spirit Rider’.