Mushrooming hope in Nakivale

Mushrooming hope in Nakivale

Jessica Perini

Jessica Perini –  from the Permaculture Australia education team –  is combining local and refugee learners in a new model of online learning. She hopes to create long-distance connections, funding for refugee projects, and lasting memories and opportunities for all.

Elijah and I have been friends for a while now.

Together we do yoga sessions over Zoom, even though he’s in Nakivale, among the largest refugee camps in the world, and even though his internet is … well, rubbish … But we laugh over tree pose, and the constant internet dropouts. Laughter is the ultimate remedy.

Having worked with refugees remotely since COVID, I’ve come to understand that connection is among the most important things for people like Elijah.

I know this because around 4 pm Sydney time I am inundated with messages that tell me East Africa is waking up. ‘Hey Jess, how you going?’ ‘Hi big sis.’ ‘Hi Mum.’ Followed by copious photos of mulching, worms, and food forests flourishing. Mostly from refugees in settlements in Uganda, and Kenya. My group, Permaculture Partners, has built these connections since the pandemic through numerous workshops. Generally covering the topics most requested by refugees. (Maggot farming being one of the most popular – go figure!)

 This is just my observation as an outsider, but having contact with the outside world seems to sustain these refugees. And when it comes to permaculture, this also means hope.

What does all this have to do with mushrooms?

A few months ago, I was running a training session for Elijah’s group (Biogreen) on the three most important soil properties – physical, chemical, and biological. Their main question (apart from ‘What do you mean “chemicals”? Aren’t chemicals bad?’ – translating English to Swahili is fraught!) was ‘When can we learn about mushrooms?’

A 15-minute discussion on soils quickly turned into a one-and-a-half-hour Q and A about the best types of mushrooms, whether refugee farmers would be able to grow them, how quickly they grew and how much they’d have to spend to get the business going. From these people who had little experience with mushroom farming, the fascination was palpable.

Many conversations ensued. Elijah went on a mission to the nearest big local town, Mbarara, 42 kilometres away. I’d found trainers there, but the cost was many thousands of dollars, so we looked at alternatives.

Knowing of his love and knowledge of mushrooms, I asked Nick Ritar of Milkwood if he would volunteer to teach a two-hour introductory session online. 

Having worked with Milkwood on and off since I did their Permaculture Design Certificate in 2010, and having completed their excellent Home Mushroom Cultivation Course, I was delighted when they said they’d help. The workshop was set for 1 June.

The model I’ve developed over the years is simple. Put on two-hour training for local Australian audiences and refugees in camps concurrently; charge the locals, and the refugees attend for free. The locals finance materials for the refugees. Everyone gets to mingle and connect. People grow more food. Beautiful connections are made.

As we sold tickets to the June 1 event, I sent the funds to Elijah. Mushroom supplies were hard to come by in Mbarara, so he had to go further afield – to the capital of Uganda, Kampala. This involved numerous buses and boda bodas (motorbike taxis with whole families precariously perched on them, and, sometimes, astounding amounts of furniture).*     

Working his way through the markets and squares, Elijah found the materials he needed. Grain spawn, alcohol for cleaning, gloves, gypsum … all the bits and pieces he would be hard-pressed to find in the refugee camp.

Together we workshopped a few ideas and adapted them.

Finding clean water and materials to burn in a refugee camp can be challenging. Boiling water was going to be a problem. So we explored steeping the substrate in cold water overnight.

For a time we couldn’t locate hydrated lime, so we considered using wood ash to raise the water’s pH. Although it doesn’t have all the same properties and functions as hydrated lime, it was a good alternative – provided Elijah’s group could get the pH to around 12 or 13.

They just needed pH strips … Another hurdle! We needed low-tech solutions. Think, think! Red cabbage water! Did they have red cabbage? Yes! A workshop for another day.

When the June 1 workshop rolled around, Elijah and his team had found everything they needed; it had been a Herculean feat. But we still had the dodgy internet to contend with.

The various refugee groups would be gathered – around 15 people per group – projecting the computer screen onto their walls, and we had no way of knowing whether the internet would hold up. If it rained, or if someone sneezed strangely … goodbye workshop. We met a few days pre-workshop to run through the process. Worst case scenario, Elijah could show them all the materials and play back the recorded session later.

On June 1, the refugees and locals came online to hear Nick speak. The participants from Uganda were thrown off the call by their weak connections, so we stumbled around for solutions. I considered WhatsApping, beaming my screen to them through two platforms. But eventually, the internet picked up, and most people hopped back in.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the session, and we were so thankful for Nick’s help and guidance. He answered a barrage of questions and has continued helping us over the last month.

Since then, Elijah and I have been growing our mushrooms in tandem. Mine have bloomed, but Biogreen’s first attempt has been patchy, the Nakivale team struggling with conditions in the camp. The heat, combined with the tin roof of the mushroom growing house, is not ideal. The new plan is to purpose-build a structure, with a leafy roof to mitigate the extreme heat. Maybe low-tech air con. More workshopping to come.

As the mushrooms reach the fruiting stage, the team will also have to contend with theft due to starvation. In a similar situation in Kakuma camp, my refugee friends have had to create a separate garden, with strong fences and 24-hour guards to protect their harvests.

Fair share is well and good when you’re not starving. But when you’re surrounded by a mounting refugee population, and your United Nations Food Program rations have gone down to a paltry $5 a month, or 1.5 kilos of flour, who can blame anyone for stealing food?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems faced by refugee communities like Elijah’s. I’ve sat on this story for almost a month, trying to think of the perfect way forward.

But yesterday, I saw a photo of Elijah. As much as he smiles and jokes, his limbs all twisted into Eagle pose, and rushes about on these crazy quests, and tries to grow mushrooms in non-ideal conditions, he’s still skinny as.

Still disconnected from the bounties we enjoy here. Still struggling.

We can’t wait for the perfect answer to these big issues. Nor can we stumble at all the hurdles.

Elijah and his team have started a second batch of mushrooms, learning from their issues the first time around.

And we’re pressing ahead with small solutions. We have $100 left from the workshop sales, which is enough for transport, food, and 3-days of business and mushroom-growing training for Elijah in Kampala. After that, he’ll be equipped to teach his Nakivale group and the villagers beyond.

They’ll still need close and ongoing support from someone who’s not 11,000 kilometres away. 

In the last month, we’ve met several people who are growing mushrooms not far from Nakivale. Some are even preparing their own spawn, despite the limitations of an African setting. A few have very kindly offered to come to Nakivale and help the farmers establish a mushroom-growing enterprise. We just need to set the farmers up with a few basics and they’ll be on their way.

So the plan is: get Elijah to Kampala. When he comes back, at some stage ask a kind individual or group with experience to come and help them get set up. Create a secure building, well suited to mushroom growing. Buy some materials. Milkwood has very kindly offered scholarships in its online mushroom-growing course – ongoing education is key. 

Two days into the new grow, Elijah texts me: ‘I have good news.’ I’m on a call with someone else, so I can’t answer. ‘I have good news!’ That exclamation is a good amount of energy from Elijah. I have to check-in. When I get him on a video call, his eyes are shining. The second batch of mushrooms is growing! I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.

We’d like to give our heartfelt thanks to Nick and Kirsten from Milkwood for giving us their time, knowledge and patience as we work our way through this process. We’d also like to thank everyone who came along on 1 June and donated to this wonderful venture, and the countless individuals who help conduct workshops, and give their time and experience free of charge to help refugees in these camps. A big shout out to BioGreen and all the groups that attended on the day. Individuals such as Elijah volunteer for such groups purely for the benefit of their communities, and we are inspired by their persistence, grace in the face of extreme difficulty, and big smiles when things go well.

If you’d like to help us set up a group of 25 farmers with a secure building and enough spawn to get them cracking in mushroom growing you can donate here

 *Photo of boda boda used with permission courtesy of Elizabeth Fekonia, from her June 2023 permaculture workshop tour of Kenya and Uganda. Thanks to Elijah and BioGreen for the workshop photos.

Permaculture training: Something for everyone

Permaculture training: Something for everyone

This year, vocational training in permaculture turns 20. Affectionately known as APT (Accredited Permaculture Training), these courses have been part of Nationally Recognised Training since Permaculture Australia registered an accredited course with Queensland Training in July 2003.

Since then APT has had its ups and downs, and a huge amount of work has been done (largely by volunteers) to bring us to now. In February 2023, the newly reviewed and updated components (units of competency, qualifications and skill sets) were published on the website.

APT falls under what is known as Vocational Education and Training in Australia, meaning that the qualifications and skill sets have met certain standards under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) which means that a Certificate III in Permaculture is equivalent to a Certificate III in Agriculture, or Hospitality, or Childcare etc. Permaculture components, with PER in their codes are part of the Agriculture, Horticulture and
Conservation & Ecosystem Management (AHC) training package. Training Packages are nationally recognised, although some aspects of their implementation are State-based – such as funding.

The recent review of the AHC Training Package has coincided with the Federal Government’s Skills Reform initiative. These reforms have ensured that students and employers are central to the training approved by the industry sectors themselves (in the past, the training sector- the providers of the training such as TAFEs – had greater influence over the training provided and this was often at odds with what was needed in the workplace). The new Jobs and Skills Councils (replacing “Industry Clusters”) include opportunities for industry peak bodies to have a seat on the Council. Permaculture Australia will have a seat on the Agribusiness Skills Council.

The review of Permaculture (in conjunction with Organic Production and Composting) was completed in 2022, after 18 months of work and consultation. Qualifications, skill sets and units have been restructured and updated to reflect the skills required to provide for human needs in a way that works with natural processes and ecology. Updates have been made to remove barriers to training delivery and better reflect job tasks. In addition, skills for permaculture have been incorporated throughout agriculture qualifications, as they are useful and necessary across a range of job roles and environments.

Key changes in a nutshell:
 Five qualifications were revised and updated to incorporate unit changes including merging of content and adjustments to Australian Qualification Framework alignment for some units. Although the Certificate I in Permaculture was initially proposed for deletion it will be retained, as there are successful programs currently delivered and the enrolment trend is increasing.

 Twelve new skills sets were developed to meet industry needs related to permaculture fundamentals, including structure, water systems, design, planning community governance and developing strategic plans for permaculture projects.

 One existing skill set for a Permaculture Demonstrator was revised to include updated units of competency.

 Forty nine permaculture (PER) units of competency were reviewed, including:
o Forty eight were revised, with clarification around assessor requirements and rationalisation of knowledge evidence to ensure essential underpinning knowledge required for carrying out permaculture job tasks is captured.
o Four units were merged into two.
o One new unit was developed based on a previously deleted permaculture unit.
o Five units deleted. Two diploma level units that were proposed for deletion at earlier stages of the project were retained.
o Selected units are to be included in Certificate I to Diploma level Agriculture qualifications.

 Guidance for RTOs for engaging trainers and assessors was included in a newly developed Companion Volume User Guide released along with an updated version of the AHC Companion Volume Implementation Guide and the newly endorsed permaculture qualifications and units.

Accompanying the reviewed Permaculture courses, an Implementation Guide has been written to support the roll out and inform RTOs and trainers, as well as employers, as to how these courses should be understood.
There have been many opportunities for engagement with the review process and lots of permaculture people have participated which is great as it means the Units, Qualifications and Skill Sets are now ‘fit for purpose’. Not only that but you will have the chance to participate in and benefit from the roll out of the reviewed courses, if you wish.
 Training providers, including those offering the PDC, might be interested in partnering with RTOs to offer some components of this training
 There will be funding available for some programs in some States
 There will be opportunities for those with current qualifications (including Certificate IV in Training and Assessment) to deliver this training
 There will also be opportunities to work with the Education Team of Permaculture Australia to update assessment tools and training materials
 And of course there will be opportunities for study and professional development

It is exciting to note that many of the barriers between the PDC and the accredited training have been removed, and it is now much easier for teachers and trainers to find work in the accredited system (with a TAE qualification, of course). It is also exciting to note that two of
the new skill sets have been specifically developed to bridge gaps:

AHCSS00142 Permaculture Designer Skill Set – corresponds to the core skills and knowledge of the PDC

This skill set describes the skills and knowledge for working with clients and community to design and develop private, community or enterprise based permaculture systems in rural and urban environments. Comprised of units:
 AHCPER417 Investigate and recommend species for a permaculture system
 AHCPER418 Provide advice on permaculture principles and practices
 AHCPER419 Design a rural permaculture system
 AHCPER420 Design an urban permaculture system
 AHCPER421 Select appropriate technology for a permaculture system
 AHCPER422 Identify and analyse bioregional characteristics and resources

AHCSS00140 Advanced Permaculture Skill Set – bridges the gap between Diploma of Permaculture and Bachelor Degree in the Higher Education system. This skill set describes advanced skills and knowledge to help individuals to transition into higher education. The units provide skills and knowledge for planning community governance and developing strategic plans for permaculture projects. Comprised of units:
 AHCPER601 Develop a strategic plan for a permaculture project or enterprise
 AHCPER602 Plan community governance and decision-making processes
 AHCPER603 Prepare a sustainable community and bioregional development strategy

If you are interested in the process or want to familiarise yourself with what has been done, please go to the Skills Impact project page and click through to the areas that interest you.
You can find the documents that correspond to earlier stages in the process by clicking on the arrows in the flow chart.
Finally, Permaculture Australia would like to acknowledge the work of the following people and organisations who participated in the Subject Matter Expert Working Group:

 Lis Bastian, Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute
 Fiona Blackham, GAIA Permaculture
 Sue Brunskill, Permaculture Australia
 Rob Fenton, TAFE NSW
 Robyn Francis, Permaculture College Australia
 Graeme George, Permaculture Yarra Valley
 Megan Hall, South Regional TAFE WA
 Julianne Hartman, Byron Regional Community College
 Martina Hoeppner, Permaculture West
 Keri Hopeward, Permaculture SA
 Lachlan McKenzie, International Permaculture Educators Network
 Ross Mars, Water Installations Pty Ltd
 Janet Milllington, Miltech Services Pty Ltd
 Kushala Prem, Natural Systems Permaculture
 Nicole Steel, Byron Regional Community College
 Karen van Huizen, Van Huizen Design
 Aaron Sorensen, Elemental Permaculture

 Virginia Solomon, Permaculture Australia
 Richard Vinycomb, Byron Regional Community College
And our amazing professional training consultants from Skills Impact
 Ruth Geldard, Industry Skills Standards Specialist, Skills Impact
 Ron Barrow, Writer, Skills Impact and Nestor Consulting

We all look forward to rolling out our new courses and to energetic participation and enthusiasm from permies everywhere. For further information on the Review and the new components, please contact

Looking back – to look forward

Looking back – to look forward

These reflections are my own of events that occurred in the lead up to the formation of the trading name ‘Permaculture Australia’. It’s intended as background information as we gather in Adelaide at Convergence that includes a really important AGM. Members of PA can elect 7 people to the Board…..people with passion, skills, commitment and the time available to project this organisation into the huge potential it has to represent the movement.”

“The survey conducted by the Amigo Troika ( Bruce Zell, Ian Lillington & myself) is now 13 years old and represents a moment in time. If conducted today….what would it look like? As we elect 7 Board members soon, maybe its time to ask the membership, ask the movement what they vision a Peak Body to do into the future ?”

John Champagne

Chair – Permafund

Permafund – Making Connections

Permafund – Making Connections

Many would say Permaculture is simply about making beneficial connections… all sorts of ways. Here at Permafund we want to make a connection to International Permaculture Day. It’s a day each year to celebrate and promote the many and varied aspects of Permaculture to the wider community all over the world.

It’s always on the first Sunday of May and was the founder of the movement’s birthday, so is also an opportunity to honour Bill Mollison for his enormous contribution and vision.

Why not use this day to put on an event and raise funds for Permafund?

Permafund is the name of our 8-person volunteer group who manage Permaculture Australia’s tax deductible fund. We receive funds in the form of gifts and donations…..then we send them out to needy permaculture projects through small grant rounds. As a group we’ve been together for just over 10 years and in that time have funded 64 projects in 16 countries.

This is where we need your help. We need to raise more funds so more can be done. If you are a Permaculture group, a business or a caring individual, why not consider organising a fundraiser for Permafund for International Permaculture Day?

Here at Brogo Permaculture Gardens on the far south coast of NSW we have an Open Day with all proceeds to Permafund. We open our home and property to the public with guided tours, a cuppa and a delicious lemon muffin. There’s lots of good chat and information shared.

Tickets are $35 per adult with around 30 people coming to each tour which raises almost $1000 for Permafund. That’s half a $2,000 Permafund grant for a needy community project

Making connections again, celebrating Bill by giving your time to educate the public that then benefits a project is a Win! Win! Win scenario.

There are lots of creative ways to raise funds… only by your imagination!

With this year’s International Permaculure Day being on Sunday May 7th, we have 3 and a half months to plan something…..please. We here at Permafund want to also make a connection and appeal to Permaculture Australia groups, businesses, members and the broad Permaculture Movement to do something beneficial together and assist those that need a hand. It sure would put a smile on Bill’s dial.

For more information please contact

John Champagne

Permafund Chair

Great news for trainers wanting to deliver accredited permaculture training

Great news for trainers wanting to deliver accredited permaculture training

The newly reviewed Permaculture VET qualifications, skill sets and units are now published on the National Training Register, which means they are available for use by registered training organisations (RTOs).

With the release of the new permaculture training package there has been a major change to the requirements for trainers to deliver accredited permaculture training.

The old package rules for trainers were that you needed to hold at a minimum the qualification you were delivering or a higher qualification. This meant that if you had done your training outside of the Vocational Education Training (VET) framework you couldn’t deliver training no matter how experienced or dedicated a permie you were.

Now with a PDC or other training, relevant industry experience (relevant to the units you teach)  and a Trainer and Assessors qualification the door is open.

This is great news as it has been a case of not enough training organisations offering permaculture and not enough qualified trainers. Hopefully with these changes we will see more permaculture in schools, more funded courses and an increase in permies all round.

Below is advice to Registered Training Organisations about requirements for permaculture trainers.   (Ref. page 14 AHC release 9.0 Companion Volume V1.0 Jan 2023 (User Guide – Permaculture).pdf‘).

The Training Package Delivery and Assessment states that:

• RTOs must ensure that both training and assessment complies with the relevant standards.

In general terms, training and assessment must be conducted by individuals who:

  • have the necessary training and assessment competencies
  • have the relevant vocational competencies at least to the level being delivered or assessed
  • can demonstrate current industry skills directly relevant to the training/assessment being delivered
  • continue to develop their VET knowledge and skills, industry currency and trainer/assessor competence.

Permaculture as a discipline is characterised by some general characteristics, including the Ethics and Principles.

The three key ethical principles identified as underpinning permaculture are:

• Earth Care

• People Care

• Fair Share (set limits and redistribute).

These principles align with rejection of exploitation of the planet, ethical growing

and harvesting of production and regenerative production beyond the principles of organic sustainability.

The Permaculture approach is based on the understanding that everything is inter-related and inter-dependent. A system is composed of related and dependent elements which when in interaction, form a unitary whole. A system is simply an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex whole and inspired by nature.

Permaculture addresses all aspects of human culture, not only food production but how we build, how we organise ourselves and how we utilise all our resources, including human resources.

It is important that these fundamental principles and understandings are applied across all levels of training in permaculture as they are key to understanding and applying permaculture for targeted work outcomes and social development.

Training and assessment in permaculture must be conducted by individuals who understand and live by permaculture ethics and principles and integrate them into their training and assessment practices.

Types of relevant experience and background for permaculture trainers and assessors can include (but is not limited to):

• Permaculture Design Course (PDC) – a globally recognised training course sometimes called a ‘certificate’, although not accredited as such in Australia. PDCs vary substantially, but a good course would normally furnish participants with a syllabus or topic list that would correspond to the knowledge criteria of units of competency in permaculture.

A good example is  A Syllabus For Permaculture design in South Eastern Australia compiled by Graeme George for the Permaculture Educators Guild.

• Experience working on permaculture-based projects

• Permaculture Internships

• Other permaculture qualifications and courses including Advanced Permaculture Courses, Permaculture Teacher Training Courses and other specialist training offered by several permaculture training providers

• Nationally accredited permaculture qualifications.

For further information, please go to the Permaculture Australia website or email or

Positions vacant: Join the PA team

Positions vacant: Join the PA team

Permaculture Australia is the national member-based permaculture organisation in Australia, governed by a Board of Directors.  We currently have two (2) vacancies on the Board, to commence in mid-January 2023. The position(s) is for a period of four months, with the option to renominate at the AGM to be held in April 2023.  The position of ‘Director’ is voluntary and applicants must be a current financial member of PA to be considered for the role(s), and located within Australia. You can read more about our current Board of Directors here: and sign up to PA here if not a member

Why join as a PA Director?

PA is in an exciting phase, with solid foundations having been set and significant growth in memberships and funding over the past year. Since early 2019 the Board has increased the hours and number of part-time paid positions which has helped enormously in relieving the Board of many operational tasks. Whilst COVID has presented challenges to many people and in our communities, it has also brought a large resurgence of interest in permaculture which is exciting. This is an excellent opportunity for those who are interested and would like to apply their skills and experience while contributing to permaculture in Australia. 

What’s in It for You?

  • Get actively involved in helping take PA through to the next phase of development and shaping our direction
  • Develop skills in the governance of a Company, which is also a national charity and environmental organisation
  • Support provided including an allocated ‘mentor’ and an opportunity to shadow more experienced team members.
  • Develop your work experience, resume, networks and skills.
  • Flexible volunteer hours that can be completed online from anywhere in Australia.

About the role(s):

We are looking for general Board members (x 2) and someone who’s interested in being Secretary from the 2023 AGM. Ideally, you’d have skills in one or more of the following areas: project management, governance, strategic planning, fundraising, media, marketing, volunteer management, budgets, and/or financial modeling.  Full support will be provided including an allocated ‘mentor’ from the current Board, and an opportunity to shadow more experienced team members.
PA is a virtual organisation with meetings and work activities conducted predominantly online. Applicants must be experienced in/or willing to learn the use of Zoom and Google Suite, including email and Shared Folders.

Requirements and commitment:

The time commitment is at least two (2) hours per week plus a monthly online Board meeting. Applicants must have a reasonable internet connection to access online documents, and have read the document What Does Board Membership Involve? Our Board follows the
Permaculture Ethics and Principles in all activities and has a Shared Agreement all volunteers must agree to. 
As this is an Interim position, this is an excellent opportunity for those who may be new to a Board role and would like to gain some experience while contributing to Permaculture Australia.

For more information:
Inquiries are welcome and should be directed to either Donna Morawiak, Treasurer of Permaculture Australia at

How to apply:

To be considered for the role(s) please send a copy of your resume and brief cover letter (no more than one page) outlining the skills you would bring to the role and why you would like to join the PA Board of Directors. 
Applications should be submitted to before Friday 16th December 2022.

We look forward to hearing from you.

What do some of our past Board members say?

“It has been my privilege to work with a succession of fabulous teams. PA is a wonderful organization with a serious and professional side, as well as a fun and joyous side as we work with our partners and friends in communities all over Australia.” Virginia, Chair of the PA Board

I’ve found the Board supporting and welcoming with diverse, interesting volunteer work. I’ve enjoyed researching and learning about aspects of governance whilst applying skills from my professional background”, Wendy Secretary of the Board

“I’ve joined PA as a new Board Director and the Permafund Liaison and am looking forward to supporting Permaculture projects in Australia and overseas”, Greta General Board