Permaculture in El Salvador

The Permaculture Institute of El Salvador (IPES) was founded in 2002, by a small group of farmers concerned about the destruction of their environment and way of life (Permacultura America Latina). Juan Rojas, a Salvadoran political and trade union activist, as well as a key figure in the solidarity movement, was the instigator of the organisation. Keen to revive the country’s agricultural potential after the war, he introduced the concept of permacultural design, which he learnt whilst exiled in Australia.

IPES is a grassroots organisation whose members are small-scale farmers. They use the ‘campesino a campesino’ approach to teach methods of ecological agriculture and sustainable living (Permaculture America Latina). “Our prime focus is on sustainable farming for family food production” (Karen Inwood, 31/07/10). In its infancy, IPES worked directly with self-selected communities, simply teaching them to farm in a more natural way. Karen Inwood, the British director, believes the organisation has developed in such a way that IPES will no longer go into communities directly, as it is for the best that heads of municipalities teach their peoples themselves. Once the community leaders, who become ‘promoters’, have learnt the necessary skills, it is more effective that they pass on their knowledge to create a sub-system of leaders, and therefore the permaculture network is built up with minimal intervention from the primary institute. The heads of communities acquire permacultural knowledge to share in their respective districts via the design course run by IPES.

Many people have lost the concept that they are able to solve their own problems and a dependence on aid from NGOs has evolved in places (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10). What makes IPES’ work different is that “the promoters are taught on the basis that they have a commitment to educate others, and with this methodology, it truly becomes a process within their community that doesn’t need outsiders to be part of.” (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10)

There are eight employees receiving a small salary at IPES, thus the institute relies heavily on its 25 voluntary staff. Together the team have just revised the curriculum of the design course and are currently writing a book to accompany it. The year long course is run for two or three days each month in the municipalities of the course attendants. The programme begins with an overview of El Salvador’s agricultural history, including how the land has changed and why. Participants are then introduced to the fundamental principles of permaculture: relying on natural resources, everything being interrelated and interactive, and every design attribute having more than one practicality and function (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10). “We open their hearts to the concept of a link with Mother Earth, and this also develops naturally as the course progresses” (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10). Groups of students then start designing a particular plot of land on paper. The designs are then put into practice, whilst learning techniques such as improving soil fertility, natural pest control and seed selection. The final module relates to permaculture in everyday life and how to enlighten others of its benefits. “Everything learnt on the course can be replicated without outside help, resources or technology” (Karen Inwood, 30/07/10).

Global Permaculture. (accessed 09/08/2010).
Permacultura America Latina (PAL), IPES, (accessed 09/08/2010).
Karen Inwood (30 July 2010) in interview specifically for this book. Suchitoto, El Salvador.