“Permaculture made total common sense to me,” insists Nadia Lawton, “it also fitted with my life ethics a a Muslim.” While the first part of Nadia’s statement may not be considered unique, her remark about Islam is. Permaculture is defined as the design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems that have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It basically looks at growing in a holistic framework which promotes sustainability, the conservation of resources and biodiversity. It is also generally promoted by atheist Westerners- so as a Jordanian born-Muslim, Nadia Lawton does not exactly fit the mould. I caught up with her to talk about the importance of permaculture in the Middle East, the role of Islam and overcoming barriers.
Back in September 2011, Jordan hosted the tenth International Permaculture Conference. The week-long events were coordinated by Nadia Lawton, who along with her husband Geoff Lawton, is a permaculture teacher eager to spread the word about the advantages of permaculture in the Middle East. Indeed, when I got in touch with her she was on her way home from teaching a Permaculture Design Course in Tarim, Yemen (yes, the very same conflict-ridden Yemen hitting the headlines). She informed me that there were plans to partner their Permaculture Research Institute with Sheikh Habib Umar’s Dara Mustafa Institute and set up a new small 1 hectare permaculture school farm and a 16 hectare farm permaculture college.
“This is a very exciting new project of ours that could influence the whole Muslim world,” she remarked. “We are also working on a direct translation (of permaculture information) not only into Arabic but also to include Islamic text references to the holy Qu’ran and hadiths.” For Nadia Lawton, faith plays an central role in her dedication to permaculture and she insists that Muslims should all have permaculture values. She also adds this belief will soon be verified by Islamic scholars of the highest respect .
Nadia Lawton is also the founder of the Jordan Valley Permaculture project in Jordan which was completed in 2011. Located in a harsh desert environment, it demonstrates how permaculture principles can work even in the harshest Middle Eastern climate. “We always wanted to have a demonstration site and education centre to help local people… It has become part of my life work to set this project up so people can live in peace with the environment and each other.”
Nadia is optimistic about the future. Over the years, she states she has seen big changes with more people – from locals to royal families- taking permaculture seriously. In fact, Nadia says she is certain that Permaculture “holds all the answers for food, water and sustainable development [problems in the Middle East] and it fits perfectly with the culture.” So when I ask her what is holding the development of permaculture in the region, she replies that it is limited funding. “This means we have to work with what we have and show people what they can do with minimum funding, which is good. But we always want to do more, so we can help more people.”
:: Images via Craig Mackintosh.
For more information on Jordan and permaculture see:
Jordan To Host International Permaculture Conference
Permaculture Hannukah Party at Yesh Meain Ecological Farm
Jenin Playground to get Green Makeover