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Students practice Permaculture Design in groups
Students practice Permaculture Design in groups

This report is from an independant Monitoring & Evaluation expert:

You don’t need a social scientist to tell you that the COVID-19 lockdown and associated economic recession is having significant negative impacts on the livelihoods of people in South Africa (and the world, for that matter).  But it is often interesting to hear what the social scientists can tell us about how these impacts are being experienced at a human level. When looking here, we have been heartened by what our research is telling us. 

My team have been measuring the resilience of a group of youth in Mitchells Plain over the past year. As independent monitoring and evaluation specialists, we were appointed to provide services to SEED - a permaculture NGO with a (20) year legacy working out of Rocklands Primary School. Through our most recent round of monitoring and evaluation research, we were able to find out a little more on how the students from past courses have been responding to ‘Corona’.

While our statistics can’t be seen as representative of any large sample, behind each number is a human story. These are the stories we want to showcase.  

The economic impact has been devastating. Our results have found that 58% of students found a job after completing the course; a feather in the cap of the course convenors when understood in relation to the 11% employment rate amongst the control group. Of these, about a third of these newly employed workers had reported never having worked before. SEED have found a formula to promote the employablility of their students. It has been devastating to learn then that more than half of their employed students lost their jobs at the beginning of lockdown. Only about a quarter have been able to continue to work through the lockdown. Worse still, the losses seem permanent for most where only 2 students (13%) told us that their employers were paying their full salaries and holding their jobs. 

A similarly bleak picture is sketched for the course’s entrepreneurs. 16 new businesses were started by students after leaving the course. Of those interviewed since COVID, 64% (7) reported closing their doors as a casualty of the lockdown.

And the impacts have not only been economic. Even those few who were able to keep their job through lockdown speak of the hardships of not being able to visit their families over this period.

However, the COVID story is not exclusively one of ruin. About a third of students reported extreme distress (the 2 lowest possible score); but just over a third indicated that COVID changed their life in positive ways too. Similarly, about half of the students indicated that they felt very well equipped to deal with the crisis, something many attributed to the course.

Some have found positive in the way that the crisis has forced innovation. One entrepreneur spoke of adapting to online marketing strategies while another spoke of migrating to internet currency systems. Others report having used the time under lockdown to invest in their communities or their permaculture activities (e.g., food growing). Others can’t claim the same levels of resilience but noted that the crisis has passed them by – as they continue to be cared for by others or the state. These members were not part of the formal economy and as such haven’t (yet) experienced the effect of its recession.   

This research humbles us again, reminding us to listen beyond the headlines and sound bites. The economic collapse and human health crisis are part of the story but it also has another side. And as we listened to the strategies of a set of students who have been schooled in resilience, we have been reminded again that we will all wake up the day after “the worst” happens - and find a way to adapt.

“I feel empowered after all the information I learnt at SEED. The course has changed my life and helped me to take care of myself and my community. I am proud of my food garden and compost system. I am a social auxiliary worker and always encourage my clients to live “green”. I work as a volunteer in my community, teaching women who have been through trauma how to do gardening. The course has helped me to deal with the COVID crisis, being able to sustain myself”.


 More on SEED’s Training Programme:

Results of our research have shown that the Seeding Futures programme has significant positive impacts on personal development, empowerment and resilience of students who move through their programme. While teaching permaculture principles, the programme has been shown to effectively support students build coping mechanisms to withstand shocks, improve their self-knowledge and self-appreciation and develop practical  skills. These have been designed to improve the personal, household and economic resilience of students.  




Real hands-on skills
Real hands-on skills
Building rocket stoves
Building rocket stoves
Saving water
Saving water
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more intakes for the green army
more intakes for the green army

Your kind support has enabled us to graduate another 25 beautiful souls through Cohort #5.

Cohort 5 was one of our best groups yet. This is mostly due to our continuous improvement of the course content, layout, and facilitation, but as well due to our screening process aiming to get a broad and balanced demographic represented.

There was a very close balance between female and male, as well as youth and older people (silver foxes). This course also saw an increase in black students compared to previous groups where the coloured demographic held a dominant percentage.

All of this balance through diversity gave rise to one of our  richest learning groups yet, as there was such a diverse pool of lived experience to draw from for each lesson.

Overall the group had an incredibly inquisitive, insightful, comedic, gentle, passionate, and compassionate collective demeanour, which (as with previous groups) resulted in an unforgettable learning experience and a unique and solid family bond by the end of the course.

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Another beautiful cohort joins the Green Army.
Another beautiful cohort joins the Green Army.

2020 has started at a gallop...

We are hard at work with the first intake of Seeding Futures for the year and heartened by the response to the program. This intake sees 28 students learning Permaculture design and applying it to homes and communities.

We believe that change happens through people - awake and capacitated people change their own lives and those around them. Gardens and Permaculture systems are a beautiful bi-product and a teaching tool.

SEED has spent the last three years growing our invisible structures (governance, due diligence) and focussing on the social levels of how we operate. This invisible work can be a bit disheartening in that it can seem like nothing is happening.

The work is starting to pay off and we have recently vetted by GobalGiving and been given a Top-Rank Award - we are grateful for the recognition of the hard work done by many and are eager to see this fruits of this ripening.

We deeply thank you for enabling this work - we could not do it without you.



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The beautiful graduation process.
The beautiful graduation process.


To date we have completed three cohorts of Seeding Futures and Cohort 4 starts on Monday - we have worked with 114 Cape Flats youth.

We wanted to share the course outline with your so that you get a deeper look into the program.  The Program covers 4 Modules:


This four weeks is a bit like boot camp: Students learn a whole new way of thinking about the world and also learn the essential Permaculture Design Skills – which they learn though a series of design exercises.

This Module is Accredited at Level 4 of the National Qualifications Framework and also covers the, internationally recognised, Permaculture Design Certificate.

 Students learn the following:

  • Permaculture Ethics and Principles
  • Ecology and deep ecology
  • Climate and Climate Change
  • Permaculture Design
  • The impact of global capital and the commercial agriculture system
  • Eight forms of capital and complementary currencies
  • Water management
  • Soil management including organic practice
  • Wind management.
  • Plant systems.


This three-week module sees participants using their, newly acquired, Permaculture Design Skills to work with streets to uncover their biggest resilience challenges and then design and implement systems to meet these.

We used participatory neighbourhood design principles as the guiding framework for our interactions with the neighbourhood, and conducted interviews and needs analysis as a starting point.

We map urban challenges and undergo a resource analysis of Cape Town – understanding the service lines that we rely on. We then worked with community members in a participatory design that addressed these challenges.

 The Module is divided into the three weeks:

Week One: Information
Understanding urban challenges under the following headings: energy, transport, water, waste, food and livelihoods.

What makes a live-able city? We examined models from around the globe to elicit the principles of a live-able city or neighbourhood.

Week Two: Design
We engage with participatory research and students learn to interview, collect data and create data-maps based on their findings.

The themes that emerge are then translated into designed implementation in both the short and long term.

The results of the community interviews were insightful. Students managed to interview a sample size of 27 individuals for each cohort, all living in within 5 minutes walking distance from the school.

Week Three: Implementation.
We Implement resilience retrofits in 16 Mitchells Plain homes per year.
We implement 16climate resilience systems into Michells Plain neighbourhood each year.

This Module is extremely important as we find cannot hope to change our outside lives, without tending to our inner landscapes. Many students have challenging home lives and have lives through a lot of trauma and the unpacking of some of this, as well as visioning their futures is extremely powerful. We find that this module works really well if immersed in Wilderness and managed to secure venues through partnerships. Cohort #1 enjoyed Baskloof In Scarborough immensely and Cohort #2 were excited by how amazing Wolfgat Nature Reserve was (and it’s so close)

The Module, which is ably facilitated by a Seeding Futures Alumni, covers the following:

  • Exploration of the Permaculture Principle – People Care.
  • Stepping out of our comfort zones.
  • Practical tools to take initiative in our lives.
  • Self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-confidence.
  • Creative problem-solving skills and valuing our intuition
  • Leadership development, team building and communication abilities and skills
  • An exploration of our inner resources and resources within their broader community and environment that they can draw upon in order to pursue their life goals
  • The integration of environmental and ecological awareness and learnings with personal development through reflection in nature.

We developed these themes through the following activities:

  1. River Crossing: There is so much learning through this activity. We learn that failure leads to success, that we all have different gifts that are all needed, that it is important to listen to instructions and have a plan, the importance of communication and group cohesion.
  2. Ladder of Reference: Here we explore effective communication and the many internal and external factors that influences behaviour and relationships as well as the choices and judgments we make on a daily basis. The learning is around the need to step out of our comfort zones to grow and to be more open and enquire rather than making assumptions.
  3. Hikes and Solos: For many participants, this was one of the highlights of the entire course. We realise the importance of looking after ourselves, taking time out in nature. The questions we grappled with in our solos were: What are you battling with? What do you need to get to get to the next level in your life? What are you grateful for? What keeps you going? Where do I want to be in the next 5/10 years?
  4. Four Shields Methodology: The four-shields provides a deep and powerful foundation for understanding ourselves. In doing so it helps us know our stories in a meaningful way and discover ways to move forward in working through what may be causing difficulty.
  5. The Arts Activity: Beads: This activity to provides a moment of therapeutic reflection and to really look at our plans, especially with the course coming to a end. They were asked to create a bead bracelet that will serve as a reminder of all the memories of the entire Seeding Futures Course and also their commitments. This helped to focus students – and to get their plans focussed for after the program.

This Module is designed to equip students with job skills relevant to their gifts and goals and also to position them to be employed or to start enterprises. The program has the added benefit of boosting the local green economy – through committed youth donating free hours and also through us developing a capacitated and committed work force for green business.

 Local Green Economy Database
We started with desk research and phone calls and, where possible, meetings. We made sure our partners understood the Seeding Futures Program and screened them for job shadow possibilities – looking at the skills sets students would learn and also explored employment opportunities for our graduates. We also importantly researched their skills gaps – with a view to growing our training to meet these (if within our scope).

 This database of 68 partners was presented to students, resulting in excited discussions. Students then work on their CV’s and apply for the Job Shadow (this is good practice for the world of work). Once the Job Shadows were rolling, we conducted weekly phone calls with supervisorsand students to ensure that all is going well. 


When I came to SEED I was lost and broken and a few weeks later I felt like a human again. When I came here I did not have friends but now I have a green family. I have found myself again. I am ready to go uplift my household and look life in the eyes again.”   

“The Seeding Futures Programme has bought me an incredible opportunity to learn about something that is primal to our existence; Permaculture truly embodies the co-existence of all nature’s ecosystems. This course has been incredible in teaching me actual life skills and gaining experience with the use of tools like building a rocket stove and learning about passive solar design.     

“This course has re-adjusted and re-wired my brain. In essence, this course has held my heart and words will never describe the pure gratitude I feel. I promise to carry this light far & wide!”

“On my first day I came into the course with a loner mentality and did not plan on befriending anyone; I never expected to meet the group of people that I have desired to connect with all my life. I learned and experience what true love is. This course has changed my life forever and made me remember who I am.” 

The rocket stove is a favorite resilience strategy
The rocket stove is a favorite resilience strategy
Students learn to design through practice.
Students learn to design through practice.
We grow leadership through wilderness immersion.
We grow leadership through wilderness immersion.
The green army learns a range of organic skills.
The green army learns a range of organic skills.


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Organization Information


Location: Cape Town, Western Cape - South Africa
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Leigh Brown
Cape Town, Western Cape South Africa
$7,396 raised of $8,200 goal
127 donations
$804 to go
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