Project Summary

As human impact on the planet becomes more evident to all, the diminishing resources, changing climate, and loss of species and biodiversity can become overwhelming. This is all too evident in the communities living around Hwange National park, the harsh environment, the rising high temperatures, poor soils, long dry season and lack of access to water. These coupled with deforestation, land degradation, food insecurity and loss of natural eco-systems result in many negative social and environmental impacts.

Some of the challenges are:

  1. Access to water, water tables can be very deep and difficult to pump the water by hand.
  2. Soils are very low in nutrients and so forests are cleared for fields
  3. Grazing land is overgrazed and eroded leading to livestock going deeper into the protected area.
  4. Demand for firewood means women go further and further to collect, often going into the protected area.

At the Soft Foot Alliance, we believe there is hope through using a holistic, solutions inspired approach, using ethics-based design systems to tackle these challenges. Permaculture design (a term coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s) is about creating regenerative human habitats, turning away from destructive behaviour to habits that enrich our lives and environment at the same time. We live our day-to-day with this front of mind.

Some of the successes from the application of these solutions include:

  1. Increased yields of Maize crops, as a result of the mobile boma project
  2. Water harvesting techniques applied in fields and gardens improving the infiltration of water.
  3. Rocket stoves reducing the need for firewood as they need only small sticks and even maize cobs.
  4. Communities designing and planning the grazing of livestock to regenerate the land.

But most importantly and excitingly for us is how open and interested the community is becoming in everything we are introducing to them and working with them to achieve.

The Full Story

Permaculture is a way of designing regenerative human habitats, where all actions improve the world around us rather than degrading it, as people we cannot survive on the planet if we don’t care for her.  Through this system we can meet all of our basic needs of food water and shelter in a sustainable way. The ethics and principles of permaculture guide our lives and work at the Soft foot Alliance. The vision of abundance for all people and wildlife comes from this ethical basis of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

Permaculture  – nutrition garden and market garden training

Seed harvesting training

Rotation mapping of grazing areas.

Permaculture is used to design all aspects of our work, though it is mostly known for its application in agricultural practices. This is a big focus for the Soft Foot Alliance, with much of our time spent on sharing and training the community around Hwange National Park to improve soil quality, catch rainwater and grow abundant and varied food on smaller parcels of land without using any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. This work we have done to-date includes:

  1. Training in highly water efficient wicking-bed construction and compost making.
  2. Water harvesting and introduction to permaculture
  3. Holistic grazing planning and training
  4. Training in the construction of fuel-efficient earthen rocket stoves and hot boxes.

As the community is exposed to and applies more-and-more of this knowledge, there is a real sense that simple techniques exist to create harmony with one another and the natural world. But this is not only about introducing new information, it also harnesses traditional knowledge, which re-connects people with their historic skills, land and the biodiversity. There is nothing more exciting for the Soft Foot Alliances than seeing the growing number of people testing permaculture techniques in the community.

At the Soft Foot Alliance, we take community members to see people and projects who have been practicing permaculture for a long time.  These site visits can be combined with more in-depth training on water harvesting, seed saving, food processing and peace building. We also cover the costs of trainers to come out to the community to work with local people to find solutions to local problems. Given the increasing number of requests, we are training more community members to deliver permaculture design locally, which, in turn is expanding both nutrition gardens and market gardens in the region.

In permaculture every element must serve several purposes, this can be seen in the inter-connections with our work at the Soft Foot Alliance. Herders working together to regenerate the land, and protect livestock from lions. In turn, this herders learn skills that bring economic opportunities for them such as making bee hive fences and zero visibility mobile bomas. The bee hives protect fields from elephants and improve pollination of crops. They protect the bees from having their hives destroyed and create economic opportunities for the community to sell honey and wax products. The bomas increase crop yields and fertilize fields for many years, livestock are protected and so are the lions.

Collecting and pre-processing seeds of indigenous nuts and seeds: Indigenous trees are disappearing from the landscape, the trees are seen as valueless if the fruit is not something sought after. We raised funds and started our partnership with Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe in 2018. Mapping the available species that have existing markets for food and cosmetic oil, the market is a growing one and an opportunity for farmers to earn a direct income and to protect these species. Through the process farmers learn how to propagate these trees to plant more. As climate change impacts farmers more and more, growing crops that are drought tolerant and adapted is all the more important. Farmers were then trained in the sustainable collection and pre-processing of these nuts and seeds for food and oil grade existing markets. In 2019 two sales took place with almost 300 farmers benefiting from this initiative. Each group has a permit and individuals receive payment directly.

Msungwe Sithole – Permaculture Trainer

Msungwe’s Story: I have a vision to see Soft Foot Alliance projects bring good, healthy and fruitful environment. With permaculture I’m learning to meet and solve all the challenges which I come across. To substitute chemicals which are harming our healthy environment, through following the principles of permaculture. To make sure the land is regenerated through sharing healthy information with the community and abroad. So that there will be abundant food for not just people but everything from the soil up to the  animals. I would also like to see it being spread at an international level to save the environment and the climate which is in a bad state. Earth care, People care, and Fair share will be my core values all the time to re-generate our land for our future.

If you would like to support the Soft Foot Alliance permaculture program, please consider making a donation.

Given the range of items needed to support this work, which includes buying seeds, installing rain water collection tanks and sourcing specialised trainers for the community

We welcome a general donation to the permaculture project. If you would like to sponsor a specific item and would like to discuss it further, please contact Laurie via

Our Homestead

Our own homestead is an example of how we can live well while improving the land around us. We use our homestead to introduce these techniques and solutions to the broad community. We offer site-visits to our community and others, share real and pragmatic examples in resilient, ecological food production, rainwater harvesting, natural building methods, efficient cooking devices, human wildlife-co-existence and regenerative livestock practices. We are excited to see how this is spreading out into the wider environment and communities.

We are based in a village where wild animals leave the unfenced protected area, and one of our aims is to better understand the problems of living with animals, such as elephants and lions, and test out solutions. We believe there is a way for people and wildlife to live in an abundant landscape peacefully and we work in our lives, and work, towards this goal.

Learning from the Global Permaculture Community

In Southern Africa we have much to do and very quickly to turn around the negative consequences of previous farming practices; and at a time when global warming is also changing our ecosystem. At the Soft Foot Alliance we learn from others around the world and, where necessary, adapt techniques for our region.

With this in mind, Laurie participated in the 2017 permaculture convergence. This event, which is staged every 2 years, brings together permaculture practitioners, from all regions of the world, to share their experiences.  The 2017 event this was held in Hyderabad and the key themes were: rehabilitation of land, working with communities and a focus on women.

The week prior to the conference, Laurie was at the Timbuktu Collective, in Andrah Pradesh, learning from project with over 20 years of environmental and social regeneration experience. These opportunities provide an accelerated learning opportunity to see what is and isn’t working in a place with many similarities environmentally but vastly different on the cultural and social level.

The Hyderabad permaculture conference was two days or workshops followed by a week, for the convergence, on a farm a few hours drive from the city. There were people from all over the world, and Laurie was able to see what was really working to effect drastic collective change. Laurie was inspired by  a Himalayan permaculture project, which similarly to the Soft foot alliance, demonstrated that power of sharing knowledge and collaboration; the Himalayan community where actively making changes at home and in their lives and, in turn, community members were developed to become trainers and consultants in their region. It was great to see other applying similar models and felt great to see that we are on the right track!