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Regenerative Power: This Permaculture Project Empowers Women In Rural Uganda

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Regenerative Power: This Permaculture Project Empowers Women In Rural Uganda

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As part of pebble’s Sea Change series on permaculture, we sat down with members of our Ripples community who are pioneering projects in the movement.

Meet Margarida Vasconcelos, co-founder of social enterprise, Seeds & Stories.

Francesca Brooking

Wed 6 Apr 2022

Margarida Vasconcelos is a researcher and founder of Seeds & Stories, a social enterprise and regenerative fashion line that works to empower women in rural Uganda.

Seeds & Stories provides women with vocational training programmes and employment opportunities through the principles of regenerative development and permaculture.

The Ripples by pebble community member chats to pebble about why sustainability is not enough, why regenerative development supports gender equality and what inspired her to start Seeds & Stories.

Three women sitting and weaving in Uganda

Seeds & Stories empowers women in rural Uganda through regenerative development

How did you get into regenerative development?

I got into regenerative development when I joined Re-Alliance, whose work focuses on regenerative development and its response to disaster and displacement.

By attending their meetings and engaging with other members, I could see how regenerative development projects are increasing the prosperity of human and natural systems in an integrated and reciprocal way through equitable and healthy relationships, generating mutual benefits, diversity and resilience.

Sustainability focuses on minimising damage to the environment and human health, which is not enough.

No system can sustain itself for long periods of time and has the ability to adapt if it is not designed to regenerate continuously.

We have to design and implement regenerative approaches as they go beyond simply doing less harm.

They seek to reverse the planet's degradation and restore a healthy relationship between people and mother nature.

Nature is the ultimate system that is both sustainable and regenerative.

Therefore, we should appeal to natural principles and apply nature-based solutions to some of the massive problems we are facing today, from the social, gender and racial inequality gap to the climate crisis.

I am hopeful about regenerative development and its use of Nature's laws to develop local economies and create widespread social, economic and environmental health while building long-term regenerative capacities of local communities.

Group of women posing for a photo in Uganda
“Sustainability focuses on minimising damage to the environment and human health, which is not enough”

How can regenerative development projects benefit communities and empower women?

Regenerative development projects are about human participation in ecosystems through development, focusing on attaining ecological health, socio-cultural vitality, economic value and human development in an integrated, reciprocal and long-lasting way.

It's a systemic and holistic approach whose focus is on designing human systems that co-evolve with ecological systems to generate mutual benefits and resilience.

Regenerative development projects are instruments for realising and growing the potential inherent to a given location. In other words, they are about understanding a place holistically and focusing on its potential.

The aim is to implement solutions that have multiple benefits to the natural world and local people, namely more socio-economic opportunities, diversified sources of income, new and viable productive activities, meaningful and sustainable livelihoods and more food security while advancing environmental regeneration.

A hanf holding up raw plant fibre material

Regenerative development is about getting a holistic understanding of a location's potential

For instance, farmers who practise regenerative agriculture can produce large amounts of food throughout the year, thus better food security.

Farmers feed their families with nutritious food that improves their health while increasing and diversifying their sources of income and enhancing their livelihoods.

Women in many parts of the world are responsible for providing household food, collecting water, firewood, and medicinal plants. Women rely on ecosystem services for their livelihoods.

As a consequence of biodiversity loss and resources scarcity, food availability may decline, and rural areas can face instabilities in food supplies.

Decreasing access to ecosystem services leads to adverse changes in women's lives, increasing their burden. Regenerative projects recognised women as powerful agents of change in helping to address biodiversity loss and lead the regenerative movement.

Women develop new skills, gain more confidence and take control of their own lives as they participate in different income-generating activities.

By having more alternative livelihood strategies and not being dependent on one particular ecosystem, they can diversify their incomes and improve their quality of life. As a result, they protect ecosystem services that generate financial resources.

Two women in Uganda weaving baskets

Regenerative projects help women learn new skills

Why is permaculture vital for building a regenerative future?

Quite a few regenerative movements inspire and empower us to care for all living systems and work towards a regenerative future.

So, I would say that each of these movements, whose goal is to increase the health of social, ecological and economic systems, plays a role in building a future of abundance and regeneration.

We are indeed fascinated by permaculture and its potential to build a regenerative future.

Permaculture encourages us to be part of the solutions to the many local, national and global problems which face us, providing us with tools to build a better future.

​Permaculture is a whole-system design with a holistic approach to creating sustainable and regenerative socio-ecological systems based on cooperation with mother Nature.

Permaculture is all about living and working in harmony with Nature and at peace with each other.

women watching a person sew in Uganda
“Permaculture is all about living and working in harmony with Nature and at peace with each other”

Permaculture combines traditional farming systems and modern science to design human-centred landscapes that are ecologically sound and economically viable.

It takes Nature's principle as a model to design fairer, more equitable systems and fertile, self-reliant, resilient landscapes that are able to supply many of the needs of families or communities within its localised environment efficiently and sustainably.

Likewise, human needs are supported by social and economic infrastructures within the limits of the planet's resources. There's no exploitation or pollution.

Permaculture seeks to reconnect us with Nature to bring forth abundance by regenerative means.

We learn how to mimic and work with Nature, not against it, to regenerate degraded land and create regenerative systems to improve the world from how we found it and do so in perpetuity.

Permaculture is guided by three core ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.

If we all lived under these three ethics, the world would be a better place. We can thrive if we work with Nature, not against it.

We can certainly build a regenerative future by embracing and living according to these three ethics.

Learn more about how permaculture works: What Is Permaculture?

Person in Uganda holding seeds in their hands

A regenerative future is achieved by working with nature, not against it

What is Seeds & Stories about?

Seeds & Stories is a community-led women's development pilot project in Bigodi, Western Uganda.

Our mission is to economically and socially empower rural women while contributing to regenerative community development and environmental regeneration through fashion, vocational training and capacity building programs.

We want to ensure women in Bigodi have the skills and tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Seeds & Stories creates handmade, unique products in harmony with Nature, following regenerative practices and circular economy principles, applying zero-waste production methods, building on women's artisan skills, preserving traditional crafts with a modern approach.

We use what is locally available to make our products, organic and responsibly harvested natural fibres, including agriculture waste, sun-dried and hand-stripped, repurposed, and recycled materials, which not only makes us more creative and unique but above all more resilient.

All our materials and products are either biodegradable, reused, reusable, recycled, or recyclable.

Through our circular business model that combines traditional crafts and fashion with farming, we will be able to diversify sources of income, creating, as a result, more economic opportunities for local women, and provide them with a regular, sustainable income and meaningful livelihoods while enhancing their quality of life and general well-being.

We apply Nature and community-based solutions to social, economic and ecological challenges in Bigodi.

While reviving and promoting the use of indigenous knowledge, we strive to empower rural communities to be more resilient, self-reliant, healthy and equitable by providing them with the necessary skills, resources and facilitation.

People farming in Uganda on a grassy hill

Seeds & Stories helps women make zero waste products

What inspired you to start a community-based organisation in Uganda?

I visited Uganda in 2018 and loved it. I had a wonderful time in Bigodi with a local family and learned basket weaving with Stella. She is now the chairperson of our community based-organisation.

Likewise, I had the opportunity to visit various women groups that make a real difference to local women with little resources.

I also gathered inspiration for this project from the Fibershed Movement. Bigodi is very rich in natural fibres and has a lot of potential.

Seeds & Stories wants to explore what community-led bioregional integrated systems of natural fibres and food growing could look like in Bigodi.

We want to develop a regional fibre system based on local natural fibres and dyes and local labour within a soil-to-soil regenerative agricultural practices culture. We hope to seed, grow, process, spin, natural dye, weave and sew our own fibres.

This regenerative approach to making clothing and accessories, from soil to soil, increases resilience, creates socio-economic opportunities and sustainable livelihoods for women, benefits local land and local economy.

Woman in rural Uganda selling bananas
“We will offer permaculture design courses to our group of women and other farmers in the community”

How does the project incorporate environmental regeneration?

Seeds & Stories is working with key stakeholders in the community to promote a regenerative agenda, raising awareness of the potential for change throughout circular soil-to-soil systems.

Alongside other community-based organisations, we want to help build the community's capacity to grow resilient and equitable food systems that respond to their needs, respect the integrity of Nature and care for future generations.

We will offer permaculture design courses to our group of women and other farmers in the community, which can create a cascading positive long-term impact, helping the community overcome the challenges they are facing.

To pursue and achieve our objectives, we want to buy a piece of degraded land and make it productive again through permaculture design.

It will be a permaculture demonstration site and a venue for learning about regenerative practices that will help build community capacity, skills and resources to create agricultural systems that regenerate the land and care for them in the future.

Woman standing in a farm in Uganda surrounded by greenery

The social enterprise aims to help grow equitable food systems

Seeds & Stories is committed to only using local raw materials that have regenerative properties in the ecosystems, namely increasing soil fertility and biodiversity and increasing the rate of carbon sequestration from the atmosphere into the soil.

We aim to make our products from regenerative fibres farmed, processed, spun, naturally dyed, woven and sewn by local women within our permaculture farm in our solar-powered workshops with rainwater harvesting closed-loop water systems.

We want to design, create and sell products in a closed loop, incorporating innovative and creative solutions to regenerate natural resources.

Our soil to soil products will not only create social and economic development opportunities for local women but will also have a positive impact on the local environment, enriching the soil, enhancing biodiversity and increasing the rate of carbon sequestration from the atmosphere to the soil.

By providing more socio-economic opportunities, diversified sources of income, developing new and viable productive activities that create food security while advancing gender equality and environmental regeneration, Seeds & Stories can make a tangible impact on local people, contributing to a self-reliant and resilient community.

Children and women walking with buckets on their head in Uganda

Seeds & Stories is all about having a positive impact on the community and environment

How can we get involved with Seeds & Stories?

We would love you to get involved. As we are just starting, we need all the help you can get.

Please follow our regenerative journey, sharing knowledge and skills.

We are also very keen on collaborating with like-minded people, businesses, organisations with similar missions and values. And, if someone wants to volunteer for us, we are always looking for people to help us move forward with the project.

Learn more about Margarida's work at Seeds & Stories.

Read more. Do more...

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