UN House in Brazil hosts permaculture workshop

Tue, 11/08/15

UN staff have been coming together and getting their hands dirty in Brazil, with compost at the top of the agenda.

The UN Green Group and Instituto de Permacultura in Brazil (IPOEMA) recently held a workshop on urban gardening and composting, based on the principles of permaculture, for the UN staff in Brasília.

The workshop, held on July 23rd, was an opportunity for staff to implement composting as an ecological method of fertilization in the compound garden, which has existed since 2013 and produces several kinds of vegetables and a seasonal corn crop.

Over two muddy hours, the director and co-founder of the IPOEMA Institute, Eduardo Rocha, set out the principles of permaculture and demonstrated the composting process. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions about the techniques and learn how to reuse organic waste for soil fertilization - or, in other words, turn leftovers from lunch into something useful.

Eduardo explained, "Permaculture is a methodology for planning sustainable human occupancies and relies on ecological principles that are valid at any scale or environment. The principle of nutrient cycle frequency observed in forests, for example, shows us that branches, leaves and fruits that fall to the ground are transformed into fertile soil and return to nourish the plants and all life associated with them.

He continued: "Actually, what we know as trash does not exist. The planet is a closed ecological system and all that is discarded by humans has to go somewhere. Trash is resource out of place."

According to Eduardo, a balance between nitrogen (fruit and vegetables remains) and carbon (straw, grass and paper, for example) is necessary for the composting process to take place effectively. These materials are layered to create a firm structure, which remains moist and hot during the composting process. When the material has the consistency and smell of topsoil, which occurs over a period of three to four months, it is ready to be used as compost.

"Sustainability means closed cycles. Turning organic waste into fertilizer through composting is the best way to do this locally and without high costs", says Eduardo.

For Wagner Campos, the UN House facilities manager in Brasilia, the implementation of composting really demonstrates this closed cycle approach. Organic waste produced in the compound itself is used to fertilise the vegetable gardens. "Raising awareness among colleagues on these sustainable practices and making them active participants in the waste separation process, soil preparation, sowing and harvesting of products helps to disseminate knowledge and multiply healthy and socially participatory habits."

Jennifer Gonçalves, program assistant at UNFPA, believes that the compound offers a unique opportunity for the staff: combining the organizational environment with the possibility of being in direct contact with nature and food production leads to greater awareness of what and how we eat.

"UN Green Group's initiative was great because it allowed us to satisfy our curiosity and improve not only the knowledge about food and sustainability but our own relationship with the environment. The place was beautiful and inspiring, it didn't look like we were in a workplace."

Compost might not be an obvious method for fostering interagency relations but Jennifer highlighted the importance of these kind of activities for bringing people together.

"I already planted three types of vegetables, not only with the tips I received from Eduardo, but from colleagues who participated with me. I hope that works, I'm very excited!"

The day was a big success and after positive response from employees, the Green Group’s objective is to hold regular workshops which allows the reproduction and dissemination of permaculture practices out of the workplace.

By implementing sustainable actions within the compound, Brazil's office is already taking action in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as encouraging other institutions to promote environmental conservation.