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We Began by Dancing: Thoughts from the First African GB Symposium
By Eric Buteyn, Ecology Action's Africa Projects Coordinator

Eric, Samuel and James present a certificate of attendance to Sister Bertila.

Eric Buteyn is Ecology Action's Africa Projects Coordinator. He was one of the teachers at the African Symposium that took place in Kenya, November 24-26, hosted by the Grow Biointensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya (G-BIACK). Participants came from 8 African countries, including Kenya, as well as the US.

Instead of sitting in a circle and sharing formal introductions, each of us was invited to stand, dance, and announce our name and origin when music from our country was played. And the dancing continued throughout the week in between garden tours, sustainability lectures, diet design exercises, a farm visit, review of GROW BIOINTENSIVE's (GB) 8 principles, and presentations about Biointensive work being done all across sub-Saharan Africa.

Throughout the Symposium, I was impressed and inspired by the commitment that each one of the participants has made to small-scale, environmentally conscious food production, despite the pressures that draw so many African farmers into a dependence on large companies for their seeds and the harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that those seeds require to grow. Some of the 25+ men and women who attended are connected to large demonstration farms that will, or already do, host Biointensive research and education gardens. Others are more involved in community organizing and incorporate GB principles whenever possible. Some are faith-based and are supported by groups in North America or Europe. Others are seeking funding from their own governments. Some do more general environmental work and can easily integrate GB in that work. Many work with women and children, some with widows and orphans. Many are involved in holistic community development. All face challenges: competition from large non-organic companies for farmer attention; lack of funding–for transportation, materials, teaching resources; pest pressure (including baboons!); some confusion about the deeper scientific parts of GB; minimal experience teaching GB; and climate-related crop failures.

I think the Symposium happened so that we would all have a way to respond to many of these challenges. We made sure that everyone has access to the online teaching tools, including the new presence at We were exposed to G-BIACK's seed bank program where resilient seeds are saved and freely shared. We were made aware of the global GB community and the support it provides. We formed new bonds with each other that we can rely on for technical support and friendly encouragement. And we were united through our focus on a common goal: healthy soil, healthy plants and healthy people.

It's clear that both Ecology Action and the whole African GB community want more Africans to experience the benefits of GB. And there's a strong foundation that's been evolving for over 30 years. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of farmers have been trained to take better care of their soil while yielding more food per acre! As people voiced what gets in the way of training more farmers, it struck me that a hopeful and realistic solution lies primarily in each of the gardens that we create, nurture, observe, and learn from. After all, it wasn't words or numbers or conversation that initially attracted John Jeavons to the Biodynamic/French Intensive method that Alan Chadwick had synthesized, but the feeling of health, abundance, and rightness in Chadwick's garden.

I want to express my gratitude to all who were a part of the Symposium, especially Peris and Samuel, co-directors of G-BIACK, the joyful and professional staff, and the generous donors who made it all possible. The African GROW BIOINTENSIVE family has been made stronger because of this special gathering!

To view a video created during the symposium, visit

Weighing Biomass for Composting

G-BIACK farm staff weighs biomass for composting demonstration.

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