303 – Interview with Willie Smits

Published 3 years ago in Permaculture , Podcasts - 0 Comments

In this podcast, Paul talks with Willie Smits while he is at the labs for the Rocket Mass Heater workshop. He first talks about his university in Indonesia, and the half a million acres farm he has recently come by. Paul notes that the information about him on the internet is sparse. He is famous for being able to increase rainfall by 25% on 5,000 acres initially. He talks about that a bit more in detail but concludes by saying that if you bring back the trees, you bring back the rain.

So the first question is from Burra:

"I'd like to know his thoughts on what the rest of us could be doing. What problems does he see in other parts of the world that we could address using permaculture principles? Where are we slacking? What does he dream that he could inspire by making this podcast? "

Willie starts by saying what he is trying to do, which is bring some transparency into all of this, to develop systems that lead to solutions. He notes that nature has been around longer than us, that it has been total and successful system converting energy and keeping biodiverstiy in place so we need to mimic it. He says this can be done when we put people and planet before profit. They talk a little bit about how Willie spoke about permaculture on a really enormous scale at the Permaculture Voices conference and how those videos are available for purchase online here.

Next question comes from Duane:

"I don't have a specific question
but would like him to discuss his "rainforest"
and his current views on "getting things done"

Willie has a very simple answer to this one, keep spreading the message and try to talk to the public about all of this.

The next few questions come from Q Kealoha:

"Soil sucks here; pure adobe with top soil nonexistent due to severe run off and lock of organic material. currently attempting a Back to Eden garden approach. your recommendations for best way to build the soil?"

Willie affirms that breadfruit trees are a good choice for this type of situation. He mentions a few other species and goes on to say that they will probably need biochar and compost.
Paul asks a question about organic matter sitting on top of the soil. He thought that the half life might be a couple of days in those tropical climates. However, Willie assures that it is not that bad, but if you have biochar and compost you have a much more stable build up. Also, if you can cool the soil, it won’t decompose as quickly. He talks about this technique existing within the three sisters technique - bean, corn, and squash.

They talk a bit more about soils in tropical climates, how they are much different, more like cement almost, because all the nutrients are in the plants and vegetation. Paul mentions a surprising fact he just learned recently - tropical seeds are viable for only 2 weeks or less, you just cannot store the seeds in anyway.

Lastly, Q Kealoha asks when Willie and Paul are going to go to Hawaii?

Paul talks about how he would be up for it if someone set up an event but even when there had been a little bit of talk about it on this thread, no one took serious initiative to get something planned or organized.

The next question comes from bob day:

"This is about the rainforest/ orangutan sanctuary, and it's current status. Just generally how close it is to becoming self sustaining."

Willie starts by talking about the sick orangoutangs that are on islands. Then he speaks about how they determine whether the animals are ready for release. Additionally, he talks about how there is a tribe of local people there that are protecting part of the rainforest from people trying to take it for oil palm plants.They then spend quite a bit of time discussing sugar palm vs oil palm. The very simple conclusion that comes from this is that palm oil is bad and unsustainable while sugar palm is the much better alternative.

They talk a little bit about coconut oil and how yes, it is better for you but it is the very poor people doing the work for very little money and it’s monoculture. So, coconut oil could be a good alternative but it still has some problems. However, oil palms are the biggest problem.

The next question is from Jackie Neufeld:

"My husband and I are skyping someone in the Phillipines who's garden gets flooded by monsoon rains right now. He's wanting to make a raised bed with cement blocks. These cinder blocks are expensive for them. The land is flat where they live. Do you have any suggestions? "

Willie gives the advice to plant crops that can withstand flood and they need to deal with issues at the top of the hill. Paul chimes in and says add texture to the landscape, like large swales.

Next, Chad Sentman asks:
"What can be done to really push his work forward, and what opportunities exist for people to get involved, either on-site or remotely."

Willie talks about how he is setting up a permaculture institute and it would be wonderful to invite everyone out to help soon. At first, they want mostly experts but more cooperations with everyone later.

Next question comes from Grant Shadden:

"I do PDC teaching in Africa, mainly Uganda thus far, and would be interested to know the cost of such a Village Hub system, as well as the estimated payoff period if the system is fully utilized. Also, where is a good seed source for the sugar palm tree Masarang is using (Arenga Pinnata, I think)? Does Masarang sell the seeds internationally?"

Willie explains that you need to get permits internationally and that it is not that easy. You will have to go through all the technicalities which can be a pain. The cost depends on scale. For about 160 families he says it would be about 200,000 to 250,000 dollars.

Lastly the workshop participants ask a few questions of Willie. One asks where to get a good list of stuff that has palm oil in it and Willie says that there are quite a number of websites that have these sort of lists. One asks what would someone do to help? Willie mentions you could volunteer for the animal shelter, or when the permaculture institute is up and running there will be more opportunities. Another participant asks if there was something that got him started with all of this and he says yes. The first orangoutang he rescued, he has a special, but long story about her and mentions that she is in the wild now and still comes down and sees him.

Paul talks about his permaculture voices presentation where he presented on trolls and how people that are detractors focus more permaculture because it is a threat to corporations profits. The reason why there is so much resistance and it is because we threaten them. They talk about how it's just easier to have profound innovation in other industries because there is not much push back. Lastly, a participant asks about biochar methods and Willie just says they used the simple drum method.

At the very end Paul does a shout out to Burra to create a new forum dedicated to Willie Smits so we can discuss all of the many facets of his methodology and techniques!

Relevant Threads

Permaculture Voices Conference 2014
Forest Gardening in Tropical Rainforest
Rainforest Climate
Oily Questions

Credit: Cassie Langstraat

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