New refugee-led permaculture network launches in Nakivale, Uganda

By Sonny Bireke

Edited by Jessica Perini

Sonny, seated centre in grey shirt, with his Nakivale community

My name is Sonny Bireke, a Congolese-born refugee, living in Uganda since 2017. I first learned about permaculture design solutions in 2021, and in 2022 I was introduced to a permaculture centre in Butambala (Permaculture Initiative Uganda) where I trained and was certified as a teacher.

During my travels, I have experienced and been spurred to action by witnessing the terrible waste of unproductive and degraded land, especially where refugees have settled. People cut down trees for their houses and for cooking. They practice traditional agriculture, which has greatly damaged the soil and left a legacy of poverty and hunger. The ground is invariably left bare; exposed to the wind, rain and solar radiation, it dries out and dies. This has left most farm soils eroded, nutrient-poor and unproductive.

Since I learned about permaculture, step-by-step with my community, we have been working towards the transformation and regeneration of the camp and our people with this approach.

In 2023, I conceived the idea of a network in Nakivale, then, after a meeting of the community, the Nakivale Permaculture Refugee Network was formed early in the year.
The project is based in Nakivale Refugee Settlement, near the Tanzania border in Isingiro district, Southern Uganda. Currently the settlement hosts over 150,000 refugees. While refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) constitute the majority of the settlement’s population, Nakivale also accommodates refugees and asylum seekers from diverse countries, such as Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi.

Upon forming, we got straight to work on 7 January 2023, and together with Permaculture Partners (Australia), and The Permaculture Guild (USA) we started our first twice weekly blended online and face-to-face workshops. From “Introduction to Permaculture”, to “Eco Cooking with Briquettes”, “Soils and Composting”, “Introduction to Food Forests”, “Animal Integration”, “Indigenous Seed Multiplication”, and so much more, we educated 43 participants across not only Nakivale, but people from Kenya, Burundi and the DRC too. They included permaculture educators, community members and leaders, teachers from partner primary schools, and members of the host community.

Participants were eager and ready to put in use the knowledge acquired to work. We have planned field visits to monitor and evaluate the participants’ work within three months.

We are now working to address the most urgent issue in our communities: improving degraded soils to grow food. Our plan is to start composting in every village out of 27 villages from March 15 up to November 15, 2023.

Pending grant outcomes, we also plan to build community gardens in all our villages.

If you would like to support our work contact me, Sonny at +256757878071 or

More about Sonny Bireke
Sonny Bireke has a Bachelor’s Degree in Telecommunications Engineering and Management, which he gained in the Republic of Burundi. He has conducted training and workshops identifying opportunities with and for refugee communities, and driven numerous local initiatives to reduce hunger and poverty. After a meeting of permaculturists early in 2023, he helped form the Nakivale Permaculture Refugee Network. Passionate about permaculture, Sonny is a permaculture teacher certified by Permaculture Initiative Uganda. He leads his local Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), supporting social cooperatives for empowering community, creating an agricultural co-operative with a permaculture approach, he is an assistant field officer at MobiPay Agrosys, an entrepreneur, a business and leadership facilitator, and a member of the Lions Club of Isingiro Nakivale.

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From January-March 2023 the group hired a room, a computer and projector and were able to zoom with other countries, making the Nakivale training a global experience. Some permaculture trainers came from the community, and others zoomed in from places like the US

1 thought on “New refugee-led permaculture network launches in Nakivale, Uganda”

  1. Wow, Sonny so proud of your accomplishments in providing education for your community.
    So humbled to have had a part in this extraordinary experience with you and your community.


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