Sabar was literally 'adopted' into the world of Permaculture at the age of 12 when he and his brother were orphaned in the 2004 tsunami. Following the loss of his family, he was taken in by IDEP, a centre for Permaculture and Sustainable Living in Ubud, Bali, which became his home and the place where he learned all about permaculture. But, Sabar longed to be back in the Aceh region, his old home, and so jumped at the chance to take on the GPC/Lush land.
Sabar's first challenge is to show by example that permaculture can maintain soil fertility on the 10 hectare site. This is important because it will encourage local farmers a reason to stay on their own land rather than reaching up into protected areas.
In 2015 GPC started the process of repairing the soil, composting and removing unstable pine trees. Here already crops are doing better with local communities marvelling at land they had thought only fit for grazing, but which is suddenly producing bumper crops of tomatoes, eggplants, chillis and squash.
Now GPC is tackling bigger challenges by providing a larger-scale agroforestry of main crops growing several acres each of vanilla (which is grown up local nitrogen-fixing trees) lemongrass, patchouli and citronella. Each is given generous portions of compost and mulch as mixed fruiting trees are added. Small dams have been sympathetically constructed enhancing natural springs on site to allow a predominantly gravity-fed water landscape. When they need additional water, a nearby river provides what is needed via a pumping mechanism. This is key as the next step for the site is to add a distillation vessel to distill essential oils, closing the cycle between cultivation, harvest and processing to add maximum value.
In addition OIC has started the groundwork to form farmer groups who will work together to learn more about permaculture. It would not be right to judge them for having moved so far away from their more sustainable traditional practices or for a tendency to reach further and further into the protected parts of the forest in search of better quality soil in which to grow their crops. Many of these changes were triggered during civil war and whilst the farmers tell us they want to return to more sustainable growing methods, it is clear they will need more than a little convincing about the benefits of permaculture which is where GPC will prove a valuable resource - a working example of the techniques they will need to adopt.
In addition, the new distillation vessel about to be installed close to the farmers themselves is not just any old distiller. It will run on renewable energy generated by a micro-hydroelectric dam in the local river. This will further alleviate the additional burden on the forest which is that of the need to source wood to power the existing stills dotted around the hillsides.
GPC is a young and blossoming site with an important contribution to make to the sustainable growing of citronella, vanilla, patchouli and other cosmetic and perfumery ingredients in this region. A place where land and people come together... and smell great in the process.
(Main picture): Simon, Lush's head ethical buyer, and Sabar, the farm manager of GPC, smelling a field of patchouli
(Left): Making compost at Gayo Permacuture Centre to be able to grow essential oil crops. This is part of the training to farmers so then there isn't the need to rely on growing crops in the primary forest.
(Below): Sabar showing the fruits of his labour on the demonstration site.