Sunseed was first conceived in 1982 during a talk at a green festival by Harry Hart, co-founder of the charity Green Deserts. In August 1986, having rented a house in arid Southeast Spain, a small joint project began looking at practical ways of combating desertification. In March 1987 Green Deserts withdrew and Sunseed Desert Technology and The Sunseed Trust were inaugurated to direct the project.
Five terraces were under cultivation, and work was started on tree trials, solar stills and new pumps. The main house was bought and, in 1988, a third house (Isabella’s) was added. Since then, Gaye’s House and more land was purchased allowing us to increase the number of volunteer bed spaces to around 35.
The Volunteer programme was set up in earnest and volunteers started to come from countries other than the UK. More effort was put into education for visitors and collaboration with other organisations, including universities and schools. Sunseed has gradually evolved into an experiential education centre with visitors working to support the ongoing tasks of Sunseed whilst simultaneously learning how to live in a low impact way.
In 1995 and 1996 teams went to Tanzania, at the request of a women’s group in Dodoma, to start trials of an ultra-low-cost solar cooker and subsequently the Sunseed Tanzania Trust (STT) was established to better oversee this project. STT and The Sunseed Trust remain separately constituted organisations but have an ongoing working partnership.
From 2004 to 2009 the Mycorrhiza Research project was carried out at Sunseed (a mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between a fungus and the roots of a vascular plant). This is eco technology, an important tool in ecological restoration. The researchers were able to improve the ability of plants to survive in the arid conditions of this very dry region. The mycorrhiza association with plant roots enables plants to gather more nutrients and water. The researchers developed repeatable methods for supporting plants.
In 2011 Sunseed celebrated its 25th anniversary. For two weeks in October we were busy with new and old staff and volunteers offering walks and historical talks, quizzes, seminars with updates from each of the departments, parties and more. The world is a different place to how it was in 1986 and Sunseed is changing to adapt to that. Ecological, social and economic challenges are more pressing than ever; more and more people are educated about the issues and are looking for solutions. Many people come to Sunseed to build skills and to find inspiration. In the last few years we have put on courses so that people can come for a short visit and learn something specific; permaculture and bio-construction have been popular courses. Research volunteers continue to make valuable contributions to low-tech developments.
In the long-term, solutions will be more effective when individual projects and communities link up and share information and resources. Sunseed is a member of the Red Iberica Ecoaldeas (Spanish/Portuguese Ecovillage Network), the Permaculture Associaiton UK, the southeast Spain permaculture network, and recently involved with new local Transition networks that are taking action on food sovereignty and embracing a positive future beyond peak oil.