An ecology centre in Cyprus demonstrates the way to sustainable development.

 by Martin Hellicar

Martin Adams lives in a canvas-covered shack surrounded by the fields orchards and half-finished constructions he hopes will one day be the first centre for organic farming and alternative technology in Cyprus.

 The aim of the centre situated off a dirt track somewhere between the Nicosia district villages of Lythrodontas and Analyontas, is to demonstrate how humanity can exist in harmony with nature.

 Adams does not believe our current way of living is sustainable: "As a human society we are living and acting as if we are the last generation on this planet, we are not thinking of future generations.

 "We ignore the consequences of being a high-tech society. The rate at which we are using up natural resources and polluting the planet is not sustainable," he asserts "We are thinking of our selves and forgetting that we will hand over stewardship of the earth to our children and grandchildren. "Do we not want them to have any soil, any forests, any fresh air, any birds?" he asks. It is a familiar battle-cry from greens the planet over.

Increasing evidence of the ecological problems generated by industrialisation and over exploitation of natural resources have led many to call for a radical re-think of the way in which we live.

 What sets Adams apart is that he is offering a practical solution to these problems, and, more significantly, has enough faith in "his way" actually to try and live by it. He arrived in Cyprus about two years ago, after working on similar projects all over Europe, North and South America, and has been living on his isolated farm ever since - a bicycle his only access to "civilisation". "Someone has to show a practical alternative to our exploitative, irresponsible, profit-motivated and materialistic life-style. This is exactly what the centre will do," he enthuses. The key, he suggests, is to live and work in tandem with nature, rather than battling against her. But he is not claiming the centre provides the answer to all environmental ills: "It is meant to be part of the solution, not the solution," he says.

The centre is far from completed, but Adams manages to be more or less self-sufficient. A strict vegetarian, he lives on what his two-hectare plot produces: olives, figs, grapes, peaches and garden vegetables. Water comes from rain collected in containers or channelled into storage barrels off roofs. Home is a wooden structure covered in canvas - hot in the summer and cold in the winter. This frugal existence seems to suit Adams who looks remarkably spry for his 50 years, but he is quick to point out that his proposed alternative life-style does not involve depriving oneself of all creature-comforts. He believes that, with appropriate technology and careful management, the finished centre could keep up to ten people in reasonable comfort and excellent health.

 Food would be produced by intensive but environmentally-friendly methods, power by harnessing the wind and sun.

 In the long-term, the farm is intended to act as an education centre, and Adams is already building class-rooms and guest accommodation.

 But he acknowledges that he faces an uphill task convincing locals of the merits of his alternative lifestyle: "People are not necessarily open to environmental things here. This is why I stayed, there is much need here."

 "I have a fixed number of productive years left. I want to use them to leave something meaningful in this country " he concludes.

 All farming would be organic: no pesticides, chemical fertilisers or monoculture here. Mixed cropping, careful recycling of all wastes as fertiliser, crop rotation and a judicious guarding of water resources would, Adams believes, provide a rich harvest.

"Pesticides kill not only harmful insects but those that are useful too. If the predator insects are allowed to thrive then they keep pest numbers down," Adams explains.

 Planting a variety of crops together also helps keep pest populations under control as the "undesirables" are never presented with the "easy ride" of vast swathes of their favourite food plant. Mixing trees and bushes with field crops encourages insect-eating birds to come onto the farm, doing their bit to keep pests down. Trees also draw nutrients from deeper soil layers - nutrients that ground crops cannot get their roots to - and deposit them on the soil surface as they shed their leaves. In other words, planting trees in a field of crops actually serves to increase crop yield, despite the fact that these trees will take up growing space, Adams says.

 Planting a diversity of crops also means that when one crop is overcome by pests, there are plenty of others to fall back on. Even if no artificial plant feeds are used composted wastes provide a rich base for plants to grow on, producing bumper harvests.

 Even human waste is not thrown away, but rather turned into compost in specially designed dry toilets. Plant matter is added, and the waste decomposes into innocuous, nutrient rich material in a chamber under the toilet. Ventilation ensures the system is odour-free and that all decomposition occurs under oxygen-rich conditions to produce good compost. The composting toilet saves water and produces fertiliser: "We need not flush 40 per cent of our drinking quality water down the toilet. We can recycle our organic wastes to fertilise crops, instead of building costly sewage treatment plants and buying so much chemical fertiliser," Adams says.

 All rain falling on the site is routed to a large storage tank at the bottom end of the plot through dug channels. The long-term plan is to use a windmill to power a drip-irrigation system fed by this stored water. Rain falling on roofs is collected in barrels for later use. Precious water is also saved by planting vegetables in sealed raised beds which allows practically no liquid to escape. These raised beds - soil enclosed by low brick walls and underlain with perforated plastic sheeting - are made small enough to be easy to weed by hand. The mere fact that the vegetables grown in the beds are a foot or so above the general ground level means the seeds of many pest species, which are dispersed by tumbling along the ground, never get in among the crop.

 An assortment of pots and barrels also serves as raised beds. Another way to keep weeds at bay without resorting to herbicide is sheet-mulching. An unploughed field is covered with a layer of compost, burying any standing weeds, and then with a layer of old carpet, rags, cardboard and newspaper (all organic materials). The weeds and their seeds die off and vegetables are then planted through holes made in the covering layer. The organic wastes break down to feed the developing crops. Mulching involves a big initial outlay of effort, but is then virtually maintenance free.

 Adams sees these methods as supplying good, healthy fare without poisoning the soil or groundwater with the residues of chemical additives. Soil organisms are encouraged through constant addition of organic wastes. This is the secret of good organic farming, Adams explains.

 Intensive, industrial agriculture, in contrast, uses the soil only as a carrying medium for chemical plant feeds, failing to ensure its long-term health and stability as a living eco system. He does not envisage any animals on the farm. Not just because he is a vegetarian, but because he is loath to "waste" plant food by feeding it to animals and then feeding himself on or off these animals. He explains that this passing of food up the food chain always involves waste as the conversion process from vegetable matter to meat, milk or eggs is quite inefficient.

 "A vegetarian diet is more energy efficient and thus puts less strain on growing land," he says. In other words, it is possible to feed far more vegetarians off a given patch of land than meat-eaters.

 He dismisses fears that such a vegan diet could be deficient in protein. "So long as grains, beans and pulses are eaten in combination there is no such risk," he states. Lying around the site are a number of contraptions that, at first sight, appear to be unidentified junk. But Adams explains that he plans to transform this "junk" into solar concentrators, windmills and other alternative technology contraptions to power the centre.

 The aim is to produce pollution-free electricity. "Solar and wind power, non-polluting, sustainable forms of energy production have huge potential here," Adams claims.

 "We need not spend such massive sums on importing oil to provide power." The solar concentrators look remarkably like large satellite dishes. They are aligned to face the sun and work by concentrating rays onto a water-filled pipe hanging over the centre of the dish. The water turns to steam and is directed down a pipe to drive miniature turbines.

 Simply-made windmills harness breezes coming down from the mountains to drive more generators. Adams says there is always enough sun or wind, or a combination of these, to provide for the centre's needs.

 He stresses that these environmentally sound systems can provide the bare minimum of power needed for lighting, heating, cooking and running a computer, but cannot provide the copious amounts that civilised humans have become accustomed to using around the home.

 Energy conservation is the key to making the power you have go round, Adams says.

 A vital part of any plan to minimise energy use is appropriate building design. All the structures going up on the site incorporate thorough insulation. Given this insulation, it then becomes possible to manipulate the temperature within the buildings using an innovative "air conditioning" system. The system relies on the- fact that the below-ground temperature is always more moderate than that above ground. Before building anything Adams digs a five foot deep trench under the site. In this are laid wide concrete pipes with outlets within and outside the building. The temperature of air in these subterranean pipes is always cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than it is above ground. Once the pipes are in, all one has to do is get the air in them moving in the right direction.

 This is done using a "solar chimney." The top of a metal chimney leading from the room is painted black so that it is warmed by the sun, thus creating a suction force to draw air out of the room. This, in turn, draws fresh air from outside through the concrete pipes. This incoming air is warmed or cooled by its passage through the pipes, so that it emerges into the room at a pleasant temperature.

 The system involves no energy expenditure at all. Not all of the methods planned for use at the centre are so complex or hard to set up. For example, Adams says he can heat water at any time of the year simply by getting it to run through a black plastic tube coiled onto a board arranged to face the sun.: "In summer the water comes out the other end too hot to touch," he says. Another idea Adams is experimenting with is the production of bio-gas by placing manure and vegetable wastes in water to rot. This decomposition under oxygen-poor conditions produces large volumes of flammable methane gas which can be used for cooking or heating.

 Martin Adams can be reached at: Ananda Sevaka: Centre for Alternative Technology, PO Box 8016 Nicosia, Cyprus, tel/fax: +357 2 543428, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Martin Hellicar is a staff reporter for the Cyprus Mail.

  This article was reprinted in New Renaissance magazine Vol. 7 No. 2 with the permission of the Cyprus Mail in which this article was first published.