In the 1980s, agricultural development organizations began promoting permaculture through training programmes in the developing world. Few assessments have measured the effectiveness of such projects. Here we surveyed and interviewed small-scale farmers to assess the perceived impacts of a Canadian permaculture project in Butula, Western Kenya. Two types of projects are evaluated and compared: community projects (CPs) at six primary schools, and an intensive two-week permaculture design certification (PDC) programme. Our results suggest that both PDC and CP participants felt that they had benefited from the projects. However, PDC participants developed a more comprehensive understanding of permaculture, felt empowered and frequently related permaculture to their own traditional cultural values whereas CP participants often misunderstood permaculture, felt frustrated by the limited immediate economic benefits and frequently contrasted permaculture against traditional cultural values. This study emphasizes the importance of direct, reciprocal communication between NGOs and project participants for fostering feelings of autonomy and competence.