Permaculture – A Brief Introduction
Everywhere we turn we can see the devastating impacts of modern industrialised agriculture. We see land denuded of rich top soil, rivers and other aquatic systems polluted with chemicals and fertilisers and our forests toppled to make way for fields. Not only this, but our agricultural methods have made major contributions to climate change. In our search for efficiency, we have become inefficient and in our search for profits we have become wasteful.
By thinking carefully about the way we use our resources – food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs – it is possible to get much more out of life by using less. We can be more productive for less effort, reaping benefits for our environment and ourselves, for now and for generations to come. This is the essence of developing a more sustainable future and the foundation for permaculture principles.
Permaculture is a design system based on ethics and principles which can be used to establish, design, manage and improve all efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s. The word permaculture was a derived from the terms permanent agriculture and permanent culture. Today it has been used to cover the term permanently sustainable agriculture. Permaculture encourages us to be resourceful and self-reliant.
One of the greatest aspects of permaculture is that it is adaptable to any human environment, covering city flats and window boxes; suburban and country houses; allotments; community spaces; farms and estates; commercial and industrial sites; educational establishments and even waste ground
Practitioners of permaculture use their knowledge of ecological systems and theory to design every element of a permaculture system, making sure that not only is every element is beneficial to the system, but also that the relationships between the elements act to support the system. By developing strong positive relationships that improve the condition of the land whilst also maximising its productivity, we ensure that the land can be used for perpetuity.
One way of achieving this is by making sure that any waste from any of the people, animals, plants or activities in the permaculture system are useful to another part of the system, in the same way that nature recycles everything. This makes sure that nutrients stay in the system and the need to add more is eliminated. This not only saves in terms of finances and effort, but also in terms of polluting water sources.
Another important consideration for permaculture practitioners is the concept of diversity. Unlike modern agriculture which tends to produce masses of a single crop, permaculture relies on a huge range of different crops and animals. If any one species comes under attack from a pest, not only are there many other species that do not get attacked by the pest, but there is also a good chance that within the system is something that will attack the pest. In modern agriculture, if a pest attacks, the entire crop is lost.
Permaculture design and practice relies on ethics which remain identical for all permaculture activities, whether it is managing a window box or a rainforest. These core values are;
Earth care – recognising that Earth is the source of all life (and is possibly itself a living entity, that Earth is our valuable home, and that we are a part of Earth, not apart from it.
People care – supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that do not harm us or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.
Fair share (or placing limits on consumption) – ensuring that Earth’s limited resources are used in ways that are equitable and wise.