Should Governments be Looking More Closely at Permaculture?

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

September 15, 2021

Sustainability is an oft-used term. While company mission statements outline sustainable growth, these well-meaning objectives, at times, remain mere buzzwords. In a positive development, however, investors globally are showing preference for organizations that have proven implementation of sustainable practices. But the broader ambit of sustainability must be broken down to highlight certain specifics. And one such area—that governments and the private sector must encourage—is permaculture.

The term permaculture is derived from the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’. In recent times, its scope has widened to reflect a more ‘permanent culture’. Permaculture was first coined by two Australians in 1978, namely David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. Holmgren is an ecological designer and writer, while Mollison was a scientist.

Mollison defined “permaculture” as, “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

Permaculture’s Key Principles

Permaculture is an innovative framework; it is based on the philosophy of developing systems that work in harmony with nature. The idea is to ensure that man-made agricultural, building or energy producing techniques are harmonious, productive, and efficient, all while minimizing resource use. By doing so, it becomes possible to derive higher utility with lesser inputs. The intended outcome is to ensure environmental conservation, while making sure that future generations are not deprived of a sound ecological balance. 

A few of its key principles include observing and interacting, harnessing and storing energy, obtaining a yield, acknowledging and discouraging inappropriate environmental activity, reducing consumerism and waste, leveraging the symbiotic relationships found in nature, and embracing nature’s diversity to reduce threats.

Closed Loop Systems

Permaculture calls for the developing of closed loop systems. For instance, any system that is self-sufficient in terms of its fertilizer or energy needs is considered sustainable. The use of manufactured fertilizers, for instance, can be substituted by using organic or livestock manure. It highlights the need to turn waste into a resource while transforming, what may seem problems, into solutions.   

Permaculture also calls for soil conservation by way of farming perennial crops. It is acknowledged that cultivating only perennials is not possible in terms of food security. However, a conscious move towards more perennial crop farming is encouraged. Mechanized or intensive farming, that is the cornerstone of annual or biennial crop farming has, over the decades, delivered a major blow to soil health.

The Bafut Ecovillage in Cameroon

A successful permaculture project was initiated in the African economy of Cameroon. Established in 2012 by Joshua Konkankoh, it was called the Bafut Ecovillage. It benefitted the local population by providing trainings on permaculture farming methods. In the nine years that Bafut Ecovillage flourished, there were over 10,000 trees planted and cooking stoves were produced for households. A co-operative society, meanwhile, sold local produce. The initiative was also instrumental in providing clean drinking water for as many as 4,000 people.

The ecovillage was even awarded the 2015 Gaia Excellence Award; it was hailed as Africa’s most inspiring project. Despite its many milestones, the Bafut Ecovillage was unfortunately razed to the ground in January 2021. Plans are afoot to try and reconstruct this trail blazing initiative.

The Himalayan Permaculture Centre in Nepal

Nepal is best known for being home to the world’s highest peak. The country is a haven for trekkers and mountaineers. And rural tourism has benefitted thousands who live in remote areas. However, not all rural dwellers have been able to reap the advantages of tourism. A large share of Nepal’s most marginalized, who lack access to education, healthcare, food security, and credit accessibility are residents of the country’s far-flung hostile landscapes.

Given that the primary means of sustenance for most rural residents is agriculture, and to alleviate the hardships faced by these communities, the Himalayan Permaculture Centre (HPC) was established. It demonstrates how local resources can be used by providing relevant trainings on permaculture practices. The HPC also offers research assistance to help identify potential cash crops and farming patterns best suited for such species.

Government Assistance is Necessary

The bulk of permaculture efforts worldwide are being spearheaded by individuals or non-government organizations. With this model’s proven success in both arresting environmental distress and ensuring economic sustenance, there is need for governments, and especially in emerging economies, to prioritize permaculture.

Agriculture remains among the highest employment generators in the world, accounting for about 28 percent of total global employment. Moreover, in emerging Asia and Africa, agriculture is often the most important employment generator for women. It is only fitting then that governments encourage permaculture farming practices to usher in both societal and environmental benefits.

Photo Caption: Permaculture can ensure more robust, sustainable, and agricultural productive systems.