Permaculture is a system based on natural ecosystem processes: through consciously combining plant, animal, built environment and energy systems, it endeavours to create sustainable human habitats, settlements and agriculturally productive systems. The intention is to design productive systems that ultimately generate more energy than they consume, with no negative impact on the natural or social environment.
- Permaculture is a systems design response to the downward spiral into unsustainability that the world has been involved in for the last 150 years (at least). The name Permaculture is derived from “permanent”, “agriculture” and “culture”. Australian professor Bill Mollisson and his student Dave Holmgren coined this phrase in 1978, to describe their design framework for sustainable development.
- There are tens of thousands of Permaculturalists the world over who have implemented this design strategy, in a huge range of climates and contexts. The UN has recognised Permaculture as a useful intervention in areas that have experienced natural disasters, or post-war situations.
- Because it is a multidisciplinary approach, many techniques like Organics, Biodynamics and other agricultural practices are incorporated within its framework.
- Permaculture systems do not use economic performance as the only measure of success. The "Ethics and principles" heading will explain this further.
2. Ethics and principles
Permaculture is rooted in a set of ethics, which guide decisions that designers, agriculturalists and builders use in their daily activities. These ethics evolved out of the need to create behavioural and implementation patterns that would be beneficial to both the human and natural environment. Underpinning all of the ethics is the fundamental realisation that we are dependent on a planet that has limited, and damaged resources, and that we must work within this reality.
- Earth Care – all activities maintain the integrity of the natural resource base.
- People Care – all activities are aimed at empowering ourselves and other human beings, bearing Earth Care in mind
- Surplus Share – all extra resources are utilised to improve earth and People care.
- Set Limits To Consumption.
Permaculture has basic design principles that one works from, in any context. One could call these sustainability guidelines. They are simple, practical and achievable.
- Work with rather than against Nature
- Relative location
- Efficient energy planning
- Every element must be multifunctional
- Every function should be served by many elements
- Use biological resources rather than non-renewables
- Create energy cycles
- Create diversity
- Increase the use of edge
- Make use of succession
1. Work with rather than against Nature
Working with nature means: observe and understand your context, as well as the larger factors which affect you. This is done through mapping, research into local ecologies, weather, investigation and talking to locals! Secondly, aim to enhance the resources you discover by working with the forces you encounter, and turning problems into solutions.
2. Relative location
Place elements in your system where they are most effective (elements are any component in your design: a house, a barn, cattle, gardens, extensive crops etc). By placing the elements where they are most needed, you reduce the amount of work and energy you have to expend. This principle also leads to creating relationships between design elements to enhance productivity and efficiency. A good example is using water from aquaculture ponds to irrigate food production areas.
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