Permaculture goes beyond just a farming technique. It presents a vision of humans in their living environment and takes inspiration from the workings of nature. It aims to design a productive ecosystem of food and other resources that are useful to societies (textiles, materials, etc.), while leaving nature as much leeway as possible. It combines knowledge of soil science, ecology and landscaping with field observations, to better understand how ecosystems function and to improve their uses.
Permaculture first arose in the 1970s, inspired by Cyril G. Hopkins’ concept of permanent agriculture (Soil fertility and permanent agriculture, 1910) and various ecological experiments: Percival Alfred Yeomans’ 1954 keyline planning (increase in organic material, water circulation, etc.), Masanobu Fukuoka’s complete and sustainable agriculture (1960), Howard Odum’s optimisation of energy flows through diversity (1971) and Esther Deans’ no-dig philosophy (1977). Following the identification of negative environmental impacts due to intensive farming methods, biologist Bill Mollison and essayist David Holmgren, both committed environmentalists, developed a method to create stable farming systems that were energy-efficient and respectful of living beings and their mutual relationships. Realising the importance of the social role in the sustainable aspect of human societies, the two researchers broadened the concept of agrarian permaculture to various fields, such as construction, education, health, economy and politics. Design was a central tool used to identify the components of a system (plants, climate, water, etc.) and connect them efficiently. They based its implementation on three core tenets (care of the earth, care of people, and sharing resources fairly) and several principles of reference. These include observation and interaction, energy efficiency, self-regulation and feedback, resource development and reuse of waste as a resource, appreciation of diversity, use of border areas (the edges of forests for example), a search for solutions that require the least effort and an overall vision. Farmers are supposed to follow all these principles at once, although the practical implementation evolves and varies from one place to another, according to local ecosystems. Moreover, each permaculturalist is free to formulate their own principles according to their needs.
In order to create more self-sufficient and sustainable societies, permaculture training has been available since the 1980s. It not only provides a simple alternative to ‘conventional’ agriculture, but is also part of a global approach, which aims to re-establish the link between producers and consumers and to empower social and economic stakeholders to take responsibility for the fruit of the land.
© Shutterstock / OMMB - Permaculture garden with cultivated plant combinations