Permaculture has been a discussion topic for a few years, however now with the ever-increasing demand and larger focus on circular economy, it is time to bring this concept closer to you. 

Let’s start with explaining how permaculture works. 

The History of Permaculture

The term permaculture was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the early 1970s and was part of broader environmentalism in an effort to raise awareness of the limitation capabilities of this planet. The term was originally a combination of “permanent agriculture” but was later changed to “permanent culture”. 

Permaculture highlights holistic traditions and principles within agriculture; no machines should be used, usage of organic seeds is a must, organic fertilization (e.g. from natural fertilization methods) is a staple, and delivery of the products should be carbon neutral. Caroline Smith explains that Mollison and Holmgren see permaculture as

“… the outcome of creative synthesis of systems thinking and design principles based in an understanding of processes of natural ecosystems, traditional small-scale mixed agriculture, low impact technology, and redistributive social justice into an adaptive interconnected dynamic design system for creating and implementing self-sustaining human settlements.”

The implementation of permaculture is different and parts of permaculture concepts have been adapted over the years to new developments within the environment. Therefore a permaculture concept can look different to each individual applying it. Although it is identified that there are over 50 definitions of permaculture, at the main core, the design principles of what permaculture stands for stays the same: earth care, people care, and resource sharing.

Overall permaculture has 12 key principles:

  • Observe and Interactagriculture-close-up-cultivation-169523-1
  • Catch and Store Energy
  • Obtain a Yield
  • Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  • Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
  • Produce No Waste
  • Design from Patterns to Details
  • Integrate Rather than Segregate,
  • Use Small and Slow Solutions
  • Use and Value Diversity
  • Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  • Creatively Use and Respond to Change

The primary goal of permaculture is to empower people to become their own producers and move away from being dependent consumers.

“[It] is recognised as part of an emerging global paradigm shift from a clever but unsustainable techno-industrial culture to a wise sustainable ecological culture” - Caroline Smith

The benefits of permaculture can be seen through the environmental and social sustainability aspect, as the focus on natural products keep our air and water clean, encourage rich life-habitat, healthy food, and empowered communities.

Differences with Organic Farming

One of the differences between permaculture and organic farming practices is that permaculture aims at developing a closed nutrient cycle. Thus, permaculture strives at moving energy from one element to the next, before it leaves the system.The movement of energy is also one of the 12 principles and can be further explained here. Organic farming on the other hand takes advantage of natural fertilizers, taking in the benefits from a natural carbon cycle so that waste of plants can become the fertilizers. However, the big difference between these two concepts is that permaculture shares the food directly with the consumers, in a movement known as farm to table, while organic farming often uses trucks to take the products to market, bringing it into the bigger logistic distribution system, during which many minerals are lost.

Examples of Permaculture

agriculture-bloom-close-up-1743484The advantages of permaculture can especially be seen in countries that have long growing seasons. Malawi has a 12 month growing season and good conditions for agriculture, including access to water and a large diversity of different local food crops. Permaculture helps to lower malnutrition deficits with its inhabitants and increases the amount of food as well as bring sustainable change to agriculture.

Using many concepts of permaculture, Malmö (Sweden) based Los Perros introduced their business model to the region to address a local need. Noting local residents desire to promote urban farming and raise awareness of potential urban food growth, Los Perros. sells their products through Facebook groups, delivering their products via bicycle. 

The Future of Permaculture

Permaculture has many influences in the way we exist today. It promotes a closed-loop system, turning farm waste into a resource for it somewhere else.

“You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency” – Mollison

The promotion of creating multiple functions for optimal use of land creates more self-sufficiency and better use of land as a resource. An example of this would be to use a fence designed to contain animals additionally to grow grapes or vines which would provide shade for berries and other plants which require it. Another concept of permaculture is to use earth’s natural laws to do the work for you, such as using hens to rid an area of pests, goats to mow the lawn, etc. Further examples of the ripple effects of permaculture can be found in this article Modern Farmer.  

Permaculture is an Evolving Concept

For the future of this type of agriculture, the influences from different designs that are coming from other regions (globally and locally) will continue to shape permaculture over time. Permaculture has a long adaptation phase to the environment and its natural conditions, and as permaculture integrates natural processes into its core function, as nature changes, so will permaculture.