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7. What is permaculture?
Permaculture: operates around three main ethical principles – care of the earth, care of people and fair share. It’s a way of designing that is all about learning from existing ecosystems in order to create a system or way of life which works with nature, rather than against it. These systems go beyond sustainability and argue that rather than using the earth’s resources sparingly we should be regenerating them as we use them, helping to replenish depleted land and damaged ecosystems and create a species rich, closed loop system.
Permaculture is an acknowledgement that humans are part of the ecosystem, however they can be a very destructive force, consuming lots of resources and producing lots of waste. Living a permaculture lifestyle works towards either completely eradicating waste, significantly reducing it, or finding an ecologically clean use for it, whilst finding ways to regenerate the resources used, helping both the ecosystem and humans benefit.
In a world where the human population is putting much pressure on the earth, resources are running thin and many societies and much of the environment are being damaged. Rather than continually taking from these damaged systems without giving back, regeneration replaces resources as they are used.
For example: creating a closed loop system for growing vegetables would mean that crops were in a constant regenerative cycle. A sustainable vegetable garden might exercise all organic, biointensive methods, but a permaculture garden would take this a step further. A permaculture plot would be designed to help to regenerate soil fertility and make use of waste by using rainwater harvested in a water butt, fertilizing the soil using the composted waste from local restaurants or cafes which would otherwise go to landfill, or growing plants which complement one another and mimic ecosystems.
8. Food security and food sovereignty, what is the difference?
The difference between food security and food sovereignty is often viewed as a complicated one. Put simply, food security is about having enough so as not to go hungry, whilst food sovereignty is having the choice to grow the crops that you want, for the benefit of both the environment and people. Broken down and summarised briefly:
Food Security: means all people at all times have access to a safe, sufficient supply of food at all times. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Perhaps not when you weigh up the negatives against the positives. Food security doesn’t take into consideration cultural choice, the ecosystem as a bigger picture or sustainability of resources. Instead, it prioritizes internationally marketable crops and big companies’ profits over environmental and people’s rights and needs.
Food produced on a large scale, and controlled by multinational companies often means the use of monocropping, chemical pesticides and herbicides and is more likely to be genetically modified. On top of this, intensive farming of the same crops over and over again means that soil fertility isn’t given a chance to recover, leading to the use of chemicals to replenish the land. Monocropping puts significant pressure on the land and depletes soil fertility, this in turn has negative impacts on the ecosystem by decreasing species diversity.
Aside from having an adverse effect on the land, the control of multinational companies on the way food is produced, traded and consumed also has a destructive impact on people, as small scale farmers are often forced to use unsustainable methods and their farming and trading rights are not respected. The result is bad for both the environment and people.
Food Sovereignty: is where food growing communities have the autonomy or power to plant culturally, socially and environmentally appropriate crops. It is a relatively new social movement, the term was coined in 2006 by La Via Campesina: a coalition of small scale farmers from over 148 nations who champion their rights as small family-farm based agriculturalists.
Many of these farmers use traditional, ecological agriculture methods, which haven’t harmed people or the land for generations. Some of these farmers work on the principles of permaculture, designing their agricultural system as a reflection of natural patterns.
According to the declaration of Nyéléni, food sovereignty ‘‘puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation. It offers a strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime, and directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers.’’.
Localizing this power and allowing people to take back control of their own food systems means food doesn't just become a luxury for export as it doesn’t travel miles to land on a plate the other side of the world. Aside from this, food sources become far more diverse and soil remains fertile for longer through the correct care. As stated by the declaration of Nyéléni, this enables farmers ‘‘to conserve and rehabilitate rural environments, fish stocks, landscapes and food traditions based on ecologically sustainable management of land, soils, water, seas, seeds, livestock and other biodiversity’’. Not only is this diversity better for the environment, humans also benefit from having a more varied diet as they are more likely to receive all the nutrients that they need.
9. How can I get involved with permaculture projects locally or at home?
There are many ways that you can get involved with permaculture at home or within your local community. Here are just a few:
Volunteer for local projects: With so many websites full of information on local projects, it is easier than ever to get stuck into local permaculture schemes. Take a look on the Lush Spring Prize map to find local groups near you. Alternatively the Permaculture Association’s website has plenty of information about permaculture projects in the UK, as well as the option to add your own permaculture organisation to their map to raise awareness and get more people involved.
Take an online course: There are many free online courses on permaculture available, so you can learn a new skill without it costing the earth. Oregon State University hosts a free course which you can complete in just four weeks, with just two to four hours studying a week. The course covers many aspects of permaculture design and climate-specific design and helps you learn through videos, graphics and reading.
Read up on it: With such a huge range of books available it can be difficult to know where to begin, here are just a few to kickstart your reading list: Cultivating Food Justice : Race, Class and Sustainability by Julian Agyeman, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway, Earth Users Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow.
Make small changes in your everyday lifestyle: Whether it’s integrating cycling or walking to work into your day as part of your exercise regime, cutting down waste by boycotting products with excessive packaging, harvesting rainwater to water your garden, buying food direct from growers or growing plants to help support the ecosystem (i.e wildflowers to support bees), you can find plenty of ideas on everyday permaculture here.
Do it yourself: Once you’re armed with the necessary knowledge, why not start your own permaculture venture? Whether this is in your own back garden, within your home, or perhaps within your local community, start something on your doorstep! You can read about some simple ways that you can start incorporating permaculture design into your daily life in the Permaculture Magazine here.
Photos (from top of page): 'Fayez showing the aquaponic system at Hakoritna Farm, Tulkarem, Palestine' and Paul Yeboah and Enoch Gadaffi harvesting moringa at the Ghana Permaculture Institute.