What is Permaculture
Permaculture is a way of thinking to transform our world. It combines observations of how ecosystems work, the wisdom in traditional ways of living and farming together with modern scientific and technological knowledge.
We can look at our current unsustainable society and see how it exploits resources without care for the future of our own or other species. Permaculture principles help us to visualise a transformed society where people in a localised area are as self-reliant as possible, relying on and replenishing their natural resources without damaging the ecosystem around them. Permaculture practice helps us then to identify and analyse potential problems and, using nature’s patterns and principles as a guide, consciously work out solutions to transform the world.
Systems theory revolutionised science by focusing on not just on what each element in a system does but most importantly, on how they work together. Permaculture too, sees how every element in the natural web of life is interdependent, and by understanding this and using nature’s patterns and systems, it improves the way humans work.
Permaculture takes its inspiration from nature – for instance observing that plants absorb their energy from the, animals eat the plants, and when they die, decompose to provide nutrients for plants in a never ending cycle. Everything is interdependent and nothing is wasted. So we aim to change the way we consume, using and reusing our local natural resources, to live in a way that does not pollute or exploit, is affordable and is sustainable in the long term.
Permaculture was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s who brought together traditional and new knowledge in a completely different way of looking at the world. Their original focus was on designing ‘sustainable human settlements’. Here in El Salvador we focus on natural farming, water conservation and developing stronger communities and local economies, but we could take the same approach to developing a housing estate or a manufacturing process or even a business.
In the last 30 years permaculture has spread across the world and been developed in many different ways, but the three key ethical principles have stayed the same, and are:
- Care for the earth
- Care for people
- Fair sharing and rational use of all resources.
There are many definitions of permaculture. Here is one: ‘Permaculture is about designing sustainable human settlements through ecology and design. It is a philosophy and an approach to land use which weaves together microclimates, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, water management, and human needs into intricately connected productive communities (Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay, Introduction to Permaculture). And, as Mollison goes on to say, ‘Permaculture is…working with nature rather than against nature…of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.’