Permaculture explained (

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Permaculture Association (Britain) – Designing for Sustainability 

What do you know about Permaculture?

Permaculture is about creating sustainable human habitats by following nature’s patterns. An ecological design system that inspires and empowers us to create our own solutions to local and global problems. It provides ways to design and create healthy productive places to work, rest and play.

Permaculture explained

The Global Vision
There is an old saying: ‘Civilised man has marched across the face of the earth and left a desert in his footprints.‘ (Carter and Dale, Topsoil and Civilization, p.6) Today, worldwide, on land once rich with natural vegetation, we see deserts denuded of their topsoil, deserts of salt-encrusted soil from years of irrigation, deserts due to widespread deforestation having altered the regional climate. The problem from a permaculture perspective has been a lack of design. Agriculture, from its invention and reinvention from some 10,000 years ago onwards, has generally involved a crude process of clearing the wilderness and establishing a cycle of digging or ploughing, then seeding with a few useful species, primarily grasses,then harvesting the crop to feed humans and livestock – and the cycle begins again year on year until the land is exhausted – after which a new area of wilderness is cleared. Perhaps humans devised this system after surviving for a million years or so by hunting and gathering, and learning that regular firing of the undergrowth encouraged fresh sprouting pioneer species which were more nutritious for people and the grazing herds we hunted than did the stable, mature forest.

The solution from a permaculture perspective is to introduce design into agriculture in order to create permanent high-yielding agricultural ecosystems, so that humans can thrive on as little land as possible, thus leaving as much land as possible as wilderness, if necessary helping the wilderness re-establish itself. This visionary global mission is encapsulated in the word ‘permaculture’, a shortened form of ‘permanent agriculture’.

In order to implement this global vision, we need local solutions, because every place on earth is different in local climate, land form, soils, and the combinations of species which will thrive. Not only does the land and its potential vary from place to place, but so do the people vary in their needs and preferences and their capacities. Every place and community requires its own particular design. Hence at the local level, permaculture designers often refer to permaculture as being about designing for ‘permanent culture’.

The global vision can be lost sight of in the nitty-gritty of ‘permanent culture’ designing for local sustainability. But the vision is vital and can inspire us to keep going in the face of obstruction and apathy.

Bill Mollison explains
Bill Mollison explains why freeing land for wilderness matters even for those who think only people matter


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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