The foundation of Permaculture
The term permaculture derives from the concept of „permanent agriculture“ and was first named during the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture was however practised naturally by many ancient civilisations or as a modern way of agriculture by several pioneers such as the Austrian Sepp Holzer way before the term and its theory came into being. Today, the design principles and methods of permaculture include and regard all aspects of life. Consequently, they are applied in a wide spectrum of fields such as food and energy production, natural construction and community building. Permaculture shows us a way to build sustainable human settlements integrated in the natural ecological systems and cycles. It aims to develop permanent culture in harmony with the laws of nature.
At the heart of this broad-based and holistic approach to designing stand the three ethical principles: Earthcare, Peoplecare and Fairshare. They represent the base of every permaculture design and a prerequisite for its sustainability, i.e. the effective long-term balance between environmental, ecological and social aspects. The principle of Earthcare recognises the earth as a living entity and points out the interdependence and interconnection that we human beings have with the earth. It acknowledges the responsibility that every individual has towards all other creatures and the protection of natural resources. Peoplecare envisions healthy individuals in healthy societies. The mutual care-taking and cooperation between people shall enable each and every one to provide for his or her own basic needs and for an acceptably high standard of living. People are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves without neglecting the needs and wants of others. The principle of Fairshare reminds us of the fact that we live in a world of limited resources and that the abundance we enjoy here creates an absence elsewhere. We are invited to consciously limit our consumption as well as our reproduction and jointly cherish the acts of caring and sharing by investing our surplus in the first two ethics.
There is a number of permaculture design principles that provide universally acceptable guidelines to work with when planning a design. They have been compiled by different people to help us understand natural systems and serve as steps towards action. The permaculture principles are derived from keen observation and study of nature and natural processes. They can be seen as laws of nature, present in all natural self-sustaining systems. Understanding nature, the relations and interactions between different elements and their multiple functions is crucial for the creation of healthy, efficient and sustainable designs. For example the tree as an element can do a lot of work for us and provides various yields: it serves as a wind break, a wildlife habitat, provides shade, mulch and building materials, prevents erosion, raises the water table, fertilises the soil, etc. The permaculture designer makes use of one element’s full potential by intelligently integrating as many of these functions as possible into his/her design. He/She creates stable and resilient systems by insuring that each need is covered by various elements and each element provides for a range of needs. Besides the principles, there are many proposed strategies and techniques available to facilitate the designing process.
Permaculture is an ethical way of planning, designing, communicating and living that integrates rather than segregates. It works with the forces of nature rather than against them and shows us a positive way to deal with the problems and crisis of our time in turning them into chances. Permaculture points out possibilities and alternatives that empower us to act in a way that serves the earth, others and ourselves.
See also the post Observation – The Core Element of Permaculture Design