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A new lease of life for permaculture

Posted on 26 April 2016.

Associating agriculture, landscape architecture and ecology, this concept promotes a sustainable and resilient ecosystem that feeds people and respects the environment.

Permaculture offers a circular economy model that not only feeds people sustainably but also respects the planet.

At a time when the burning question is how to feed the world, permaculture is enjoying a revival. Its scope covers much more than agricultural production alone. Developed in the 1970s in Australia under the guidance of lecturer/researcher, Bill Mollison and an ecologist/designer, David Holmgren, it is based on a philosophy that places people and land at the center of a nurturing, sustainable, resilient and even self-sufficient ecosystem.

Agriculture, landscape architecture, design and ecology all fall within the scope of permaculture thinking. Among the twenty principles laid down by the two Australians, the main idea is that each component in the ecosystem has several functions and any function can be performed by several of its elements. A true circular economy manifesto!

In simple terms, the animals on a farm, for example, work the soil, feed the farmer and digest organic waste. This loop-based economy targets efficiency and productivity with as little energy and expenditure as possible - all in a sometimes limited space.

Permaculture is directly inspired by nature’s principles: observe the land before working it, nourish it while saving energy and labor, combine activities (market gardening + fruit + animals + grassland), and integrate housing and people, recycle waste – one person’s waste is someone else’s resource, be inspired by biomimicry and natural ecological systems, consider the human geography of a place, and insects and animals.

In practice it means: polyculture rather than monoculture; on the same site combine vegetable production, pond, forest, field and pasture; use banks or earthworks to manage water runoff; increase the edges between two areas to increase productivity - field and river, field and forest - avoid overgrazing and degrading the soil; dare to associate unusual crops - vegetables and edible flowers.

Both a way of thinking and a practice, permaculture comes into its own in an organic garden, a green neighborhood or even on a balcony! Because the idea means that even a small space can be very productive. A recent study by INRA and AgroParis Tech conducted on the Bec Hellouin organic farm in Normandy showed very high productivity rates for permaculture.

The current success enjoyed by permaculture is no doubt because it’s an approach that combines experience and age-old expertise with current advanced scientific knowledge.