What is Permaculture?

The term ‘Permaculture’ was coined by Bill Mollison in 1978. The word is a contraction of permanent agriculture and also of permanent culture. The aim of Permaculture is to create systems that are ecologically sound, economically viable and self sustaining. Its practitioners strive to use the inherent qualities of plants and animals, combined with the patterns of the landscape and structures to create a regenerative system.

Though Permaculture has no central structure, it has a strong sense of shared work towards evolving sustainable, ethical and viable systems for Earth and People Care. (Source: New Agriculture – a Permaculture point of view by Dr. Venkat)

Definition and Use of Permaculture:

“Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

“Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components, in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms.”

perma1“The philosophy behind Permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolution.” (Source: Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison)

“Permaculture is a response and an alternative WAY OF LIFE, based on a cooperative and non-exploitative relationship with the bio-sphere and as a part of it.” (Source: New Agriculture – a Permaculture point of view by Dr. Venkat)

Permaculture is based on the three ethics of –

Earth care – ensuring a healthy balance for all life systems to continue and multiply
People care – provision for people to access all necessary resources
Fair share or Invest surpluses – a mean to provide for the first two principles

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Some key principles of Permaculture –

  • Value diversity, value life to create resilience. Integrate rather than segregate
  • Create a closed loop system that provides its own energy needs. Utilise yields of each elements to meet the needs of other elements in the system. Produce no waste.
  • Every element has multiple uses that we call functions. The idea is to create an integrated, self-sufficient system via strategic design. And also ensure that every function supports different elements.
  • Maximize useful connections between elements for higher synergy of the final design – the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Catch and store energy. Use and value renewable resources.
  • Turn problems into solutions. Look for appropriate scale: should be on a human scale and doable within available time, skills and money.
  • Give away the surplus: create systems that are abundant and share the abundance rather than hoarding it

Permaculture design focuses upon natural patterns. Everything, the wind, the waves, the Earth moving around the Sun, form patterns. One has to develop an awareness of the patterns that exist in nature and how they can be used to satisfy the specific design needs of a specific site through patient and thoughtful observation during all seasons and climatic extremes.

We can choose a lifestyle that is holistic and provides us with many of our needs and rewards us with long term cultural enrichment.

Permaculture in India:

Bill Mollison, along with Robyn Francis, Dr.Venkat and some of his friends, pioneered the introduction of permaculture in India. They conducted the first one-day permaculture workshop in Hyderabad in December, 1986, followed by the first Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course in 1987 which was attended by thirty participants from India and Nepal.

During the PDC course, it was decided to establish a 3.25 acre permaculture demonstration farm with DDS (Deccan Development Society) in Pasthapur, Zaheerabad district, Andhra Pradesh. The choice of venue was most relevant for India as it lies in semi-arid zone and is prone to drought – a dominant pattern in India. The strategy was to evolve it into a self-sufficient farm for a small family of five, to provide maximum food/fuel/fodder, and demonstrate various functions pertaining to harvesting rainwater, arresting soil erosion, nurturing the soil and establishing a polyculture of food crops and horticultural species. This farm was designed by Dr.Venkat with the help of Narsanna Koppula.

After having succeeded in harvesting very good yields of locally needed and traditional food crops, this farm has now been converted into a seed bank for farmers in the region.

The Permaculture Association of India (PCAI) formed in November 1989. Dr. Venkat and Narsanna Koppula conducted short practice-oriented workshops, held demonstrations and distributed literature in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They provided hands-on training and support to imbibe Permaculture activity to selected NGOs, individuals, government organizations and research institutions to incorporate sustainable agricultural activities. The PCAI has worked on developing more Permaculture demonstration farms, facilitating further establishments of nuclear Permaculture farms and interstate exposure visits, extending internship programmes and promoting volunteerism.

In October 1990, the first Indian edition of Bill’s Permaculture Designers’ Manual was brought out jointly by the Permaculture Association of India and DDS. The run was of 2,000 copies. All permaculture design graduates were supplied with a free copy, and a large number was sold to various government agriculture departments.

Later, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives shouldered the responsibility for promotion of Permaculture concepts in all its projects. In the year 1997, Narsanna and Padma started a 11.5 acres Permaculture farm in Bidakanne village, Jharasangam mandal, Sangareddy district and started training programs for interested farmers. This farm became a learning center for the Permaculture enthusiastic: this functional model farm is helping thousands of farmers, researchers, policy-makers and organisations from all over the world in gaining awareness about natural farming. There, Narsanna Koppula organises long-term Permaculture internship programs, Permaculture Design Courses (PDC), Introduction to Permaculture courses and other workshops for national and international participants.

Aranya has a vision for an India that is not just self sustaining but regenerative. India has a rich culture that is deeply rooted in agriculture. Our ancestors understood the rhythm of nature, respected her and were in turn, blessed with abundance.

Narsanna says, “know how people are living with limited resources, know about traditional practices, across the country. Realise and acknowledge that Indian women are very hard working and that agriculture is being run by women. We want people to know how to recognise our resilience in terms of food, ancient knowledge and our culture and know we can swim through any situation.”
Over the years, several Permaculture farms and organizations have emerged across India and they all met officially for the first time during the first ever National Permaculture Convergence held in Hyderabad in February 2016 (npcindia2016.org) and hosted by Aranya Agricultural Alternatives. Born out of it, the Permaculture India Network is currently working to spread the Permaculture movement across the country in a structured manner. In addition, it is with great honor that Aranya Agricultural Alternatives will be hosting the 13th International Permaculture Convergence in November 2017 (www.ipcindia2017.org).

Learn more about Permaculture, attend an Introduction to Permaculture or a Permaculture Design Course or get in touch with us @ permanent.agriculture [at] gmail [dot] com
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You can also have a look at the following books recommended by Narsanna Koppula:

An Agricultural Testament – Sir Albert Howard
The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming – Masanobu Fukuoka
The Natural Way Of Farming – The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy – Masanobu Fukuoka
Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements – Bill Mollison & David Holmgren
Permaculture Two: Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture – Bill Mollison
Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
New Agriculture – a Permaculture Point of View – Dr. Venkat
Village Swaraj – M. K. Gandhi
Some Reflections on Watershed – Dr. Venkat
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability – David Holmgren