“We have a legend that explains the formation of the hills, the rivers, and all the shapes of the land. Every time it rains and I see a beautiful rainbow I am reminded of the legend of the Rainbow Serpent…
In the beginning, the earth was flat, a vast grey plain. As the Rainbow Serpent wound his way across the land, the movements of his body heaped up the mountains and dug trough for the rivers. With each thrust of his huge multicolored body, a new landform was created.
At last, tired with the effort or shaping the earth, he crawled into a waterhole. The cool water washed over his vast body, cooling and soothing him… Each time the animals visited the waterhole, they were careful not to disturb the Rainbow Serpent, for although they could not see him they knew he was there. Then one day, after a huge rainstorm, they saw him. His huge colored body was arching from the waterhole, over the treetops, up through the clouds, across the plain to another waterhole.
To this day the Aborigines are careful not to disturb the Rainbow Serpent, as they see him, going across the sky from one waterhole to another.”
(From “Gulpilil’s Stories of the Dreamtime”, compiled by Hugh Rule and Stuart Goodman, published by William Collins, Sydney, 1979.)
Permaculture symbol: The rainbow serpent coiled around the eternal egg of life and containing the tree of life, surrounded by the elements of the earth, rain, wind and the sun, representing the interconnectedness and complexity of life on this planet.
Permaculture was conceptualised by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s in Australia. It was in response to the crises of an industrialised agricultural system which gained momentum with the Green Revolution in the 1960s. Mollison and Holmgren argued that the way to maintain the health of natural systems was by following the life-giving patterns inherent in nature. Their inspiration came from systemic thinking which was becoming popular at that time as a design methodology.
Systemic thinking tries to bridge the gaps of analytical inquiries which only view individual elements and fail to observe their relationships and their influence on each other. Thus, systemic thinking is an approach for studying the whole and not just the parts.
The direct inspiration for Permaculture came from ancient systemic thinkers- the aboriginals of Australia(all ancient cultures have viewed nature as a single web of life). Their wisdom and philosophy of life have made them sustain through millennia without deteriorating their ecology.
Articulating the patterns in nature on which these indigenous communities based their life, Mollison and Holmgren proposed a system of regenerative landscape design where humans can practice sustainable, permanent agriculture, thus giving it the name Permaculture.
Essentially, Permaculture is a design system and like every design system, it has a process. But, what makes it unique and important is that the design process of Permaculture is founded on three key ethics:
Care for Earth Care for People Fair Share
Of course, the ideas and philosophy of Permaculture are not unique. The integration of life has been explained in my ancient texts and contemporary thoughts like Gaia theory, Deep ecology movement and so on. But, Permaculture articulates natural patterns and provides methods of applying those to any system. Thus, it is a set of working tools based on a philosophy for sustainability, and this allows it to be applied to any system, not just in theory but also to come up with practical solutions.
Design has been an important tool for human beings in enabling them to imagine and create. Although we are all designers and use design on a moment to moment basis- thinking, planning, visualizing and correcting with feedback, Design as a study became more and more elaborate and important to professions which used visualisation as a tool for their work- spatial planning, architecture, product development, technology and so on for using their power of imagination and creating beauty and meaning.
Unfortunately, the means and tools of design have evolved so rapidly in the last couple of centuries that it offers this godly quality of creation for not just serving the people but often against them. The disconnection of design with reality and the lacuna of values in our times has led the designer and the designed to be often against nature and life itself.
Permaculture puts the ethics at the core of its design and implores the Permaculture designer to make every decision in the process based on how it would impact the earth- the place and its inhabitants- the people and other forms of life.
The ethics of Permaculture are probably the reason for its popularity today. In a world where people are slowly getting disillusioned with religion, and with growing individualism find themselves in an ethical void, Permaculture offers a simple and even scientific approach to understanding the present-day crises with ethics and tools to imagine solutions.
But Permaculture is not restricted to Agriculture anymore. Within a few decades of its inception, it became clear to the founders and practitioners that the changes were required not just on the land, but also in our communities. A permanent agriculture solution alone was not sufficient, and ideas for how people could work and live together for the creation of such systems needed exploration.
This was the birth of social permaculture and in a way an upgradation of permaculture from permanent agriculture to permanent culture.
The principles of Permaculture form the guidelines for the design process to realise the three ethics in a project. These principles can be applied to a system of any scale, in ecology, communities or for self.
Many people have included their own principles or interpreted these in different ways based on their context and experiences but they are all based on natural principles of circularity, interconnectedness, diversity, flexibility, and cooperation.
Permaculture strategies are based on the integration of elements in a system to optimise their individual roles and relationships. By creating more relationships, you can create more loops, more resilience, redundancy, and minimise wastage of energy and resources.
Bill Mollison has elaborated on the strategies for Permaculture design and implementation in different contexts in his books, Permaculture One, and Permaculture: A designer’s manual, which were published in the 1980s. Since then, these methods have been used in different parts of the world and many people have added to this work from their own experiences.
Design Methodology, Warren Brush
Strategies for different climates, Treeyo Permaculture
Permaculture design strategies and techniques, Tropical Pc, Timor-Leste
Water catchment strategies
The difference between Permaculture and Organic farming
Site design strategies, Heathcote
PERMACULTURE IN INDIA
Permaculture is a fast-growing movement in India. More and more people, dissatisfied with the status quo are turning to Permaculture as a means to connect with nature, learn about integrated design or grow their own food. Also, Permaculture gives a good foundation to start working on the land, developing a sense of design and an integrated approach to planning, which are important skills for the many people moving from cities to small towns and villages seeking a simple and meaningful life.
There are many Permaculture groups and professionals in India, which also provide design consultations and the numbers keep increasing with several courses on Permaculture design being offered across the country every year.
The International Permaculture Convergence hosted in India in 2017 helped bring the permaculture practitioners in India together and propelled the vision of permaculture education across the country. There is an effort by the Permaculture community in India to document and make available content from and relevant to Indian ecologies and communities. Also, many practitioners are trying to synthesize the theory of permaculture with the traditional systems of integrated knowledge that have existed in India for thousands of years. This community continues to share their challenges, successes, and conclusions here.
With the diversity of contexts and views in this country, we find a growing momentum of a change with multiple approaches some identifying themselves with permaculture and some not, but working towards a solution for healthy people, communities and ecosystems.
THE PERMACULTURE MOVEMENT
Permaculture today isn’t just a science for land management, it has brought together people from all around the world and from all walks of life, farmers, foresters, homesteaders, architects, community workers, travelers, seekers, men, women and children, united in their ethics to preserve the earth and its diversity and with an aim of finding ways for human life that are not in conflict with nature.
But as Permaculture is a way of life itself and each one of us takes what works best for us, the definitions of Permaculture become more and more subjective in an attempt to widen its scope and area of study.
PERMACULTURE OF THE MIND
There is a concept of ‘invisible structures’ in Permaculture.
The invisible structures are the subtle relationships that hold physical reality together. If you take a farm, for example, its visible structures will include soil, water, plants, trees, the farmers, the infrastructure for composting, irrigating and so on, and its invisible structures would be the relationships between the people working on the land, the relationship of the people with the larger community, the economic relationships within and with the community and so forth.
Clearly, if the invisible structures of a design are not strong, the physical or visible structures will not be able to work properly, or rather their benefit will not be realised.
While the visible structures are built on a physical landscape, the invisible structures take their ground in the landscape of the mind.
Fritjof Capra, a quantum physicist, and celebrated author explains how the crises that our world faces today are not only interconnected and interdependent but also they are not just physical crises. These are all the crises of our perception.
Since the scientific revolution of the 1600s, we have come to believe that our world works on the basis of scientific laws and that it is possible for humans to not just completely understand the natural world, but to also extend its potential, surpass its limitations and transcend its constraints on humans. We have come to see our planet as a free resource available to us for limitless growth. In this process, we have alienated thousands of species we share this planet with, and set in motion a chain of events, that we don’t have a control on.
The quantum mechanical revolution has broken this illusion and established the limitations of scientific foundations. The objective reality is in fact subjective to the observer and science at best can only approximate the nature of life.
Having gone a full circle in exploring the material world for our existential questions, we turn back to ourselves- our mind and our spirit. To understand the macro cosmos, we have no choice but to understand the microcosmos.
If we imagine a better world, a new world, we need a new consciousness, a new thinking, a new mind that can transcend the limits of our ignorance and ego and embody the power and beauty of the eternal life principle.
Thus, before the changes are made on the land, or even before the changes are considered in human communities, the human mind has to change. We will need a new lens to see the world from, breaking away from the dominant worldview which has brought us to this place and imagine new scenarios from multiple perspectives.
Permaculture should be seen as a tool and not a goal in design and the ethics of Permaculture are to be applied not just in our farming, community work, and meetings, but in our daily lives, with our relationship with ourself. This is the ultimate evolution of Permaculture education.
Since its inception in 1978, Permaculture continues to grow in the real world and in the minds of its practitioners. The inclusion of article-links here is an attempt to not having to repeat what is common Permaculture knowledge while at the same time, collate a diversity of views on the subject.