The Wonders of Permaculture

Abigail Conrad, a PhD candidate in Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, says small-scale farmers produce food for 70 percent of the global population. Yet, they are some of the world’s poorest and most food insecure people.
To improve their situation, she contends, they should opt for alternative farming practices – and permaculture fits the bill.
This means permaculture (a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design which develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems) should be embraced to improve subsistence farmers’ yields and to ensure adequate food production for the growing global population.
Permaculture can help African farmers produce more food using fewer resources through agroecology, which is a farming approach that mimics natural ecosystems.
In practice, permaculture farms are organic, low input and bio-diverse, and use techniques like intercropping trees, planting perennials, water harvesting and resource recycling.
More so, permaculture design allows Africa to improve the quality and productivity of Africans, the African society and the environment.
This means Africans can eat healthy food and live in healthy communities without domination or exploitation; and they can increase yields, reduce or stop pollution, reduce energy consumption and turn ecological impact from a negative to a positive.
While experts have endorsed agroecology’s ability to address food and farming problems, permaculture is not widely known, and has failed to draw broader funding and policy support.
Conrad says there are a number of reasons why permaculture has not been more widely adopted, or even considered.
“First, the small-scale, grassroots nature of permaculture, while part of its strength, has contributed to its slow dissemination and minimal visibility.
“Second, permaculture is a design system, rather than an easily replicated model, which makes it more difficult to teach and adopt than a typical agriculture project. Furthermore, permaculture challenges how governments and Non Government Organisations usually teach people to farm. Indigenous farming knowledge, like that used in permaculture, has been devalued and eroded with the imposition of monocropping and green revolution technologies.
“Third, scepticism remains over whether people’s food needs can be met using organic, labour intensive, small-scale farming.
To date, there has not been enough rigorous research on permaculture to evaluate its impact, its application on a large scale, or to support its adoption.
“Academia has not seriously engaged with permaculture, and there are no companies with a profit incentive to research and disseminate it. Permaculture has thus remained marginal, and many see it as idealistic and impractical,” says Conrad.
However, the permaculture community can help encourage and support the use of permaculture, by raising its visibility, disseminating successful project models, and conducting more research.
Accordingly, schools in Africa must teach Africans how to improve their food security and livelihoods, while protecting the environment. Frankly, permaculture farmers have better food security than conventional farmers.
Researchers and policy decision makers should do enough rigorous research on permaculture to evaluate its impact, its application on a large scale, or to support its adoption. They should seriously work with companies in the continent to research and disseminate it.
Development project managers and policy decision-makers can also use permaculture as a framework to open their thinking, and adopt new models that are needed in the context of current resource constraints and climate change.
Conrad says, “Development project managers and policy makers should seek and evaluate alternative approaches like permaculture to effectively implement creative, efficient, and sustainable solutions in partnership with local populations.”
To alleviate food shortages, countries in the African continent should embrace permaculture. Its adaptability and emphasis on meeting human needs means that it can be utilised in every climatic and cultural zone.
Honestly, permaculture is a successful development tool that can help the continent to meet the needs of indigenous communities facing degraded standards of living from development of land and the introduction of industrialised food.

May 2013
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