By Susanne Schuster
Recently I had the opportunity to complete an introductory course on permaculture at a very low price. I have been interested in this topic as such for a while, but didn't know all that much about it in actuality. Here I would like to introduce the ethics and principles of permaculture. I will also show inspiring permaculture projects from Jordan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea in a series of articles. These models show how even extremely salty, damaged soils can be regenerated with relatively simple, locally available resources.
Permaculture is combined from the terms Permanent Agriculture. There are many different definitions of permaculture. Essentially it is a practical system for living sustainably and regenerating the earth and our communties. It is based on observing principles and patterns in nature. Rather than seeing living systems as disconnected parts, permaculture helps us to see them as a whole and to maximise the relationship between things, while also working within an ethical framework. Permaculture empowers people worldwide to develop dynamic, resilient systems and projects that work with nature, rather than against it.
Permaculture is based on three ethical core values:
These are some of the most important principles of permaculture:
Another essential element is zoning, with the zones being drawn according to how much human attention is required.
Ultimately these principles are ancient and most of us can grasp them intuitively; however, the industrial and mechanistic way of production and perception of the environment has largely displaced them, with the corresponding catastrophic consequences. They are diametrically opposed to the profit driven capitalist economy, to which human and environmental needs must be subordinated absolutely. With permaculture the world's population can be fed sustainably and hunger and poverty can be fought successfully, as shown be the example below. In contrast the hightech solutions of Monsanto, Bayer and all the other agroindustry giants are never about feeding the world; their aim is rather to fill the pockets of their shareholders.
Greening the desert in Jordan
With their permaculture project in Jordan the Australian permaculturist Geoff Lawton and his Jordanian wife Nadia Lawton show how the desert can be greened. More than 92 percent of Jordan is desert land and that percentage is growing. It has one of the lowest levels of water availability in the world. The usage of renewable water resources is 120 percent, thus it is foreseeable that these water resources will soon be exhausted. The industrial, chemically laden agriculture uses 70 percent of the water like everywhere in the world. Regenerating the soil is therefore a matter of survival.
With Geoff Lawton's first project in 2001 a 10 acre site was regenerated, in the driest area on earth, 400m below sea level, with heavily damaged and salty soil. A total of 1.5km of swales were created where every single drop of rainwater was harvested that fell on the land. The swales were laid in contours and then covered with a thick layer of mulch. On the upper side of the swales hardy, nitrogen fixing desert trees were planted and on the lower side different fruit trees. Initially people laughed at Lawton and his team because the trenches were not running in straight lines but in contours. But then incredible things happened: Within four months the fig trees carried fruit, which should be impossible in this area. It turned out that the salt levels of the soil were falling, using only 20 percent of the amount of water normally used for washing through the salt and beneath the layer of mulch so much humidity was being created that even mushrooms grew. (The people there had never seen mushrooms, because there had never been this much humidity in living memory.) The soil came alive with insects and small animals. The funghi net was putting off a waxy substance that repelled the salt and the decomposition process is locking the salt up.
As the funding of the project ran out after three years, it finished and was left to itself. When Lawton came back after eight years in 2009, much had been badly managed, but the fundamental design of the permaculture system was still intact - proof of its resilience.
Geoff Lawton said: “All the problems of the world can be solved in a garden.” But many people didn't know that and were therefore insecure.
Now Lawton is working on a second “Greening the Desert” project right next to the first site, but with long term own funding to ensure the correct management. Since then many practical projects have been initiated and the permaculture techniques have been passed on from farmer to farmer and country to country. This new permaculture project enjoys broad support by the people and even by the Jordanian government. People must have realised how essential a radical change is.
During a drought in 2008 the olive harvest in the whole of Jordan failed – except in the permaculture village Bayoudah. The trees survived due to mulching and composting.
These images show the thriving green oasis created with the “Greening the Desert” project in one of the most extreme climate zones in the world. If only a fraction of the money spent on the barbarous wars in the pursuit for oil and other commodities fuelling the insatiable capitalist machine were spent on such projects, how much livable environment and human happiness could be achieved?
This ca. 30 minute video documents the first and second Greening the Desert project by Geoff and Nadia Lawton. Highly recommended! Greening the Desert II: Greening the Middle East on Vimeo or in 4 parts on Youtube.
Further information on Permaculture:
The Permaculture Research Institute
The Permaculture Association
For my writings, articles and translations in German visit missubuntu.wordpress.com
All Africa Arms Trade Bahrain Bayer Corporation Coal Extraction Colombia EU Germany GMO Indonesia Iraq Jordan Libya Media New Alliance For Food Security And Nutrition Permaculture Transatlantic Trade And Investment Partnership USA West Papua