According to estimates, nearly 120 million people will fall prey to undernourishment by 2050 due to climate change. The situation will likely worsen with global mean crop yields of rice, maize and wheat projected to decrease 3-10% per degree of global warming with a dreadful impact on livestock due to reduced feed quantity, pest and disease prevalence, and physical stress. Therefore, in a world grappling with environmental challenges, permaculture serves as a powerful concept, transforming landscapes and mindsets. Born out of a desire to create sustainable and regenerative systems, permaculture is a design philosophy that integrates ecological principles with human systems. It offers a holistic approach to food production, land management, and community development. Today, permaculture has gained significant traction worldwide, and its influence is particularly profound in Australia and India, where it is embraced as a pathway to a resilient and abundant future.
So, what exactly is permaculture? At its core, permaculture is a portmanteau of “permanent” and “agriculture” or “culture.” However, it extends far beyond agriculture alone. Developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture is an all-encompassing design framework that seeks to mimic natural ecosystems, using their principles to create sustainable human settlements. It aims to maximize resource efficiency, minimize waste, and foster harmony between humans and nature.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”
— Bill Mollison
In Australia, permaculture has gained remarkable popularity and widespread adoption. With its vast landscapes and diverse ecosystems, Australia’s natural beauty often coexists with arid climates and water scarcity. Permaculture’s emphasis on water conservation, drought-resistant crops, and regenerative practices has struck a chord with Australian farmers and gardeners alike. As a result, the country boasts numerous permaculture farms, education centers, and community initiatives. One noteworthy example is the “Permaculture Research Institute” founded by Geoff Lawton, which has been instrumental in spreading permaculture knowledge and inspiring change.
As permaculture flourishes Down Under, it has also found its way to the Indian subcontinent, where its principles resonate deeply with the nation’s rich agricultural heritage. In the southern state of Kerela, permaculture has begun to take root in the traditional homesteads that dot the region. These classical homesteads showcase permaculture principles through their multi-tiered cropping systems where a blend of coconut, areca nut, nutmeg, banana, colocasia, ginger, and other crops thrive together. The water channels have been strategically placed between rows of coconut trees to serve multiple purposes, allowing the cultivation of ducks and fish. The water acts as a nurturing medium for aquatic life and as a natural irrigation system for the surrounding crops. Integrating different elements creates a dynamic balance within the ecosystem, allowing efficient nutrient cycling. Sunlight is maximized, reaching all tiers of the vegetation, while nutrients are brought up from the lower soil layers and recycled throughout the system. This sustainable approach ensures the longevity and productivity of the homestead.
The essence of permaculture lies in its ability to create a self-reliant and low-input agricultural system. In India, even a 1% increase in productivity per acre can significantly enhance resilience. Through the application of permaculture design principles, it has been observed that an average of approximately 40% can increase land productivity per unit area. In certain instances, particularly in the intensive zone 1 garden, productivity has been reported to rise 35 times, equivalent to a remarkable 3,500% improvement. The scope for permaculture in India, therefore, is vast and promising. Permaculture provides a roadmap to address food shortage issues sustainably. By adopting permaculture practices, Indian farmers can restore degraded lands, improve water management, increase biodiversity, and enhance their resilience to climate-related shocks.
Furthermore, permaculture can empower local communities and foster social cohesion. Organizations such as NotOnMap vocally advocate permaculture farming and promote ecotourism to the doors of local and rustic homes. The Bamboo Retreat, a boutique hotel in Sikkim, offers an immersive experience in permaculture and organic living amidst lush bamboo trees, panoramic paddy fields, and eco-friendly practices. Following suit are many homestays and hotels across Goa that run on the principles of permaculture.
By establishing community gardens, rooftop farms, and cooperative networks, individuals can come together to grow their food, share resources, and build resilient neighborhoods. Permaculture’s emphasis on regenerative practices and self-reliance aligns with India’s ancient wisdom of sustainable living, making it a natural fit for the country’s cultural fabric. As India embarks on a journey toward sustainable development, permaculture holds the promise of a brighter future.