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What is this thing called permaculture?

With the development of the Permaculture Research Centre Cape Town now underway and with Urban Farmers Africa’s heavy involvement, I thought it would be a good idea to just quickly explain what Permaculture is about rather than just defining it or getting into its specific details.

There are many one line definitions that people use to encapsulate Permaculture into a nutshell. It is in fact hard to do this because Permaculture is such a broad-ranging subject covering many different issues from ecology and biologic principles in one direction to sustainable building techniques in another; it should be remembered there are innumerable points of permaculture's compass. In short, permaculture is any practical, good idea that effects positive change in this world, in a way that causes no harm to people or the planet as a whole. It is not a step backwards or a ditching of technology, it is a firm and positive step forwards that embraces technology but within some firmly grounded ethical principles. Permaculture is definitely about taking responsibility for our actions and when it is done well there should be no negative externalities and as my permaculture teacher Geoff Lawton says, ‘…this should be done by design.’

My very own one-liner to describe permaculture is ‘The design system that re-inserts the human species back into nature.’ Permaculture makes us, the people of this small world, once again just another of the animals that share its space and resources, entitled to its footprint of soil. We are not the rulers or its owner. Many ethically minded people say we should be the custodians and stewards for this planet because of our place at the top of the intelligence pyramid. This point of view does have some fair merit but actually, it’s probably a little arrogant, though well meant. I say that Gaia is quite capable of looking after herself and we need to respect that or suffer the consequences. Right now we are ‘advancing’ ourselves off this planet. We should be totally involved in the stewardship of ourselves, while we still have the opportunity to do so and before Gaia truly flexes her muscles and gets rid of us. At the moment she is uncoiling the rope for us to hang ourselves with.

Gaia is quite happy for us to be here as long as we monitor our own personal footprint. Gaia is quite capable of fixing all the problems we have caused her, in her own way. This repair process in human terms might take what seems to be a long time but this time is of little consequence when you’re a planet over 4.5 billion years. We must remember that according to some experts the human species have only been on this planet for 200,000 years in the current form of Homo sapiens sapiens, barely a blink in Gaia’s lifetime. It has been, they say, 4000 years since the human species started its agricultural revolution and only some 200 years since the industrial revolution. It is with these two happenings that we have truly turned ourselves into the parasites that now is indeed relentlessly biting into Gaia flesh... and believe me, we do not want her to scratch. Sadly we have become purely takers. We need to learn balance and we need to learn it quickly. Permaculture offers us those lessons.

Permaculture, if accepted by the human race, is a way of encouraging Gaia to start reeling in that hang man’s rope, it shows her we are taking responsibility for ourselves. It allows us to realise the externalities of our actions and do something about them. Permaculture is the ointment that treats Gaia’s human inflicted wounds and promotes faster healing, yes for Gaia but also for our future children.

Permaculture is the tool that will allow the human species to move into what will be called the regeneration age, the permaculture regeneration revolution… and you really need to get on board!

If you want to learn more about Permaculture, please visit our facebook page (Urban Farmers Permaculture Research Centre Cape Town) or any of the other great permaculture websites out there.

Love and grace

Pete Staley

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