After almost two years work in a very different field, we are finally back on the Permaculture track, and more enthusiastic than ever. But why the pause in the first place?

I’d been living as most of us do; as if I was immortal. Like all of us, I was not. Far from it. Two years ago I discovered that I had significant liver cancer. It was made clear to me that without rapid surgical intervention, my chances of survival for more than months was very remote.

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Understand aquaculture efficiency

Be able to design basic aquaculture system, understanding

principles for spp selection, stocking needs, nutrient req’mts

Same PC principles apply as for other aspects of design

Aquaculture dam

sundari - from pasture to jungle -s

My pond in Australia, very alive with surface area of c.1200 sq. m.; great edge, vertical and horizontal, diverse species, aquatic and edge.

high oxygen is needed – SO greatest surface area is best; productivity of an aquaculture system is related to area rather than volume, since below two metres, very fish live because:

  • less oxygen;
  • less light
  • less nutrient except in deposited soil and organic material

ie; can be mostly shallow, with deep spots for fish to escape in heat

An aquaculture pond can act as nutrient trap at bottom of system

Actually lose land, BUT Yield 4-20 times land system, because:

pond edge temp

1 great diversity – wet soil trees on edge; permanent water levels critical; swamp plants ; emergents (bullrush); floating plants (water hyacinth); submergent plants

ii fish have greatest food-flesh ratio

iii temperature more consistent than surrounding land

Also: – aquatic env’mt can store more solar radiation than grasslands – convert this energy to fish flesh very efficient high protein.

– fastest growing landuse; best integrated with land systems – can yield between 250-1150kg protein/hectare

– water storage

pest predator habitat – eg; frogs against mozzies

microclimate and edge

firebreak and control

SO,try to get 15% of land surface under water, at least during wet season!!!


Water from aquaculture pond is nutrient-rich, so any water used to irrigate plants is super-charged with a ‘soup’ of many nutrients valuable to plants. Win-win!


Why so efficient?

– cold-blooded , so don’t use up energy controlling body temp.

– fish weight supported by water, so more food energy for growth

– can be grown on waste, such as animal residues

– fish farming can be carried out on marginal land, making it productive

  • ponds can add another use to existing facilities, such as irrigation dams;
  • since aquaculture functions best in slightly alkaline water (7-9), if there is not a regular through-flow of water (in the case of a mostly rain-fed pond for example) acidity may increase especially if animals such as ducks or pigs are used to add fertility to the water as a symbiotic animal-fish system. This can reduce the productivity of the pond through high pH and over nutrification which deprives the water of oxygen.
  • In such cases, the pond can be occasionally drained, planted with green manure which absorbs the high-nutrient level of the pond soil, and this can be used as fertilizer, complementing agriculture and increasing overall food prod’n

YIELDS; in terms of protein 4.05ha water > product than 80.9ha grazing

  • nutrient water from fish and animals very rich (see above for problems associated with acidity; it has excellent pH level – best used for tree crops as may be too much N for vegetables

The city of Kalkutta in India produces over 20,000kg of fish PER DAY from its aquaculture. Not to mention the amount of other food produced. The system works – theoretically at least – on a series of lakes, each one functioning to treat the pollutants, reducing it to the point where it is healthy enough for edible fish. The first lakes produce biomass which grows biomass for reforestation, while extracting the heaviest pollutants. The next ones also produce vast amounts of biomass, plus fish and other aquatic species are introduced; this process continues, each system extracting more pollutants until the point that fishes which can only live in relatively clean water, survive. Thereafter productive edible aquaculture systems provide the 20,000 kg/day of edible fish plus aquatic edible plants. It’s all win from a pollution source to an abundance of many dimensions.

Factors in Setting up aquaculture ponds

* pH 7-9. Anything under 6.5 won’t be very productive. pH 7.5-8.0 is optimum, but will change at different times of year

  • depth at least 2m in middle so fish can escape from heat. >2m is not valuable from a harvest perspective. Ideal temp 18-25degC.

* clear water. Hold large silver coin 450mm under water; if clearly seen, clear enough for fish. Turbidity reduces sun’s penetration and thus algal growth. Small amount of obscurity can inhibit predators. Gypsum will clear muddiness and help balance pH. 560kg/ha added in small quantities is effective in clearing murkiness

* available food required – grow your own food. New dam can be inocculated by taking a bucket of water from old dam to breed up plants and micro-organisms. Algal feeders need heavy manuring and algae needs sun. Grass eaters need water plants along the edges. Taro is an excellent feed with weeds in between. Mulch edge of new dam immediately to encourage edge plants and reduce erosion and run-off. if within 30deg of the Equator, mallee prawn does well. Suspend nets vertically in water to grow algae.

– some as runoff from agricultural land

– from leaves, other deitrus, insects falling from fruit & veg.

  • manure from water birds and fish
  • manure, scraps added directly; animals can be penned over pond
  • pigeon coop standing in pond against fox attack
  • floating chicken house;
  • pig or cow house flowing into fish pond

– nutrient levels must be monitored, balanced by extra fish etc

– feeding sludge from bio-gas unit

wild animals – bat nesting-box with rungs and bat shit in first

– bottom sludge should be slightly basic, but often acidic from manure etc – to correct, add lime , or periodically drain and grow high nutrient crop, leaving residue as nutrients in bottom of pond, and refill

* existing vegetation must be assisted to attract insects or drop feed into the dam. It also provides an immediate habitat for micro-organisms.

* size, number of fish and carrying capacity is related to surface area, NOT to depth of water or total volume. The ratio is of Size of Surface: Edge length.

  • water level stability and water loss; top up if required. Oxygen levels are one of the most important factors. A reticulation system (running water, esp from height) or flow forms can help.


What are the main factors affecting your yields? Can you suggest ways to improve on this? Brainstorm.

Factors affecting yield

* Pond shape and shape

  • longer the edge and greater the shallow area, more food available ; ie; crennelated edge, NOT straight sides or circular

pond with island vegetated catchment

Note also that the catchment area is vegetated fully apart from the small bare ground in foreground. Swales leading around the contour above the dam would greatly add to the catchment area if necessary

* Depth

  • different levels are important to provide range of habitats; large fish naturally move to deeper water and deep water ensures region of lower temps during summer months. Shallow water can carry weed growth which offers protection to small fish, and is source of large quantities of food, providing habitat for water fowl, and producing food crops such as water chestnuts, taro, and arrowhead ie; polyculture.


In case of lake losing water through evaporation or leakage, be sure to have a deep section lined with an impermeable membrane to hold water.

Lake profile for dry-season zone

* Drainage

  • allows for proper management practices, cleaning of the pond, removal of sludge for use as fertilizer, and complete harvesting of the fish if this is reqruired.* Screen

– at overflow essential to allow for drainage. Bottom slopes to outlet

* Catchment

– are should be managed in complementary ways, should be grassed to reduce muddiness of water, no sprays to be used and stock should be excluded.

* Shelter

– need to be provided for fish – tyres, terra-cotta pipes

* Pond Bottom

– very important in biology of the body of water; a good bottom is able to quickly recycle nutrients and make them available – if poor, bottom decay is slow. Gravel, clay and sand bottoms can be improved by the addition of organic matter such as stable manure, sewerage sludge or by sowing a green manure crop before filling dam with water.

Criteria for selection of plant and animal species

* Pond Size and shape– There is surface area, edge and depth which is suitable for certain species and affects their stocking rate amd available food supply.

* Climate

– need to consider water temp, and max/min temps and overall geographic areas eg; inland, coast, mountains.

* Available Sunlight

– plant large species on the north (Nth hem) side of dam, since large trees on the south will obscure winter sunlight when it can be most important

* Evaporation

– summer temp, wind speed & rainfall will interact. Water levels may need to be topped up

* Environmental Impact

– whether species can escape and become pests and also the interactions between species and symbiosis. Something needs to be known of the food chains in the water, and their inter-relationships. The more suited to their new habitats, the greater the growth rate.

* Wind

– summer breezes will re-oxygenate the water – appropriate wind machines can be used to oxygenate water also. Perhaps plant wind funnels

* Water Quality

– amount of sediment, watershed and pollution(DDT 100 years in mud) – agricultural runoff -> increased weed growth and algal blooms

– 30m forest on catchment

* Before Stocking

– new dam should be allowed at least 3 months to settle and to allow establishment of a good food supply

Fish Stocking Rates

DO NOT stock low; the fish grow very big and are hard to catch. With very high stocking rates, the fish stay small

koi singapore s

koi densely populated pond; density depends on sufficient food + oxygen + good water

100 fish/surface acre without extra feeding

feed via pond fertilization – manures

When stocking ensure that there are no other fish, or eels. Eels can be trapped from empty dams by shaking in Derris Dust which asphyxiates them. After two weeks, the effects of the Derris Dust is gone.

Some fish like to breed under things or on floating rafts, logs and clay pipes

Shrimps like to hide in little things. They will dig holes in dam walls. They love living in beer cans (non-rust aluminium) suspended from a raft. Shrimps will eat worms. Big frogs eat prawns.

Freshwater mussels; can be grown on ropes and can filter 200 gallons of water per day (cleansing like kidneys). They also deposit phosphate.

Goldfish eat mosquitoes.


Different fish occupy different depths of water.

  • Insectivorous fish occupy the surface water
  • Herbivorous fish occupy the pond edges where there are grasses and other edge aquatic plants. Chinese say: “if you feed one grass carp well, you feed three other fish”.
  • Fish which eat predominantly faeces occupy a medium depth
  • Mud dwellers extract nutrient from deposited soil (eg; catfish – flesh tends to be ‘gritty’.

suspended wire 'fences'  for diverse spp

  • So, ponds can be divided with suspended nets at appropriate depths to separate predator fish from others. Rafts with suspended netting can also be installed. Predator fish only get the little fish that swim by. Fish can also be separated completely in cages:
for fish in cage for easy management

fish cage: exclusion for safety from predators; easy harvest; multi species in small space

  • In this way, many different species can occupy the same pond any problems arising of carnivorous fish over-eating other species and dominating.
  • In marshes and wetlands make sinks to grow fish and prawns. This can also be done in mangroves.

Can have a main pond with small ponds around it.

Management of Fish

* Harvest smaller/medium sized fish (large for breeding

* Use traps,nets or line to catch fish

Management Problems

Lack of Oxygen occurs in hot weather,may occur after rain when organic matter such as animal manures, vegetable matter has been washed into dam. Decomposition of OM uses up oxygen. Sign of oxygen deficiency are dead fish or fish coming to surface gasping for air. Oxygen may be replaced by circulating water or, pumping it up and spraying back onto surface of water. IT CAN BE AVOIDED BY MAINTAINING A BETTER BALANCE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

A windmill – paddle floating on dam.

Air rippling on water will work.

Ducks swimming on the water.

Solar pumps

Predators – Cormorants. Fish are quick to learn about safe retreats, not metal pipes or chicken wire as they release chemicals into the water. Abundance of forage fish or crustaceans (shrimps, goldfish) will ease predation pressures on dam fish.

Undesirable Fish – eels are problem (eat fingerlings -> reduce chances of establishing fish in dams). Removed using lights and baits of fresh meat.

Weedswater hyacinth, but very good food supplement for cattle and pigs

– roots provide habitat for organisms eaten by fish etc

– good compost, mulch

– stems for basket weaving

* Never introduce water weeds unless sure of identity and characteristics



Each species of fish feeds on specific micro-organisms

Each species can’t use all available food eg; edge species (eg;mulberry) provides fruit, eaten in water by fish, on land by ducks, ducks manure the water, utilized as food by fish/ micro-organisms which feed fish; mulberry also feeds insects drop in water and eaten by fish, as is frass (excrement or other refuse of boring lavae). Leaves which fall in water are also eaten, especially by shrimp.

When food is not fully utilized, imbalances can develop with a drop in oxygen levels.

Good farm combinations are:

Fish and Pigs, Ducks, Domestic Waste, Agricultural Waste eg; rice, Industrial Waste eg; abattoirs, sugarbeet processing, Worm Farming


pig pen next to pond; excrement feeds fish. CARE not too much – robs oxygen


duckhouse over pond: uses no extra space; ducks cooled; fish fed on excrement

Fish wastes when there is only one species, can build to levels that foul water and inhibit growth

Limits overcome by stocking several species – match diff levels of food

When up to 6 spp fish, and waterfowl, are stocked, the predators of fish take no more than 15% of fish

Herbiverous fish perform a special function; Chinese say: “if you feed one grass carp well, you feed three other fish”. Grass carp consume massive quantities of partially digested materials, which directly feed bottom-feeding fish ie; common carp, and stimulate production in other parts of the food web. Grass carp can grow as much as 3-4kg/annum. (The Chinese use Mulberries particularly since they feed duck and fish on fruit and the leaves feed shrimp and grass carp).

Production can be increased three times with pig manure/sun/carp. Then water plants growth increased with nutrients from increased fish stocking & growth.


SEEPAGE areas can be used for mints, bamboo, and trees such as willows, pecans and poplars


There needs to be gradual shelving from ‘dry’ land to 1.2m

Taro->Chinese waterchestnut->Duck potato->Bullrush->Waterlily->Lotus->Indian Chesnut Sagitarria Cumbungi

Edge Vegetation

perennials and non-cultivated spp help consolidate and stabilize edge, and support insects -> pond and support livestock -> pond manure

– large evergreen to north, deciduous to south

emergent plants at edge attract insects – add to pond floor: bananas, papaya, pineapple, mango, lychee, feijoa, blueberries, mulberries(add silkworms too), pecans, hazelnuts

Shrubs and Herbs: comfrey, sweet potato, lavenders, lemongrass, fragrant plants, millet, passionfruit, kiwifruit, tea tree

Pond edge


chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis)} 1sq.m. from 1 corm (8-9mths growth high pH – divide when harvesting

indian water chestnut (Trapa) } diff spp.

taro – Colocasia (shallow water or moist soil – good understorey; corm is carbohydrate, also young leaves and stems – steamed, well cooked to destroy calcium oxynate crystals, fermented into poi

kangong – water spinach (Ipomea) convulvulous, leaves very nutritious, and good livestock feed

bullrushes – whole plant is edible; roots eaten like potato

water cress Rorippa aquatica (daily picked with flow)

lotus (water lilies – roots, stems in salad, seeds like popcorn; grows to depth of 2.5m. Embed in ball of soft clay with shot poking out; drop in water.

arrowhead – leaves or root (arrowroot) – ground root to paste, dry for powder as thickener



Fodder grasses: comfrey, kikuyu, wandering jew, sugar cane

Fibre plants: bamboo, papyrus, NZ flax

Island vegetation: chose for controlling rampancy and as nests for birds

cane grass, pampas grass

* Keep plan and diary recording all tree/vegetation info – source, variety, neighbours etc

* Remember: after a few years, dam can be drained and terraces of sleepers etc put in place – excellent planting area for almost any crops

POLYCULTURE: combination of appropriate plant, water and fish spp for max yield, min space –

top – herbivores feed on algae

bottom – dwellers on mud

middle level – fish

Different order of ponds

different size ponds – different products

1. Tyre Pond – good in Zone 1

tyre pond - with text

tyre pond for microclimate & diversity

HOW? 1. Large tractor tyre (NOT radial steel mesh!), with one side-wall cut out, possibly with a serrated edge kitchen knife (hard work!), keeping blade wet, and exerting cutting pressure as you pull up. For radial tyre, use angle grinder with blade, or by drilling holes and cutting with bolt cutters. NB: Tyre not necessary!

2. Dig hole to depth required, slightly larger than tyre diameter. Spread 3cm layer of sand.

3. Lay large sheet of heavy duty plastic – enough for double layer wrapped generously around bottom and sides of tyre, and to line inside. Place tyre on top and plastic wrap. Spread 5cm layer of sand on bottom.

    1. Soil and composted material in tyre rim for deep water plants, with shallower ones in pots, placed on bricks to required level. Fill slowly


waterlily, taro, water chestnut (Guppies, goldfish against mozzies) Urban Situations

– water tubs, tyreponds, baths

low maintenance, don’t need watering, weeding or mulching. Attracts birds , raises humidity around pond, good for subtropical plants such as papaya, provides habitat for insect predators (frogs,lizards). Plants are very ornamental.

Siting – needs full sun and low point looks more natural

Requirements scavengers help establish natural balance, fish and water snails clean up rotting vegetation and algae, goldfish eat mosquito larvae and other insects. Plants and fish prefer mature water so do not empty pond unnecessarily and top up gradually.

Fertilizer – can be small amounts of compost or manure. Water lilies serve practical function by keeping oxygen in water by trapping it under lilypads.

Plantingcontainers are advantageous because water is clearer, it allows for easy harvesting of plants, easy repotting and division. The pond is easily cleaned. Use a clayey soil with compost or well rotted manure.

2. 4-5m across

greater range of aquatic plants – eg; with steps

– fresh water prawns

weed-eating fish (carp, catfish)

– household scraps, compost, manure

  • some microclimate effect
pool edge

pond edge: can create wetland filter for fish, and/or for natural swimming pool

3. 5-8m across

– all above, greater variety of fish (polyculture)

4. 1/4 acre

– semi commercial – commercial

– prawns/fish with ducks (feed ducks, manure feeds fish)

– ducks/fish forage themselves, ducks on plants, and emerging vegetation

– freshwater mussels

– need to hold in freshwater > 2hours to clean mud

– good filter system

excrete phosphates into mud (periodic fertilizer)

shells can be ground for liming pond, or fed to poultry as Calcium supplement

– in smaller pond, can cause pollution (by dying)

dragon flies are indicator of good water health

5. Large ponds

eel (world shortage) and fish rearing – hold eels from muddy ponds for 3 days before harvesting (bones high Calcium source)

NB: eels if stocked too high can destroy fish AND can cross country to get to stocked pond

SO may be better to raise in completely separated tanks, netted against escape!

prawns farming (10lbs prawns cf. 1lb fish)

– eat leaves

– don’t like overcrowding – like to 2m depth

– need specific water temp (16-25deg) over 32deg will kill BUT can hibernate

BUT shrimps can cause dam leaks with rocky dam wall

AND eels eat ducks

yabbies like cloudy water’ (so ducks good)

many predators (birds, snakes etc) so need refuges

– sensitive to water pollution

6. Very large ponds

edge vegetation for mulch

  • fish and eels and prawns as wild harvest

Where to place pond(s)?

  • Depends on where the water source is;
  • relatively low maintenance after initial setting-up
  • can be multi-functional depending on size (fish/irrigation/recreation/micro-climate influence)
  • depends on size and shape of land
  • high on the land offers greater potential for gravity-feed irrigation to gardens, fruiting trees, field crops when necessary
  • low on land is last opportunity to trap and store soil and nutrients before it otherwise would flow out of the land.

Best is series of ponds – good for building up of nutrient – 4-7% increase in protein from pond compared with stream water

different system each pond (see example above of Kalkutta system for treating polluted water), but an suggestion is:

1st – reeds, ducks, geese (manure fertilizes water, but too high for fish)

nutrients trapped in plants – people, green mulch, fish protein

Azolla (water weed) – floating water fermentation – nitrogen fertilizer overflows to Pond 2

high protein content – food and green manure, biogas digester, dried and stored as food

Duck weed doesn’t fert nitrogen, high biomass (40tonnes/ha/yr)

1st overflows to 2nd pond

polyculture of plant-eating fishduckweed and azolla controlled by feeding

duck, geese, mussels, freshwater clams

2nd overflows to 3rd

polyculture including carniverous fish

Water Levels

Each pond should have capacity drain it empty, either by syphon system with pipe, or lock-pipe system.

dam construction -above -s

dam construction – above

dam construction profile

If it can’t be topped up, then have floating raft and place plants in it. If raft is too high, can be weighed down with baskets of water lilies. Just add soil until raft floats at desired level, OR in case of raft with barrel flotation support, water can be added or subtracted to appropriate level for plants grown in raft. (See Diagrams Dam Construction Profile, and Drainage Pipe through Dam Wall, and Raft Island)

Raft island for aquaculture system

raft island; excellent strategy for adding diversity, refuge, edge, beauty

Pest Management

use sweet flavours to attract fruit flies, use honey and sugar 60% of fish food is insects. Can use a brick boiled in liver to attract blowfly family.

ADD one thing at a time to water, and observe what happens.


pond +wetlands max edge

constructed wetlands with aquaculture – near Lake of Konstanz

water-logged and shallow ponds /temp water

edge between water and land systems

– very diverse 2-3000 useful marsh spp

– imp. as wildlife

– birds for insect control

flood storage areas – absorb excess runoff, slowly release

– very important bee forage source

– used in treatment of human and industrial waste

– secondary effluent -> swamps -> nutrients and filter

heavy metal (lead, mercury) temporarily trapped

– production of mulch and fertilizer

– high moisture content

– constant temp and high nutrients -> huge bio-mass

– equiv to seaweed as fertilizer

– grazing and stockfood (pigs, geese cattle)

– levels of limiting amino acid are lower though protein as high

– higher in calcium, potassium, magnesium, than land

– geese grazing with berry growing

– pigs originally forest and marshland foragers

– cattle forage during dry times, provided mud-pugging isn’t serious

Coppicing spp close planted (0.5m sq)

If land is small, and there is a large percentage of swamplands, this can be transformed into a chinampa system, in which the swampy land is trenched, with the material resulting from the deepening placed between each trench to form a mound which can be planted.

chinampa system - s

Chinampa system: created by deepening swamp into deep sections divided by raised mounds; enables both fish culture and plant culture: traditional aquaponics

Aquaponics see

Aquaponics is another dimension of aquaculture especially appropriate for small-scale fish raising, with the added benefit of creating a closed-loop of nutrient cycle, with the fish providing the nutrient (through their faeces) for vegetable cultivation.

Of course a far more aesthetically pleasing system can be put together if space is not so important, but this is certainly a great example of stacking in practise!

Aquaponics is a valuable consideration as a recycling potential. These are small and large scale systems, in salt and in fresh water. They can be very simple, such as in the rice-fish systems of South East Asia, or more sophisticated and available as complete systems, at a price of course. Broadly speaking they consist of a series of components in which the water is filtered at various levels and recycled.

How it works (in brief):

  • Fish are raised in a tank using a feed of commercial fish food (or by experimenting with various combinations of, for example, flaked grain and manure).
  • The over flow of the fish tank (this water is highly enriched by fish faeces) flows through a filter removing solids unusable by plants;
  • the ammonium in the faeces may be converted to nitrates by nitrification bacteria in this filter, before it;
  • Flows into a tank or tanks in which a medium of substrate (sand, gravel, if not actually soil) supports the plants to be grown;
  • the water at the bottom of the system is filtered again and pumped back to the fish tanks.

Since water is a significant factor, this both recycles the precious water, AND reduces water needed to grow the same vegetables outside in the soil. Not a bad result of win-wins, particularly in such a situation of water limitations.

  • Rearing tank: the tanks for raising and feeding the fish;

  • Settling basin: a unit for catching uneaten food and detached biofilms, and for settling out fine particulates;
  • Biofilter: a place where the nitrification bacteria can grow and convert ammonia into nitrates, which are usable by the plants;[19]
  • Hydroponics subsystem: the portion of the system where plants are grown by absorbing excess nutrients from the water;

  • Sump: the lowest point in the system where the water flows to and from which it is pumped back to the rearing tanks.




An aspect of good Permaculture design that must always be incorporated into our landuse is designing for disasters. Failure to design for extremes may lead to losing all our good work in one unconsidered event: fire, flood, drought, wind, storms, cold, heat. We can well say that Permaculture Design is Designing for Extremes since, no matter how ‘good’ our design may be for ‘normal’ conditions, it is how well it adapts to extremely strong, potential disasters that ultimately determines its sustainability and resilience. Of course Permaculture is much more than such a single theme, but failing to consider this one could put to waste all the other good work you have done, in one disastrous event.

It is not good enough to plan for averages. ‘Averages’ are becoming less and less ‘average’ as climate change effects increase. There are plenty of different considerations to be made as we enter the process of designing land. Disaster is one of them, and we must question the nature of any disaster possibilities.

Analysis of a Disaster

Design can’t be effective unless the designer has knowledge of the cause and conditions of any potential disasters. Specifically, can we avoid the impact of those disasters through good design? Start by asking these following questions:

* Cause of disaster – is it natural or man-made? Can we begin to reverse the cause?

* Frequency – how often does it occur? If it is once in 10,000 years, probably we need not put too much consideration into it. However, if it is likely to occur every few years – even every few decades – then we certainly should take it seriously.

* Duration – short or long-term?

* Speed of Onset – what is the warning period?

* Scope of Impact – is it concentrated or spread over a large area?

* Destructive Potential? – this can vary enormously.

* Predictability – does it follow a pattern? Seasonal, direction of source of disaster (wind, slope, situation/material supporting or limiting its impact).

* Controllability – are people helpless?

Fire, flood, cyclone, earthquake, tsunami, drought, landslide, famine, nuclear accident, epidemic, climate change, land degradation; all can be taken into account using these criteria.

Design…..General strategies to minimise the impact of disaster.

  1. Start with structure – apply permaculture principles of reducing risk.

    Create autonomous housing;

    have a small supplies of seed, store plants and water away from likely centre of disaster.

    Cave, underground room (against fire, nuclear or other pollution disaster, small mud house,

    1. If practical, ensure escape routes (creeks, fire trails, green belts)
    2. Small emergency garden away from disaster centre – perhaps just hardy food spp
    3. Windbreaks or berms to protect home and garden, or to change the direction (of fire, flood, hurricane, cyclone).
    4. Swales and berms to enhance water holding capabilitiesswales full - emilia romagna
    5. Ponds to enhance water holding capabilities
    6. A good pitched roof to shed snow (if you live in a cold/temperate climate) and rain.
    7. The use of heavy materials in construction such as mud/concrete/stone formed walls and metal roofs to reduce damage from wind; wood against earthquake; bamboo flexible and easily replaceable.
    8. Certain species of trees such as mulberries, oaks, willows, poplars, and maples are fire resistant. These can be planted densely with succulent groundcovers and shrubs to form a dense firebreak.
    9. Refuge island if you have a large dam

Types of Disaster

Social/financial collapse:

  • ‘Insure’ against these by creating and being involved in community-building and maintaining. Choose your company; support people; be generous and fearless.
  • Create LETS (Local Energy Trading System)system or similar
  • Work together; work co-ops build more than houses and gardens; they build friendships and community.

A. Flood, Cyclone, Drought



– often can anticipate by weather statistics

eg; 1:100yr flood contour must have all structures above it. Allow for Greenhouse Effect. Have emergency garden out of flood reach.

Create solid berm (stone, earth very heavily planted with deep-rooted trees and shrubs

Plant trees and shrubs heavily beside all river banks to reduce energy of the floods, and encourage water to remain in river bed (if river is not limited to its course, river bed gradually silts up, spreading the flood waters instead of digging the river bed deeper). Regrass catchment areas to reduce silting up, and hence flooding

– do not enter floodwater on foot; use car, boats, or wait to be evacuated. Climb to roof

– don’t drink floodwater – often contaminated by sewage; carry bottles of bottled water

– don’t panic!



  • these generally arrive from specific, predictable direction, and are anticipated by modern weather-forecasting, so we can design with a good degree of advanced information.

  • houses need to be built with cyclone bolts, and as close to ground as possible, even underground. Or, use 45deg roof angle; cut stud into brace, and have it high pitched.
  • Trees as windbreaks must be flexible – classically palms, bamboos, casuarinas, which absorb a lot of the force. Small-leafed and multi-stemmed shrubs with good root systems are priority plants
  • Remain in shelter during and after passing of the ‘eye’. Every cyclone is dangerous, and must be treated as a real threat.
  • Have a ‘famine’ garden in very sheltered area (eg; protected by wind arc of earth or vegetation to deflect wind)

Drought: will increase as climate change increases to bring more extreme conditions of wet/dry patterns


      • normal part of many climates; never lose by greed or carelessness, supplies of seed or animals.
      • Water must be kept clean and not fouled.
      • All water recycled, preferably several times over (kitchen/bath water to toilet/plants
      • all plants to be heavily mulched
      • watering to be done under mulch layer
      • no sprinkler watering; concentrate water with drip systems
      • Animals: If drought is part of normal weather cycle, then pastures and feed can be ‘saved’, as silage. Animals need to be on a salt lick (urea?) to facilitate digestion of dry feed.
      • 17-30 can be fed on 1ha permanent of cut and feed forage; free-range animals take 1-5ha in ave conditions (40-60 in desert and droughts). 2-4 draught and milkers average, so 6-8 farmers


– shade for 15-30 animals. Floor should have mulch of fronds and hard straw from sugar cane, Pennisetum grasses, or palms

– up to 1ha of perrenial forage, cut daily and fed as one third to one half of the ration. Species include Honey locust, Acacia, arrowroot (Canna), comfrey and Pennisetum

– careful groundplan of multiple cross slope swales to catch and infiltrate run-off water in rains – this is critical

– herd animals are better to be grazed close for a short, intensive time, then moved closely; stall fed and controlled movements preserve land for higher fodder productivity


– all adjoining fields edged and wind-breaked with same spp, planted at 20-30m intervals in rows through all other crop, on bunds, along swales and ditches

– basic survival ha can be cut and managed in good years, but in drought all essential livestock penned in or near forage system for survival feeding. As no crops in drought, families tend on rotation

In drought, cattle can be fed on chopped dry stalk, small branches, straw, crushed cane, cardboard/paper provided they have access to lick of 10%(molases with urea added – 50-50). (eg; petrol drum in half-drum bath of molasses-urea. It is molasses-urea plus high cellulose cheap bulk food that enables cattle to breakdown some of the cellulose in wood and straw. Rest is provided from perennial forages, cut in succession and carried to pen; all manure and bedding is carried back to forage fields as mulch, preferably deposited in swales – mulch develops cool humus soils with good water capacity over time, and the forage plants thrive on this humus.

Dangers on range following rains:

-woody and ephemerals in drylands may concentrate toxic substances in new growth after rains, to protect against grazing for 4-6weeks -nitrates, oxalic acids, cyandes, alkaloids

SO, cattle shouldn’t be released to range, esp on single sp stand. Mature leaf generally not toxic; wide range of foods, some cut forage, mature leaf from trees. Same after browsing and burning

B. Nuclear ‘Accident’/Chemical Pollution

Who is going to live beyond such an event, and how?

  • Protected water sources will be essential
  • protected emergency garden also; a greenhouse becomes even more important as a architectural design component of the house.
  • Recycling within the house structure of all nutrients
  • Earthship design system of autonomous housing including indoor food production. Aquaponics important.
    1. Land Degradation/Famine


This of course is a longer term theme; usually the degradation (and such consequences as starvation and malnutrition) is slow moving and evolves over a longer time.

Dramatic exceptions to this are volcanoes (the flow of lava and lahar ash which totally blanket existing land), and tsunamis. The impact of both these can be significantly reduced though, be creating significant earth arc-berms in the sector from which such potential catastrophes would arrive (ocean-side for tsunamis; volcanic mountain-side for volcanoes) so that the arrival of lava/ash/wave would be greatly diverted away from the habitation or cropland. Of course this must be designed so that the reduction in damage risk to one land area does not become greater damage to the neighbouring or down-slope land! 

Follow Permaculture strategies on water management, earthworks and vegetation strategies

    1. Fire


Small areas can be made fire-safe. Non-oily spp, low litter, earth berms, close openings under house/eaves.

Principles for house protection against fire:

  • Create defendable space
  • Remove flammable objects from around the house
  • Break up fuel continuity
  • Carefully select, locate and maintain trees and shrubs

Factors in Fire Risk

a. Fuel – doubling of floor fuel – quadrupling of fire intensity. Pine needles burn faster than thicker matter

b. Mulches – dry mulches of annual grass, cereal crops, pasture burn very fast. Fibrous barks burn more than smooth bark

    1. Dry Fuel and Winds – increase risk of fire

      d Topography – fire moves faster uphill

Design in Fire Control

1. Zone 1 garden around house, damp mulches, green mulches, irrigated, no open eaves, underhouse gaps to start fire.

2. Water – storage in irrigation/aquaculture ponds and tanks about the house. Plug and fill gutters, basin and baths. Have hoses inside.

3. Roads/Paths – leading away from principal direction fires come. Keep clear.

4. Orchards – excellent fire breaks, but watch citrus for oil

5. Animal yards – doors open to cool area

6. Radiant heat barriers – stone walls, mud walls, earthbanks, concrete, bricks, thick low hedges, white walls, fly screens

    1. Fire resistent plants – eucalypts regenerate BUT volatile oils explode, add to fire heat.

      No Proteacea, Myrtaceae, Rutaceae (all oil-rich species) in fire sector or near house

BUT fire-retardant – burn poorly, slow fire – wattles, succulent species (wandering jew), coprosma

8. Fire shelter – place where people can escape to if house burns -build of rock, mud, or inside hill, and whitewash it.




I am writing this in response to a recent request for sources of ‘hard data’ on successful Permaculture projects.

I must admit that my first reaction was indignation. I can understand the concept of quantitative verification of project efficiency (or otherwise), but I know from extensive personal hands-on experience that there are often other significant parameters which should also be taken into account, but which are not so easily measured by existing record collection status. So, I am inspired to outline these for your consideration. Also, I am as strongly aware as anybody, of the capacity to ‘doctor’ figures, which may portray very different results than reality demonstrates.

As witness to the inappropriate and inaccurate measure of worth of Permaculture. I want to offer the example of a project which I was closely involved with for many years. Perhaps my words can inspire in someone the power to take it seriously, to actually propose experiments that can be observed and – no doubt – which will convince all of Permaculture’s importance.

This was only a small local project in Tamil Nadu, south India, insignificant in comparison with so many multi-million dollar interventions of the World Bank, IMF, UN. And the list goes on, of grand funding agencies inaccessible to the majority of people in dire need around the world, denied by their scale and grass-roots nature to the small quota of financial support essential to initiate or maintain their precious and often life-changing projects. Unlike the grander ones attracting the attention of those great benefactors, these do not require vast dollars or vast energy. The chances of them resulting in great mistakes or wastage is minimised, as too the possibility of distaster, great scandal, or very questionable long-term sustainable consequences.

Our project began with very modest resources, including a pitiful financial base of two or three thousand dollars. Almost nothing, even given the relatively small aim of the project: the reforestation of a sacred mountain. Hill actually, since the peak of Arunachala stands little more than 800metres above the surrounding harsh landscape.

Most people declared the idea of that pile of barren rocks being transformed into a verdant forest as absurdly optimistic, if not impossible. After all, every photographic evidence of the past century had recorded the same thing; stone, patchy grass, and a few straggly bushes here and there. The few attempts at reforestation had been virtually a total failure. Adding to the improbability of success, the mountain represents the deity Siva, Lord of Destruction and Regeneration; worse still, Arunachala is perceived as Lord Siva in the elemental form of Fire. Such a symbol was a potent encouragement for any believer with a box of matches to earn extra karmic merit points by starting a fire on its scantily vegetated slopes. Little wonder there was so little vegetation, even though ancient scriptures had described it as a ‘mountain of medicine’.

The funds were meagre, but at least enabled the establishment of a small plant nursery, and the first attempts at tree-planting on a very limited scale. The nursery flourished, but those early plantings were more like a ritual sacrifice, for of five thousand seedlings planted, I can’t honestly say if more than the tiniest percent actually survived, their young lives terminated by fire, or goats, or machete. Even a twig can be burnt, and the demand for cooking fuel is virtually insatiable.

I mentioned enthusiasm earlier as a powerful form of energy ignored as immeasurable. Yet without it, and the blind determination it inspired, the project would have withered and died at the first hurdle. Instead, the first set-back became the critical spring-board that initiated altogether different results. A re-focus on sites most likely to achieve success proved correct, the need for paid watchmen was obvious and augmented, the nursery expanded into the main temple where water was constant and public attention assured; local support followed in large measure. Funding became available on the heels of our results. Given the failure of the first attempts, now I think of it, perhaps a dose of strong-headed madness in denial of what seemed to have been accurate, also played a role. In any case, small mistakes should lead to greater wisdom and the foresight supporting subsequent success.

I won’t go into the trials and tribulations that we endured on the way to achieving the results which eventuated, but instead offer a brief synopsis of those achievements. Nobody would deny now that the the mountain is well on the way towards being a green beacon after so many generations as a great pile of rocks and little else. So for the sake of a balance sheet of inputs measured against the original aim, the Greening of Arunachala gets a shiny big tick of acknowledgement, at a cost over twenty something years of a bit over half a million dollars in total. Wages, logistics, the lot.

That’s pretty good, by any means, but there is so much more to relate, some of it quite easily quantifiable, much of it not. In raising our nursery of three or four hundred thousand seedlings per year, apart from supplying the reforestation needs, we initiated the largest temple garden in India, recreated sacred planting constellations forgotten for long ages, awakened the population to a direct relationship between their culture and spriritual devotion and the regeneration of the topographical feature which dominates their city. Question: How do you measure a change in consciousness? And how far can the consequences lead?

The authorities of the great temple (ten hectares in area) were apparently amongst those whose consciousness changed, for they agreed for us to create forest and gardens on six more parcels of wasteland around the mountain. Bear in mind that this sacred mountain is visited by millions of pilgrims each year whose main focus of devotion is to walk around the base of the mountain, inevitably visiting or passing by each of those regeneration sites. Since we were permitted to declare our works and sentiments on noticeboards at each site, millions of pilgrims from all over the country, all over the world in fact, were made aware of the potential for reclaiming absolutely barren land and transforming it into beautiful, productivity. Who knows what some of them may as a result have been inspired to do? Empowerment by clear example can have far-reaching consequences.

The impression it made had very tangible results to, greatly reducing the need for institutional funding. One of the pilgrims, inspired by our work, even donated enough money to purchase a parcel of 2 hectares of completely arid and abandoned land, encouraging us to establish a Permaculture Demonstration Site. Many agreed that it was an impossible dream, but of course we accepted their challenge gratefully. We did nothing special in particular; nothing than any farmer could not do, without resorting to money or excessive energy in put. Just wise ‘common-sense applied Permaculture principles including perfect water conservation, complete ground coverage, great diversity of species, animal-plant association, close functional analysis to ensure maximum efficiency and productivity of the whole system. In short, excellent integration of all elements as distinct from the disjointed approach I have so often seen in larger projects. Apparently it is too complex to undertake whole systems analysis and integration. The consequences though, are invariably vastly superior in every sense than the narrow specialist focii still so prevalent.

And guess what? The barren land was transformed into productivity within just a few years, with that productivity increasing year by year with little extra input. Transformation of the working patterns was an important factor in this. I can’t pretend, I must admit, that the spectacular transformation created a revolution in district farming practises. In conservative rural situation, the fear of change is often stronger than the proof of desirable change. Still, since agricultural practises are slowly changing everywhere, at least there is a shining example of what is possible. What value is assigned to that evidence of potential? Potential that anyone can duplicate, regardless of resource (though the scale and speed of transformation may vary of course).

There have been many workshops and micro-credit programs initiated through the project, with abundant consequences, and the whole region is unquestionably more treed and less degraded than twenty five years ago. Our project has certainly been a notable contributor to that improvement, but actually quantifying the direct benefits would be difficult to undertake.

There are springs running on the mountain year-round now, that have not done so in recent memory. If clouds were gathered around the summit in the early morning, as soon as the first rays of the sun hit the rocky slopes, the resulting dry convection heat from all that stone invariably evaporated the clouds quickly, Now though, the same sun hitting the forested slopes stimulates the evaporation of the moist leaf surfaces, and the resulting humid air rising adds to the clouds rather than repelling them, resulting even in some rains that did not fall previously. In twenty five years only. How does one attach comprehensive hard data to such consequents, that accurately portray reality?

The same slopes now forested support a diversity of wildlife – animals, birds, insects and no doubt other life-forms – that have not been seen in years. Quantifying that in terms of nutrient recycling and fertility-raising would also be a challenging task that nobody has undertaken. It would not be easy to do so accurately anyway.

Perhaps though, one of the most dramatic benefits of the project has been the change in the public consciousness, in the attitudes towards what is possible, in the empowerment of people to get involved, to rush onto the mountain en mass whenever a fire breaks out (they still do, of course) to extinguish it, because they know now the benefits and want to be a part of the changes, to add to them where they are perceived to be good. Not easy to put accurate data on these things either, on the many workers trained originally by the project who have now initiated their own projects as a result of their experiences.

Quite frankly, I was far too busy actually ensuring that the project was functioning well to have time or the energy to devote to recording all the data necessary to satisfy your needs, and the resources of the project were insufficient to justify the studies required, as desirable as they may have been.

One should not forget that this project, successful in abundant measure, was based first and foremost on the principles of Permaculture, at physical, social, cultural and financial levels. After all, Permaculture is so much more than just agriculture or organic gardens. I challenge large aid agencies to put Permaculture to the test; let us show that it will outshine almost every other approach to development projects, leaving the rest in the shade.

I have signficant photographic testimony to the progressive story of the diverse aspects of this project, and the financial records were always meticulously maintained. I am sure enquiry to the Annamalai Reforestation Society, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, 606603, India would receive appropriate response.

This example is not unique by any means, and the number is constantly growing, from small to very large. The specific interventions vary considerable, according to climate, culture, needs, finances, experience, limitations. The one constant is the applications are based on the same principles; Permaculture principles. The name is not so important, except to convey a particular integrated concept of the relationship between people and place to create a harmonious, productive ‘marriage’, which lasts and invariably grows. Success breeds success. We are talking about empowerment; capacity-building in ways which most ‘development aid’ have scarcely touched. Believe me, I know from firsthand experience and observation.

In any case, I would be open and pleased to present my experience with Permaculture over the past more than 30 years, from Australia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Russia, mainland Europe and the Canary Islands. I have no doubt that any reservations that may exist about Permaculture’s relevance – importance is more appropriate to say – to the world of sustainable development and creating a better world, would be largely clarified and dispelled.


Dear old Bill Mollison would ferociously chew my ear about Spirituality and Permaculture, if he didn’t simply hang me by the balls and be done with me. Silly old sausage. He alludes to it often enough in Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual (Tagari Press), about the integration between all elements and the role people have and potentially could have, in nurturing nature while nurturing themselves. As if Nature and People are somehow disconnected. I believe this is the fundamental problem; the separation that exists between ‘Us’ and ‘It’, implicit even in declarations such as “I love Nature”.

One evening I was relaxing on my verandah in the sub-tropical rainforest of northern New South Wales , Australia. The night was peerless: balmy mild temperature; no wind; the soft sounds of the birds and animals going about their nocturnal rituals; not a cloud in a moonlit starry sky. Perfect. I was overwhelmed by it, thoughtlessly swept up in the moment. I recognized I was a part of that moment, that perfection, but with a very particular role or function, as with every individual part of Nature. One of my specific characteristics was the power to nurture, or destroy. What an awesome choice, a huge responsibility. My relationship with the natural world of which I am a part, had changed forever.

So I think that ‘spirituality’ and Permaculture are one and the same thing, if Permaculture is truly understood and applied. We live in very changing times of course, and must move with those changes. What was considered hippie dreamtime stuff when we first dived into living with the land and Permaculture, has now mercifully become almost mainstream. There are courses and workshops offering all sorts of wonderful potentials for doing-it-yourself, taking control of our lives by increments, spreading the good words in a world of negativity. One aspect that concerns me in the teaching of Permaculture in some places, has been the glossing superficially over the very fundamental basics so that maximum time can be reserved for ‘doing practical things’. Adapting to demand is very important, and no less so with Permaculture, but I strongly believe that giving time to a very deep understanding of its foundations are essential. To call a course having done 30 hours or so of theoretical with another 40 or 50 hours of practical themes, for me simply does not adequately fulfill the criteria for a Permaculture Design Course certificate, which should cover at least comprehensibly a huge range of themes which amount to total design.

Of course in such limited time frame, ‘covering’ such an integration process is simply impossible, but at least if an intense, concerted effort is made to touch them sufficiently to truly embrace the participants in the complexity of an integrated design process, is to convince them of the connectedness of all, and the necessity of seeking to consider them in achieving a harmonious design system. This includes the financial, social, political and psychological as well as the dirty-hands ‘practical exercises’. We can have a good garden, but that is only one part of a broad matrix of considerations that must be included in striving for a sustainable society and environment.

In this way a certificate holder should be able to clearly observe a diversity of specific situations and apply the undertanding to each unique situation. Permaculture is a design framework, not a junket of great things to do, even when they are good practical contributions to a situation. One can learn all sorts of great techniques in workshops and course devoted to such subjects, rather than pretending to offer a “Permaculture Design Course” in the guise of satisfying participant’s desire to go home and make good compost.

When the ‘whole picture’ is appreciated towards creating a whole system, rather than just a series of good ideas and techniques, we have the potential of truly world-changing consequences.

Killing the goose that laid the golden egg,’

Toscana is exquisitely beautiful. Everyone seems to agree on this point, whether patriotic Italians, or the hoards of foreigners who swarm the gorgeous landscapes, gushing their praces, falling in love with the place. Some stay. I did.

Little wonder then, that Tuscons are so proud of their land. So why is it being trashed? ‘Killing the goose that laid the golden egg,’ is an English expression that aptly describes the situation. As I move around Tuscony, my heart cries out in pain to see so much environmental vandalism taking place, generally by the same proud Tuscons.

But surely Toscana is a model of ecological good management. Green politicians are active in local government, and Legambiente is a strong and respected environmental watchdog. I repeat again – environmental vandalism, on a grand scale!

Vast areas of land are in a state of mass movement, with thousands of hectares of agricultural land literally sliding down the hills, heading inexorably to the sea. During heavy rains, the situation is of course, at its worst, with tons of precious topsoil colouring every stream and river siena red. The blood of the land.

The official response is to pour millions of euros into grand schemes to channel and get rid of the water as fast a possible, to speed up the process of losing the precious water and all the topsoil it contains. Then lamenting the dry times when they inevitably arrive. Flood or famine.

If this were ONLY an aesthetic theme – in these times when appearance seems to hold the highest ranking – then the consequences may not be so desperate. In any case, aesthetic degradation would probably draw a more immediate response.

This is much more than appearance though; it is our future, the basic quality of life and our capacity to feed ourselves that is at stake, seriously threatened.

If Tuscon pride has substance beyond self-posturing, there is indeed plenty which can be done to reverse the trend and confirm its reputation for sensitive pragmatic environmental awareness. And to maintain the beauty for which it is so famous.

The world has lost over 50% of its agricultural topsoil in the last century, largely due to the ‘industrialisation’ of agriculture with the introduction of mechanisation and extensive use of synthetic chemicals. This was exacerbated in Italy by the breakdown of the mezzadria system of land tenure. While this may have had social merit with the disbanding of an unjust serfdom of tenant farming, the ecological impact was to transform large tracts of farmland divided into small packets of mixed landuse, into large swathes of broadscale monoculture farming. Perfect for a market encouraging the economies of scale reaped by huge machines for ploughing, fertilising, dispensing chemicals on single crops, and harvesting the resulting spectacular bounty.

This is the land of the Grand Tour by artists and aristocracy of northern Europe. I daresay they would lament the Toscan landscapes of today, a skeleton of the beauty they must have enjoyed.

How many times I have heard locals extol the virtues of the local wine, as if it is the only fine wine on this planet. And that wine has been grown here for two thousand years. Good wine, yes. And certainly these hills have supported vineyards for millennia. But equally certain, it has been only in the last 40 years that it has been cultivated in such an industrial art, with vast acreages of vines all lined up down steep slopes that ensure the departure of topsoil is hastened, that guarantees the development of erosion lines between those symmetrical lines. If we continue with current methods of landuse, there is litle possibility that in even 200 years (surely much less) this Tuscony will be able to support a fraction of the vineyards of today.

Our relationship with our landscape has changed radically in the last century, in Tuscony as elsewhere. And definitely not for the better. Permaculture offers an alternative possibility, in which the old harmony between people and place can be restored, revaluing the best of the traditional wisdom farming in the context of modern awareness and needs. And in doing so, applied Permaculture can regenerate the beauty of the Grand Tour days while ensuring long-term higher productivity and sustainability.

We should not be asking simply how we can exploit the land, how we can make a profit from it. First we should ask what the land is offering us, what it can support without being degraded. If it is only possible to cultivate land by creating vertical rows, then clearly the land is too steep to be cultivated, to be constantly ploughed. It must instead be used in other ways, either through terracing or similar horizontal land patterning, or by perennially vegetated agriculture, with an emphasis on tree crops.

Rather than encouraging the water to leave the land and be channelled as fast as possible into conduits racing to the sea, we should be holding it back, spreading it out on the landscape so that it can be absorbed more slowly, deeply, replenishing the aquifers. This would have happened in years gone by, with the land pattern was so much different, so much more complex and diverse. Water is rapidly becoming as precious as oil, and the quality and lack of it is inevitably becoming the greatest threat and challenge to our continuing civilisation.

So cultivation of steep land should be halted, resculpturing the landscape instead through creating horizontal banks (‘swales’) that redistribute the water more evenly over the land and away from the gullies. Water then has time to be absorbed into the soil where plants can use it and its suspended fertility. We would then have the possibility of growing a much greater diversity of plants otherwise unable to survive in land that is so dry. At the same time more perennial plants would be cultivated, covering the naked land, protecting it from soil and water loss, preventing the current situation in which ploughing ensures the oxidation and loss of soil nutrients, the death of vital soil micro and macro-organisms, the destruction of soil structure.

With the industrialisation of agriculture, we have gained the capacity to plough the land as never before, with huge tractors able to pull equally over-sized implements through the landscape. Every time we expose the soil, oxidisation of many nutrients takes place, and are lost to the air; many more are washed away in the first heavy rains; and still more are simply locked up in the soils themselves, in crystals or clay particles where they are inaccessible to the plants that would use them. Soil needs to be nurtured, not raped. In healthy soil there is a constant balance between abundant oxygen and a lack of it, and this balance is maintained by many soil macro and micro-organisms. Ploughing completely breaks this, flooding the soil with oxygen, encouraging unrestricted multiplication of plant pathogens, and destroying the soil structure.

Witness the great clods of clay in Toscana. The only long-term means of transforming the clay into a receptive medium for plants is through massive inclusion of organic material, and minimum ploughing. The improvement can only be achieved over a number of years, but if it is not commenced, it can never happen and we are condemned to relying on a system (ploughing and chemicals) that is not only ecologically disastrous, but economically unsupportable. This at a time when agricultural subsidies are being consistently removed.

In Permaculture (and, I insist, in any truly sustainable approach to landuse) we seek to re-use and re-cycle all local resources as many times as possible, to slow down their movement through our lands (water, soil and organic materials spring immediately to mind), to create systems that are more autonomous and self-supporting. Not just in the words of politicians and theorists, but in practical application through the wise decision-making of the people most intimately involved with the land.

Let’s Permaculture it!



So the UK’s chief scientist Sir John Beddington – and so many others – has declared that the world can no longer afford to block cultivation of genetically-modified food crops on moral or ethical grounds, since population growth cannot be supported by existing food production. Predictable sentiments.

My resistance to such declarations is not a denial of the the potential science has to contribute to feeding the world, even though I do retain serious doubts of the capacity of science or anybody else to accurately predict the consequences of their inventions. Where I protest is in the field of the blindness, or ignorance or arrogance that fails to address much more fundamental solutions that can contribute hugely to raising food production.

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