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Permaculture Master Plan: Planting up the Global Garden

You’re trying to say that you can live in the modern way and continue to think in the traditional way. That’s not true. The way you live affects the way you think. – Danny Billie, Traditional Seminole

I’d like to recount here my impressions of the PRI, and how different it is from many other organizations. We (Tribal Networks) first came across them when looking for solutions to problems we found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where we were starting a project to bring in a school and an internet / community centre. Searching for "dry land permaculture" soon found Geoff’s "Greening the Desert" clip, and things progressed from there.

"The Permaculture Master Plan – Permaculture Centres Worldwide" is different not just in its broadness of vision and scope, but also, and I believe more crucially, in how it is being implemented. The PRI is making no demands on us as a local organization, they are not trying to take over or control us in any way. This is a common phenomenon among the relatively big organizations; they get bigger by assimilating smaller projects they are supposedly helping out. Everything they do has an underlying urge to make the organization bigger, and aims and intentions become subservient to that imperative. In this way most big organizations, while they may have started out with the best of intentions, end up mirroring the ways of the system that caused the problems in the first place.

Which brings me to the Danny Billie quote above. The principle is the same here. You cannot hope to do permaculture successfully when operating in the ‘normal’ way. Good permaculture can only be done under a system that follows the principles of permaculture. It seems to me that the PRI has managed to do that, even while becoming an internationally recognized and respected institution. This needs to be stressed. It doesn’t just happen, it requires conscious effort to keep true to your principles and yet still find a way to promote those principles on a large scale, worldwide. This is no small achievement.

So what am I on about? How does the "Permaculture Masterplan" embody permaculture principles? Let’s take our little project as an example. Our problem was a severe lack of water for most of the year, which then causes the other problems. For example; desertification, poverty, and disease from dirty water. The Permaculture Master Plan involves setting up independent projects, which become self-financing largely by running courses. Our project will repair the watershed of the whole valley, which in turn will hold in the water and increase water flow and fertility. This provides a long-term solution, unlike such things as irrigation, which cause debt and interfere severely with the local economy and relationships.

When Geoff described it all to me, sitting outside a farmhouse on top of a mountain in Ait Attab, it all sounded too good to be true. The first thing that came to my mind (being a corrupt European) was ‘scam’. Honestly that’s what it sounded like. We get a load of students to come over and do a course. They build the earthworks, pay for all the labour, and even pay for other students either locally or from poor communities elsewhere. It all costs us nothing at all!

But if it is a scam, then where are the losers? A scam always has losers, by definition. I could see no losers. The students have an amazing experience in a remote Berber tribal area, and gain experience and a qualification that can provide them with a worthwhile and fulfilling life (not to mention the chance of a future for our children!), the land gets to keep its water and become fertile again, the local people have more water and better variety of food, become more independent and regain self-respect, and our organization has a place, a root structure for future projects to sprout from and grow.

Where else do you see this win-win situation? Not in modern top-down systems, that’s for sure. But anyone who has done even just a Permaculture Introductory Course, or read a few of the entries on this website can recognize it right away. The Master Plan is planting seeds on many levels, and the principles of permaculture are carried through on each level. The design for the Master Plan is every bit as much a permaculture project as each on-the-ground project is.

Editor’s Note: People who want to take take a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course in an amazing location in Morocco, whilst in doing so supporting the education of poor locals, can check out the course for April.


  1. “But if it is a scam, then where are the losers?”

    Permaculture as a movement is the loser.

    After 30+ years, I’m not seeing permaculture break out into the real world in a way that is required for it to have any measurable impact on collapse. I think the MLM way in which it’s been set up to propagate itself has been part of the problem.

    Permaculture needs to start scaling up. Rob Hopkins trying to make Totnes the tree capital in britain, for instance. Maybe a bunch of tree plantings on sidewalks shouldn’t be considered permaculture, per se, but it’s the kind of thing we need to see done. We need to get permaculture out of constant R&D mode and out into the mainstream.

    It’s now or never.

  2. It seems a bit odd to me to say that permaculture as a whole is the loser, unless the PRI plan was started at the beginning of those 30 years you refer to subsequently. I would pont out that it is only about two years old. Or unless our little project in Morocco has somehow prevented trees from being planted in Totnes.

    If the latter is the case, I am very sorry and I’ll make sure we send a team over as soon as we can afford it.

    As for permaculture needing to scale up, well, I disagree, but fortunately it is not within either of our purviews to dictate that. I feel that permaculture is rooted in a community. A project will naturally be the right size for the community it serves. If you acale up a community’s systems you just get… well, take a look around because that is exactly what has happened.

    Certainly we need more projects, and that is happening. 30 years ago the vast majority of people were fast asleep, dreaming about cars and football and fashion and mobile phones that didn’t need a car to carry them around. They were unaware of what was happening around them and mostly violently opposed to being told about it.

    Now a lot more people are awake, and the PRI’s initiative, which is the subject of this essay, is one of the entities inspiring people around the world to get started. Sure, it’s just the beginning, so how can you say that the movement is a loser from this? It’s an insane proposition. The only thing that could lose is some idea that you have, that you perceive to be losing as a result. Other parts of the ‘movement’ are just getting on with it.

    If you want to give Big Permaculture a try, nobody’s stopping you. go ahead and show everyone.

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