Sri Lankan tea plantation worker
Photograph © copyright Craig Mackintosh
For the past year, I have been circumnavigating the world as a curious observer, student, and wwoofer. After undergraduate studies, I wanted to balance the Darwinian culture of academia with a paradigm that encouraged humility and knowledge sharing within a global civil society. I took my first PDC at Occidental Arts and Ecology in California and continued on to Strawberry Fields Eco-lodge in Ethiopia (PDC with Rhamis Kent), the PRI of Australia (soil biology and aid worker course), Thailand (interned at Rak Tamachat and studied with Sangob, Fair Earth Farm, Pun Pun, and Tacomepai), and returned back to Quail Springs Permaculture in California (natural building apprenticeship and an International Development Professionals PDC).
As giving and receiving are one in the same, I want to give back to the permaculture movement by suggesting how permaculture can improve its theoretical diversity in order to be transparent and accountable to its tenet of fair share. Although the permaculture movement has inspired me, I am still grappling with its legitimacy within the world order. To promote the agency of its students and nurture the development of a global civil society, PDC curricula needs to increase its diversity.
To actively challenge the injustices of the global system, PDC courses should additionally provide students with an introduction to reforming policy. Analyzing the patterns of society can guide us to an understanding of how the whole (global civil society) can be greater than the sum of the parts (permaculture students and/or projects). Provided that the output of a system depends not on the number of elements it contains, but on how many exchanges take place within the system, PDCs need to focus on the exchanges (or lack thereof) between governments and grassroots organizations and individuals.
This is essential for permaculture to maintain its integrity as it becomes further institutionalized, especially in terms of permaculture aid projects. In the rush to apply the theory of permaculture into tangible projects globally, we cannot let the gratification that comes from restoring environmental degradation distract from addressing the invisible structures that catalyzed the need for a permaculture movement in the first place. In particular, global permaculture projects must promote rural and marginalized peoples right to land. For instance, learning about or teaching methods to improve soil fertility is futile when policies prevent secure legal rights to land. Even if one owns or has access to land, there is little incentive to apply permaculture and invest in improving it, if there is no guarantee that one will continue to have access to the land in the future. Coined in a developed country, permaculture often takes for granted that the majority of the world’s rural people, especially women, cannot fully participate in decision making about land because they lack independent or direct rights over land (1).
According to Landesa/Rural Development Institute (an NGO of land tenure experts that, in partnership with governments around the world, has helped more than 100 million families in 40 countries obtain secure land rights), the majority world’s poor live in rural areas and rely on agricultural labor to survive, yet do not own the land they till. If permaculture is to be a transparent grassroots movement that reduces poverty and food insecurity, it must acknowledge that in most developing countries, land is a critical asset. “Land rights—whether customary or formal—act as a form of economic access to key markets, and often confer rights to other local natural resources, such as trees, pasture, and water” (1). Thus, without secure land rights, resource competition increases and rural, marginalized communities are more easily exploited.
In sum, the individualism associated with academia can pervade the permaculture pedagogy if PDC courses do not address the international and domestic policies exacerbating earth care, people care, and fair share. Further diversifying permaculture theory to include international and domestic policy, will strengthen the resiliency of the permaculture movement. Promoting mutually beneficial relationships among the people, organizations, and the legal and economic systems that challenge just access to land, information, and financial resources, is essential. To strengthen the flow of energy, information, and resources between all the elements of the human system, we must even factor red tape into the flow. Although policy is difficult to stomach, we must acknowledge that everything is interconnected and celebrate that the problem, is the solution.