Food ForestsPlant SystemsTrees

When Engineers Grow Food Forests (TED video)

Dr. Akira Miyawaki has a job many of us would enjoy — planting forests on degraded land. He once was asked by Toyota (in India) to help them become carbon neutral and turn their factories into healthier, greener and ‘environment friendly’ places. He has developed a methodology to make forests grow ten times faster than normal.

He came and did what he does best: planted seeds. One of these seeds landed in Shubhendu Sharma’s heart. The young industrial engineer interned with his newly found master and planted his first mini forest behind his home. What happens when engineers start looking at nature? Afforestt! A business creating “wild, native, natural, maintenance-free forests at the lowest possible cost, both to you and the planet.” A food forest if you will.

For me, it is very exciting news as it means that 1) more forests are planted worldwide and 2) permaculture principles (disguised under other names) is spreading….


  1. Great post. Much thanks.

    1. Yes let’s hope for more forests:-)

    2. “permaculture principles (disguised under other names) is spreading …???”

    What I think I like most about David Holmgrens voice is his willingness to acknowledge ideas, concepts, traditions and stories from the past that contributed to this modern day thing we call ‘permaculture’.

    IMJ this attitude of all great things falling under the umbrella of permaculture bores me to no end, and IMJ seems one of the main reasons for the lack of cross fertilization between PC and other established fields of study.

    You just have to glance over the mountain of Alt-Tech book/lets from the 1970s or any classic book on ecology to glimpse this.

    Once again, a great talk.


    1. The interesting thing is that many of my larger consultancy clients have stated that they have approved of our Permaculture Professional Consultancy services including and honouring the knowledge, wisdom and achievements of many systems i.e. P. A. Yeomans key line system, Dr Elaine Ingham soil food web and compost tea, Masanobu Fukuoka’s one straw revolution time stacking system,John D. Hamaker re-mineralization and the High Brix garden program, Eugenio Gras bio-fertilizer, bio-char, John Jeavons bio-intensive gardening, Peter Andrews natural sequence farming, Joel Salatin polyface farms, Transition Towns movement, Community Lands Trusts, Global Eco Village systems, Alternative currency systems, Renewable Energy and Appropriate energy Systems, Biological cleaning waste systems, Natural Building systems, Alan Savory rangeland management, cell grazing, traditional peoples integrated land management like the systems like the Ahupua’a of Hawaii etc etc etc more and more we are all inclusive of sustainable systems within the permaculture design system, which wraps it all up like a wardrobe.
      The permaculture wardrobe
      We have worked as consultants for very large religious organisations, both Christian and Muslim and others, and we have always been met with approval when we have stated that religion as a belief system does not fit into permaculture as a proven ethical design science, but permaculture as a proven ethical design science does fit into any religion that has good ethics (and most do).
      With this approach you have the largest, widest, broad all-inclusive potential audience which is the 99% of people on earth who have never heard the word permaculture but love it when they do.
      One of the biggest problems we have in permaculture’s extension as an ethical design science is that 80% (i am guesstimating here) of the people in permaculture do not understand this need for an inclusive approach and instead act in an exclusive specialisation way. If only our own people the 80% realised how much they have been slowing down the movement they would stop using the word permaculture so we the all inclusive professionals could get on with the job of fixing the world with the conscious design ®evolution that HAS to happen.
      By the way these food forests in this post look like an exact snap shot in time from about 1991 when I was being paid to install many of my first food forests for clients (in fact I have identical photographs) and at the time other permaculture people accused me of seriously over stacking systems even that I must have had invested shares in nurseries. Those food forests today are huge and I often visit them to sit in the shade and reflect on the good times we had installing them.
      Plant on people now is the time.

      1. Thanx Geoff,

        I get what you are saying.

        “If only our own people the 80% realised how much they have been slowing down the movement they would stop using the word permaculture so we the all inclusive professionals could get on with the job of fixing the world.”

        And yep this is my point, just said a little better:-)

        It seems you and Craig have come at this from a very different angle – which helps me understand the issue a little better. Cheers.

    2. Hi Jon

      I think it’s not so much just David Holmgren’s ‘willingness’, but rather it’s an over-riding strategy of the permaculture movement in totality – to ‘collect’, examine, tailor and subsequently include any and all of these techniques, ancient or otherwise, if they are ‘ingredients’ for the dynamic recipe towards creating a society that works. This includes not just land-based knowledge and techniques, but also concepts surrounding the invisible structures of our lives – like education, economics, politics, etc.

      Permaculture = Permanent Culture. Anything that helps us achieve that aim should, in my opinion, be regarded as a contribution to the totality of sustainable design science we call permaculture. Or as Geoff has stated, it’s another coat hanger in the wardrobe – the wardrobe representing humanity’s repository for collecting/collating all the various knowledge and techniques that are proven (or show promise) to help us survive and thrive indefinitely.

      Thinking in this way makes it far more likely that people in different fields will collaborate towards the over-riding goal of creating a permanent culture, rather than just creating isolated (‘independent’) brand names, and not recognising the synergism to be had in integrating with techniques that dynamically impact the other aspects of our lives. And this collaboration necessitates an understanding of the interactions between different ‘elements’ in the wardrobe.

      The world as we currently know it is far too specialised, with each specialist failing to recognise the wider impact of his/her own work.

      A quote from Wendell Berry that I love drives this important point home:

      The disease of the modern character is specialization. Looked at from the standpoint of the social system, the aim of specialization may seem desirable enough. The aim is to see that the responsibilities of government, law, medicine, engineering, agriculture, education, etc., are given into the hands of the most skilled, best prepared people. The difficulties do not appear until we look at specialization from the opposite standpoint – that of individual persons. We then begin to see the grotesquery – indeed, the impossibility – of an idea of community wholeness that divorces itself from any idea of personal wholeness.

      The first, and best known, hazard of the specialist system is that it produces specialists – people who are elaborately and expensively trained to do one thing. We get into absurdity very quickly here. There are, for intance, educators who have nothing to teach, communicators who have nothing to say, medical doctors skilled at expensive cures for diseases that they have no skill, and no interest, in preventing. More common, and more damaging, are the inventors, manufacturers, and salesmen of devices who have no concern for the possible effects of those devices. Specialization is thus seen to be a way of institutionalizing, justifying, and paying highly for a calamitous disintegration and scattering-out of the various functions of character: workmanship, care, conscience, responsibility.

      Even worse, a system of specialization requires the abdication to specialists of various competences and responsibilities that were once personal and universal. Thus, the average – one is tempted to say, the ideal – American citizen now consigns the problem of food production to agriculturists, and “agribusinessmen,” the problems of health to doctors and sanitation experts, the problems of education to school teachers and educators, the problems of conservation to conservationists, and so on. This supposedly fortunate citizen is therefore left with only two concerns: making money and entertaining himself. He earns money, typically, as a specialist, working an eight-hour day at a job for the quality or consequences of which somebody else – or, perhaps more typically, nobody else – will be responsible. And not surprisingly, since he can do so little else for himself, he is even unable to entertain himself, for there exists an enormous industry of exorbitantly expensive specialists whose purpose is to entertain him.

      The beneficiary of this regime of specialists ought to be the happiest of mortals – or so we are expected to believe. All of his vital concerns are in the hands of certified experts. He is a certified expert himself, and as such he earns more money in a year than all his great-grandparents put together. Between stints at his job he has nothing to do but mow his lawn with a sit-down mower, or watch other certified experts on television. At suppertime he may eat a tray of ready-prepared food, which he and his wife (also a certified expert) procure at the cost only of money, transportation, and the pushing of a button. For a few minutes between supper and sleep he may catch a glimpse of his children, who since breakfast have been in the care of education experts, basketball or marching-band experts, or perhaps legal experts.

      The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away, subject to historical circumstances and the power of other people. From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride. For all his leisure and recreation, he feels bad, he looks bad, he is overweight, his health is poor. His air, water, and food are all known to contain poisons. There is a fair chance that he will die of suffocation. He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage. He does not know what he would do if he lost his job, if the economy failed, if the utility companies failed, if the police went on strike, if the truckers went on strike, if his wife left him, if his children ran away, if he should be found to be incurably ill. And for these anxieties, of course, he consults certified experts, who in turn consult certified experts about their anxieties.

      It is rarely considered that this average citizen is anxious because he ought to be – because he still has some gumption that he has not yet given up in deference to the experts. He ought to be anxious, because he is helpless. That he is dependent upon so many specialists, the beneficiary of so much expert help, can only mean that he is a captive, a potential victim. If he lives by the competence of so many other people, then he lives also by their indulgence; his own will and his own reasons to live are made subordinate to the mere tolerance of everybody else. He has one chance to live what he conceives to be his life; his own small specialty within a delicate, tense, everywhere-strained system of specialties.

      From a public point of view, the specialist system is a failure because, though everything is done by an expert, very little is done well. Our typical industrial or professional product is both ingenious and shoddy. The specialist system fails from a personal point of view because a person who can do only one thing can do virtually nothing for himself. In living in a world by his own will and skill, the stupidest peasant or tribesman is more competent than the most intelligent worker or technician or intellectual in a society of specialists. – p.28-31. — Developed?

      So, I say don’t be dismayed if we regard ‘agroecology’ or ‘holistic management’ or whatever as ‘permaculture’, as we’re seeking to find all the most useful info, and put it into the wardrobe, so we can ‘market’ it (i.e. educate, educate, and make it enticing and accessible and shareable) to as many people as possible in the fastest time-frame possible. Working in this way is an effort to make the necessary transition ‘efficient’ (fast), and hopefully the respective leaders of independent fields will recognise the great necessity to collaborate and share info in this way, as we’re running out of time.

      Permaculture is not gardening. Permaculture is not just about swales. Permaculture is not new-age philosophy, or fairies, etc. Permaculture is the totality of the combined knowledge and techniques we can glean from yesteryear and discover in the future which help us co-create a permanent culture. In other words – it’s a project that everyone on the planet can collaborate on.

      1. Bravo Craig: Now I know that I’m not crazy for thinking that the current way of doing things in this world is totally screw up.
        Greed in both the left and the right is killing us all.
        No wonder I’m pist off most of the time, jajajaja…Finally got it.

      2. Craig,

        Thanx for taking the time to respond. And I like the Wendell Berry quote. Spot on me thinks. Yet, after that, you reaffirm the need for all things to be placed under the umbrella of permaculture. In my mind, this is how dogma generally takes hold.

        Part of our ‘specialization’ way of being in the world is the need to quantify, pin down and label everything. And this at times creates a dualistic ‘us and them’ type situation. I would think Wendell Berry would have supported the idea of just being able to do many things.

        I mean how many gardeners, horticulturalist, etc, who have been at it for decades have then been told by a walk in off the street person ‘actually mate you’re practicing PC’.

        IMO this is just something that could be addressed.

        Just an opinion of course, no more, no less.

  2. There is, in my view, a distinction to be made between a willingness to “open the permaculture wardrobe” to new ideas that fit within permaculture’s ethical framework and the desire to label what other people are doing as permaculture- without discussing it with them first.

    The former is a necessary frame of mind as a permaculture designer. Being flexible, but also willing to be discerning in our choices, is what- as Geoff Lawton has made clear- helps to make permaculture designers unique and desirable.

    The latter behavior is something I am completely uncomfortable with. If permaculture is an ethical design process/system/science, then it is deeply personal. I feel that permaculture is something that people choose to apply to situations. Simply because an individual’s or group’s actions could possibly fall within a permaculture framework does not, in my opinion, make what they are doing permaculture.

    I do not feel comfortable initiating strangers or their behavior into an ethical framework that they may either be unaware of, or, perhaps, even have consciously chosen to reject- as strange as it may seem to us that anyone would reject what we consider to be admirable ethical principles. Only the individual or group can make the decision whether or not to ascribe their actions as falling under permaculture’s ethical system.

    If the story of how Sepp Holzer came to describe his family’s farm as “permaculture” is true, then I feel that is a praiseworthy method of expanding the permaculture movement. From what I understand, he was approached and asked whether or not he would be willing to describe what his family had already been doing as permaculture. This approach allows those not currently describing their work as permaculture the opportunity to consent or decline the permaculture ethical framework. I feel that this is the most respectful way of approaching those unaware or not self-identifying as permaculturalists.

    There are people in this world who may not want to be affiliated with permaculture as either the ethical design system it is or the movement it has become. Not only I am completely willing to accept their decision, but I am also adamant that they are able to make the choice themselves.

    This is because I am more than happy to work outside of the permaculture world. I am very open about who I am and what I want to do and do not close doors without consideration. At the same time, I chose this path and would not wish others to project their own labels onto me. So I try to be very careful about projecting onto others.

    Thats my 2 cents, anyway.

  3. In the light of the discussion about how permaculture fits with religious and ethical systems, I think it’s interesting that many of the trees that Akira Miyawaki used to regenerate native woodlands in Japan were grown from seeds collected from relict woodlands around Shinto shrines. These tiny patches of woodland remain even in very deforested areas because of cultural beliefs that they are sacred and it’s unlucky to harm them.

    I’m not aware of any such sites or beliefs associated with the Christian religion (which is the only one I can say I’m familiar with), except perhaps the preservation of ancient yews in churchyards in Britain. Anyone know of examples from other cultures and religions?

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