A Question of Chemistry part 2

In part 1 of this article (1), I looked a little bit at which chemicals are generally present in soils around the world as well as what is being done to mitigate the harmful effects of such chemicals. Knowing what chemicals are where, how they affect the human body and the wider environment, and how we can lessen these effects if they seem detrimental or out of balance, are all important steps in creating regenerative growing systems. However, permaculture is all about energy efficient solutions and so if we wish to achieve a state of balance in our soils and the food we eat, we need to be addressing the source of the harmful chemicals, i.e. agrochemical companies.

Chemical Energy

Plenty has been written about how we need to stop such companies from doing the business they do which creates so much harm (see for example 2, 3). However, a basic way of applying permaculture is by understanding and working with the theory of flow (see for example 4). This involves looking at what energies exist and seeing how we can guide them into more useful places, rather than trying to block them, which is less energy-efficient.

First, Know your Energy

As I touched upon in part 1, all of the world’s major agrochemical companies started out in the chemical weapons business. Indeed, some of the chemicals which are still used as pesticides around the world were originally developed as chemical weapons the ‘ecocide’ chemical ‘Agent Orange’, as well as DDT (1).  DDT is now almost globally banned but is still used in some parts of Africa ‘to control malaria’ (5), a reason which cannot necessarily be argued with (how can you catch malaria if you are already dead from chemical poisoning?)

From these humble beginnings, chemical companies such as Monsanto and Bayer have grown far beyond chemical weapons. Now they deal more in life than death. The same companies which produce the chemicals which industrial farms use to kill ‘weeds’ or ‘pests’ also produce the chemicals which we put inside our bodies as ‘medicines’, as well as controlling something like 67% of the global seed market (6).

Many have seen this move in a cynical light (see for example 6), since if the companies started out in such a harmful business as killing, maiming, ecosystem destruction and poisoning, why would they care about the health of humans, animals or plants when it comes to their new products? Logical as these arguments may be, they may be taking away the companies’ right or ability to genuinely change, as well as possibly taking up key energies of those engaged in trying to encourage more regenerative approaches.

These companies and the chemicals they create already exist and though placing bans on poisonous substances and restoring damaged soils is important, we also need to include those who are working in the chemical industries in our new vision of the world, otherwise they will just keep making more because they know that is what they are good at. Perhaps a more helpful approach to this problem, therefore, might be to try to encourage those involved in creating chemical products to turn their abilities to more holistic aims. The people who actually do the research into making the chemical products produced by agrochemical corporations have a huge amount of skill and knowledge, and the things which they are manipulating come, after all, from nature. Can they be rehabilitated into utilising these same basic ingredients to make products which are beneficial to the world as a whole?


One approach we can take is to encourage a change in world-view. Annie Leonard in ‘The Story of Solutions’ (7) sums this up in her description of the global economy as being organised very much like a game with an end goal to help the players win,
“and that goal is MORE” (7) –

Whatever we make more of, regardless of the social or environmental costs, it counts as progress. To change the game, then, we need to change the goal – Leonard’s new goal is simply “better” (7). This concept is clearly a little vague, but the idea remains valid; in order to encourage people to start creating regenerative solutions to world problems we need to help them to realign their goals and values.

Helping Poison-Makers to Heal

This process might well include the validation of the existing world-view of people who have been making poisons since people are usually more receptive to new ideas when you let them know the old ones are also acceptable; maybe they even served some kind of positive purpose. What kind of purpose can poisoning soils around the world have had? Well, humans have been working with poisons for thousands of years, and in many traditional cultures, poisonous plants are accepted as having the most potential for healing than any others (see for example 8).

One example from my own traditional culture is Mistletoe (Viscum Album) a toxic parasitic plant which has also been used in herbal medicine for many centuries considered of such importance that one of the ancient Celtic names for it translates as “all-heal” (see for example 9). Some people have written of our fascination with toxicity as an inherent trait of human nature (10) and although it may be difficult to see how pesticides and herbicides could be used to help us, it may be that developing them does, in fact, have some kind of beneficial use. If nothing else, it could be seen as a way of learning that we are capable of poisoning entire species including ourselves and so can be a lesson in death and how to avoid it.

The Next Step

How do we encourage people who work in agrochemical industries to take on a more regenerative world-view and holistic values? Well, if you don’t personally know anyone who works in this business, perhaps you cannot directly communicate with them. But you can reach out to your local community and help them to realise what their values could be to help them to live in a healthier world. Part of this could be to take responsibility for our own part in the chemical industry and to stop supporting it if we feel it does not align with our values.

that the agrochemical industry is losing money in a “flagging chemical market” (11): ” While the industry once focused on increasing the global food supply, it has moved toward improving the quality of food itself” (11), at least in part probably due to changes in consumer demands and increased awareness of the dangers of pesticides and herbicides.

Such news is indicative that the power these companies may once have been seen to have had are being diverted to other areas. If they understand that creating products which damage people’s health and that of the ecosystemis no longer financially viable, let alone ecologically viable, they will have to turn their attention to other things. Chemistry can be applied in so many ways and the researchers and chemists working for these companies could be encouraged to turn their skills, instead of creating global problems, to finding global solutions. As someone who has not studied chemistry I am unsure of the form such solutions could take, though I feel confident that chemicals can be used in a different way.

Seeds of the Future

One final idea, which I shall explore further in a future article, is the part which chemical companies play in the global seed market. Most of the seeds produced by these companies are F1 hybrids and some are genetically engineered (12). They have been known to buy up heirloom seed companies (13). The fact that they generally only make hybrid seeds available means that growers have to keep coming back and buying more seeds every year as the offspring of hybridised plants do not grow true to type and so farmers wishing to produce a homogenous, stable crop have to get new hybrid seeds. This is financially beneficial for the seed companies in the short term.

However, it is in their interests to preserve genetic diversity and heritage varieties because if they do not, they will not have the basis for the creation of the hybridised seeds. The most resilient and genetically diverse plants are those which are left in a wild or semi-wild condition and in many different environments so that they can adapt and evolve, not seeds produced on an intensive monoculture farm or in a laboratory. Therefore, in the long-term, the aim of the big seed companies should be to encourage many different people to save seeds, to preserve biodiverse habitats and to keep heritage strains alive. If the companies do not realise that this is their goal we need to help them to realise it. If they do not pursue this goal they will eventually run out of seeds which would possibly be detrimental to the world (or those parts of it which are not already engaged in community seed saving). However, it would be much more detrimental to the companies themselves, who, deprived of the source of their industry, would face financial collapse. Once this happens, the people involved in the companies can be welcomed into more regenerative industries.

The ideas in this article are just a small part of the huge spectrum which exists with regards to the issues discussed. Hopefully they can help to inspire ways to work with energies to help to create regenerative solutions.  


1. Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘A Question of Chemistry part 1: Some Ideas About the Effects of Chemicals and How to Rehabilitate Chemical Companies’. Permaculture News, 10/5/17.  – retrieved 24/5/17

2. Sarich, C, 2014. ‘Top 10 Companies Killing the Natural World with Pesticides – Also the Biggest Seed Producers’. Natural Society, 21/5/14. – retrieved 24/5/17

3. Shiva, V, 2013. ‘The Seeds of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Global Farming’. Global Research, 5/4/13. – retrieved 24/5/17

4. Ashwanden, C, 2015. ‘Understanding Water part 1: The Theory of Flow’. Permaculture News, 30/3/15. – retrieved 24/5/17

5. Pesticide Action Network, 2017. ‘The DDT Story’. – retrieved 24/5/17

6. ETC Group, 2008. ‘Who Owns Nature? Corporate Power and the Final Frontier in the Commidification of Life’. ETC Group: Ottawa, Canada. Available as a PDF here: – retrieved 24/5/17

7. Story of Stuff Project, 2013. ‘The Story of Solutions’. Available on Youtube here:– retrieved 24/5/17

8. American Museum of Natural History, 2013. ‘The Power of Poison: Poison as Medicines’.– retrieved 24/5/17

9., 2017. ‘Misteltoe’.– retrieved 24/5/17

10. Walton, S, 2001. Out of It. Penguin: London, UK

11. V, Vernieda, 2016. ‘How Can Agrochemical Companies Maintain Profitability in a Flagging Chemical Market?’ Biovia, 6/1/16.– retrieved 24/5/17

12. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Seed Saving for Beginners’. Abundance Garden, 28/3/15.– retrieved 24/5/17

13. Lawson, B, 2016. ‘Monsanto and the Heirloom Seeds’. Permaculture News, 3/2/16.  – retrieved 24/5/17

Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth) I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and since then have been traveling the world learning about and practicing permaculture. Born in London, I've lived in a number of places in England, Spain, the Basque Country, and Italy. My mum lives in Leipzig (Germany) so I've spent some time there. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and have recently become interested in dance meditation. Currently, I live in Thailand in a Forest Buddhism community school, so you can expect lots of tropical permaculture related articles in future.

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