1985: permaculture aid

The Lost Stories

Remembering Bill in print — the legacy of Bill Mollison from the pages of the Permaculture International Journal

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison's articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.

All stories and other content © Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted. ..........

Permaculture aid

1985, Edition 22, Permaculture

SEVERAL PEOPLE have written indicating support for a Third World ‘Trust in Aid’ to teach permaculture courses in areas where people need help. Some have sent sums of from $100 to $1000 to go into such a trust, and we have established the account. We do not as yet have tax deductibility but have instructed our lawyer to try to get this for us, if necessary by changes to our trust document.

Some people have indicated that they will be approaching organisations like Live Aid to assist, and we would be grateful for any independent initiatives to any such nongovernmentat organisations or even government organisations for grants towards our Trust in Aid.

We have been giving this subject considerable thought and have discovered that very few Third-World projects work.

Those that do seem to work have these characteristics:

  • they arise from projects that are seen to be important by local people; while there is no reason not to lay out a smorgasbord of possibilities, the choices of priorities and possibilities must be left to the people on the ground
  • they know what time they have to spare and what skills can be developed.

Once some priorities are defined:

  • the approach that works is practical-educational — actual ground projects formed as teaching projects but solving a specific problem or set of problems and developing local skills
  • assistance may then be required as back-up; materials, plants, and seed or information supplied to support local initiatives
  • all of this works only if people get a direct return for effort; if we do not we dependency and exploitation; this is the critical impediment to aid where large landlords or corrupt bureaucracies benefit from aid (most cases funded by foreign banks or governments)
  • any project should have the potential to make its own way, either as savings, sales, or a teaching centre, and preferably all of these approaches.
  • Our teaching courses are good initiators of such an approach but must be followed by support of a group in-country. ‘Self-help training for long-term development’ sums it up.

The needs of volunteers

Aid volunteers need to be very practical and skilled, able to give training at certificate level in any one area. Enthusiasm is not enough and in fact an inexperienced enthusiast creates more problems for everybody.

Other points to watch are:

  • That individuals are not selected for help. This causes a host of local problems and leaves the community situation unaffected. Thus, aid should be to local groups, preferably as aid in training and in business.
  • Aid should never be charity, which is dependency-generating, but should be invested in basic change (independence and self-help assistance). Injustice is the root cause of poverty.
  • There should be no strings or requirements on aid, no ‘thanks’ required nor reports to be given. Donors need to trust local people once a good group has been selected.
  • Prestige projects and paid administrators are often insupportable locally.
  • A joint project may very well work. For example, a trade exchange where profits are split. There is no charity involved here, just some initial investment and work on both sides. •
  • It is a good idea to work with an already-established aid group made up of nationals and locals. Their achievements are easy to see and many cultural impediments can be avoided.

There are probably three to four levels of aid, each suited to a different set of conditions:

Aid in disaster (plague, famine, flood, earthquake)

This does seem to be a suitable area for government-to-government aid although most studies reveal that very fast action to help people help themselves is the only effective course, and it would seem sensible to have funds set aside annually to mobilise within days, not to slowly react over a period of some months by which time an aid programme has become a refugee programme, longterm and basically insoluble.

Training aid

For ‘normally bad’ conditions. the training of in-country designers for self-help and long-term change. This is where ourselves and many agencies believe we can most effectively operate, but even this sort of aid is ineffectual if we ignore, or fail to develop strategies for basic justice and honesty in the government of the country. There is no apolitical aid.

Joint projects aid

This seems least contentious. It involves setting up a small industry, enterprise or cooperative project, selling locally and on a world basis and sharing profits with the disadvantaged group. Carefully planned, this seems straight-forward. The main ethic to observe is that what is exported or sold doesn't impoverish the area. Information and seed are good examples, or manufactures from imported raw materials. Publishing is a possible area.

Local enterprise aid

Effective if soundly assessed for social, ethical, and environmental impacts. Such fields as food preservation, domestic water purification and crop storage as well as autonomous energy supply using biogas. Training and funding local people to supply or improve on existing systems is usually effective and creates little harm, whereas expanding cattle herds and supplying large institutions or centralised power systems does have profound social effects favouring an already-privileged class (landowners) as do ‘miracle crops’, large irrigation systems and large technology centres. Even large biogas systems disfavour households.

Aiding change in land tenure to give people access to owned housing and land, or to legal systems to allow or facilitate community self-help is a key strategy unrelated to technology or crops but permitting any changes to benefit people. Aid to individuals is ineffective and creates a new privileged class. Aid to existing effective groups is ideal.

How we intend to proceed

As our plan is to spend only the interest from monies donated to the Fund, we may have to wait a few years while funds are accumulating. As stated before, we intend to deposit royalty payments from the next permaculture book into the Fund, and so we hope that within three years we would have a tidy sum if all goes well with book sales. In the meantime, we will be researching effective aid programmes already in place  it would be pointless and expensive to go looking for projects when there are so many that already exist and concentrating on those that offer educational programmes. There are many nongovernmental organisations to contact, ranging from Community Aid Abroad to World Neighbours, and we will eventually be able to narrow the list to those with whom a mutually beneficial relationship can develop.

Over the next few years, many of our trainee consultants will be gaining experience, and some have already had overseas work. Although initially we from Australia or the US. may be the first teachers we hope eventually to fund Asians, Mexicans, Africans, etc. to teach both in-country and across borders.

We will be collating information on skilled and experienced people over the next two years. We are grateful to those who have already donated to this Fund, and hope that more people will follow suit.

Bill Mollison, Permacuiture Institute

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