“Communities and individuals can use permaculture to redesign the use of these resources to create sustainable self-reliance. It follows that including permaculture agriculture-based programs in any community development is the smart thing to do and a good legacy to leave.”
PA professional member Greg Knibbs is a permaculture designer and educator, working across Southeast Asia, East and West Africa and Australia. Greg did his PDC with David Holmgren and Leah Harrison in 1992, and has since taught permaculture workshops and courses alongside Geoff Lawton, Bill and Lisa Molllison, and David Spicer. Greg was instrumental in the creation of the Philippines Permaculture Institute and the Ghana Permaculture Institute, and has undertaken permaculture teaching and consulting in countries including Tanzania, Cambodia and Myanmar. Greg’s business Edge5 Permaculture provides permaculture design consultancy and delivery, and works with NGO’s to provide local permaculture solutions to communities
How did you discover Permaculture?
I first met Bill Mollison when I was 17 visiting the 1976 ConFest, a Conference and Festival of subcultures of the alternative movement. Bill was presenting a hands-on practical workshop. His appearance was scruffy, (like all of us at the time) in thongs with long trousers, blue rolled up shirt and hat, and chain-smoking cigarettes. He was raving on about how to plant a set of spuds without digging. He had a dirty old horsehair mattress, some straw and a bit of old cow manure in a bucket. He threw the manure down over weeds, then threw the mattress on top. He ripped a hole in it and placed a few spuds in the hole, so the spuds were touching the ground. Then he covered it all with straw. “So easy to grow a set of spuds just come back a few months later and harvest ’em”. There was only probably a dozen of us watching him as there was a heap of other workshops on at the same time. My initial thought was this guy is crazy. Slowly, I had a last look and quietly slipped away laughing to myself.
Permaculture remained floating around in the back of my brain along with mucking around with organic gardening. I remember looking for books on organic gardening in 1976. A few months later, I came across Bill presenting lectures at the Organic Garden Festival in NSW. The book, Permaculture One by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren was published in 1978 around the time I attended another festival where Bill was giving some of the earliest lectures on permaculture. Following the first PDC training with David Holmgren and Leah Harrison in 1992, I studied under Bill to complete a Diploma of Permaculture Design and Permaculture Teacher’s registration and then completed an Advanced Permaculture training with Robyn Francis. Since then, I’ve been privileged and delighted to co-teach permaculture with Geoff Lawton, Bill and Lisa Mollison, Dave Spicer, David Holmgren and many others. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would become a traveling permaculture teacher, designer and consultant.
You’ve been instrumental in the setup of Permaculture Institutions in the Philippines and Ghana. Can you give me some insights into how these were set up and what we in Australia can learn from them?
Setting up in-country Permaculture Institutes is essential for a solid foundation of growing and building permaculture anywhere in the world. In 1976, I was visiting Bohol in the Philippines. There I was introduced to Carlos Echavez, who arranged for me to run a two-day Permaculture Introductory Course for 25 people who were active in their communities. Following that course, 15 people committed six weekends to complete the first Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in Bohol.
From that, the Philippines Permaculture Institute was created in 1997; initially as a collaboration between myself and students from the first of the four PDCs that I had taught in the Philippines. At the inaugural meeting, the Institute members, the students from the PDCs, took an oath and were sworn in as officers of the Philippines Permaculture Institute (PPI). The legal set up costs of the Institute and registration were funded by the students and the wider community. Today there are many permaculture activities in the Philippines, including The Philippines Permaculture Convergence, the Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA)and Nu Wave Farmers.
The establishment of the Ghana Permaculture Institute followed a different path, and began as a working collaboration between Paul Yeboah, a Ghanaian, and I. In early 2004, Father Ambrose, of Ghana, West Africa, was in Perth, Western Australia recovering from illness. Whilst in Perth, the Abbott contacted Bill Mollison inquiring about arranging a Permaculture Design Courses (PDC) and help to retro fit the Monastery’s 430-acre farm. Bill told Ambrose to contact me and suggested that I would go to Ghana to help him. I’ve now been to Ghana three times. During the first trip to Ghana in May 2004, I met Paul Yeboah, the farm manager of the Monastery. We became good friends and together set out a vision to set up the non-profit Ghana Permaculture Network, which became the Ghana Permaculture Institute, and which is now providing a demonstration of how to create stable food production and improve quality of life in Ghana.
Why did you start your business Edge5? What community needs are you addressing?
I created Edge5 to help address the crises in global communities and ecosystems by working with corporations, business, governments and NGOs to implement proven evidence-based solutions. A key part of this is to train people in practical tools for ethical best practice Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Holistic Community Development to meet the needs of communities and landscapes. My decision to follow this path was based on my 30 years of experience that best practice permaculture education and training is an effective approach. A central aim of Edge5 is train people to become on the ground, on-location permaculture educators and designers. Then these people can gain their own experience and train others to care for the earth and its people, rebuild natural capital, set up demonstration sites, secure local food and water supply lines, set up open pollinated seed banks and plant nurseries.
We know from experience and research that community development projects have the best chance of being successful if they build on what is in place: the resources and people locally. Typically, the most accessible and useful resources are the natural resources available to local (particularly rural) communities. These include the land (soil), the climate – sun and water (energy), plants and animals, humans and their skills, knowledge and community dynamics.
“Communities and individuals can use Permaculture to redesign the use of these resources to create sustainable self-reliance. It follows that including Permaculture agriculture-based programs in any community development is the smart thing to do and a good legacy to leave.”
How does your teaching of permaculture vary between Australia and overseas?
In more affluent countries with abundance and available resources, large amounts of money may be spent implementing a permaculture design. This may include items such as raised vegetable beds, pre-mixed soils & mulch, automatic reticulation, books, further training & soil amendments and advanced green stock. In less affluent countries, this is a different picture. It is much more beneficial to accurately target permaculture training. We identify needs and then teach in more detail only those elements of the PDC that are relevant. For example, to focus much more strongly on designing the zones immediately next to the house and only for that climate zone and weather patterns. Water security for growing food is typically a key issue and permaculture offers a suite of tools to help retain water in the landscape and extend the growing season across the hungry gaps. Often, specific design tools and specific techniques offer huge gains. Two practical things that spring to mind are the use of resources of open pollinated seed and basic tools like a broad fork to ignite a project.
Under this new normal, is permaculture the solution?
COVID and climate change effects have shown that globalisation increase our risks of failure to fulfill essential needs that can adversely affect 100s of millions of people. One part of the solution is for the essentials of life to be produced and managed locally – or at least enough of them to avoid the above problems. The challenge is to provide stability by doing things locally AND efficiently AND under local control. Mostly, this concerns how we design how best to use land and other natural resources to live safely and securely. This means carefully designing the local environments to efficiently and effectively provide human needs – including aesthetic needs – that positively improves the landscape rather than degrading it. Permaculture design methods are a reliable way to do this. I see permaculture as the best solution right now, for communities and landscapes in crisis. Practical examples of permaculture have shown that it is possible to turn things around rapidly using the permaculture toolbox to restore landscape, rebuild natural capital, secure local food and water supply, and build and create self-reliance in communities. The success of Permaculture is due to the design methods and ways of understanding the world set out in the original Permaculture Designers Manual together with new understanding and evidence from on the ground working examples.
I’d like to give a short quote from Bill Mollison about the primary directive of Permaculture,
“The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. There is historical proof that within a region of environmental stability created by sustainable land use systems, stability in human population naturally occurs. If we do not get our cities, homes and gardens in order, so that they feed and shelter us, we must lay waste to all other natural systems and we become the final plague.
Permaculture as a design system contains nothing new. It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes. What is novel, and often overlooked, is that any system of total common-sense design for human communities is revolutionary.“
Bill, we are keeping up the anger and the fight. The revolution is in place and growing.
Greg is a Professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture member organisations. You can find out more, including how to sign up today, here.