Tackling our ongoing climate crisis means adjusting the behaviours, attitudes and relationships we hold with the environment and with each other. It’s not just tech solutions we require but deep cultural shifts. It won’t be a single action but the collection of many small and sweeping changes that sets us up for success or failure and culture is the bedrock of behaviour.
We’ll be exploring through a variety of speakers how shifting culture from mainstream society, whether ancient or modern, can help change our current climate path. With special emphasis on first nations ways of knowing and being, drawing from lands managed in sustainable and regenerative ways prior and post colonisation, we will explore what a new space of cultural emergence might look like. An emergence that is appropriate, equitable and listens to the needs of the land and the people.
What does it mean to be a custodial species in our environment?
What is culture? what is good culture and what does it mean to reclaim our cultural practices?
How can we contribute to meaningful cultural emergence as ethical and responsible consumers?
These are a few of the questions we’ll be exploring in depths over the three days of this seminar, with many more exploring the themes of right relating, impacts of colonisation, moving beyond helplessness, cross-cultural dialogue and breaking the binaries we live within.
All profits raised from this event is going towards a specific land back fund for First Nations Aboriginal people.
Vocational courses in permaculture became part of the national training system at the end of 2015. This includes the Certificate I-IV and Diploma of Permaculture.
All VET courses are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they meet industry need. The Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation & Land Management Training Package (where VET Permaculture lives) has been being reviewed over the last couple of years in order of “industry sector” – in other words similar subject areas are reviewed as a group, rather than by qualification level or any other measure. Permaculture is in Group Three (along with Organic Agriculture and Composting) which is the final group for review.
The Subject Matter Expert Committee, including several PA members, met on October 11th to do a Workplace Functional Analysis – that is analyse what and where the jobs in permaculture are. This is also to commence the review of the Permaculture coded units, and the five qualifications and a Skill Set in Permaculture.
The team from the OTEPIC Peace Project, represented by Coordinator, Philip Odhiambo Munyasia, thanks donors to PA’s Permafund for their support in promoting permaculture in Kitale Kenya.
In 2020, OTEPIC received a $2,000 Permafund grant for a beekeeping project. This included establishing ten bee hives initially and training a core contingent of 70 local community members in beekeeping. A further 100 community members are being introduced to beekeeping as a means of generating personal incomes and reducing local poverty. Youth leadership training is ongoing.
As an alternative local farming enterprise, beekeeping is already creating employment at a low level. Four people are working on the bee project while learning to build bee hives to sell to the local market. Farm yields have also increased due to the availability of bees as pollinators.
OTEPIC’s apiary was established in April ’21 providing ongoing beekeeping business management training and demonstrations for members of the Biddi community. By December 2021 members of the community will be sharing roles for the collective management of the apiary and the surrounding bee attracting gardens and food forest.
Honey has been harvested twice already with a beeswax and propolis extraction process to be established by the end of 2021. Hives have been bought collectively and are being managed by OTEPIC project community members as a group demonstration site at the Upendo garden.
To keep the bees in good health for the long-term sunflowers and nectar rich flowers have been planted, water sources made available and bee feeding stations are set up when required.
There are many social and economic factors that cause division among communities and bee keeping has helped to bring people together to exchange and share, promoting unity and diminishing the divides of political and resource-based disagreements and conflicts.
The project has its challenges including transportation of materials, bee hives and volunteers to the working site. The unpredictable rainy season has affected the swarming season which helps add colonies for the bee hives. There wasn’t enough shade when the hives were first installed so fast-growing trees are being grown around them.
A lot has been learned during the project planning process, which has served as a reminder to look at how each element is connected to the others and the importance of looking at whole systems and the complete vision when planning one aspect.
Members of OTEPIC and its neighbours have learned from every step of the installation of the bee keeping project and will be able to replicate the process in future projects. They have been inspired by the experience of collaboration and exchange with other regional projects such as the Garden of Hope project and will continue to look for these opportunities, Monitoring and evaluation of the project is ongoing.
Donations to Permaculture Australia’s Permafund over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and support environmental and community building projects like the OTEPIC Beekeeping project. Find out more including how to donate here.
“It is with great pleasure I accept the honour of being a patron of Permaculture Australia. I have been involved in the organisation since it’s incorporation as a non-profit in 1987 as a Founding Director and five years as Editor of the Permaculture International Journal, which nurtured the early growth of the global permaculture movement. Since the early 80s, I have been teaching permaculture and consulting internationally, including working closely with Bill Mollison.
Over the past two decades my key focus in PA has been the design and roll-out of the Accredited Permaculture Training vocational education and qualifications to take permaculture practice to a new level of proficiency and professionalism, and to support the organisation’s transition from global to a more focussed national voice for the permaculture community in Australia.
Now as a PA Patron I offer my experience, insights and historic perspectives to the Australian permaculture community in promoting the important role permaculture has to play in meeting the challenges we face, as a nation and as a planet in crisis. In a rapidly changing and uncertain world, the permaculture ethics, principles and practices provide guidance and direction for solution-oriented actions by individuals, households and communities to adapt and regenerate our physical environments and social landscapes.
Permaculture Australia is growing and maturing as a dynamic, member-based organisation that embraces the diverse nature of permaculture people, projects, groups, enterprises and initiatives around the country. Through this collective voice, we can provide vital support and inspiration for each other and use this platform to reach out to the wider Australian community and those searching for solutions and the hope that arises from meaningful action.
I personally feel that there’s much healing to be done as we move forward, on a personal level of deep reconnection with nature, of shifting from a ‘me’ to ‘we’ focused society through community action, and of acknowledging and embracing the wealth of indigenous and first nation wisdoms, their intimate connection to, and knowledge of, Country.
Another world is possible, and through a strong Permaculture Australia we can harness our collective energy, skills and experience to be more effective change-makers.”
Robyn Francis, August 2021
Read more about Robyn’s permaculture experience and insights in our interview with Robyn in 2020 here
“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.
PA’s Kym chats with Terry Leahy, who has been involved in the permaculture movement for more than 40 years, about his new book. The Politics of Permaculture is one of the first books to unpack the theory and practice of this social movement that looks to challenge the status quo. Drawing upon publications as well as extensive interviews with permaculture practitioners and organisations from around the world, Terry Leahy explains the ways permaculture is understood and practiced in different contexts.
Tell us about yourself and how did you get involved in permaculture?
I was in a Child Care Cooperative in the early seventies. I joined with some other people in the collective to purchase a block up the back of Taree. I am pretty sure that I read Permaculture One as a guide to the kinds of things we might do on our block. I loved it. Later on, in Newcastle, we had a large block and I was keen to use permaculture so I went up to Tyalgum in Northern NSW to do the PDC with Liz Nicholson and Peter Wade. I think that was 1996. A year or so after that I went to my first Convergence in Nimbin at Djanbung Gardens. In 2003 as part of my job at University of Newcastle, we got ten students from South Africa who were working in the rural villages there as extension workers. That led to a whole interest in permaculture in the context of food security and development.
In 2009 I went to the international convergence in Malawi and met the people from the amazing Chikukwa permaculture project in Zimbabwe (pictured left). The following year my sister and I went there to make a documentary on that.
We often see comments online that permaculture is not political, and that politics has no place on a permaculture site. How would you respond to these comments?
Well, that’s a doozy, isn’t it? I’ve been very much influenced by the second wave feminist movement. In terms of their slogan, ‘the personal is political’. Their idea is that wherever there’s relationships between people, there can be conflicts and you can talk about the politics of these relationships. So, politics is a part of any social life, and my book takes a very broad view of politics.
If you narrow it down and talk about politics as related to government, to the political process, as it’s normally understood, I’d say this. There is the famous scene from ‘Global Gardener’. Mollison is walking across a misty paddock and talking about how he used to be involved in forestry protests in Tasmania. And he realized that protests were not ‘enough’. What we need to do is to build the permaculture alternative from the ground up.
“Permaculture is just as much about system change as more obviously ‘political’ movements. But the route to that is building up the alternative. My view is that permaculture has a lot to contribute as a grass roots strategy, but also a lot of permaculture people are not seeing that as the only thing to be doing at the moment.”
What I found talking to permaculture people is that there are different approaches. Some are massively happy that permaculture is not ‘political’. They don’t like the conflictual argy-bargy that’s associated with the political scene. They want to get on with doing things that are making a difference in the world, even if it’s just one backyard at a time, as one of my interviewees said. This is quite defensible, and I explain why.
At the same time, a lot of my interviewees are also talking about how permaculture needs to intervene in the political space. For example, the initiative in Britain called “Control Shift”. Which brings together various groups, including permaculture, to try and create a way forward through political alliance.
Tell us some more about some of the topics in your book.
There’s a lot covered in the book. Even though it’s only 50,000 words, it rattles along. The book begins with the definition of permaculture. Most of my interviewees define it as a design science for environmental sustainability. And I question that and talk about various options reflected in the practice of permaculture people. The next chapter is on permaculture as a social movement. So, how does the network of permaculture people hang together and what sort of things are they doing as permaculture?
The third chapter is partly on the anti-political strategy of permaculture and how people are responding to that. The second half is about visions. Like, so if you are in favour of system change what kind of system do you want? I look at different approaches that people are following. ‘Town and village market bioregionalism’ is close to what Mollison proposes. ‘Radical reformism’ hopes for a cultural change and a change in market behaviour along with some degree of state regulation. Ethical businesses and cooperatives with an interventionist state. I found that full on anarchists and democratic socialists are very much a minority in the permaculture movement.
“Permaculture’s grass roots interventions are meant to prefigure what a permaculture system would be like if it was implemented through the whole society. I look at how this works out in practice and give a lot of examples — a lot of detail on what permaculture people are doing. And most people, including those in other movements for system change have got no concept of what permaculture is doing, in that sense.“
The final chapter is on gender and colonialism. This is about critiques of permaculture that come from within the movement — but also from outside. Some people are writing off permaculture because they think it’s patriarchal or colonialist. What is the substance of those critiques? How is permaculture responding? I hope people will find what I am saying about this helpful.
How do you see the current permaculture movement in Australia? What more could be progressing and how could this occur?
I think I am pretty happy with the diversity in the permaculture movement which probably comes through in the book. Go on with what we’re doing. David Holmgren’s recent book Retrosuburbia is just brilliant. And like heaps of what we are doing all around the world. Adding to that the first thing I’d be saying is to be realistic about what we can achieve and what we can’t. For example, what are the typical problems of trying to run an ethical business in the context of a capitalist economy? The second would be that there is a slight problem in defining permaculture as system design for sustainability. I tend to think that the definition Mollison gives in The Designers’ Manual is closer to what most permaculture people are actually doing – sustainable agriculture with a side salad of settlement design. And I think that the mismatch between the current definition and what people are doing can lead to certain problems. In terms of how permaculture relates to the broader environmentalist movement and how it relates to the left and the public. Because when people ask, “What is permaculture?” they get an answer that is hard to read.
You are a long-term member of PA (thank you!). Why are you a member & what do you see as the role of the national permaculture organisation?
I love PA. It’s great that we’ve got a permaculture organisation in Australia. Despite some difficult conflicts in the Australian movement, we have a peak body that works extremely well. The UK has got one, but the United States is still reaching for a consensus. I see PA’s role is to facilitate convergences and to promote people’s businesses and media and to help them to establish their permaculture careers. Yes, that’s what it is and it’s doing that already and I’m liking it! Obviously, I have a particular fondness for Permafund, for the permaculture in developing countries action. Which permaculture’s done very well so far and we have the scope to expand.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve been sometimes worried about writing this book. You worry about a number of things. I worry about whether I’ve been faithful to my interviewees and whether they’ll see themselves in what I write about what they say. It’s an inevitable problem for a sociologist writing about interview data. You excerpt the particular piece of interview text and then you try and relate that to other interview data and put it into some sort of framework. It can seem very far removed from what the person felt at the time. I have also been a bit worried that some of what I say about permaculture is controversial within the permaculture movement. But quite a lot of positive response to the book so far has made me less worried about this. I think people are looking forward to a book that has a go at tackling some tricky issues for us.
You can purchase a copy of The Politics of Permaculture here.
Terry is a professional member of Permaculture Australia, the national permaculture organisation. You can find out more, including how to join up as a member, here.