What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a design system which intends to build an ecologically friendly and self-sufficient environment for humans, animals, and plants. It also deals with non-living things, such as buildings and infrastructures (e.g. water, communication, energy). Permaculture thinks about the relationship between those elements and how to place them in the landscape in an economically efficient way. Permaculture Ethics and Permaculture Principles are tools to implement the idea of Permaculture in the daily life. They were created by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The word Permaculture developed from the words permanent and agriculture which shows the goal to create a sustainable ecosystem in long term. It is also a contraction of permanent culture to emphasize that cultures and communities cannot survive without a functioning ecosystem.

Philosophy of Permaculture

In his book The One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote down ideas about natural farming. For him, farming is not only food production but also “an aesthetic and spiritual approach to life”. This is seen as the base of the philosophy of Permaculture.

“In brief, it is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating elements as a single-production system.”

Bill Mollison

Permaculture as an alternative to industrial agriculture

A cornerstone of permaculture philosophy is to turn problems into opportunities and to turn “wastes” into resources. A Permaculture system can be maintained using a minimum of materials, energy and labour. By recycling “waste” back into the system, it also minimizes pollution. Permaculture methods include Indigenous knowledge and traditions. Observing nature and observing how life develops, organizes, and maintains are main aspects of Permaculture. Without a lot of technical knowledge, we can learn directly from the nature. We need to stop thinking that we have superiority over the natural world. Humans often think that nature is depending on us and our improved techniques, because we destroyed the natural balance with those same techniques. It is on us to accept that we are not the master creators of the nature. Conventional agriculture is destroying fertile soil and land by using monoculture to plant crops, using non-renewable resources and polluting land and water with chemicals. Of course, this will bring often a faster and bigger yield. But over the long term, we are destroying our earth. Permaculture offers a solution to stop damaging farmland and polluting rivers, lakes, land, air, and oceans as well as people, animals, and plants. Through Permaculture we can learn to live ecologically-sound on this earth by using renewable energies, food, and natural resources without destroying other life continuously.

Implementation and Branches

Permaculture has a holistic view of the world. That makes it easy to implement it in different contexts – in gardens, fields, forest, villages, cities and in various areas of our lives. Permaculture has different branches such as design (placing element in zones and sectors), rewilding, improvement of soil, animal systems, aquaculture, waterworks, appropriate technology, economics, and community development.

“We only invented the word organic because we made things inorganic. We only invented the word natural because we made things unnatural. We only invented the word permaculture because we made agriculture.”

Khang Kijarro Nguyen

The Role of Community in Permaculture

In Permaculture, community work and the care of people around us plays a big role. Therefore, Permaculture emphasises ethical interactions with nature and a community oriented live style. It gives suggested solutions and tools how to rethink and redesign communities. The key is cooperation instead of competition. Permaculture seeks to build stable cultures and communities. A cooperative productivity and responsibility for the community will change our lives and the lives of the people around us. So, our thinking will change to humanity and friendship and we can start fighting against cold, hunger, poverty, and the climate crisis.

“Permaculture land-use ethics invite us to protect intact ecosystems where they remain and, where ecosystems have been destroyed, to help restore them. Permaculture design also suggests that we take care of earth while taking care of people.”

Juliana Birnbaum Fox

Who starts with Permaculture?

Without help from political authorities, everyone can start to do something. A first step could be to reduce energy consumption and use public transport. Other ideas are building houses energy efficient or saving rainwater in tanks which can be used for the toilet system or garden. There are no limits to creativity. Starting on a personal level, Permaculture makes people widening their view and questioning materialism as well as the industrialised economy which is only based on making profit. With its ethics and principles, Permaculture brings solutions on systemic change.


Fukuoka, Masanobu (1978): The One Straw Revolution
Holmgren, David (1991): Development of the Permaculture Concept
Mollison, Bill (1979): Permaculture 2. Practical Design and Further Theory in Permanent Agriculture
Mollison, Bill (2011): Introduction to Permaculture
Our Challenging Climate: What is Permaculture? (And Why Should I Care?)
Permaculture Research Institute: What is Permaculture?
Permakultur – Info: Permakultur
Wikipedia: Permaculture

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Kukua Permaculture of Africa is a project to promote Permaculture all over Tanzania and Africa.

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