What is permaculture?

Alexander Tinti | January 29, 2022

The word ‘permaculture’ was coined in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as a hybrid from ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’. ‘Permanence’ here refers to sustainability, to the cyclic nature of agriculture rather than the dependence on finite resources.

They soon realized though that this permanence was not achievable when dealing with it in isolation. It can only arise from integrating agriculture into an interconnected system of all related elements: energy, forestry, economy, hydrology, waste management, animal husbandry, sustainable architecture etc. and, last but not least, community development.

A permacultural system develops from focussing on the relationships between its elements rather than only on their yield. By taking the cyclic nature of natural systems into consideration, permaculture is a no-waste system. It provides a blueprint for the development of sustainable human settlements on every level.

The 12 principles of permaculture

David Holmgren, the co-founder of permaculture, describes 12 principles which should guide every permacultural project:

Observe and Interact 
By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

Catch and Store Energy 
By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.

Obtain a yield 
Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.

Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback 
We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.

Produce No Waste
By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

Design From Patterns to Details 
By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

Integrate Rather Than Segregate
By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things, and they work together to support each other.

Use Small and Slow Solutions 
Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.

Use and Value Diversity 
Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal 
The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change
We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.