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Permaculture began as a set of farming principles and a design system that was developed in Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren starting in 1978. It since has grown to become something of a philosophical system encompassing elements of social and environmental theory and, in some parts of the permaculture community, an almost spiritual worldview.

Permaculture is difficult to define because it means many different things to different people. It has become a vehicle for all sorts of movements and ideas because it is a holistic system of observation and design which focuses on the interactions between elements and attempts to bring them into harmony and create synergy between them. This appeals to a subset of people within the developed world who recognize the growing failures of a reductive worldview that seeks to separate, specialize and optimize each function yet tends to ignore the interactions between parts and fails to optimize the system as a whole. The community dedicated to permaculture has become involved in diverse topics such as town planning, alternative forms of trade and capital, architecture, building design and construction, landscaping and ecology.

Name and origins

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren claimed to have coined the term "Permaculture" as a portmanteau of "Permanent agriculture" - and Mollison has attempted to control use of the word by claiming copyrights over the word. Nevertheless the two men clearly piggybacked on an older set of ideas and discussions around "permanent agriculture".

Permanent Agriculture (Main article:Permanent Agriculture) was an earlier sustainable agriculture movement that began around 1910 and gained momentum through the 1940's despite being repressed by the USDA[1]

Homgren and Mollison owe much to men such as Yeomans, Cyril, King, and others involved in the permanent agriculture movement

Limitations and Critique

Permaculture has become quite popular among a subset of western society, many people willing to pay large sums to attend a Permaculture Design Course (PDC). Some have criticized the movement of being cult-like; attracting only "young dreamy idealists" but not actually having won over mainstream food producers. Very few farmers involved in commercial food production (that is, those who make a living from food production economically, as well as calorically by producing an abundance of food to market to others) consider themselves pure permaculture practitioners or have won the unanimous approval of the permaculture community. This had led to criticisms that permaculture is too radical, guided only by idealistic theory and not practical enough to survive in the real world.

Twelve design principles

Twelve Permaculture design principles articulated by David Holmgren in his Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that the system is productive.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. 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.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

Main ideas





Common techniques




Sheet mulching

Keyline design

Rainwater harvesting

Natural building

Intensive rotational grazing

Fruit tree management