Magazine article New Internationalist

Global Common Sense

Magazine article New Internationalist

Global Common Sense

Article excerpt

North America

IN THE HEARTLAND of intensive industrial agriculture, permaculture was picked up quite quickly. It blended well with alternative lifestyles that persisted through the 1980s, particularly in 'ecovillages' - entire communities intended to be sustainable. One example is the small Happy Brigade Community, still expanding in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, with a focus on permaculture design. A slightly different approach is taken by the Bera College Ecovillage in Kentucky, which provides accommodation for students. The Cougar Hill Ecohamlet in Grand Forks, Canada, has half-a-dozen families living on the land and practising permaculture design.1 But, as small family farmers know to their cost, the onward march of subsidized intensive agriculture continues.


THROUGH PERMACULTURE NETWORKS in Britain I keep hearing about Chris Evans and his work in Nepal. He has known the country for years - it is only just beginning to recover from prolonged and brutal conflict.

'Over 90 per cent of the working population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood,' he writes. 'Agricultural practices have developed to be finely in tune with local climate, landscape and people's needs. Such practices are intimately Interwoven with the forest and other natural resources to provide basic needs of food, fuel, fodder, timber, medicines and the like. But the clearance of forest land for farming has led to degradation.

'The Himalayan Permaculture Group (HPG) is a small, local organization in mid-west Nepal, which has developed demonstration sites to show how sustainable agriculture can be practised... increasing crop yields without clearing new land.

'The HPG's results to date are so encouraging that part of Its work is to apply and teach models of sustainable development, including sustainable agriculture and permaculture, on a national and even international scale.

'The new Interim Government, while made up of experienced and dedicated people freed from a 50-year yoke of oppression and corruption, suffers from the confusion of the vast, new, open way to development. It is an awesome task for a nation to redirect political, financial and natural resources to productive and positive ends.'3


A RATHER DIFFERENT example comes from a place where agro-industry was forced to retreat. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 - and with the continuing US trade embargo - Cuba lost access to fossil fuels almost overnight. During the 'special period' that followed, Havana learned how to provide some 80 per cent of Its food from within a 50-kilometre radius of the city itself. Gardens of all kinds spread over roofs, parking lots and derelict spaces. Fossil fuel-based chemical systems were replaced with organic methods. Beasts of burden were pressed back into service. Ingenuity was at a premium. Permaculture designers found their skills highly prized. Cuba became more resilient.

The hardships were real, the transformation involuntary - and has now been made a little more optional by oil bartered for the work of Cuban doctors and teachers in Venezuela. But much of the transformation has stuck, because it proved so much more preferable. A short film about the Cuban experience, The Power of Community, now gets shown around the world. There's a screening in Stroud, near where I live, which is being launched as another Transition Town - but it's booked out. So I get a copy for myself and watch, intrigued.2


I EMAIL AN OLD FRIEND and regular NI contributor, Mari Marcel Thekaekara, in Gudalur, southern India. Has she heard of permaculture? Could she take a look at an Australian website and tell me what she thinks?

'A distinct feeling of déjà vu,' she replies. 'Been there. Seen it before.

'Then I remember. An adivasi (tribal) elder once recounted to me how, when he was young the tribes lived almost completely off the little tracts of land surrounding their homesteads. …

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