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Spreading the Seed of Permaculture from Timor-Leste to the Tropical World

Visit the project's website and crowdfunding campaign. Follow the Permaculture Guidebook on Twitter (@permaguidebook) and Instagram.

Visit the project's website and crowdfunding campaign. Follow the Permaculture Guidebook on Twitter (@permaguidebook) and Instagram.

More than a decade of permaculture implementation in Timor-Leste is leading to a unique guidebook specific to worldwide tropical climates — that is, if an ongoing crowdfunding campaign succeeds. The practical reference guide — A Tropical Permaculture Guidebook — aims at “assisting subsistence farmers in tropical areas worldwide to gain community, health, economic, environment & development benefits”.

“We need to support farmers in every country to connect with each other and share their knowledge with each other about sustainable agriculture and traditional knowledge”, says Timorese environmental activist and musician Eugenio “Ego” Lemos in an interview with the website Focus on Global South. The founder of the first national organization dedicated to permaculture — Permatil — which is leading the effort to publish the Tropical Permaculture Guidebook, explains why it is important to spread this seed:

We have to claim back our traditional knowledge, protect our lands, seeds, genetic resources and water, and win back our rights of what we want to eat and grow.  The world is now facing food and economic crises because those with capital control our world. But we need to change this. If we allow capital to rule the world, it will create disasters and this planet will not live long.  We need to reunite the world.

Permaculture: concept, ethics and principles

“Generally, permaculture is the design of sustainable communities”, summarizes the Tropical Guidebook crowdfunding page, adding that it “includes organic agriculture, housing, animal husbandry, forestry, waste management, environmental care and more, and is specific to each environment and population where it is implemented.”

The origin of the term, coined by Australian environmentalists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978, is a contraction of the phrase “permanent agriculture”, later extended to “permanent culture”. Among dozens of definitions, Mollison puts it forward as:

… a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.

Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles. Central to permaculture are three ethics – earth care, people care and fair share - which guide the use of the 12 design principles, ensuring that they are used in appropriate ways. Poster by permaculturprinciples.com (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Permaculture Ethics and Design Principles: “Central to permaculture are three ethics – earth care, people care and fair share – which guide the use of the 12 design principles, ensuring that they are used in appropriate ways”. Poster by permacultureprinciples.com (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Feed the seed

For renowned Australian permaculture author, trainer and practitioner Rosemary Morrow (one of the advisers who joined Permatil's quest for the tropical edition of the permaculture guidebook), “one of the problems in disseminating permaculture information is lack of suitable and relevant resources particularly for the tropic regions.” Something that Permatil and partners want to fix with the exclusive international edition of the Tropical Permaculture Guidebook:

Design and implementation of swales and terraces (top) and bamboo watering pipes (bottom) in Timor-Leste for more efficient water and soil management over time in tropical regions.

Design and implementation of swales and terraces (top) and bamboo watering pipes (bottom) in Timor-Leste for more efficient water and soil management over time in tropical regions.

In essence we are hoping to produce a practical educational resource that will provide the same benefits in Africa, SE Asia, Polynesia, Melanesia, the Caribbean and the tropical Americas that we have seen in Timor-Leste. Most importantly, to provide knowledge, techniques and skills that will reduce the severity of global climate change and provide adaptation and resilience to climate change impacts.

The guidebook will build upon a first edition, published in 2006, upgrading, improving and generalizing it for use in all tropical regions. 

The international edition, by the original writers Lachlan McKenzie and Ego Lemos in collaboration with Permatil, the xpand Foundation and Disruptive Media, will be available in hard copy and online for free download, chapter by chapter, thus “[enabling] more people across the developing world to lay down some sustainable roots, build knowledge and food security”:

A success of the first guidebook was that Permatil wanted to provide simple but complete knowledge with a focus on practical techniques backed up by detailed illustrations, which enabled everyone, including semi-literate and illiterate users, to glean information from it. The information is aimed at strengthening and building communities from the ground up and almost all of the techniques are able to be duplicated by anyone no matter their economic and social circumstance.

Check out the video of the crowdfunding campaign by WithOneSeed, due on April 4, 2015. The project will be continuing to accept donations on the website www.permacultureguidebook.org

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