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Norman Bezona Prof emeritus University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture

Norman Bezona
Prof emeritus
University of Hawaii
College of Tropical Agriculture

Many folks look back and long for the “good old days” but looking back to the plantations days of the 20th century in Hawaii, it wasn’t that great for many. We used to spray pesticides like DDT, Chlordane and Dieldrin to keep pests from our crops. We used mercury and lead compounds as well. Now we know that these tools were dangerous not only to the environment but to our health. Monoculture of pineapple and sugar were common. We cleared our native forests for other uses not recognizing their value.

Luckily times have changed and we have become very aware of our delicate our island ecosystems and are much more inclined to be careful. Of course future generations will probably look back at us with a critical eye seeing the mistakes we make now. Optimistically, we are on the right track.

Monoculture and intensive spraying .

Monoculture and intensive spraying .

Terms like sustainable agriculture, integrated pest management, organic farming and Permaculture are used by folks concerned about minimizing our negative impact on the environment. These terms have become mainstream.

Let’s focus on the latter. “Permaculture” is a contraction of “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture”. Permaculture utilizes a design methodology to create a sustainable way of life for all species, especially humans. By integrating information about natural ecosystems with human activities and needs, it can create a future that is truly sustainable, environmentally and economically sound, and physically and socially healthy.

Windbreaks can provide protection for both homes and crops

Windbreaks can provide protection for both homes and crops

Most of the permaculture curriculum deals with what are termed “visible structures”. These are all of the elements that we can see in the landscape such as windbreaks, orchards, aquaculture ponds, gardens, dwellings, roads, etc. These elements are designed according to several design principles such as analysis of needs and yields. Each visible structure or plant and animal species has both needs and yields.

A pollutant might be looked at as an unused yield. Many agricultural systems have one product and lots of pollutants. Permaculture has many products and hopefully few or no pollutants. By placing elements or species in proper spatial relationship to each other, a connection is made which matches the yields of one element to the needs of another, changing a problem into a resource. For example, fallen fruit from mango or other trees may breed fruit flies and create unpleasant odors. By letting chickens, geese, or pheasants forage in an orchard area, the problem fruit, insect eggs and larvae are converted into a rich chicken food source. They can also provide weeding, manure, and some pruning to any orchard.

Chickens also fulfill another design concept that strives for “multiple functions for single elements.” In addition to their “orchard maintenance” functions, they also produce eggs and meat, and consume kitchen wastes. Another example might be a mango tree that produces food, shade, provides bee forage and predator habitat, and could be a natural “jungle gym” for children to play in.

A permaculture design in the Tropics

A permaculture design in the Tropics

To conserve energy, designs are laid out by zones that place elements in relation to the dwelling based on the frequency one visits that element. For instance, fresh herbs which might be used every day, would be placed very near the house, perhaps even in containers near the kitchen door. One might harvest vegetables, papayas, and limes several times a week, so they would also be placed somewhere near the house. A mango or avocado tree or orchards that only come into bearing seasonally would be placed farther away. Pasture animals are usually placed farther away from the house as are forestry and wilderness areas.

Permaculture covers a broad range of topics, always making connections between topics, and looking for ways to create resources from problems. Special attention is given to trees and their material and energy transactions, especially reforestation and permanent tree-cropping and agro-forestry systems. When it comes to water, ways to store and re-use it is vital. Other topics include aquaculture systems, soils, their composition and structure, and how to enrich them. Creating sustainable communities by the integration of all of these topics into “villages” is based on permaculture concepts.

In addition to these “visible structures”, permaculture includes “invisible structures”, those elements in our society that profoundly affect how we live but which are not seen in the landscape. These all-important structures control some of the means by which sustainable systems can or cannot be established. Some examples include: financial systems with strategies for creating wealth and keeping it in local communities such as our islands, land trusts for conserving and enriching natural resources, political systems, community-based economic development strategies, and consumer and producer cooperatives.

A permaculture garden in a temperate zone.

A permaculture garden in a temperate zone.

Permaculture addresses virtually all aspects of our society and economy. It is a valuable concept for people involved in such diverse disciplines as education, agriculture, forestry, land-use or energy planning, landscaping, economic development, financial systems, small business opportunities, legislation advocacy, tourism, environmental preservation, nutrition, and the connections between all of these areas.

Permaculture is a way or philosophy of living that is worth studying and implementing. In this wonderful day and age, we can learn what we need to know simply by turning on our computer or smart phone to get the scoop.

When one considers all the knowledge available to us today, we are living in the “good Days”!

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