Permaculture Poised to Conquer the Caribbean
No fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides but a bold vision to save a region from climate change and resource scarcity
by Mark Olalde
Erle Rahaman-Noronha cutting produce on his farm. (Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS)FREEPORT, Trinidad and Tobago – Erle Rahaman-Noronha is not a revolutionary, not in any radical sense at least. He is not even that exciting. In truth, Rahaman-Noronha is merely a man with a shovel, a small farm, and a big dream. But that dream is poised to conquer the Caribbean.
Rahaman-Noronha wants to see ‘permaculture’ – short for permanent agriculture – take root and spreads across the Caribbean, and he is doing his part by teaching anyone who will listen about its benefits.
Joining him is a fluid group of permaculturalists working from their home islands and sharing the same goal: to harness permaculture as a solution to climate change, food and water insecurity, and rising costs of living.
“You can start in your backyard, so there’s no cost. You can implement certain parts of it in your apartment…If you have a porch with some sunlight, you can plant something there and start thinking about permaculture.”
— Erle Rahaman-Noronha, permaculturalist
Author of the manual, Australian Bill Mollison, first used the term nearly four decades ago and since then the idea has spread to Europe and the U.S. Now, the developing Caribbean is beginning to embrace the philosophy of permaculture, especially since 2008’s global recession.
Born in Kenya, Rahaman-Noronha – whose work was recently highlighted in a TEDx talk – fulfilled a keen interest in the environment by studying applied biochemstry and zoology in Canada.
“I’ve always had a strong passion for the outdoors and conservation, but just doing conservation doesn’t make money,” he says with a chuckle. “Permaculture allows me to live on a site, produce food on a site, produce an income, as well as practice conservation.”
Wa Samaki is Rahaman-Noronha’s permaculture farm, and it has been his workplace, classroom, grocery store, and home since he relocated to Trinidad in 1998. Meaning “of the fish” in Swahili, Wa Samaki covers 30 acres in Freeport in central Trinidad.
Although he uses no fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides, Rahaman-Noronha is able to make a living off the farm’s fruit, flower, lumber, and fish sales. His newest addition is a large aquaponics system, a closed loop food production system in which fish tanks and potted plants circulate water and sustain one another.
With his partner John Stollmeyer, Rahaman-Noronha works to spread awareness of permaculture across the Caribbean, home to nearly 40 million people who are particularly susceptible to climate change.
The pair consults Trinidadian businesses, teaches permaculture design courses (PDCs), and holds workshops everywhere from Puerto Rico to St. Lucia. “How are we going to create sustainable human culture?” Stollmeyer asks. “Discovering permaculture for me was a wake up call.”
Where environmentalism meets savvy economics
The need for conservation is in no small part a result of climate change, especially when the Hurricane Belt covers nearly all of the Caribbean.
Trinidad and Tobago continues to compound the issue as both a major exporter and consumer of fossil fuels. The country produced more than 119,000 barrels of oil per day in 2012 and 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that same year, all the while boasting the second highest rate of CO2emissions per capita in the world, more than twice that of the United States.
United Nations data dating back to 2005, the last time such statistics were compiled, indicates that industrialised agriculture accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In this environment, Rahaman-Noronha’s goal is to become an incubator of conservation start-ups that cannot secure necessary bank loans. Currently, he houses beekeepers and a wildlife rescue center on the farm for minimal rent, and he hopes that list will grow.
One such entrepreneurial mind that passed through Wa Samaki was Berber van Beek, a native of Curaçao who recently moved home after years of wandering the world. Before returning to the Caribbean, she practiced permaculture across Europe and Australia, but when van Beek wanted to develop her skills in a tropical climate, she came to Rahaman-Noronha.
“He gave me a lot of freedom on his farm to make and create a design,” van Beek says, describing a garden of banana trees she planted at Wa Samaki.
In Curaçao, van Beek uses permaculture as more than simply a food source. She realises its social potential and is working to start after-school programmes for at-risk youth who can learn useful gardening skills and the responsibility and respect for nature that come with caring for their own gardens.
In addition, she is soon opening her first large-scale organic gardening class, closely resembling a PDC.
Such initiatives are urgently needed in Curaçao, which is facing a stagnant economy and is currently nursing a youth unemployment rate of 37 percent.
According to van Beek, shifting global climates and markets have major effects on her own island in which nearly everything must be imported. “If you go to the supermarket, look where your food is coming from. Is it coming from Venezuela or is it coming from the U.S. or is it coming from Europe?” she says. “People could be more aware of what to buy and what not to buy.”
The problem, experts say, is regional. According to the Food Export Association of the Midwest USA – a group of nonprofits focusing on agricultural issues – around 80 percent of food consumed in the Caribbean is imported.
The beauty and purpose of permaculture is that it is a system of solutions that can be practiced at any level to combat environmental issues.
“You can start in your backyard, so there’s no cost. You can implement certain parts of it in your apartment if you really need to,” Rahaman-Noronha explains. “If you have a porch with some sunlight, you can plant something there and start thinking about permaculture.”
Naturally, van Beek took his message to heart, keeping a perfectly groomed permaculture garden in her own tiny backyard, using dead leaves as fertiliser and recycled rain and shower-water to sustain the plants.
“Seeing is believing,” she says. It’s her own quiet mantra, spoken when she describes her approach to spreading permaculture, and vocalised when she needs the energy to keep pressing on and to convince others that this is the right path.
Rahaman-Noronha, too, has worked to convert non-believers. From schools who tour the wildlife center and his farm to the several thousand people who watched his TEDx talk online, he is adamant that he has traded in misconceptions for progress.
“I think [the reason] I don’t get challenged…is that I’m not just preaching permaculture,” he says. “I’m actually practicing it.”
© 2014 IPS North America
Permaculture Poised to Conquer the Caribbean | Common Dreams.
I have planned to create a page on permaculture for over a year-and happened to stumble onto this wonderful site just now. Will add the link to the blogroll(as soon as my computer and wordpress allow that sort of thing;-)
I am looking forward to exploring this site at length-when I first discovered permaculture in 1999 most of the info was from Australia-which is like my climate-but it was contained in books FAR too expensive and hard to find for me to read. (except for one wonderful web page that I printed the lot of and carried around showing people for years;-)
Then the British discovered it and put out a wonder of great books, web sites and that lovely magazine-but alas the climate was about opposite mine.
In recent times more easily accessible info has appeared on the web, in books etc for all different climates and regions growing conditions, which is a very fine thing for us all. If you live in the Great White North (or South like Chile or Argentina) then don’t despair that this tropical page doesn’t apply as a quick search will reveal much by your climate compatriots;-)
Now all we need is Dr Keshe’s fabulous transport devices so we can share our bounty more easily;-) (I love the world peace, free energy etc aspects of Keshe’s work but as a gardener I REALLY look forward to the day I can easily trade my surplus carambolas for peaches and cherries and tart gala apples;-)
What Is Permaculture?
How Does Permaculture Work? Definitions, Explanations, Examples
What is permaculture? How does permaculture work? If I had a dollar for every time I answered that question I’d be a very happy permaculturist indeed…
To be honest, to me permaculture is mainly a way to have an organic food garden that’s stunningly beautiful, productive, and comes without any tedious garden work…
“Permaculture has, in many people’s minds, come to represent a sustainable, organic, home vegetable garden.” (Rosemary Morrow)
…but that is only one aspect of permaculture. Of course there is a lot more to it.
There are some official explanations and definitions that answer the question “What Is Permaculture?”, but in my experience they still leave people confused. I’ll try to explain it a bit more.
I’ll start with the history and the official explanations, then I’ll translate it into something that makes sense to the average home gardener and suburbanite.
After that intro you best follow the links at the bottom, which will take you to some specific examples. That should make some light bulbs come on and everything should fall into place.
“You can fix all the world’s problems, in a garden. You can solve them all in a garden. You can solve all your pollution problems, and all your supply line needs in a garden. And most people today actually don’t know that, and that makes most people very insecure.” (Geoff Lawton)
What Is Permaculture? – Definitions
The term permaculture combines the words permanent and culture, or permanent and agriculture, and that is the first hint to what it’s all about.
The philosophy behind permaculture was developed about thirty years ago in Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.
During his many years as a wildlife biologist Bill Mollison had witnessed first hand the destruction that humans are causing in natural systems, but he also had a chance to observe how these natural ecosystems work and what keeps them in balance.
Permaculture design is a result of these observations.
Bill Mollison and his then student David Holmgren first published their ideas in 1978, in a book called Permaculture One, introducing a “design system for creating sustainable human environments”, based on close observation of natural systems.
In a later book, Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison writes:
“The aim is to create systems that are ecologically-sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.”
“Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area.”
Now that’s a mouthful. What the heck does it mean?
What is Permaculture? – Let me try to explain…
What Bill Mollison describes in his books is a totally integrated design system that’s modelled on nature. If you design your garden or farm like a natural system you can save yourself a lot of work, save energy, and eliminate waste.
Think about it, nobody digs and sows, plants and weeds, or sprays bugs in a forest. Still, all those chores are taken care of somehow. The forest grows and feeds its inhabitants, doesn’t it?
If any task in your garden is an unpleasant chore then there is definitely a better way to do it or to eliminate it. Learn from nature. Nature has already developed a solution to every problem that you could possibly encounter in your garden.
Nature is also the ultimate recycler. Everything goes round and round. There is no such thing as “waste”. Everything is a resource.
And most importantly, it’s sustainable. It’s something that works in the long run, not something that is based on inputs that will eventually run out, not something that creates waste and problems that will eventually upset the system.
Design is the keyword. It’s all about how you place the design elements together. Look at how things work together in nature, and then try and mimic that design in your garden.
You can find plenty of specific examples for this under Permaculture Design Principles, and once you grasped how it works it’s easy to apply on a small scale.
The beauty of it is that permaculture principles work everywhere, in every climate and on every scale. They can be applied to whole villages or housing estates (though it takes a deeper understanding and more planning to do that), or to a tiny backyard or balcony (which can be done very easily).
If you think ahead and design your permaculture garden right, it won’t take much effort, it will mostly look after itself, and it will also be incredibly productive and beautiful and attractive to wildlife.
Permaculture is about “…saving the planet and living to be a hundred, while throwing very impressive dinner parties and organising other creatures to do most of the work.” (Linda Woodrow)
For the big picture view of the permaculture philosophy read Permaculture Principles.
To skip the big words and visions and get straight to the meat of it, to the design of your garden, read about the Permaculture Design Guidelines.
About Forest Gardening
Let’s explore the edible forest gardening idea in some detail. The forest gardening vision leads us to explore forest ecology. Forest ecology is the basis for effective design and practice. This synopsis not only explains the fundamentals of forest gardening, but its structure parallels the contents of the two-volume book Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier.
Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branchespears, apples, persimmons, pecans, and chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits, flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as soil builders, or simply help keep out weeds. Here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit hanging through the foliagehardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. Their bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky. This is an edible forest garden.
What is Edible Forest Gardening?
Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden. If designed with care and deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining. In many of the world’s temperate-climate regions, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if you were to stop managing it. We humans work hard to hold back successionmowing, weeding, plowing, and spraying. If the successional process were the wind, we would be constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along with the land’s natural tendency to grow trees? By mimicking the structure and function of forest ecosystems we can gain a number of benefits.
Why Grow an Edible Forest Garden?
While each forest gardener will have unique design goals, forest gardening in general has three primary practical intentions:
- High yields of diverse products such as food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, ‘farmaceuticals’ and fun;
- A largely self-maintaining garden and;
- A healthy ecosystem.
These three goals are mutually reinforcing. For example, diverse crops make it easier to design a healthy, self-maintaining ecosystem, and a healthy garden ecosystem should have reduced maintenance requirements. However, forest gardening also has higher aims.
As Masanobu Fukuoka once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” How we garden reflects our worldview. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is not only the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of new ways of seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world. Forest gardening gives us a visceral experience of ecology in action, teaching us how the planet works and changing our self-perceptions. Forest gardening helps us take our rightful place as part of nature doing nature’s work, rather than as separate entities intervening in and dominating the natural world.
Where Can You Grow an Edible Forest Garden?
Anyone with a patch of land can grow a forest garden. They’ve been created in small urban yards and large parks, on suburban lots, and in small plots of rural farms. The smallest we have seen was a 30 by 50 foot (9 by 15 m) embankment behind an urban housing project, and smaller versions are definitely possible. The largest we have seen spanned 2 acres in a rural research garden. Forest gardeners are doing their thing at 7,000 feet (2,100 m) of elevation in the Rocky Mountains, on the coastal plain of the mid-Atlantic, and in chilly New Hampshire and Vermont. Forest gardening has a long history in the tropics, where there is evidence of the practice extending over 1,500 years. While you can grow a forest garden in almost any climate, it is easiest if you do it in a regions where the native vegetation is forest, especially deciduous forest.
Edible forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest, it is gardening like the forest. You don’t need to have an existing woodland if you want to forest garden, though you can certainly work with one. Forest gardeners use the forest as a design metaphor, a model of structure and function, while adapting the design to focus on meeting human needs in a small space. While you can forest garden if you have a shady site, it is best if your garden site has good sun if you want the highest yields of fruits, nuts, berries, and most other products. Edible forest gardening is about expanding the horizons of our food gardening across the full range of the successional sequence, from field to forest, and everything in between.
Edible forest gardens mimic the structure and function of forest ecosystemsthis is how we create the high, diverse yields, self-maintenance, and healthy ecosystem we seek for our garden. It is therefore critical to understand forest ecology and its implications for design. Four aspects of forest ecology are key: community architecture, ecosystem social structure, the structures of the underground economy, and how the community changes through time, also known as succession. Brief discussions of each of these aspects and examples of their influence on garden design and management follow.
(Please click the link to read the whole page, with references and links to buy the books on Edible Forest Gardening by the authors-http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/about_gardening)
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