A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
Using small scale and decentralized renewable sources, we recycle the energies present & capture incoming energies.
We never know the wealth of water till the well is dry.
It is in the shelter of each other that people live.
Deliberate and comprehensive focus on local adaptation planning on climate resilience to sustainable systems.
THE PROBLEM WITH FARMING TODAY
NEED FOR SUSTIANABILITY
Much of the awakening of our consciousness has to do with breaking out of a certain mold that humanity has been fixed in since the Industrial Revolution. The values that typify this system include mass production, efficiency and hierarchal forms of control and management. This industrial model relates to all aspects of human affairs, from sociology to physical health to even spirituality. What I want to focus on in this article is how the model has been applied to agriculture and our food system, what damage this has wrought, and how something called ‘permaculture’ may be an answer.
Millennia ago, when mankind made their first settlements and discovered subsistence agriculture, this was the first agricultural revolution. Later in the mid-20th century, as a global hunger crisis was looming, a second agricultural revolution was started using chemically enhanced fertilizers, along with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, which were treated to the soil and harvest. Thanks to modern science, agricultural output increased dramatically, and a mass agriculture industry took off.
For decades, the methods of Big Farming were uncontested. But now, it has become clear that these methods have come at a great loss to the environment. Excessive use of agrochemicals, ploughing, overgrazing and monoculture farms have caused a massive degradation of perhaps the most precious resource of all: the top soil. Our top soil is our source of food and hence our life support system. A rich soil system can provide generations of crops full of nutrition and should retain water well. A poor soil system, devoid of microorganisms and nutrients, will allow water to flow through as waste, and eventually becomes dust.
our most precious resource
History has it clear! Destroy the soil and destroy the civilizations.
According to Professor John Crawford, Chair of Sustainable Agriculture, University of Sydney, some 40% of the present world’s top soil is already classified as degraded or severely degraded. The present ways of agriculture end up depleting the soil at ten to forty times the rate at which it is replenished. Based on current trajectory, as per Professor Crawford, we may only have 60 years’ worth of top soil left.
The conventional wisdom is that oil is the greatest resource on Earth. Oil is considered almost like a magical elixir that allows the entire system of industrial civilization to run. Oil is the fuel for our vehicles, our electrical grid and our entire supply chain of production. Hence a considerable amount of media attention is put on the potential decline in cheap oil supplies in the decade ahead. Sadly, though, the loss of top soil hasn’t yet become headline news, despite the fact that without viable top soil, our entire food system and human survival may be at risk.
Is permaculture the panacea to this problem? It may be. Permaculture is a sustainable design methodology which can be applied to farming sites in different climates. The basic foundation of permaculture is to design your sites in such a way so as to consume as little external resources as possible, and give back as much to the soil as you take away. Pioneered first in Australia in the 1970s, permaculture offers some solutions to the excesses of farming today.
Permaculture: Ethical Design
Only by working with nature and learning from our past in an ethical manner can result in a sustainable future.
Permaculture is founded on three ethics of Earth care (treating the Earth with caring as a living entity), people care (meeting people’s needs in humane and concerned ways) and fair share (sharing abundance with others). It employs a variety of principles and tools to shape the landscape and achieve yield from our farm systems without causing ecological damage. It is meant to work with Nature rather than rendering Nature as a mere object to be exploited for short term gain as per the industrial way of thinking.
Permaculture places a huge importance on maintaining and replenishing soil. This is done through proper waste management, using a diversity of crops rather than monoculture, having a sustainable water supply and irrigation system, creating composting cycles, and avoiding agrochemicals. The issue of soil is especially urgent in tropical climates such as Malaysia where the top soil is quite thin and tends to wash off easily. The central idea is that your farm system should have a net gain in terms of soil and harvest rather than be in perpetual loss.
Permaculture places a lot of emphasis on observation of patterns found in Nature and using biomimicky. Bio-habitats have evolved complex systems that humans can take inspiration from when they plan their design. A common example in permaculture is to look at the contours on a landscape and see how the overall design can be adapted to suit the present terrain.
Permaculture as a science is still in many ways in still in a nascent phase and its full potential has yet to be explored. But we firmly believe that it sits in comfortably with the spirit of those seeking an alternative path to redress the excesses of the current paradigm.