New Internationalist


For a while now, when asked about the NI magazine topic I’ll be tackling next, I’ve had to say: ‘permaculture.’ Invariably asked what that is, I’ve had to say: ‘I have no idea.’ Extreme hairdressing? The lifestyle of Siberia? So how come I am starting to put together a magazine about permaculture? Here I enter Donald Rumsfeld territory. What induces anyone to learn anything new – before, of course, they know what it is? How to decide between one unknown and the next? Well, in my case the answer is relatively simple. The NI co-op voted for it last summer – quite why you’d have to ask them. When presented with the list of topics for editors to choose from, I knew least about permaculture, and curiosity got the better of me. I’ve now found permaculture popping up everywhere. In a series of what seem like coincidences, I’ve been bumping into it in places as disparate as the middle of London and the Brecon Beacons of Wales.

Meanwhile, I’ve been growing older on a Dutch barge, launching a wayward, low-intensity war on my carbon footprint, discovering that chickens can’t swim, familiarizing myself with solar panels, tides, ducks and mud - and never felt more vulnerable to nature. Divorced as I have been from the land and the source of my food, though well aware of the dangers of industrial agriculture and the ‘green revolution’, I have not been able to rebut the realist orthodoxy that the only other option would be to return to the drudgery of peasant farming, as humanity starved to death.

Permaculture – originally an elision of ‘permanent agriculture’, now of ‘permanent culture’ - asserts otherwise. In fact, it has been doing so for several decades, since first being advanced in Australia. It suggests that I’m not so much vulnerable to nature as a part of it; that small gardens can be three times more productive than industrialized farmland; that you don’t always have to dig; that ‘intelligent design’ can displace agribusiness and its dependence on fossil fuels.

Indeed, with the arrival of ‘peak oil’ – let alone climate change – humanity looks sets to starve in any event, unless there’s a sharp change of direction. Is permaculture a signpost to a preferable future? That’s what I shall be exploring over the next few weeks and months. I am wary of the cultishness that besets bright ideas – particularly with the newly fundamentalist associations of a term like ‘intelligent design’. I’m an atheist when it comes to the worship of ‘business’ that infests so much fresh thinking as it is engulfed by the overflowing mainstream. Above all, I’ll be on the look-out for any evidence that permaculture is more than just another notion dreamt up in the rich world for the edification of the majority world, duly evangelized through aid projects and the like – that permaculture is learning, with all due respect, from the majority world.

So I’ll be grateful to any of you who can enlighten me - and as soon as possible.

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  1. #1 Cesar Lopez 26 Mar 07

    permaculture reference

    I first picked up your magazine at Tagari Farm, home to the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI). PRI is now lead by Geoff Lawton, and he is a good source of information. Please have a look at PRI`s website
    Good luck!

  2. #5 David Ransom 07 Aug 07

    Permaculture reference

    I did look, it was useful and is referenced in the magazine - I hope you've had a chance to read it now and found it reasonably useful - at any rate, not too misguided..

  3. #6 Keith Johnson, Permaculture Activist mag, Associate editor 03 Jan 08

    Permaculture in the US

    Sadly I wasn't aware of the impending publication showcasing permaculture in your mag, otherwise I would have had much more to contribute.

    To quote my colleague Geoff Lawton (rightly ascribed as a good [actually GREAT] source for information, "You can fix all the world’s problems, 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."
    Watch his Regreening the Desert video at;p=230

    While so many magazines and journalists fill pages with descriptions of our problems (necessary activity I'll grant you) permaculturists have been providing solutions to most of them for a good while, to the point now that many global movements have embraced its principles and practices. Among these are the intentional community / ecovillage folks, peak oil / post carbon movers and shakers, climate change activists, "greens" of all stripes, relocalizationists (see, organic growers and biodynamicists, and more. Even bankers, as attested to by the Permaculture Credit Union from whom one can acquire a permaculture credit card.
    See their website at

    Though the NI Permaculture issue did provide a link to our website, it did fail to mention that The Permaculture Activist is a quarterly journal, in print now for 23 years (the world's longest-lived Pc mag), and is read by most practicing permaculturists in the US and many internationally.

    In addition to the Planetary Permaculture Directory at our website [ ] there's a LOT more useful information there and in the pages of our journal. Check out the articles pages ( at our site to get a sense of our content.

    This year a page with a collection of permaculture videos (free viewing) has also been added.(

    Additionally I've also got a blog worth visiting at

    The last decade has been marked by an increase in the number of regional permaculture guilds, a list of which may be found at
    (also with links back to NI)

  4. #2 joshuhobby 11 Apr 07

    I am really looking forward

    I am really looking forward to this publication!

    I have been a subscriber to Newint for about a year and many of the ideas & critiques that have come through my mail box have really resonated with me.
    I have been a keen student of permaculture for about 2 years (I've just finished Sociology but continue to practice and learn about permaculture). I have been involved in many projects and met many people involved in the associated circles.

    Permaculture has to be one of the really exciting ideas going around. It infuses radical social critiques with practice. It really is an integration of modern innovation and old knowledge (that we are losing!). It is grass roots. It is also abused. But it has so much to add!


  5. #3 Bob Ewing 05 May 07


    The ethics of permaculture and the design principles defined and refined over the years have guided my work as a community activist for the past 7 years. I grow very little food, at the moment, as I have very little room to do so. I do apply my skills and knowlegde in projects such as and and locally in a greening project.

  6. #4 brbest 19 May 07

    Permaculture and Biointensive Agriculture

    Check out Ecology Action's site at The work that they have been doing will help your investigation. They have been working on sustainable farming systems since the early seventies using technique adapted from Alan Chadwick's studies. Check him out too.

    Ecology Action's manual "How to Grow More Vegetables* (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) *than you ever thought possible on less land that you can imagine" by John Jeavons is one book that can end hunger.

    I am a newcomer to sustainable development, but I believe that this technology is one of the tools that we need to sustain the human race. I suggest contacting John Jeavons, he is wise in his years and a wonderful person to talk with.

    In the realm of food and permaculture, the soil is very very important, and above all one must maintain a closed nutrient cycle. Check out "Future Fertility" from Ecology Action and "The Humanure Handbook" by Joseph Jenkins to see what measures most likely will be needed to close the nutrient cycles and assure sustainable food supplies, as well as sanitary conditions for all.

    I hope this helps, saludos.

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About the author

David Ransom a New Internationalist contributor

David Ransom joined New Internationalist in 1989 and wrote on a range of issues, from green justice to the current financial crisis, before retiring in 2009. He was a close friend of Blair Peach, once worked as a banker in Uruguay and continued to contribute to New Internationalist as a freelancer until shortly before his death in February 2016. He lived on a barge on the waterways of England’s West Country.

His publications include License to Kill on the death of Blair Peach in 1979 and The No Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade. He also co-edited, with Vanessa Baird, People First Economics.

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