In our last post we tried to explain what Superadobe is and how this building technique can provide real benefits to the population of Haiti. We believe a new approach to architecture has to be chosen because of the country unique situation, the same way we think that a new approach to food production has to be found. The island suffers one of the worst cases of soil erosion in the world mainly due to deforestation; its mountainous landscape doesn’t facilitate cultivation and centuries of monocultures fuelled by foreign interests have shrank the capacity of Haitian land to sustain agriculture. From 1991 to 2002 food production per capita fell 30 percent, this, combined with rice soaring price left many suffering from hunger; the situation nowadays is aggravated by the consequences of the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010.
Haiti needs to focus on its own sustenance since importing key resources has become unaffordable. At the same time Haitians have to avoid the errors of the past and find long-term solutions to their problems. Here Permaculture comes into play. This branch of agriculture design and engineering focuses on developing sustainable agricultural systems following three basic principles: taking care of the people, taking care of the environment, sharing the surplus. The first steps into this new approach to food production were moved in the sixties by two Australian scientists: the agronomist David Holmgren and the naturalist Bill Mollison. Their work stressed like never before the importance of conjugating all the elements of human settlements: buildings, natural environment, water sources, energy sources, society and farming strategies should be all integrated together.
Permaculture encompasses different aspects of human life in order to create virtuous production cycles where wastages are almost reduced to zero and communities can prosper without relying on external factors. The word Permaculture itself is the abbreviation of PERMAnent agriCULTURE, this meaning a farming system that is self-sufficient and environmentally sound.
Permaculture is intrinsically a site specific design nevertheless it rests on few basic pillars:
- Exploitation of natural patterns: natural ecosystems manage to provide source of nourishment to a wide variety of living things and men can learn a lot from studying them
- Maximization of energy efficiency: in a sound ecosystem the wastage of an energy cycle is the fuel for another one
- Valuation of biological diversity: exploiting the mutually benefiting relations between different species helps creating long-term sustainable food production processes
- Promotion of stability within society: society is a system as delicate as ecological systems, preserving equilibriums is paramount
Its holistic approach put human beings inside ecological systems and not above them. It is nowadays commonly accepted carrying on production of food if this makes economic sense, even though it destroys the surrounding environment and creates unbalances in the social fabric. The consequences of this old-fashioned approach to farming are visible in every corner of the world, especially in less developed country where part of the population is not able to feed itself.
Our age has been the age of delocalization, most of the products we eat and we use on a daily basis are produced hundreds or thousands of kilometers away from us. Even if this system has proven to have created access to key resources where they were missing and has helped created area of unimaginable wealth, it has diverted our attention from the resources that are naturally available to us and that too often are undervalued.
It is now time to shift our attention back to our yards as the consequences of over-exploitation of certain areas of the world have clearly produced catastrophic effects both on the environment and the human race.
Permaculture is a relatively young science, it still has not reached the main stream, nevertheless the philosophy that underpins it has the potential to change positively the way we commonly address food creation issues.