This is the first in a series of posts where I will like to expound an area of interest of mine for some years. It is a radical concept known as permaculture. ‘Permaculture’ is a bit of a funky word but it is one you should be familiar with as we move forward in the 21st century. It is one of the tools humanity has to restore the Earth after so much of it has been lost.
When we discuss world-ending scenarios, there are a few common ones that take a good chunk of the conversation. These are usually a global economic depression, climate change and nuclear war. No doubt, each of these has a degree of gravity and severity that warrant attention. Yet there is a predominant and powerful global trend that promises to be every bit as destructive. This is the menace of modern industrial agriculture, something few people outside of those interested in environmental affair have heard about.
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 one of our most precious resources: 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.
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, according to Professor Crawford, we may only have 60 years worth of top soil left. So soil, rather than oil, will become the most precious resource we need to survive. Sadly, unlike these aforementioned major issues, the loss of top soil hasn’t become headline news.
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 in the 1970s, permaculture offers some solutions to the excesses of farming today. Read more about permaculture in my upcoming articles.