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Robyn Francis writes about the Permaculture approach to development and aid.

The focus of permaculture working with communities in need, is to build resilience, empower people to solve their own problems, and to regenerate damaged environments to health and abundance.

Regenerative aid is about simple solutions that are accessible, affordable, attainable, effective and replicable.

For some 20 years I have been teaching “Sustainable Aid” courses for permaculture aid workers but often wonder about use of the term ‘Sustainable’ or even ‘Aid’.  I also feel discomfort with the terms Third World and Developng World. Regarding the latter, I find the term 2/3rds World a little more acceptable, as the global reality is that two-thirds of the world’s population and nations that struggle to meet basic needs and have been exploited by the other privileged third. Also it allows for the fact that in many so-called ‘Developing Nations’, there is a privileged few who enjoy affluence and power while the majority of their poplations live in poverty.  Here in Australia we have virtual ‘Third World’ conditions in many of the remote Aboriginal communities, so the 2/3rds world people and situations can occur anywhere, it’s not as simple as the oft touted North/South or East/West divide.

The use of the word ‘sustainable’ also has inherent limits, even within the scope of the accepted definition of sustainable development as “being able to meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  A nice concept but the interpretation is fraught with rubbery perspectives, especially in terms of defining ‘need’, which has led to an abuse or inappropriate use of the term ‘sustainable’. What are perceived as ‘needs’ in privileged affluent sectors of society are a world away from the needs of the majority of the worlds population, many of whom struggle to survive. Many of the systems accepted as supporting affluent sustainability are in realty far from sustainable over the longer term.

Sustainability as a concept is sometimes described as the midway or compromise point between the extremes of degenerative and regenerative action (Toby Hemenway). Permaculture is really about pushing the boundaries of regenerative action – beyond sustainability.

Whether working in post-disaster reconstruction or with people struggling in chronically degraded environments, permaculture offers excellent tools for a creative response.

So what IS regenerative aid?

Composting toilet made with recycled drum in a village in the AmazonRegenerative aid is about supporting communities to solve their own problems. It explores small solutions that use locally available skills and resources, that can be easily taught and readily repeated and adopted. It’s about leaving a community empowered with the knowledge, skills and processes to take control over their lives to regenerate their environment and build community capital. Regenerative aid is about meeting human needs in a way that restores productivity and biodiversity to the landscape, rebuilding soil and rehabilitating damaged land.

For example, in the Amazon, Boa Vista, the majority of health problems arise from contaminated drinking water, especially from e-coli bacteria from human manure. The health in villages where permaculture has been involved has dramatically improved through constructing simple composting toilets using recycled drums to separate human waste from the water ways, and constructing rainwater collection tanks for potable drinking water – both simple technologies, effective and easy for people to duplicate.

Narsanna, one of my graduates in Central India, is working with hundreds of villages and has trained over 700 barefoot permaculturists who are planting diverse productive forests in some of India’s poorest and most degraded semi-arid wastelands to producing an abundance of food, fodder, medicine, fibre and fuel. The kitchen garden program has helped addressed nutritional deficiencies and improved village health.

Traditional grain crops planted between food, fuel and fodder forestry in central IndiaLocal farmers are turning away from Green Revolution hybrid crops dependent on irrigation, expensive agricultural chemicals and fertilisers, to grow the traditional crops and varieties of sorghum and arame. While these crops are not valued as commodities for export, they are vital for local food security and well adapted to local soils and climate, and produce a yield without irrigate and expensive agricultural chemicals. Farmers can save the seed from one harvest to plant for the next cropping cycle, liberating them from the need to purchase costly hybrid and GM seed stock for each subsequent crop. Seed sovereignty is the other half of food security, so community seed banks have been established with the farmers and village gardeners.

Unfortunately, too much mainstream aid is focussed on bringing farmers and rural communities into the global commodity market. All too often this results in farmers being caught in a debt treadmill to purchase expensive hybrid seeds and agricultural chemicals, plus serious health issues from pesticide poisoning, and depleted water tables from irrigation. Many of these crops are not even food crops but tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and oil seeds, yet their production displaces the land that was formerly used to grow staple foods for local consumption.

The permaculture regenerative approach draws on local knowledge, skills, crops and resources to explores opportunities for creative solutions in meeting food, water and housing security.

Narsanna working with village farmers in the Deccan, IndiaA permaculturist in the field will learn as much a they teach and employ participatory processes to develop programs in partnership with local communities and organisations to solve local problems. This is in stark contrast to the aid model that perpetuates dependence through handouts and imposes solutions and technologies that cannot be maintained or replicated locally.

Training in Regenerative Aid and Building Resilient Communities

The new reviewed sustainable aid course, Sustainable Aid: Regenerating the Land and Building Community, provides a refreshing and empowering approach to effective action, facilitation and regeneration in areas of need, working with communities to prepare for disaster and build resilience to survive in a changing world.  The course focus is on building partnerships with people and developing skills to facilitate participatory processes, what Rosemary Morrow terms ‘Social Permaculture’.

Robyn Francis stands amongst permacultures most experienced international designers and educators. An early permaculture adopter, she draws on 30 years experience in organics, community development and permaculture work in Australia and overseas.

Please check the NEXT SUSTAINABILE AID COURSE  details with Permaculture College Australia.