Testing the carrying capacity of permaculture?

Discussion in 'Jobs, projects, courses, training, WWOOFing, volun' started by rowan, Mar 9, 2015.

  1. rowan

    rowan Junior Member

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    Might there be PC projects out there who would take part in an experiment to test the contribution PC can make to global food security? I'm thinking that if someone were willing, I could make it part of my phd project to see how much food can be harvested sustainably in a PC system. Might anyone be interested in taking part?

    Cheers
    Rowan Eisner
     
  2. floot

    floot Junior Member

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    Rowan,

    Have you done a PDC?.... I believe it would help you with your PhD, it will define what you ask. I believe, as it is, you will run in circles and either give up or fail. From my humble understanding to gain a Phd you have to form a question and answer it - in an original way.

    I believe you are asking a 'critical mass' type question. I believe I can think of 1000 ways to trip up your question and 1000 ways to validate your findings... Be brave, try this, I/we want to encourage you.

    If you underlying question is 'Can Permaculture feed the world.'... I believe it can but I know that there will be at least a billion different solutions to the same problems.

    How about this.... can we live on this planet indefinitely or will 'Peak People' kill us off.? I am leaning towards the pessimist on this but that is just me!

    Do not want to discourage or dismay.... you are onto it. I am just trying to help.

    Cheers,

    floot

    PS.... the leading cause of cancer in rats is ... science... :)
     
  3. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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  4. rowan

    rowan Junior Member

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    Hi floot, yes, I did a PDC in 1990, though I've never practised because I went into NRM research. I'm inclined to agree with you about peak people! But still, there are a great many ideas about how meet human food needs that haven't been quantitatively assessed. It would be interesting to see what they could achieve. FAO reckons we need an average of half a hectare/person to support our food needs and there isn't that much arable land, but then a third of people don't have enough food. PC is a nice collection of ideas but it doesn't typically attempt to solve this problem because advocates often have plenty of land and yield is just whatever you get. I'm concerned that most of the world's food is grown with petrochemical based fertilisers and we aren't going to have them forever.
     
  5. rowan

    rowan Junior Member

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    Hi songbird (nice name!)

    Yes, you're probably right that I don't have enough time. I thought if there were already a system in place we could measure what goes in and what goes out over a year and get an idea of what could be extracted. A single case study for a single year wouldn't tell us much, but people could continue to monitor and experiment if they were interested. It would only be a case study of my research which is really about the global system and includes mapping and modelling.

    Nice example in Zimbabwe. It's so needed there. With land reform there's people with no clue sitting on land while people starve. Mind you - they'd be scary people to do a PDC with!
     
  6. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    But IMO there are plenty of examples of permaculture systems that vary in age from 2000 years ago to present that are feeding families, & neighbors and sustaining them. Morocco food forest is the 2000 year old example I am thinking of; the Hong Kong example on Geoff's site (59, almost 60 year old Permaculture site) , Zaytuna farms itself, Vietnam has a 7 generation food forest providing all food and medicine for the family, Robert Hart has a working example that is now researched in a book.
     
  7. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    certainly there are PC systems of various kinds out there. i wasn't wondering about that, but how many would be suitable and have the records that a PC Phd project might require. the older systems you get into what is pretty much just anecdotal or storytelling. not that there is anything wrong with it, but just may not work for what is being asked...
     
  8. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    I would think the older systems still feeding families would be a good place to start, but you know what would be the best? The one in Jordan, they just finished building it, its thriving, and I bet they are keeping records since it is a pet project of one of the Jordanian princesses.
     
  9. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    which project in Jordan are you talking about?
     
  10. rowan

    rowan Junior Member

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    Ok, I have just read this: A critique of permaculture which pretty much agrees with what I would expect about permaculture yields (though no data). I can't find reference to it being discussed in this forum before, so I might post it as a new thread under 'big picture'. I'd be interested to know what people think.

    Cheers
    Rowan
     
  11. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    I stopped on page 3 since the first 7 paragraphs were nothing but insulting to me.

    First off, the theory the writer has that untouched biological systems in nature, ie, various environments are poor providers of food. Nothing can be further from the truth when you know what is food and what isn't in any given environment, so I can throw that argument out of his. If this conjecture was remotly true, Aborigines of Oz & Native Americans of North America never would of prospered. We have moves away from traditional foods for new exciting stuff from other countries which at best is a 3 edged sword however an example of this would be that bullshit gmo golden rice which was supposed to help with Vitamin A deficiency, but if the people ate traditionally and kept adding the Gac fruit they should of for the rice this never would be needed. Instead it is currently more popular to add red dye #whocares because it is the modern 1st world thing to do.

    2 good examples of this from my world:
    https://www.pfaf.org/user/default.aspx ((7000 edible plant database))
    &
    https://northernbushcraft.com/index.htm ((The more I learn of what is edible in the Pac Northwest, the more I am impressed, honestly I had no idea banana slugs were edible, and I do not wish to try them))

    2nd, and this is a big one for me. We currently in the US pay farmers to grow 1 crop, under a ton of various chemical salts. Anyone on Wall St. would say this is a bad investment, he has only 1 crop. Permaculture has so much food growing that if 1 fails big deal, but if the typical farmer fails he is suddenly screwed, which is what companies like Monsanto & Syngenta want so they can make more chemical farms which are utterly outdated.

    Third, and this cracks me up, I quote, Page 2,
    He admits he doesn't understand Permaculture, but has provided a nice little paper on why it isn't good, to me that's called Bullshit Propaganda.
     
  12. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Hi Rowan,
    I am very interested in your quest and have read Peter Harper's essay a number of times in the past (agreeing with him in most instances).
    It seems to me that to evaluate "Permaculture yields", one must take into consideration specific locations. Peter mentions tropical vs temperate systems. Living myself in a semi-arid environment, I know my "yields" will never be comparable to those obtained in most other locations. Further, the property's size comes into play (look at what the Dervaes family has accomplished on 1/5 of an acre in Pasadena, CA). It has often been proposed that smaller properties can have significantly higher yields than larger, due to the intensiveness of cultivation. I might suspect that a mechanized broad-acre farm will never have the per-acre-yield as the Dervaes.
    Further, in evaluating yield, one must include various peripheral aspects of a system, including (as Peter states) soil retention/loss, soil build-up/depletion, energy inputs of all sorts, esthetics, wildlife habitat, etc. Can one truthfully say that a 10,000 acre monocrop field of wheat provides greater yield per acre than my property?? Perhaps a more valuable metric might be yield per unit of energy input.
     
  13. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    That is what I have been thinking about with regards to a Millennial Math Problem.

    But there is a lot of metrics to take into account that many people won't understand readily, or perhaps don't want to. For example, Zaytuna farms has a creek going by the low end of the property, and in recent years it was bone dry from drought till it got to Zaytuna farm where several 6" pipes started re-feeding it with water which is something monoculture farms don't care about in general.

    Oh yeah, every once in a while I dream of a world where urban centers have Dervae style gardens on the roof tops of major cities
     
  14. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    9anda1f, energy used per unit out seems to beg the question that we consider energy the most important thing to measure, but i think that leaves out important aspects like diversity retained or improved, soils improved, carbon sequestration, water quality, or even things like happiness, health, love, music, art...

    so, i agree with Pak. : )

    much current system evaluation is geared so much towards, "What can we get out of this?" that it makes my stomach turn. to me a good permaculture system gives enough to keep people healthy and alive, but puts most of the results into restoration, increasing diversity and resilience, being able to build soil fertility, helping hold and filter ground water to recharge the aquifers, etc. with so much damage being done in the world i think that PC should be in the activity of pushing restoration work whenever possible. beyond just outputs in terms of food or dollars or pharmaceuticals or many other metrics.

    similarly, i think that nature needs wild spaces that aren't managed or measured, that wild life should be allowed to do what it needs to do and not be killed off or managed to suit human needs. any study of microbiology should open a person's eyes to the fact that life is very fluid and interchangeable at the microlevels and that it is possible that we really don't know enough to manage it like we try to manage other things. it's probably wrong headed and arrogant above all just plain delusional to take a system that works and then keep poisoning and breaking it, but we're doing all of that in spades now. *sigh*

    i want a radical bill of rights for the environment, wildlife and natural spaces. this is apart from the wider ideas that animals should have rights of their own or any sort of endangered species considerations. i just want people to understand that the world and animals apart from themselves and their needs is as important as they are -- that once in a while the natural world gets some respect and consideration.
     
  15. rowan

    rowan Junior Member

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    What a lovely example of the Dervaes family, Bill. And I think it illustrates why different people think about what PC can do really differently. Can that family have a good lifestyle that way? - it definitely looks like it! Is it sustainable for them? Probably, so long as the rest of the world doesn't change and they can continue to earn their $30k/yr to buy in what they can't produce on-farm. Nothing wrong with that. Some of us are trying to answer a different question - What is sustainable for the 7+billion people on Earth? I am curious about whether PC can contribute to that problem. Most of the examples I see can't really help me work that out because I don't know what is brought in from off-site and how much land it took to produce it. I'm interested in the implications for biodiversity of the depletion of fossil fuels. Most natural vegetation is cleared for the production of staples - wheat, rice and maize. I think it's very likely that some of the Dervaes' $30k is spent of staples. Most of the people I've met who do PC buy in staples and oils - they're relatively cheap and very land and labour intensive to produce.

    The Balkan Ecology project is another nice example. They call it polyculture rather than permaculture, but they attempt to measure everything they input and everything they produce. I agree that energy is a good way of looking at the problem. That's not to say that there aren't other products that can't be measured that way, but we're trying to solve a real problem here about constraints to the global energy supply and if this means there isn't enough food that will severely constrain production of other products anyway, I expect. Another possible way of looking at it is in terms of land area years, since area of land to grow food is also a constrained resource. But this is really another measure of energy since we are using time on the land to harvest the sun*.

    It seems to me that the difference in the way of looking at the problem is really one of scale. PC designs for the area at which it operates personal, household, community - I don't think it ever operates at a broader scale than this? It's something I've struggled with since I did my PDC in 1990. For my life to be sustainable I would need to not be car dependent, but I have not found a way to do PC without a car. So I have chosen to get around by bike rather the doing PC. I could possibly do both if I had a lot of money or lived in a developing country, and maybe Australia is particularly problematic this way.

    FAO estimates that on average 0.5ha is needed to support each person to provide all their agricultural products, taking into account the difference if productivity in different parts of the world. This means we have already exceeded the amount of arable land on the planet, without taking into account that we are supporting most of those people using petrochemical derived fertilisers, which are a finite resources. Half of the population already don't have enough to eat, and biodiversity needs the same land resources we do. This doesn't seem like a soluble problem, but the only hope is raising productivity, reducing consumption and increasing efficiency. If PC can contribute to solution it would be good to know, but we have to be very real and quantitative about what can be achieved. I have seen papers that say that polycultures can be somewhat more productive (maybe 60%) but that was looking at grasses. The APSIM model seems to predict slightly higher yields for polycultures, especially in dry conditions, though not through improved light-use efficiency. I think that as usually applied, PC is an extensive production system and has lower yields than intensive systems with the aim of improved sustainability of the system being designed, and reduced ongoing labour requirements. This is probably due to its Australian origins where rural properties are relatively large. If this is the case, it is a worry from a global perspective. Most 'land-grabbing' has the aim of increasing the productivity of the land being acquired. If PC reduces productivity then it is contributing to global food insecurity, or at least trading off the shorter term for the longer term.

    I imagine all this is very contentious for many lovers of PC, as I have been myself. But I think it would be good to be honest with myself, that is I am using PC for my own food security, that this may be at the expense of others.

    Cheers
    Rowan
     
  16. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    I wonder if FAO took into account that on an annual basis, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2 to 3 acres of cotton. Hemp fiber is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long as cotton, and will not mildew. Seeds can be used as food, fuel, plastics, other things. Oh I could go on and on...
     
  17. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    It is this one simple fact that tells me in a back-of-the-napkin sort of way that the constant battle to clear the natural vegetation/keep out the weeds/ churn up the soil/kill all the insects is far more energy intensive than working with and within any natural system/polyculture. I would submit that the only reason we (global we) are in any way able to have our mega-farms and vast tracts of monocrops is the availability of cheap energy in the form of ancient sunshine (oil). As we are/have reached the point of diminishing EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) in extracting oil, planning on continuing to "feed the world" using big-ag techniques is problematic at best. Even hoping to transition to solar-electric agriculture ignores the huge energy inputs to manufacture the solar panels and batteries and runs smack into the EROEI equation again ... plus solar-electric doesn't provide the oil-based insecticides/herbicides/fertilizers currently obtained from petrochemicals.

    Feeding the world (at this time) seems to be basically a distribution problem:
    https://www.commondreams.org/views/2010/09/17/food-crisis-not-about-shortage-food
    Big agriculture techniques are not sustainable. The clear solution to me is to expand food production techniques involving localized practice of polycultures, building the soils, and adjusting our lifestyles to a less energy intensive level as quickly as possible in as widespread manner as we can.
    Permaculture design begins by examining energy flows through a system, and in my opinion is our best approach to addressing our current imbalances and food supply issues.
     
  18. Topher

    Topher Junior Member

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    If a third of all people got *no* food, that's 1.39B Hectares / (7.2B * 2/3) = .29 Hectare / Person. So, those figures don't add up.

    Lots of permaculture people are attempting to solve this problem. Many are doing so in small suburban plots (i.e. not counted in arable land). The US has more *lawn* than the acreage of the top 10 commercial crops combined. That is easily converted into permaculture, not so easily into wheat.

    Zaytuna farm is running at about 1 hectare (of (formerly) depleted pasture land) per person, with NO external inputs, increasing soil fertility, and not anywhere near full production (which won't come until those food forests are mature).

    Thank You Kindly,
    Topher
     
  19. DC Brown

    DC Brown Junior Member

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    Hi Rowan

    As there is much more going on than just inputs/exports you'll need to define this better.

    How about the 'soil bank' of nutrients. As you know modern ag burns off the OM and biology leaving plants dependant on chemicals. Permaculture soils do the opposite, building soil fertility, soil carbon, soil biology.

    So I'd measure environmental parameters as well. Soil biology, soil pH, soil water retention, soil carbon, soil OM.

    When you add up what goes in and what is taken out include the soil carbon/biology etc you'll get a much better picture of the 'exports' of modern agriculture.

    It's a soil mining process, compared to a soil building process. The real wealth of the land is topsoil. Demonstrate this.

    As for mixed vs monoculture - take the total calorie count, or something else you can standardise.

    Then compare all variables to get a picture of what goes into the soil and what comes out.

    To compare systems over extended time - take a series of sites in varied stages of development, and a series of agricultural soils 'farmed' for the same periods. Again, soil tests, energy budgets, calorie counts.

    One system will decline and the other improve. Record it.
     
  20. rowan

    rowan Junior Member

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    Hi DC

    Yes, I had a meeting with a prof yesterday about how I might model this using APSIM, and we did talk about soils and APSIM can't do soil biological processes, so I'd have to do it externally to the model. Eg I could give it a soil type equivalent to virgin soil and remove soil depletion. I'd then have to find out how people rehabilitate the soil, what they add and how much land and time that takes and account for that in the carrying capacity. This prof was of the impression that, with no external inputs, it takes 100 years, and I've heard this before. The other problem is that if the whole world were theoretically converting to permaculture, there would be nowhere else to get any inputs from, so everything would have to be produced on the same land and would take some of the time.

    Cheers
    Rowan
     

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