Permaculture: What is it and how can it be used to improve food security?

One of the methods YAI hopes to employ in the field, is the permaculture technique. This is a relatively new movement in food production, particularly in East Africa. However, it functions to work despite some of the more challenging aspects of agriculture currently faced in Uganda and many other parts of the world. Not sure what it is? No problem! Here’s a little rundown on this important practice.

What is permaculture?

Derived from a hybrid of the words permanent and agriculture, permaculture literally means permanent agriculture. The term was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.

This practice of food production keeps some of the agriculture traditions, while capturing an underlying concern for the environment, as a whole. This is demonstrated through permaculture’s emphasis on care for the earth, care for the people, and return of surplus – also known as the three ethics of the practice.

But aside from just gardening activities, permaculture invokes an element of creativity. This use of one’s creative intuition is a key driver in the success of permaculture in action. This is because, with the use of creativity, the options are limitless. Permaculture, in essence, calls on practitioners to think outside-of-the-box in terms of traditional agriculture and other typical food production processes.

Permaculture is also quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to tackle the battle against climate change, and all the challenges it will present. This is especially true for those living in lower income countries (aka those who are already living with the daily consequences of climate change, such as Uganda).

How does it work?

In simple terms, permaculture works by having practitioners mimic the environment. In other words, it focuses on the natural strengths of the soil and uses that as the basis for determining what would grow best on the land, naturally.

In order to keep with the foundation of permaculture, there are 12 design principles, which include:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

These 12 principles have been designed to produce the most of a crop while keeping in mind environmental stewardship, which could arguably be a good outlook to take into account for everyday living, not just our food systems.

Why is this a good practice for YAI?

Given the very basic account of permaculture, it can still easily be understood why YAI is taking on this practice as its first cohort takes to the field in 2018. But, there is more to it than the environmental stewardship and needing to understand the earth, itself.

Soroti is a fertile area, and yet in the last few years, it has witnessed climatic extremes. For example, one year it receives its rainy season on time, the next the area is over burdened with rain, and the one after that they may not receive their rainy seasons at all. The beauty of permaculture is that it does not have to rely solely on rain-fed irrigation, which is a general practice in Soroti, and much of Uganda, for that matter. While the rains certainly help, crops can continue grow in times of drought, which will benefit this region significantly.

The primary mission of YAI is to provide youth with the necessary skills required to operate a sustainable farming business, through technical training and business coursework. But, a secondary mission is to reduce food insecurity in the area it operates out of, which is an anticipated direct outcome of our 12-month program. If we can enable young people to not only create their own employment opportunities, but to also give them the capacity to operate under harsh and uncertain circumstances, then we are tackling two very big issues at once.


To learn more about permaculture, check out Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability or any other of his works.

Image credit: permaculture principles.

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