[permaculture] Re: subsistence/yield

Pacific Edge Permaculture + Media pacedge at magna.com.au
Fri Feb 1 04:10:43 EST 2002

> From: 1earth permaculture <permaculture1 at start.com.au>
> Reply-To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
> Date: Fri, 01 Feb 2002 11:18:12 +1000
> To: "permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Subject: [permaculture] Re: subsistence/yield
> George:
>> but for the most part subsistance is a form of culture - looots of
> local cooperation structures and alternative economics. thats where
> the fun of this lifestyle lies - a load of monetaryly poor people
> having the good life and a great time together...
> Yes, subsistance farmers have lots of fun - except when they're
> starving to death, and in times of drought, flood, disease,
> mismanagement, etc ...

Subsistence farmers are subject to all these things, as are farmers in
developed countries and commercial farmers in developing countries. The
difference is that in developed countries farmers have insurance and
government assistance to fall back on and, beyond that, the social security

The things listed are all constraints on the viability of subsistence
lifestyles. In the late 90s I visited a project that the NGO I worked for
was supporting in PNG. That was the time of the El Nino drought.  What I
found on the road journey from Lae to Mt Hagen was a variable patchwork of
conditions in the valleys of the Central Highlands... some appeared green,
others dry, others burned. It was worse just over the Iran Jaya (West Papua)
border in Indonesian territory - there, the Australian Air Force was
carrying out the air lift of emergency food and supplies to the villages...
Port Moresby airfield was a parking lot for RAAF and NZRAF transport

As the drought progressed, the subsistence farmers in the Highlands
initially had their subsistence fields. These became depleted and dried out,
but they still had the highlands staple - the sweet potato. Insects,
however, competed with the subsistence farmers for this crop. Soon it was
gone. As conditions worsened, the Highlanders fell back on to the bush foods
- the wild harvest - but the ability to harvest from the bush relies on
people having the energy to do so, and that declines with nutritional

I stayed at Ambers Inn  in Port Moresby where some of the Australian drought
relief team were based. They were planning relief along the north coast and
offshore islands  - most of the country was affected.

Before I went there I spent four weeks with our project in the Solomon
Islands - the Kastom Garden Programme - where I found that people in
isolated villages were well aware that there was drought (nowhere near as
bad as in PNG) but were more or less unaware of its cause. One group we
worked with had heard about this thing called El Nino... didn't it have
something to do with a church in somewhere like... South America?, they
asked. The subsistence fields there were dry, so in training workshops we
could compare the exposed fields with those that had used mulching.

I mention this to agree with the above statements and to raise the idea that
aid projects seeking to improve subsistence agriculture also think about
production of surplus that farmers can sell at  local markets. Money is a
necessity today, even in subsistence communities, so people can buy
education and medical services as well as other things.

This is a wider - nutritional health - view of food security that
incorporates the established practice of buying food (Solrais - Australian
white rice from the Riverina, in the case of the Solomons) and links food
security with other social imperatives and practices.
> Yes, 'culture' has formed around subsistance farming - mankind has
> been doing it for thousands of years, so naturally it is part of
> 'culture'.  And no doubts, Bill & Dave took their inspiration for
> permaculture from this 'culture'.

Subsistence gardening is a culture, but not of itself. It is a practice
within the wider culture of the people who practice it. Today, that can
incorporate elements of modernism... and even some elements that can be
described as 'traditional' might be of recent origin.
> I'm very aware that any mention of economics is an easy target for
> ridicule amongst permaculturalists.  But if economics can make the
> system more efficient then it shouldn't be discarded.  A 'resources
> audit' afterall is the basis for examining if a farm is economically
> viable.

Ridiculing economics may indicate a poor education in permaculture. Mollison
has gone to great (sometimes confrontational) lengths to get across the
message that permaculture is not farming or gardening and a permaculture
lifestyle does not have to include either. In some cases, Mollison has
suggested, it might be better not to attempt to grow your food... what is
important is to buy it from someone or some business that has sourced it
from responsible farmers.

In Australia, economics has long been a part of permaculture. I recall that
a friend, Damien Lynch, started Australia's first ethical investment
business - August Investments - back in 1984. Then there was Earthbank...
then Australian Ethicval Investments... and, now, Damien has Ecoforest Pty
Ltd, an ethical  forestry investment business (www.ecoforest.com.au).

That's not to detail the permaculture involvement in LETS and the issuing of
their own currency by NorthLETS (www.nor.com.au/environment/perma).

My recollection if that Mollison heavily promoted the idea that people take
control of their own money.

> The world produces 2 kilos of food per person per day, but we haven't
> figured out a distribution system yet.  Can we make distributing food
> as much 'fun' and part of 'culture' as growing it?

Probably not - because that involves economics and people distrust that.

It also involves the idea of permaculture  people, while promoting the idea
of growing their own food on farms, home and community gardens, promote the
idea of responsible buying of food. It's a fact, especially in a city such
as Sydney, where I live, that the opportunity to grow food is nonexistent
for a great many people because they are renters, apartment dwellers, do not
have time to garden or whatever.

Permaculture thus must promote the idea of community food enterprises (food
coops, community supported agriculture, farmer's markets) as well as the
benefits of local  food and, where available, organically-grown food, even
when it comes via supermarkets (as it is increasingly doing).

In this way, food systems and nutritional health, rather than gardening
(which is only one way of obtaining sustenance) becomes the focus.

Happy eating...

...Russ Grayson

More information about the permaculture mailing list