Permaculture – synergy and Closed Loop process

Conceptually

Permaculture is the development and monitoring of a productive, diverse and environment friendly ecosystem built on hybrid biological and technical closed loops. The Permaculture methodology objective is to multiply synergies.

closed loops is both a cyclic process where the wastes are reintegrated as resources in a dynamic system (thermodynamically) energy efficient.

Logically

Permaculture is done by engineering the landscape in a way to optimize logistic, interactions and energy conservation and integrating the farm functions into the ecosystem natural processes.

The implementation of Permaculture is supported by a framework of logical and organizational rules as defined in the 12 principles of Permaculture.

The 2 main drives of integration in a global context are ; think and share global, act and participate local.

Physically

Permaculture has an efficient function designs and landscape architecture patterns toolbox and an extensive, pragmatic and evolving agricultural (usually more horticultural) and ecological knowledge database supported by Internet.

Permaculture is mainly about landscape architecture; earth shaping, 3 dimensional vegetation building, optimization of resources (water, natural nutrients, …) distribution through gravity (using slopes) and natural mechanisms (using animals and flora) embedded in closed loops.

The specificity of Permaculture is to invest at start in the farm capital (natural and technical infrastructure) in order to reduce recurrent operational costs by using both natural and technical mechanisms integrated and as much autonomous as possible.

For example; an edge for cattle is made at start with classical post and barb wire or electric fence. At the same time giant bamboo Dendrocalamus Strictus are planted along the edge and in time will permanently replace the edge thanks to their thorny capability to maintain cattle inside.

Life cycles of functions are elongated by using nature resilience (giant bamboo have a much longer life spam than man made edge). Additionally it is observed that fauna and flora are always multifunctional, create synergies and propose many alternatives. If bamboo will produce edge, forage, wind break, shade, canes, animal habitat, biomass and convenient mulch containing a lot of silicium it maybe as well replaced by (or associated with) Samsao do Campo which has edge (thorns) capability and fertilization capacity (as a leguminous).

Origin of Permaculture

Bill Mollison (professor) and David Holmgren (student at this time) have coined the term and contributed immensely to it. Other characters around the world have conducted the same initiative in their own context; Fukuoka in Japan, Hozel in Austria, Emilia Hazelip in Europe, and others I’m sorry to omit here. Since Permaculture relies on integration we may say that all known available techniques satisfying the main objective cited above is part of Permaculture. Permaculture is an open framework and evolve every day. The addition to Permaculture may come from biology, systemic approach, biomimicry, landscaping, renewable energies, new technologies, etc…

A study has been made intending to highlight the specificity of Permaculture compared to agroecology.

A change of paradigm

The two pillars of Permaculture are the concepts of Synergy and Closed Loop.

Synergy results from the multiplication of interrelations between the elements inside the ecosystem, either specifically designed or let alone to nature, supported by the landscape architecture and the acceptation of biodiversity. In the former scenario a top down design process will be used to setup a function in relation with other elements (e.g. planting a wind break to protect fruit trees) . In the latter nature is observed and tuned based on observation (e.g. a specific area shows particular fertility, for a non yet discovered reason, specific demanding plants will be planted there). Usually the two approaches are used conjointly.

The other fundamental aspect of Permaculture is the notion of optimized closed loop system. Everything is recycled, waste is eliminated by design and transformed in resources, processes are clear and energy saving, defined for little maintenance. Functions are designed with recycling in mind, with recycling capabilities (capture incoming flows, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle) and self recycling of the function itself. In this perspective an accurate vision of life cycles, in time, economically and functionally is beneficial for the farm setup.

In opposition to Agro-toxic agriculture, non-optimized, and relying on fossil fuel, Permaculture needs to find ways to harvest sun energy and flows of resources and setup processes insuring their conservation in order to optimize food production without external inputs brought artificially.

The best description of a biological ecosystem closed loop has been given by Bill Mollison when he refers to Schedules. A Schedule being both an opportunity and a piece of process in a closed loop orchestrated by nature and man and staging as actors microorganisms, plants, animals and human . Every schedule is an up-cycling step using directly or indirectly the sun energy to gain value each time and based on resources exchanges. Some of the up-cycled products may be used for financial or resources exchanges, they become then potential economic opportunities.

e.g. The chicken eat weed and bugs and produce manure, manure fertilizes the soil and allow to produce sophisticated human food (up-cycling of weed and bugs into human food). It is then either consumed or sold for new resources acquisition. Chicken produce eggs (in another schedule), the eggs are consumed (up-cycling animal proteins into human growth and physical activity) with the production of by products; eggshells and humanure. The eggshells are up-cycled as calcium by chicken (yet another schedule) and humanure is up-cycled into compost for food production , etc…;

At every step, for every Schedule; a new born product, service or beneficial context, adding value, resilience and sustainability to the ecosystem, including human.

A parenthesis may be open about Cradle to Cradle to help identify better the specificity of an ecosystem built on Closed Loops;

In the world of Industry (including urbanism) a Cradle to Cradle approach wishes to reduce the cost of recycling and lower it under the cost of new material acquisition. Recycling includes here re-appropriation of the product, disassembling, reuse and repair of matter and components. Such an objective requires to redefine the Design of the product (or service) and the Design of the business process framework.

Products are defined to be easily disassembled and each part recycled. The factory (or partners) is (are) designed to include recycling in their equipment and infrastructure. The customer not being the owner of the matter anymore is being sold a service instead of a product (a fridge becomes a freezing service). The delivery guy is the same as the one who get back the old product and the transportation scheme exclude or reduce importation flows and strategical dependancies on resources. All the structure of the company changes including HR and Marketing and it may communicate on ethic and environment, internally and market wise.

In the following video from Ellen MacArthur Foundation the principles of cradle to cradle are described;

It emphasizes the capacity of nature to integrate the recycling capability. The same capability that Permaculture uses.

The video however lacks a determinant message; the importance of product design. It may lead people to think that we can transform a Cradle to Grave paradigm into a Cradle to Cradle paradigm just by trying to recycle our waste, which is not the case because too much costly. The change of paradigm from Cradle to Grave to Cradle to Cradle is done atproduct design level which only can induce the recycling capability at low cost.

Permaculture belongs to the Cradle to Cradle paradigm in biological and technical domains. The advantage of Permaculture is that we do not have to reinvent and create a complete industrial portfolio based on closed loop to start with. We may just use the mechanisms of nature when it comes to biological processes, the processes we try to develop in priority since they are the most energy efficient and autonomous. These mechanisms are orchestrated through an ecosystem structure designed mainly with interfaces and niches variations for multiplying biodiversity, schedules and opportunities. Then the technical features are added over time and integrated to the biological closed loop processes (and create hybrid closed loops).

The design of the technical functions (equipment, infrastructure, food processing, habitat, etc…) may have various gradients of complexity depending on the farm resources and the priorities. This variability provides with flexibility in handling the ecosystem complexity.

Toward the creation of new environmental services

Permaculture by the settlement of productive natural processes extend the spectrum of the services provided by the environment (usually defined as pure air, water, etc.) to

– food as a quasi direct ecosystem service of the ecosystem (on the contrary in agro-industry model, food is an indirect ecosystem service because depending mainly on industrial processes)
– human habitat as an ecosystem indirect service.

We may say that direct food production and indirect human habitat manufacturing are an emergence, in environmental services, this through human design.

Cradle to Cradle is essentially “Human/City Centric” , Permaculture is “Human/Natural Environment Centric”.

Both go beyond the “Customer centric” approach making clear that human is more than a simple customer and belongs to an environment we may try to sustain and improve.

Apart from this economic or marketing perspective Permaculture develop the acceptation of biodiversity as a credo which goes beyond the farm design and apply to the relation between humans with the notions of cultural diversity, collaboration and sharing, integration versus exclusion, and the re-appropriation of our natural heritage as a human species.

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