Category Archives: Permaculture concepts

Ideias – a Permacultura contra a proletarização

designA proletarização acontece quando a ocupação de um artesão se torna parte do manual do usuário de uma máquina.

Dar significado às atividades humanas vai na direção oposta; simplificar e modularizar as funções da máquina de forma que possam ser usadas e mantidas pelo artesão.

Permacultura ajuda a criar esse processo, utilizando as ferramentas (biótica e abiótica) unitárias que permanecem  a construção de um ecossistema. A revolução 3D vai ajudar a ampliar o espectro tecnológico das ferramentas e funções que serão manuteníveis (em material e design) in situ.

A proletarização aconteceu particularmente durante a revolução industrial.

Ela acontece agora dentro das profissões qualificadas a traveis das normas tecnocráticas essencialmente definida em um papel de desempenho econômico et da evolução exponencial das tecnologias.

Tem proletarização quando o conhecimento é removido das mãos duma profissão e substituídas por processos automatizados ou normalizados. Por exemplo, quando um camponês é transformado em operário responsável pela aplicação de fertilizantes e pesticidas prescritos pela indústria agroquímica e tendo perdido todo o conhecimento biológico da terra e dos ecossistemas.

A capacidade a criar ou compreender, organizar e manter as ferramentas parece ser a única maneira de guardar o controle artesanato e agir como biólogo, arquiteto e designer de um ecossistema.

Permaculture concepts & advanced concepts

Permaculture is a methodology allowing the optimization of agroecology using a systemic approach and an extensive and shared knowledge database.

At operational level Permaculture perform a fusion of technical and biological functions into eco-friendly cycles in order to reduce energy consumption and capitalize on autonomous and resilient processes for food and habitat production.

It leverage synergies and system dynamism to settle the regeneration processes necessary to sustain productive ecosystems.

It encompass ethic in its methodology of development to help  human integration through diversity, integration, complexity and autonomy.

At physical level it applies both in rural and urban areas

It is an open and integrative platform welcoming any ancient or new sustainable technique, concept or design.

Permaculture gives a complete guideline for the farm setup; site choice, global design, development roadmap and ecosystem monitoring.

It increase biodiversity, yield and reduce human labor and external input

Permaculture is information intensive and has developed a world wide knowledge database (via internet) of fauna and flora, functions, interactions and processes, adapted to different contexts.

The objective of a Permaculture design is to transform the resources into a capital (permanence) and reduce the need for operational expenditures (entropic loss).

Permaculture encompasses social and economic aspects giving a large part to collaboration, resources sharing and local market integration.

Permaculture and the revolution of 3D printing

3D printing will impact our civilization the same way industrial revolution did. It represents the final digitization of products and services. If multi media business has been greatly impacted by the digitization and distribution of music and films, 3D printing will operate on every product we may imagine, not only music and film but QUASI EVERYTHING, and will impact every business related to goods production and goods distribution.

As a side effect 3D printing will empower sub-cultures and Permaculture is a target of choice in this revolution,

why ?

Because 3D printing is about the popularization via internet of complex design and Permaculture is eager to develop or integrate technologies into complex design. Its ecosystemic foundation prepares Permaculture to integrate functions developed for complex systems integration.

Permaculture subculture is already using internet and design sharing in the settlement of the various functions of the farm and if current functions are still basic because of economic constraints their evolution will tend to merge into a subtle and complex paradigm in order to become energy efficient, interactive, adapted to the connection with the complexity of life, locally customized and CHEAP.

Permies are proactively working on function design evolution and we can imagine that with design sharing will come open source collaboration for adding sub features and customized primitives to the functions.

Maybe the 2 most fertile areas in 3D printing usage by Permaculture are

– the necessity for recycling material or elements used in the printing. Modularity based 3D printing will ease re-use and repairs of functions and modules, disassembling and material recycling of elements. A paradigm already part of Permaculture principles.

– the collaborative dimension in the Permaculture world where we can imagine Permaculture cooperatives able to invest in professional/semi-industrial 3D printers able to handle all types of materials; metal, polymers with different textures and recycling capabilities, new materials with printed inner structure improving resistance and flexibility. If not at cooperative level the sharing will be done at digital level with a shared library of design easy to implement through local or regional companies.

By mastering every aspect of the closed loop performance, both in natural based mechanisms and industrial and integrated functions, thanks to the globalization of 3D design and the efficiency (energy wise and material wise) of 3D prints, Permaculture will challenge the big corporations (agro-industry) on their specific strength; economy of scale.

When 3D printing “Close the Loop”

Another extremely powerful drive toward green economy will come from 3D printer’s owners need to reduce the cost of material and use recyclable resins.

Some equipment allows now to recycle resins at home and re-inject them into the 3D printers;

For the one familiar with Cradle to Cradle (Closed Loop) this means that the Cradle to Cradle revolution could come from consumers and not from the industry. Once again the incentive is cost reduction, as smart design applies in the Cradle to Cradle paradigm to decrease recycle costs under new materials purchase prices.

In this video a recycling machine produce the resin filament used by 3D printers;

Not only 3D printing recycling process capability could remove waste issued from 3D printing but could as well trigger the transformation of existing plastic waste into plastic resources.

Some study even states that this type of recycling will be greener than conventional recycling. External resource : read more here . By only considering the reduction of material purchase and recycling transportation costs we may agree on this statement.

Permaculture and finance – OPEX / CAPEX

Permaculture projects have the specificity to focus their investments on CAPEX(CAPital EXpenditure) through landscape design and stacking functions setup.

A successful setup is the one reducing OPEX (OPerational EXpenses) to a minimum, including human resource (labor), commodities, energy and goods inputs. A rule can even be stated ; low environment footprint means low OPEX (in general), although low OPEX is not necessarily equal to low environment footprint since external costs are usually not taken into account.

It is to be noticed that investors use OPEX and CAPEX as Key Performance Indicators (comparisons are made inside the same business segment having their own financial constraints), in order to analyze the health of a company. A more than average OPEX means that a company spend more money than needed in operational costs which is not an healthy situation. In this perspective Permaculture is a very positive approach aiming to reduce operational costs.

Industrial agriculture, once removed the subsidies from the government can only rely on economy of scale and face the challenge of fossil fuel cost increase associated with OPEX increase, therefore an unhealthy situation, endangered as well by the soil inadequacy (compaction and logging) on the middle and long term.

A matter of margin

To provide with a synthetic figure; since industrial farming relies on intense petrol input the production costs are high and the sale margin is tight and will be more and more tight as oil cost increase (this factor is compensated by government subsidies and we may wonder how far and to which extend this will continue). Since the margins are weak the only way to survive is to produce in large volumes. The market segment witnesses a lot of acquisitions and the concentration of power in the hands of few. This model give little space for small business and new entrants.

On the other hand Permaculture by working with nature and letting nature produce on its own provide with low production costs meaning an important margin and the capacity to produce in little quantities as well as experimenting in diversity of production. Permaculture gives latitude to develop a customized set of products adapted both to local ecosystem specificity and local market demand.

CAPEX spreading

The financial challenge in the setup of a Permaculture farm is to handle the CAPEX investment in a way that it becomes affordable for low income entrepreneurs. This can be done by spreading the CAPEX over time so that initial benefits can be used to finance each next step. It implies that each new function of the infrastructure creates either a strong synergistic addition or generates financial income. The approach put emphasis on specific methodologies or perspectives;
– financial critical focus in Options and Decisions based design pathways
– focus on material and labor reuse analysis
– further analysis on maintenance reduction through identification within characteristics list of components analysis and autonomy capability in deduction from nature method of design
– many small investments (mainly labor) in random assembly for yield identification and generalization (genetic like evolution)
– low cost reverse engineering of non connected existing functions or non adapted elements of the existing infrastructure (reuse, genericity, adaptation)
– minimize each CAPEX investment by low cost orientated design implementation, recycling, investing in efficient tools and mainly using the power of nature resilience (e.g. ecosystem succession, flow recycling, animal management, … ).
– reuse of existing resources for diversification still keeping low operational costs and identifying value added services and products

Transition from OPEX based to CAPEX based agriculture

In this video, Gabe Brown, the speaker, comes from classical agriculture and has changed his agricultural model to become sustainable. One leitmotiv in this video is “our Operation” (OPEX) and give plenty of arguments on how nature provide with environmental services (soil ecosystem creating fertility mainly) to increase yield and reduce costs.

It means as well that in opposition with projects where the main investment is done during the first year this approach significantly upgrade its CAPEX during each main phase.

These recipes may support farms
– having a depleted land and poor income
– wishing for a transition from agro-toxic farming, prisoner from their existing mortgages and operational costs, to organic agriculture.

It would as well open a market where the initial investment is made mainly on having a large buffer of time for subsistence (food, logistic and taxes) and a smaller amount of money dedicated to buy (cheap and) depleted lands having potential and needing time for regeneration.

 

Culture and Monoculture in the perspective of Permaculture

Accepting and using biodiversity is one of the main drives in Permaculture. The idea in increasing the richness of an ecosystem is to diversify outputs and opportunities, use nature self monitoring and resilience and benefit from ecosystems services (water recycling, air purity, soil fertility, …).

Biodiversity applies at elements level inside an ecosystem but as well between ecosystems. An ecosystem can be divided in sub-ecosystems with different properties, elements and interactions. Valuing biodiversity means as well valuing the plurality of ecosystems.

The recognition of biodiversity as a necessity in Permaculture community is transposed in a higher level of consideration when it comes to culture and human exchanges. Then we talk about differences, specificity, integration, exchanges, synergies, creativity.

Monoculture is failing to deliver on the long term, showing its non sustainability by denying nature mechanisms. Sub products of monoculture are sterility, lack of taste, lack of nutrients, air, soil and water pollution, loss of agricultural knowledge, dependence on mortgage and subventions, etc… It uses scale economy, brute force (fossil fuel) and transform potential partners in competitors. Over time monoculture not only transform a land in desert but as well destroy the local socioeconomic landscape.

Let’s define a comparison in order to better understand the shift between culture and monoculture and use another systemic domain : social network.

Facebook is the typical example of monoculture as an ecosystem. You may argue that such an ecosystem is a cradle for creativity and diversity. It seems to me that it is the opposite. Many mechanisms are embedded there to repress freedom and creativity.

– Advertisement format people,
– Knowing that your data will be used for profits or to profile you, checking if you are edible for a certain job, create self censure,
– NSA spying on your private data with the benediction of Facebook distill political fear in what you say,
– Social censure push people to remain silent on what really matter for them and talk about their adorable cat or the horrible one from the neighbor,
– Multimedia Interconnection engage people to spend their time smiling and self photographing, showing how beautiful, happy and valuable friends they are.

Since Facebook is a profit company which does not really give a damn about the material they use to make its profit (meaning people) it creates many reactions in the public and some tentative to propose alternatives.

Here it seems that journalists talking about Facebook alternatives choose to ignore consciously the problem. The particularity of Facebook and its alternatives is not the design, the features, the response time, or the fact that 30 000 pioneers decided to use another Social Network since it is adds free, it is because it HAS TO BE THE ONLY ONE for ensuring a global connectivity.

The same apply with monoculture. The paradigm is then a variant, it is not exactly about high scale connectivity like in Facebook but high scale economy and logistic to get the benefits from Taylorism and produce cheap low quality products that people can afford.

So what would be the solution to move from Facebook monoculture to social network plurality ? The answer seems one-fold; an open source browser (e.g. Firefox) and specialized add-on, able to automatically interact with various social network platform at the same time. One photo shared on Facebook would then be uploaded automatically to google+ and other more attractive or specialized social network platform, ads free or with better design or functionality and based on specific community of interest. With time, people would choose more competitive platforms having no effort to make to exist in various place at the same time. In a second step, the browser could become the avatar repository (Face of the book) navigating in various social networks (Books of the faces).

In this case the way to get rid of monoculture is people empowerment by adding an intelligent layer inside the browsing capability.

Coming back to monoculture and Permaculture it seems to be the same. The only way to get rid of monoculture is farmer empowerment with a technology based on better design, an efficient toolbox and the addition of a monitoring layer in the form of the mechanisms of nature and biodiversity.

NPK management in Organic farming

N=Nitrogen , P=Phosphorus , K=Potassium (from medieval latin Kalium = Pot of Ashes)

In agro-industrial farming these 3 macro nutrients are obtained by chemical synthesis and mineral extraction. It is now acknowledged that mineral fertilizers impact negatively soil life and provoke its death in fine, making the soil not suitable anymore for plant growth (compact and not adapted to nutrients uptake). External resource : Read this amazing article to understand why

Organic and sustainable management of the soil requires additional understanding, knowledge and some ecosystem monitoring. This mindmap gives a synthesis of NPK nutrients role, the consequences if not available and the different means to provide plants with them in the process of organic farming. (click on the mindmap to enlarge it)

Nutrients-for-Plant-growth-medium

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is available from the air in a stable chemical form. Bacteria are the main organisms responsible for the capture (fixation) and the transformation of nitrogen into a plant edible form.

Mycorrhizal fungi play an important role by transporting biologically fixed nitrogen to plants in organic form, for example as amino acids.

The predominant form of Nitrogen found in the soil is protein (in organic matter and organisms).

The next predominant form is inorganic; (NO3, NO2-Nitrite, NH4)

Annuals plants need the Nitrate (NO3) form of nitrogen
Perennials need the Ammonium (NH4) form of nitrogen (feeding trees with nitrate can provoke disease)

Potassium

Potassium is found in the soil in 4 different forms;

– Potassium as a component of soil minerals
– Fixed potassium
– Exchangeable potassium
– Water soluble potassium

The first 2 forms exist in high quantity in the soil (for example clays of type vermiculite, illite and smectite have a lot of fixed potassium). These 2 forms are not directly edible by plants. Fixed potassium is released in low exchangeable potassium conditions, and mineral potassium is released by weathering, which is a slow process. Recent studies show that silt may represent as well an important reservoir of potassium.

Water soluble potassium which is present in compost is edible by plants but subject to leaching when heavy rains.

Organic matter in the soil favors bacterial, fungal and root activity which accelerate the transformation of non edible potassium into edible one. Macro-organisms (e.g. worms) plays as well an important role by preparing the soil for further bacterial and fungus processing.

To summarize Potassium is an abundant resource which need adequate management (living and active soil ecosystem, good monitoring of compost storage and distribution). Culture rotation may not be needed if the soil ecosystem is very alive and active although guilds will increase biodiversity of the soil ecosystem and concur to its fertility.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is the Achilles’ heel of industrial agriculture and the world food supply (read more at Yale.edu). Reserves of phosphate in the world are now handled by a reduced number of countries (Morocco and China) and Phosphate peak could happen in the next decades. Although fossil fuel replacement and water recycling are predominant concerns and see a larger spectrum of solution every day phosphorus world depletion is ignored by most of the population and represents the real challenge when it comes to aggro-toxic farming.

The challenge is simple; plants cannot grow without phosphorus and this mineral become a limited resource. The only solution is therefore reducing, recycling and increase phosphorous availability in the soil. At the moment industrial agriculture is posing a threat to humanity by wasting enormous quantities of phosphorus which end-up in the rivers and the sea.

Reducing;

– A vegetarian diet represent 0.6kg of phosphorus per year, a meat-based diet requires 1.6kg phosphorus a year
– reducing the usage of phosphate fertilizers to the exact required proportions

Recycling

– Recycling farm waste
– Recycling human wastes (sewage) Since crops leave the farm to feed the population it is necessary to get the phosphorus back to the location of production. The most advanced countries in recycling organic matter or sewage already perform such a recycling.

Increase availability.

Phosphorus concentration varies a lot depending on the soils. As for potassium only a small percentage of it is edible (in solution) by plants. Various techniques allows to increase this availability.

– Increase of microorganisms activity (living and active soil, rich in organic matter). They will mineralize organic matter to make phosphorus available and degrade non edible forms of phosphorus compound to transform them in an edible form.
– Phosphate moves very slowly in soils, deep roots and symbiosis with fungus helps in reaching phosphorus in lower layers of the soil. This can be facilitated by a good soil structure and the mix with perennial plants having in average deeper root system.

To go further and generalize; recycling (mainly avoiding leaching) and soil microbiology are the answers to NPK uptake

Dr Elaine Ingham (microbiology world famous expert) goes further;

– NPK is in enough quantity in the soil for millions of years of agriculture. Just is needed a living soil and its food-web to make it available to plant
– Taking care of NPK fertilizing only is a simplistic vision and more we go more we realize the importance of other chemical elements.
– Classical soil analysis inform only on the ratios of directly available minerals not taking into account the reserve of non directly available minerals that the food web can convert into nutrients. As well soils analysis by giving a PH value does not highlight the fact that PH varies in high proportion at different locations of the plant roots; the plant being able to bio-chemically orchestrate the soil ecosystem (including PH) to feed itself and optimize nutrients exchange at root level.
– Compost, which is an inoculum and not a direct nutrient is key in giving back life to the soil.

Here is Dr Ingham at a conference – a dense and extremely interesting talk

Clay – Sand – Silt – Loam and Humus

Texture

Clay, sand and silt are definitions of textures. The following picture show respective sizes of these 3 different particles;

sand_silt_clay

Sand

Sand, by its comparative large size does not have a chemical valence (capability to interact with charge particles) therefore does not hold minerals in the soil. Water molecules find as well easily their way through sand and get away by the action of gravity. The advantage of sand is its permeability to plants roots which can develop without obstacles. The inconvenient of sand is its poor water and plants nutrients retention. When cultivating with a sandy soil a lot of organic matter needs to be present in the soil to store moisture and nutrients. Biochar helps as well by its structure to mechanically increase water retention in sandy soils.

Clay

Clay in agriculture

Clay, on the opposite, is very closed in size to elementary charged particles and react with ionized minerals. Different types of clay have different capabilities to exchanges cations (read more about CEC and measures of fertility) in the soil, playing a role in plant nutrients storage and availability. Usually clays in soils which have been weathered intensely and seen high bacterial activity for long geological periods (e.g. in the tropics) have structures less prone to interacts with minerals. It is one of the reason soils have a lack of minerals in the tropics. These minerals not being held by clay have been washed away by intense rains. In this case organic matter or more precisely humus play the role of nutrients storage with a higher electrostatic capability to interact with minerals than clay. The density of organic matter although is located in the top soil and reduce quickly in lower layers. The greater volume of clay compensate with the reduced capacity to hold nutrients. Plants with deep roots and symbiosis with fungus allow to access this reserve of nutrients in the subsoil.

Clay in building and waterproofing

Clay expand when in contact with water and shrink when getting dry. This particularity impact the different techniques of clay building. Mixing sand and clay using water create a solid aggregate when drying. Sand can be compared to stone and clay to mortar in this mixture.

The flexible expanding and self sealing properties of bentonite make this clay suitable for pond waterproofing. Other techniques using gley (organic material transformed by anaerobic reaction) are a less expensive alternative to bentonite.

Silt

Silt is a sediment material with an intermediate size between sand and clay. Carried by water during flood it forms a fertile deposit on valleys floor. Silt is easily compacted.

Loam

Loam is a mixture of clay, sand and silt and benefits from the qualities of these 3 different textures, favoring water retention, air circulation, drainage and fertility.

Humus

Humus is a highly complex substance still not fully understood. It is a stable and uniformly dark, spongy and amorphous material which come from the mechanical degradation of organic matter. Humus is fertile and gather all properties suitable for optimal plant growth. It is formed by complex chemical compounds, of plant, animal and microbial origin. Humus cannot form in the presence of high levels of inorganic nitrogen, due to the inhibition of the microbes essential to sequestration.