There are nearly as many definitions of Permaculture as Permaculture practitioners.
Here is an analysis of some definitions either short or long, technical or poetical, simple or complex, succinct or incomplete; I added some comment to correct or complete them in case it was needed.
Google: “The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.” Comment: a large part of Permaculture is the “how”. And we could add here that biodiversity is a key factor to reach the 2 enunciated goals. If you imagine installing 200 solar panel farm and produce potatoes with it you may obtain a sustainable and self sufficient ecosystem but it excludes the human dimension from this ecosystem and people would not get self sustainability in term of food by lacking a full spectrum of nutrients. This definitions lack as well the objective of building a low footprint habitat well integrated in the ecosystem, considering human as part of the ecosystem.
Wikipedia: “Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.” Comment: this definition encompass 1 key factor in Permaculture; biomimicry. Nevertheless the Systemic approach proposes many other designing tools than complement the pattern approach.
Permaculture.net: “Permaculture, or permanent (agri)culture, means working with natural forces – wind, sun, & water – to provide food, shelter, water & other needs with minimum labor & without depleting the land. Permaculture is a holistic approach based on traditional agricultural practices.” Comment : This definition lacks an essential part which is biology and only take into account abiotic factors. In many case biology is fundamental in order to allow cyclic biologic processes able to produce abundance and save energy. As well Permaculture find a lot of technical data in empirical knowledge but aims to develop new designs using modern technology when providing a sustainable value addition.
Dictionary.com: “Permaculture is a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem.”Comment: we may say that “renewable resources” objective is a precondition and included in to obtaining self sufficiency. The very positive addition of this definition is the mention of “horticulture” which indeed is closer to the current practice of Permaculture although agriculture can be integrated in a Permaculture platform. It is important to point out that horticulture is a more productive system than agriculture in food production.
Merriam-webster.com: “Permaculture is an agricultural system or method that seeks to integrate human activity with natural surroundings so as to create highly efficient self-sustaining ecosystems”. Comment: The best definition so far in its essence, may lack the “how to” dimension.
At this point we may notice that generalist sites (above) have a limited and somehow inadequate view of Permaculture. Here are more adequate definitions, from practitioners;
Bill Mollison (The co-founder of Permaculture): “Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area.” Comment: this definition contains everything that can inspire a Permaculturist and is intended toward either this category of people or to someone who reads the book of Bill Mollison (where is found this definition). Not only it implies that Permaculture is a dense system of food and urbanism production (last part of the description) but as well assess its life-supporting dimension meaning taking into consideration the biologic, complex and ethical dimension of humanity. David Holmgren , second co-founder of Permaculture add the 12 principles of Permaculture which are mainly a popularization of the systemic approach structure and mechanisms, providing with an integrative vision of the functions in the farms.
Permaculture.org: “The easy answer is that Permaculture is a design discipline based on the foundational ecological principles of nature. One then takes one’s observations of natural systems and applies the lessons learned to the human based environment….The bottom line is that Permaculture is a road map to finding our small place in the world as an integral part of the whole planetary system.” Comment: This sound like an ideological statement however people who practice Permaculture every day of their life and confront the consequences of their act with the impact they produce on the planet and their own ethical view come naturally to this conclusion. The only explanation that may sound right for this “aknowledgment“ is certainly related to considering human as an organism finding its place in an ecosystem still assuming its own specificity as the most evolved organism of this ecosystem and its need for transcendence. We may add that Permaculture is a “reverse” ideology in the sense that more than imposing a set of ideas and rules to a human organization Permaculture is a practical integration to nature which creates in a bottom-up stimulation an harmonized and liberating human model for living in and exploring the world.
Anovafloresta: “Permaculture is a type of agroecology, green building and urbanism using Systemic Approach and Biomimicry as optimization drives”. Comment : This definition is very concise however needs prior understanding of the 3 terms “agroecology”, “Systemic Approach” and “Biomimicry”. Agroecology is an agriculture which respects ecosystem biodiversity. Systemic approach is a (relatively new) scientific approach aiming to help complex system management by monitoring flows, functions and interfaces. Examples of flows are light, rain, wind, examples of functions are trees, chicken coop, green house, examples of interfaces are windbreaks, living fences, path,etc… Biomimicry is a new development in science aiming to use nature as an inspiration pool for designing efficient and energy saving functions (seen as interrelated ecosystems.) The ethical dimension is somehow omitted explicitly in this definition which could be summarized as : Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share, corresponding to the sustainability paradigm (ecology, social, economy).
Larry Santoyo: “Permaculture is: Design protocols for critical thinking, decision making and problem solving – all based on the patterns of nature.” Comment; this definition has been criticized as giving only the “how to” and not the “what is the final objective” of Permaculture.
A more didactic definition of Bill Mollison (compared to the one above) and Scott Pittman is: “Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity, stability & resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape, people & appropriate technologies, providing good, shelter, energy & other needs in a sustainable way. Permaculture is a philosophy and an approach to land use which works with natural rhythms & patterns, weaving together the elements of micro-climate, annual & perennial plants, animals, water & soil management, & human needs into intricately connected & productive communities.” Comment : this definition is intended to propose a roadmap for designers in a learning context.
Melting pot of Permaculture incentives;
- Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature (Bill Mollison)
- Protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour (Bill Mollison)
- It offers a practical, creative approach to the problems of diminishing resources and threatened life support systems…(Simon Henderson, Cortez IS, BC)
- A Permaculture is a diverse, complex ecosystem where the elements interact in mutually beneficial ways to produce a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. (Anon)
- Agro-toxic is petrol intensive, organic agriculture is labor intensive, Permaculture is information intensive (saying)
- Permaculture is a world-wide movement of designers, teachers, & grassroots activists working to restore damaged ecosystems & human communities. Permaculture derives practical techniques & principles from the study of natural systems & applies them to earth repair & care.(Anon)
- Permaculture uses perennials to build the framework of an ecosystem, in opposition to industrial petrol based agriculture producing mainly annuals. (saying)
- Permaculture is the best approach to mitigate and adapt to climate change (saying)
- Permaculture is the science of relationship (saying)
To be continued…(don’t hesitate to propose definitions if you find them interesting)