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Western civilization need for permanence

Western culture is the only one having a universal currency equivalence. All other cultures create compartment where financial exchanges are forbidden between compartments. For example you may do commerce within the area of food exchange but cannot make a deal, an exchange, between food and a service of habitat construction if this latter  service belongs to another compartment.

In the western culture a currency value usually defines a human value and this universal equivalence may create a confusion in the way we weight the components of our environment. For example a 10 USD share of a car company will have the same value as the daily work of a child in a developing country. This perspective imposed by the universality of the currency dilute human values in a technocrat vision of the world which in the process lose it’s real semantic, replaced by the value of the mean (money) itself.

We could consider this financial mechanic to be the factor which jeopardise the development  of a real civilisation. And we may as well consider that the main issue in globalization is not really really the quantity and generalization of exchanges but the equivalence of currency between countries with different capabilities to maintain their own compartment stability. 

We may analyse further the concept of compartments and how it appears in our current democracies, what shape it takes.

What makes the link between finance and the  social realm is politics. A government will vote a budget which represents the importance we will give to a compartment. This amount for education, this amount for health, this one for public transport, etc. Without forbidding the financial exchanges between compartment it will at least allow a set of necessary compartments having each of them the necessary resources and mechanisms to survive and develop as a part of a civilised world.

The issue comes when successive governments associate different values to these different compartments over time with different budget creating instability and denying sometime the legitimacy of a compartment. For example if public (budget) funding is stopped for education it correspond to the destruction of a compartment as a protected area and financial value generated in another compartment (e.g. industry or Finance ) can put its hand on this compartment through private school education.

The only way to stabilize the protection of the essential compartments which make possible the development of a civilisation would be to define a minimal budget allocation at constitution level creating this way a stable structure for democratic  development. It would bring a framework and stability to the political and financial world. 

The constitution of Europe criticized now days as being a non political therefore simplistic federation based on currency  could be the perfect benchmark to initiate such minimal budget ruling for adherents and allow national and regional customization depending on the different cultures and aspirations. Europe would then become political in its essence and remain non directive for the national variations in short terms politics and economic development ,  and would finally represent an ideal for Europeans .

The difference between Circular Economy and Cradle to Cradle (C2C)

C2C is a concept of total recycling through design. The product is conceived so that the cost of recycling is lower than the cost of buying new material. It is at start a focus of a company to increase competitivity by reducing the costs and transforming a product orientated approach into a service platform. C2C is a circular paradigm in its essence with a redesign of the product (which becomes a service) , a redesign of the production platform able to recycle, a redesign of the distribution and re-acquisition network and the development of value added services attached to a virtual product.

Circular Economy is a concept of companies integration in the objective of reusing the waste of a company as a resource for another one. The issue with circular economy is that it belongs to the linear paradigm (vs the circular one) which intends to close a linear process with different specialized actors in charge of recycling. In this case companies will not redesign the product in order to leverage re-acquisition of the product and recycle everything  but create partnerships resulting mainly in finding a complementary revenue in the waste produced. We may even consider C2C and circular economy in opposition since in C2C the waste has a very high value that should stay in the boundaries of the company and not been used by competitor/partners. It may happen in the future that partners will be essentially integrated in the  C2C process of a company as providers of service or transformers of degraded residue the companies do not want to reuse (biomass, …). Of course circular economy represent a drive to reach C2C since recyclers will negotiate with producers to update product design in order to ease recycling. The integration of the recyclers as service providers will come from the objective of customer fidelization and the necessity to exist in the market at every step of the service life cycle  (production, distribution, re-acquisition of matter, recycling) and up selling of premium services. Partners will specialise in the different activities of production, distribution, recycling , always ensuring that value added material will come back to the producers to close the loop, ensuring that the producer will be autonomous material wise.

Checklist for site survey before Permaculture design on simulation platform

Site-Design-simulation-PermacultureThis list is intended for preparing the workshop dedicated to site design using the simulation platform.

  • Clarify  your main entry access point and transportation means toward the next food market. Your connection to the world is important

  • Clarify the access to electricity and water.

  • Identify Google maps satellite exact location. And possibly create your spot boundaries in Google map customization

  • Define the area (square meters or acres)  with photos on extreme spots ; the  most humid and  the driest. If extreme seasonal variation ; make photo of the rainy and dry season of the same spot.
  • More about photos

    • Identify 10 referential points as a source and target for photos distributed on the area. From each spot take a photo of the 9 other referential points always directing your camera horizontally in order to identify the difference of level between your source and target referential points.

    • If zone 0 is already identified make sure to integrate it as a referential point and make additional photos inside and in direction of this area

    • If an infrastructure already exists take photos showing the size and shape and state of the elements and their path to the route infrastructure.

    • Make photos of particular spots raising concerns
    • Make photos of the sectors you have identified
    • If you have this possibility on your phone/camera take videos and 360 degrees photos. Either orientate your camera always horizontally  during shooting or edit the photos and videos so that they will appear horizontal (it will save time) when compiled for the platform simulation.

    • Bring with you some USB sticks to store the photos you will make of your design and to copy Aflorestanova video materials (at least 8GB capacity)

  • Apart from land regeneration and food and Habitat autonomy what are your points of focus. It can be specific food production, training center,  consulting, green building,  children education on sustainability or anything which motivate you and may create beneficial opportunities. This will drive the design along time and help defining priorities.

  • Find witnesses or archives about your spot 100 years ago or more before the local Anthropocene impact.

  • Do you have access to mulch ? Usually a layer of 30cm of mulch is needed in tropical condition in order to provide with heat protection, resistance to wind and water erosion and give nutrients and humidity  to the microorganisms in the soil ecosystem. (Be aware as well that mulching a dry area will prevent its humidification if initially dry when only small rains happen after mulching). Knowing your mulch capacity over time will orientated your zone 0,1,2 and reforestation strategies.

  • Collect local know-how  detrimental or beneficial to the ecosystem

  • Verify the capacity to get local and well adapted fauna and flora species. Usually if they are abundant it means they are well adapted to the context. For animal try to identify the sustainability in the choices neighbor farmers are making.

  • Map with contours (showing altitude lines) is extremely useful to prepare the terrain of the simulation platform before design

  • It may happen that the platform will be used with 2 perspectives (in case of large properties)  sequentially from the global to the more complex sub ecosystem requiring fine design.

    • the entire property in order to identify main sectors and zoning,

    • a focus on strategic zones, usually 0,1,2 , to focus on the complexity of more domesticated zones.

Example of site design simulation using the output of this survey list

Biomimicry and Permaculture

Showing the intrication between Permaculture and Biomimicry requires some digging.

Permaculture is not solely a replication or an inspiration of, and from, natural functions, it is as well “using directly and intensively nature”, integrating the functions and cycles of nature in the processes of food and habitat production.

This usage is based on the respect of biodiversity, qualitatively and quantitatively.

This respect of biodiversity finds its foundation;

  • In Permaculture; as a wish to recognize the human genesis and biology as intrinsically related to nature. This way biodiversity becomes a constituent of human ethic. Permaculture is an eco-friendly interface between human and the environment. The ethic dimension requires here the dedication of an area (zone 5) to the development of an autonomous biome, not invaded by human domestication.
  • In Biomimicry; as considering nature an inspirational reservoir, a knowledge database of materials and functions and eventually a way to develop eco-friendly (here in the sens of economy and ecology) solutions. Biodiversity is a capital the corporate world should preserve. Biomimicry is (mainly) an eco-friendly  interface between corporations and the environment. In some cases, of course, non-profit applications may be developed.

If Biomimicry is the observation and replication of natural functions then Permaculture goes further and transform human into an element connected to natural cycles. Permaculture could be seen as a Biomimicry way to integrate back human into nature, together with its technological background.

To approach this subject in more technical terms we will need to divide Permaculture epistemology in its different dimensions;

  1. Design methodology of functions and landscape including spacial integration and scheduling of functions and resources
  2. Systemic approach as a framework for ecosystem observation, analysis, tuning and optimization
  3. Processes hybridization (integration of technical functions in biological cycles)

And see how the biomimicry perspective is related to these different domains of Permaculture.

1) Design methodology of functions and landscape including spacial integration and scheduling of functions and resources

Let’s differentiate

  • the design of a specific function
  • the design of a landscape (spacial integration of functions including earth shaping, fauna and flora)
  • the design of a process (scheduling functions and flows)

The design of a function is typically associated with the possible usage of biomimicry as would do an engineer wanting to create an efficient and eco-friendly mechanism. Here biomimicry applies fully and Permaculture literature reminds his students about the shapes of nature; lines, curves, structures, volumes, fractal and the inherent physical properties of the various geometrical forms.

To open the scope of the relationship with biomimicry;  a design should include the optimization of recycling. For example we may design an object based on the size, shape, life spam  and particularities of the materials found in the commerce, in landfills or in natural systems. E.g. The size of the roof I’ll do is a multiple or easily adjusted to the size of the roof sheet I may find available in order to have no waste. Here biomimicry methodology is kind of constrained to certain obligations that may not exist in the industrial world; some dimensions of nature properties (elimination of waste and recycling of resources) should be always part of the process of design inspiration.

The design of a landscape, meaning mainly the architecture of the ecosystem, with its  various biotic and abiotic elements, will respond to 3 factors; human logistic, flows of energy, nutrients and pollution, and the synergies between elements.

If human logistic requires optimization, the tracing of the routes will be done avoiding erosion and make a good usage of gravity in its design, the periodicity of attendance of the different functions will require zoning  (a way to simplify a “graph theory” mathematical problem in finding the shorter path in accessing the different activities) and finally access path to critical resources will have to be secured in the sense of having 0 down time (always available). Here biomimicry may help in the analysis of the notion of niche in various species, with various locomotion modes and the way priorities are given to different moving behaviors. Biomimicry can help as well in finding synergies for transportation. In this area we cannot prescribe how biomimicry can play a role and options are really open from landscape shape design to energy efficiency in transportation.

The Flow of energy, nutrients and pollution has a very organic dimension, system wise. The contribution of Biomimicry may come from direct analogies in the different elementary functions, meaning the optimization of each specific materialized flow (water,  wind, rain, dust, nutrients, noise, etc.) or it may provide some topological solution in a more global perspective, considering these flows as a circulatory problem within a complex organ. This dimension of Permaculture requires particular attention. Systemic approach plays inherently with the notion of “Russian dolls” and every ecosystem can be considered as an interrelated set of subsystems. For example the soil can be considered as a substrate including microorganisms and a complex food web or it maybe be considered as an organ, our planet organ, in charge of digestion and recycling, giving life to the fauna and flora on top of it. In this perspective Biomimicry may give clues to optimize the circulatory flow of nutrients, energy  and toxins inside an ecosystem as it would best fit in an organ.

Synergies between elements. Synergy and emergence could be compared to the egg and the chicken, who appeared first ? An emergence is a byproduct of a complex structure however it will create a synergy, meaning a productive event, only if having a supportive value in the initial realm (prior substrate giving birth to the emergence). A synergy is in itself an emergent relationship which will change the structure of a system in a richer level. Biomimicry capital could be compared to the sum of the successful genetic transformation where the link between an ecosystem seen as a substrate and the emergent functions from this system create a relationship increasing the inner structure quality of the initial ecosystem. If biomimicry applies in the most impacting way in the different ways to handle agroecology it is in this domain. Synergy is maybe the cornerstone linking Permaculture and Biomimicry. In Permaculture the emphasis is put on relationship between elements to create synergies, in biomimicry it includes with emphasis the notion of structure (which is actually the same thing considering the spatial juxtaposition of even or odd elements).

An illustration of biomimicry is the creation of a food forest. It replicates the forest structure, the best adapted to tropical climate, and includes in the fauna both productive trees (fruits, nuts, useful wood, …) and supportive trees for the ecosystem. Studies show that the choice of species (assuming enough biodiversity) is not determinant in the viability, carbon productivity and resilience of a forest when there is an equivalence in the variety of shapes. This capacity allow a certain degree of domestication and orientation of the forest toward food and habitat production. Here the replication does not encompass “a priory” the understanding of the mechanisms at work for each element but consider the forest structure as a productive system for human.

2) Systemic approach

Permaculture is an instantiation of agroecology using a customized systemic approach. It shares with Biomimicry a strong drive consisting in observing ecosystems (mainly single organisms) to identify determinant and positively impacting functions. From there the scope of types of analysis between the 2 disciplines may vary, Permaculture focusing on a systemic value addition and Biomimicry focusing on the determinant function reproduction. We may assume more correlations in the different set of tools used by both approaches in the future when Biomimicry will mature and complexify the scope for design of its platform.

3) The process design and hybridization.

Here again versatile Biomimicry includes in its scope any kind of spacial and scheduled series of events that may occur in nature. In both discipline it seems more difficult to understand processes than elementary functions. Most of the time applied Biomimicry will focus on determining the value addition of a limited process close to the function to avoid the replication of systemic complexity. Permaculture will empirically play with a set of elementary functions to create an hybrid platform where nature and technology are integrated. The process perspective is certainly the most uneasy (although normative) method of development Permaculture may explore in a farm development. The common denominator between the 2 disciplines is the identification of specific natural cycles and techniques to externalize certain steps (and make a technological function from them) to help managing an hybrid cycling. Permaculture will then focus on closing the loop, Biomimicry on replicating the externalized function.

Conclusion

From this analysis we may project the idea that in front of the profusion of nature creations Biomimicry will naturally use more and more systemic tools and integrate a cradle to cradle quality to its creations. We may assume as well that Permaculture will benefits from the technological pool of functions coming from Biomimicry to optimized its hybrid processes.

We may say that Biomimicry is consubstantial to Permaculture.

Feedback from students and volunteers

P1060710

…was very welcoming from the beginning. He seemed to be quite apt at assigning me tasks that provided a fun and challenging learning experience suited to my level of experience. His occasional interceptions for a quick edifying demonstration or instructions are possible to receive as dogmatic or dismissive if you are sensible to criticism, but for me they were always helpful and justified by his relative advance in skill and expertise …
Georg

…And I got even more: the experience of what permaculture is like in a tropical country (Stephane has a big knowledge about this subject plus lots of information to share!), sharing meals in an outdoor kitchen and seeing the most exciting variety of insects under the most amazing night sky…
Ute

…This is a great opportunity to learn hands on this beautiful way of taking care of the earth. You’ll have a good balance of theory and practice every week day, guided by Stephane who is always present to answer your questions and help you and tries to match your interests with your learning experience…
Virginie

…show us many power points about the practices learned that day, but also very interesting documentaries ranging from soil (vs. dirt), recycling, composting, reforestation, etc.. It was really very helpful to have the theory to re-emphasize the practices learned…
Mary Elisabeth

…The accommodation is nice and rustic, the adobe houses are more luxurious but i still miss my tent and hammock home. Food is always tasty, local and nutritious. Also flexible if you ever want to eat something special or not eat something then it should not be a problem.The course itself is really great. So interesting, good balance of practical work and theory work. Also very flexible, if you take a particular interest in a certain area, then you will be rewarded. …
Laurie

… learned a lot about a lifestyle close to and determined by nature. I camped next to a mango tree, was accompanied by a bunch of chicken when showering outside and every night I listened to a concert of the sounds of nature….
Saskia

…My best experience was probably to listen to Stephane presenting theory lessons on broad-based concepts like systems thinking as well as specific concepts such as soil composition and then being able to apply these lessons in the permaculture forest. The world of sustainable agriculture and construction has been opened to me….
André

Obtain a yield; 3 development methods

Obtain a yield is principle number 3 in Permaculture as defined by David Holmgren.

A yield is a value addition, either intended to generate a revenue or settle a value added service for the ecosystem. A yield is a transformed (actualized) opportunity.

Here are 3 methods to accomplish this goal

Prototyping

Prototyping is a methodology concomitant to systemic approach. It is used either to test a solution and gain a know-how  or to develop a technical platform or process to produce a desired outcome at small scale. In both situation the prototype’s goal is to

  • validate the feasibility of the solution, technically or economically
  • analyze the impact and the scaling up capability of the solution (it could be a negative impact, unforeseen, or a positive impact showing new opportunities)

Prototyping is a very pragmatic approach adapted to the development of functions which did not exist in a specific context before. Prototyping may have different levels of completion, from the basic proof of concept to the beta version which modules will be enhanced over time with an evolving and best of breed design.

Usually the solution is settled at very small scale keeping in mind the possible impact of an up-scaling choice. The goal is to learn both on the validity of the function; does it produce quality and the expected quantity ? and the ease of integration of the function into a larger scheme, business (or operation) process orientated.

Example;

I wish to raise chicken for egg, compost and meat production. I never cared about chicken before but I assume they need an habitat and a space to move and find food. First step will be to build a chicken coop and let the chicken go errand to find their food. I will start with 10 chicks and build a 2 m2 house to protect them from the rain at night. After a while I notice that; predators catch my chicks during the night and they go errand far away either in dangerous places (dogs of the neighbors) or in places where they cannot find their way back. I decide to secure the chicken coop and close the errand area. The latter could become an important financial impact. I choose for a  cheap metal fence. Etc… I’ll continue to add new versions to the first prototype as long as they comply with my goals. At some point I’ll maybe choose to go for a complete redesign of an enhanced solution and recycle the prototype as material or as a structure for another feature.

Projects or Functions implementation

This second method implies a certain degree of self insurance assuming that no risks can be taken considering the simplicity of the feature to implement. Let’s include the same example ; I want to raise chicken and produce eggs, which is the most sustainable way to produce animal proteins. And I want as well to produce various fruits, which is a long term strategy for the farm… What methodology Permaculture will provide to streamline these targets ?

The main methodology to accomplish this goal is, practically; to define a  correspondence between the functions I want to implement and the necessary resources. What chicken (more specifically egg production), mango production, banana production, etc. needs?

Then you construct a matrix of relationships;

Chicken needs habitat, food, both vegetarian and insects or arthropod based, specific requirements like dust, perch to seat and feel secured and aerated, contemplating the world as a bird, clean water, a stable group with one roaster for approximately 10 females, space to go errand and test their leg and wings muscles, a protection against predators, a controlling fenced to prevent them to invade Zone 0 or Zone 1 for the least. Then you go further and define what is needed for mango trees to thrive and produce, the same for Banana trees. You obtain this way a list of resources and functions or projects you’ll need to settle and operate to accomplish your wishes.

This method has the advantage to define a Memorandum of Understanding of your program, highlighting the main resources (material, space and time-lapse) you’ll have to manage to reach a more or less precise goal.

The disadvantage of it is the lack of temporal structure. It will help having an idea on the spacial design and functionalities but will lack precision on the integrating processes; the “How to operate”.

This method is project oriented in the sense that it defines a scope of development and provide naturally with a Gantt of resources including critical path, labor (human resources) and material resources.

Business or Operational Process Implementation

This is the most precise and error free method but it requires an existing experience to be able to design a process in an accurate way.

The idea is very normative; defining a sequence of steps (events or functions) that will form a process with a specific operational or business goal.

Coming back to the egg production I have identified 3 sub processes;

  1. producing eggs with adult chicken “happy” in my farm
  2. raising chicks who will be the main actors of this production
  3. producing value added products with adult chicken which do not produce eggs anymore

Immediately the “time” dimension appears, putting us in a much more reality based experience, projecting us in the reality of future operations. This projection has an immeasurable merit ; to define or roughly assess the workload necessary to perform each step of the process from start to end, designing the associated logistic, the optimized route and emphasizing the necessity of sub contracting ( in a circular economy mode for example) some functions because out of reach. The visualization of this dimension is important in order to minimize labor. For example if some steps require a lot of (fossil) energy or labor it will be necessary to “re-think” the process and find different functions/steps or resize them. Sizing will as well take place in comparing the different functions (steps) of a process to be sure that the quantity of output produced in a step will be manageable as an input of the next step.

It will be a way as well to project your mind in the hybrid biological/technical cycles which rule Permaculture, a way to be more systemic in the way you manage your ecosystem.

Once familiar with this perspective you’ll not think so much in term of “function engineering”, instead you’ll start to think in  term of “processes and functions integration”, equivalent to biological cycle relationship and exchanges, finding synergies between natural and technical functions.

The process design allows to play the role of ecosystem architect using a transposition of biological cycles. Not only it helps to integrate the functions into a normative series of steps toward a specific goal but it may as well help to manage the evolution of functions. For example; if a swale is used at start for re-hydrating an area and stop erosion, once the vegetation is settled and handle the erosion on its own then the swale can be transformed in a diverting function for filling a reservoir with rain water. The ditch is mutating from the reforestation process as a swale to a channeling function of rain water in the process of fish production.

Comparing the methods

You will note a hierarchy in the 3 methods described here from basic to more sophisticated. The conclusion is that being non-experienced in the setup of a specific goal the best approach will be to use the 3 of them in sequence,  starting small with prototyping and using the process one only when (if) it becomes a business or operational focus for the farm.

Biomimicry and the inspiration from natural processes

If Biomimicry is the science of inspiration from nature we may consider

  • a scale in the levels of inspiration;
    • from pure inspiration (re-use or re-think a concept)
    • to transposition (replication of a function or structure using different materials or processes)
    • and duplication (direct use of natural functions to perform an activity)
  • and in the levels of integration
    • focusing on a simple function (being inspired by a natural function, e.g. producing humus with a warm farm)
    • or a set of activities; a Process …

Let’s develop this last possibility. Most of Permaculture examples are founded on functions settlement; create a dry toilets, a clay house, a garden bed using hukelkultur, etc… It is more convenient to develop such a perspective as it helps to create a Lego platform where all functions can be chosen and integrated as required depending on the elementary priorities, resources, means and objectives. However it may hamper the exploration of more complex biomimic replication.

An example where we do not only produce a function but few steps to reach a goal;

The creation of compost.

You’ll find many documentation on production of compost. Usually is start with; “how to make a compost pile” assuming that you already managed to gather nitrogen rich material, carbohydrates and green stuff as a microorganism inoculum. Already you may wonder; but how, where and when can I get these ingredients ? then start the questioning of a more complex process in charge of the production of these ingredients. Then after 18 days, following the hot composting recipe presented to you, you may encounter a doubt; how can I use this compost, where , on which plant in which quantity and when ? in the plant life cycle. There again some steps of a more complex process are hidden to your view and you may take the risk to misuse this compost and fail to get the most of it. A step by step view of a more interesting goal is missing; from resources production to plant production constrained by time dimension (life spam of biological resources, planting and harvesting periods, schedule of priorities).

Going further in the process vision

Let’s consider now a very synergistic process; the “Terra Preta de Índio” (Literally ; the black earth of the Amerindian)

or the creation of an hybrid soil made of earth and biochar, one of the most fertile and stable substrate on earth.

It is important first to differentiate charcoal (pyrolyzed carbon) from Biochar (enriched charcoal with nutrients). An interesting feature can be found here which raises a debate on the properties of Black Carbon and Biochar (it is necessary to read the comments of the article to tamper the study).

The following example is , I hope,  illustrative on how the research for synergistic processes can change the way you plan functions and better focus on yield and strategic opportunities.

Along the amazon basin in the settlements of Amerindian civilization were found deep black and fertile soil. The production of such a soil may be explained by the lifestyle of this population with the following activities part of various processes related to habitat settlement, food and utensils processing, and agriculture ;

  1. The use of fire for food cooking but as well in the process of clay cooking to produce dishes. This last activity has the particularity to require a long burning process with contained fire partly producing a pyrolysis type of combustion.
  2. Another burning activity was for the nomadic way of life to put fire to a new place before to settle, an easy way to remove vegetation and get rid of an aggressive fauna, thriving in the amazon. This kind of practice was sustainable (even beneficial by favoring the propagation of pioneers plants) since done with adequate periodicity (superior than 10 to 20 years) letting time for nature to recover through the different stages of succession.
  3. Another particularity of these activities was the fact that it was happening under rainy weather, confining locally the production of dioxide gas (dissolution of CO2 into the droplets of rain) and above all interrupting the combustion , which would have end up in ashes (highly soluble and removed by heavy rains)  if completed, to the production of a byproduct; charcoal, associated with partly burned wood. We may wonder, and it has to be tested, if the presence of non-burned wood had the advantage to help the transformation of charcoal into biochar by the attraction of bacteria and fungus, its degradation and its migration to the charcoal.
  4. Charcoal has a hygienic and curing effect by absorbing microorganisms and helping the erosion and absorption of greasy and carbon rich materials. Naturally it is a material of choice to absorb human and animal excrement (urine and feces) and food remains from the kitchen. It may have been used empirically for this usage, helping once again the transformation of charcoal into biochar.
  5. Another supposed technique was smoldering agricultural waste (burning agriculture waste and covering them to obtain a slow combustion).
  6. There is the hypothesis as well that an earthworm was the main agent in breaking and incorporating charcoal debris into the soil in the amazon.

Here we cannot define if this process of biochar production was desired or only a side effect of human behavior in a specific ecosystem. I tend to believe in the former hypothesis since a holistic way of life produce empirical knowledge and item 5) shows a sense of purpose . What we may agree with is that we remain in the paradigm of Biomimicry when getting inspired by these activities since the human behavior producing this biochar was entirely integrated into biological life cycles. The discovery (or let’s say the control) of fire was very close to natural functions, a superior animal would use to distinguish himself in the food web.

Now that the various activities at the genesis of biochar are defined (there are maybe more) we may go on and walk into the path of creativity and inspiration. These activities were part of a long and ancestral process with many outcome certainly impacting social and civilization aspects. What is important now is not to reproduce the same behaviors but to define the adequate process, adapted to our own way of life, in order to produce Charcoal, Biochar and cycle it into the production of food. The fact that biochar production is now becoming a byproduct in the fuel industry shows that the industry has already mimicked a very old process. We may just hope that charcoal production will not become a business goal in itself but remain a value added byproduct in a circular economy, as growing biomass solely for its mass production could represent an oxygen sink as described in the article cited above.

As we position ourselves in a tropical agriculture where the food forest is central we may count on an abundant production of wood, therefore the capacity to use this material for cooking purpose. The objective is not to be a “producer” of Biochar but more to mimic partly the ancestral process and consider biochar as a byproduct (a synergy or an emergent opportunity in the vocabulary of Permaculture) of our way of life to improve or regenerate in many cases the soil of the farm. (Adding charcoal to a rich humus has a negative impact and release carbon more than it sequester it).

Let’s consider the various elementary (Lego) functions available that we can use to create an operational process or hybrid natural/technological cycle to produce Biochar;

The question is not any more to define the elements that we need (function oriented approach) but the Processes at the source of these elements. I will give examples here which are context dependent and everyone will have to find its own process based on its local context, available functions and resources.

We need wood; how do we obtain wood ? We are here in a reforestation process, meaning that we have planted a lot of leguminous and specifically Acacia Mangium , a tree well adapted to pruning and wood production. We are now in the phase (the trees are 2 to 4 years old when this article is written) where pruning and collecting wood becomes necessary for;

  • clearing the paths
  • give some light to the young productive species (fruit trees mainly)
  • gather dead broken branches

Let’s note that the outcome of these activities (gathering wood) is a byproduct. The main purpose is not to get wood for fire but as cited above to improve path logistic and help forest succession. It is an example of synergy in Permaculture; often phases of transformation create an opportunity. We stick here to the philosophy of Amerindians; the process of Biochar production start by  using a byproduct.

We need a burning process; since regenerating the soil of Zone 1 (the closest from the center of the farm) becomes now the priority in order to produce sophisticated food and process these nutrients (both cooking and smoking) we decide that we will make a wood burning stove using clay. We already have experience in Adobe building and plenty of clay/sand mixture on site. Efficient designs are now common in Portuguese (we are in Brazil) and shared on Internet.We will make sure that the stove includes a chimney to avoid breathing smoke. That’s maybe the only new function we will add to the farm in order to complete this process. In the design of the farm we have located a large quantity of trees in the top of the hill making easier to transport logs to the center of the farm. The stove will produce a large spectrum of carbon derived byproducts from ashes to more or less pyrolyzed carbon and pieces of wood. This variety of sub products will either have a neutral effect on the end result compared to pure charcoal (qualitatively) or a positive one assuming that diversity usually has a positive impact (e.g. ashes rich in potassium, wood stimulating fungus development). We will still name this end product charcoal for the rest of the article to ease the reading and considering it contains charcoal.

Once again we may consider charcoal production as a byproduct of the food processing function.

We need to transform the charcoal into biochar prior to its addition to the soil to avoid negative impacts on yields; we may use;

  1. Nitrogen and other minerals rich nutrient
  2. Carbs
  3. Microorganism inoculum

There are 2 intensive sources of nitrogen in the farm; the chicken litter and the dry toilets litter.Another source is the waste coming from the kitchen which acts as well as an inoculum. The 2 litters are rich as well in carbohydrates, especially the one coming from the dry toilets since we operate a separation of urine and feces, reducing the Nitrogen/Carbs ratio in the compost pile.

When cleaning the chicken coop and gathering the litter on a pile to make compost we add the remains of stove combustion and the kitchen waste which are not intended to end up in the worm farm (fruits having a tendency to arm the worm farm because of their sugar concentration and acidic or aggressive nutrients). We add as well weekly some charcoal in the dry toilets pile and in the banana circle adjacent to the dry toilets where is diverted the urine.

Logistic wise the distribution of charcoal does not represent an important workload, either in gathering the charcoal or in distributing it to the different locations already visited frequently.

The rest of the process which consist in using the compost remains identical. We assume that the density of nutrients in the chicken manure (very rich in nitrogen and minerals) will quickly feed the charcoal and speed up the frequency of usage of the compost. The humanure from the dry toilets is used after a much longer period (large compartment filled in only after few months) in adequacy with the time necessary for charcoal to absorb nutrients in such an environment rich in carbs.

We may experience giving composted chicken litter with charcoal to the worms to help the “biocharization” meaning; speeding up the absorption by the charcoal of nutrient and beneficial organisms coming from the worms and possibly its fragmentation if we refer to the hypothesis that Pontoscolex corethrurus (earthworm) was helping to do so.

We may see that the implementation of such a process has influences on;

  • The landscape design; location of the trees up the hill, respective locations of the wood burning stove and the chicken coop. We could have as well imagined to develop more the giant bamboo vegetation as they are extremely efficient in biomass production or coconut trees as their nut is a wood product we may use in a sustainable way, without impacting the forest.
  • The choice of functions; for example if we would have made only a biodigestor we would not have had the potential of humanure to produce biochar
  • The road map of the farm development; we first decided to handle reforestation in zones 2,3,4 and 5 before to develop Zone 1 which could have been made in parallel and would not have benefited from this new soil amendment.

We may imagine as well that the setup of a wood burning oven will modify the way we prepare food and add some functionality to the transformation processes in the farm. For example since we have planted coffee trees in the young forest we will now have an adequate tool to manage roasting and produce our own coffee. There is a huge difference between coffee found in the commerce and fresh coffee, as explained in this video;

We will have a pretty good tool as well to smoke foodstuffs and improve our food preservation process. More than focusing on specific examples we may consider here than a biomimetic approach to settle processes will naturally create the emergence of connected  processes since we introduce elements having stacking functions in the natural world (here it is explained how.)

Conclusion

The objective of this example is mostly to show how the “Process thinking”, here using biomimicry as a drive, may lead the instantiation of the farm functions in a more integrated and global goal oriented perspective (business or operational wise).

Biomimicry usage (being inspired by the Terra Preta De Indio) helped as well to show the equivalence between natural cycles and Processes,  functions connected through time by flows of events and nutrients.

The microbiome and the medecine of the future, an analogy with Permaculture

microbiome-and-permaculture

Microbiome paradigm in science Ecosystems handling in Permaculture
The set of microbes inside our body is called the “microbiome”, it includes bacteria, archaea (primitive single-celled organisms), fungi, some protozoans and viruses.  Every ecosystems has developed a very specific biodiversity depending on its environment and include a multitude of biotic (plants, animals and microorganisms) and abiotic elements.
There are 10 times as many of these microorganisms as human cells inside us. Furthermore part of human cells cannot even be considered as living organisms (red blood cells). The volume of the microbiome put together is roughly equivalent to the volume of a human brain.  The complexity of physical, biological and chemical interactions in a humus substrate associated to a living soil ecosystem (fungi, bacteria, soil food web) providing nutrients to a plants is far from being known.
 The human microbiome is a source of genetic diversity and laboratories have reported a catalog of 3.3 million non-redundant genes in the human gut microbiome alone, as compared to the approximate 22,000 genes present in the entire human genome. The diversity among the microbiome of individuals is immense compared to human genomic
variation. If individuals are 99.9% identical genomically,  there hand or gut microbiome can be 80 to 90% different from one another. The microbiome is a signature that could replace fingerprints in human identification. A study done at the University of Cambridge, shows that 145 of the genes in the human genome are bacteria genes that have used a process known as horizontal gene transfer to fusion into human DNA over the course of evolution. Some microbiome between women and men have different specificity and babies born quasi exempt of microbiome inherit some of the microbiome of their mother during childbirth (raising concerns about the generalization of cesarean operations, preventing the beneficial propagation) and in the various steps of our life.
 The number of synergistic properties in the relationships between an ecosystem and a plant is innumerable and unknown, and the ecosystem metagenome at the genesis of these relationships is a scale factor up to the genome of a specific plant. This includes co-evolution symbiotic properties, generic exchanges based on plant categories and common ground biological mechanisms.
 The microbiome is a controller of disease, an essential component of immunity, and a functional entity, referred to as an “additional organ” by biologists, which influences our metabolism and modulates drug interactions. Researches, still in their infancy, show that the microbiome participate to digestion, immune system regulation, disease prevention, wound healing, obesity and appetite control, brain development, and emotions. The functional deficiency of our microbiome can play a role in depression, autism, allergies, neuron degenerative related diseases (e.g. Parkinson), asthma, obesity, and anxiety. For example a greater microbiome biodiversity is linked to lower allergies.  Biodiversity is the motor of the resilience of an ecosystem and key in the mechanisms of regeneration. By enhancing the number of interactions and the scope of nutrients available for plants and animals (like done in Permaculture) we ensure the stability of the ecosystem through all sort of mechanisms; weather control (carbon sequestration, humidity control), nutrient recycling and soil availability, disease control, plague control. A greater ecosystem biodiversity is linked to food production increase.
 The microbiome is not an independent organ, “magically” in charge of various functions, but instead is entirely integrated to our physiology and has evolved with humans for hundreds of thousands of years. A very illustrative example suggested by new studies shows that about 10% of every woman’s breast milk contains complex carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the infant but which fortify its microbiome, a prove of the intimate co-evolution we have had with these microorganisms.  An ecosystem is not an “alternative” context just in charge o environmental services (clean air and water, food, regulated weather, …), but instead a substrate where all forms of life find genesis and habitat and which has evolved concomitantly with the food we ingest and excrete. An illustrative example is the fact that industrial food, cut from most of ecosystems interactions has lost more than 60% of its nutrients, which would have been used for the energy they provide and the complex bio-chemistry they would have helped to produce in our body.
 The microbiome is a land still to be discovered and biologist have now the scanning and computer tools to decipher part of its complexity. The analysis of this new systemic set of data infers a limitless field of researches over the positive and negative impacts of the microbiome on the human body. Biologist think microbiome will be the key to the medicine of the future, considering its potential and its interaction with human physiology. Some stunning medical experiences have already taken place like the transplantation of microbiome extracts, with amazing results.  Permaculture is a domain of agroecology still in its infancy and rely on a non yet determined number of ecosystems properties and potentialities for food and habitat production.

Some systemic principles apply in the architecture of Permacultural “bio-landscape” and the amount of data available in order to optimize production is growing fast, but a mature science of Permaculture will need time to be able to finely monitor agroecological ecosystems toward optimal biodiversity, resilience and quality food and habitat production.

Permaculture and microbiome based science and medicine have that in common to push the frontier of our integrity; who we are, and enlarge our physical and ethical envelop to a coevolutive environment.

To substantiate and open the perspective here are some factors to consider;

  • An antibiotic is an “atomic bomb” for the microbiome, it kills bacteria without really discerning the good and bad guys.
  • Scientific research does not create new antibiotics, it tests the effect of natural molecules, therefore we are in a biomimicry approach more than a purely technological approach. Here there is a strong analogy with Permaculture where we do not give priority to new technology at first but prefer to integrate current know how from nature then in a second step add  technology to the natural cycles or let’s say integrate technology in a hybrid platform.
  • Antibiotics have been developed along history by the “West”, whereas a new segment of research ; the phages, or bacteriophages, which are viruses which have been studied by the “communist block”, creating an ideological split in medicine research. The phages have 2 particularities ; if antibiotics are mass destruction weapons phages are more like drones, having the capability to attack specific targets (bacteria.) This potential is now under focus in the west in the battle again resistant bacteria which are pointed as the main cause of mortality in the future by the OMS. The second particularity is that phages are not able to pass through biological membranes and need to be artificially transported to the cradle of disease in the body. Once again we may see here a relationship with Permaculture which uses human technology to enhance biological cycles by creating hybrid cycles.