Sustainability through permanent agriculture

How does one design a farm so that it is environmentally-friendly and economically viable as well?

To many Filipino farmers, this question has not even occurred. Most tenants and farm workers have little say in running the farms they work in, much less in redesigning them. Even farmer-owners often simply take the existing farm set-up as given, preoccupied as they are in the day-to-day problems of keeping their farms afloat.

Yet, a farm’s design is a key factor in its survival and sustainability. In poorly-designed farms, farmers will always feel as if every day were an uphill climb, because the poor design makes the farmer work against the natural flow of matter and energy in the farm. In well-designed farms, farming will feel like a downhill joyride, as the natural forces and components in the farm themselves do most of the work that the farmer normally shoulders.

A sustainable approach to farm design called permaculture, first developed in Australia, is now proving its worth under Philippine conditions. In permaculture (from permanent agriculture), the farmer carefully lays out a system of water containment and channels within the farm, so that water naturally flows slowly, by gravity, from one containment to the next. Then, the farmer gradually “assembles”, following certain principles and guidelines, an increasing variety of plants and animals. These are laid out in a way that each additional farm component performs one or more functions or provides matter or energy which, in a conventional farm, have to be provided by the farmers themselves. After many years, a well-designed permaculture farm will look like a lush forest of food and cash crops. And this forest will essentially maintain itself. Then, the farmers’ job will consist mainly of tending the “forest” and regularly harvesting its products.

Successful permaculture farms in the Philippines include the Center for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL) in Silang, Cavite and Cabiokid in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Permaculture practitioners and advocates have set up the Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA), which conducts regular trainings and supports those who want to try permaculture in their own farms.

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