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History of Permaculture: Sustainable Agriculture Journey

by Jonathan Foley
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History of permaculture

Permaculture, a term coined by a fusion of “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture,” is a philosophy of sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural design, modeled from natural ecosystems. It has rapidly gained global traction due to its ecological sustainability and social resilience. However, to fully understand its concept, we must delve into its origins and history development.

The History of Permaculture

The history of permaculture can be traced back to the late 1970s. Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor, and David Holmgren, his student, are universally recognized as the founders of this concept. While Mollison was an experienced wildlife biologist, Holmgren brought his youthful passion for sustainable agricultural systems to the table.

In the mid-70s, Holmgren began developing the initial principles of permaculture as part of his thesis at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. The focus was on creating a framework that would promote sustainable and synergistic relationships between humans, their built environment, and nature.

In 1978, Mollison and Holmgren published “Permaculture One: A Perennial Agricultural System for Human Settlements.” This book articulated its original concept, aiming at creating a sustainable human habitat by following nature’s patterns.


Bill Mollison and David Holmgren are recognized as founders of this concept.

Permaculture Spreads its Roots

It, once a seed of an idea, began to take root in different parts of the world following the publication of “Permaculture One.” The 1980s saw a rapid spread of this philosophy, mainly through the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course that Mollison started teaching worldwide. The PDC course was designed to educate individuals about its principles, eventually training a new generation of permaculture farming designers.

In 1981, Mollison founded the Permaculture Institute in Tasmania, which further spread the concept through research, promotion, and the provision of consulting and training services in permaculture design.

Mollison’s second book, “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual,” published in 1988, became the foundation text its design and is still widely referenced today.


Permaculture in the 21st Century

As we moved into the 21st century, it started becoming more mainstream. It was no longer a fringe ecological concept, but a viable alternative to traditional agriculture, even appearing in urban and suburban settings worldwide.


A significant contribution in the 21st century has been the emphasis on social permaculture, or applying its principles to societal structures. Looby Macnamara, a renowned British permaculture teacher, has played a crucial role in this expansion. Her book “People and Permaculture” (2012), widely appreciated, significantly expanded permanent agriculture application beyond gardens and farms to individuals, relationships, and communities.


Additionally, it has gained traction due to growing concerns over climate change and food security. People are seeking out sustainable practices that can mitigate environmental damage and provide secure, local food sources. It offers solutions to these issues, making it an attractive option for many.

The Future of Permaculture

The future of permaculture looks promising. Its principles are increasingly being recognized and incorporated into urban planning, agriculture, and environmental education. Despite its growth, permanent agriculture still faces challenges. It’s often dismissed as unscientific or too idealistic, and there’s a need for more empirical research to validate its efficacy.

As we confront the realities of climate change and environmental degradation, it presents a beacon of hope for sustainable living.

Climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation pose significant challenges for humanity. Traditional farming practices have often contributed to these problems, through overuse of resources, degradation of soils, and excessive reliance on fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

It offers a different approach. Instead of viewing agriculture as a system separate from nature, it sees it as an integral part of the natural ecosystem. Its design principles focus on creating a sustainable and resilient system that mimics nature’s patterns and relationships.

In a permaculture farming system, everything is interconnected. Waste is minimized through clever design, where the output of one element becomes the input for another. Diversity is encouraged, creating a resilient system that can withstand changes and shocks. It promotes building fertile soil, conserving water, and creating habitats for beneficial wildlife.

Furthermore, permanent agriculture isn’t just about growing food; it also encompasses sustainable building and energy production, creating resilient communities, and even fair economic systems. It’s a holistic approach that extends beyond the garden or farm and into every aspect of human life.

The world is gradually waking up to its potential. Whether it’s small urban gardens, larger farms transitioning to more sustainable practices, or communities banding together to create local food systems, the principles of permaculture are being adopted more widely.

However, despite the benefits, it is not a magic bullet. It requires knowledge, skills, and, most importantly, a shift in mindset. But as we face the reality of a changing climate and the need for more sustainable ways of living, it offers a path towards a more resilient and sustainable future.


In conclusion, permaculture history is a testament to our evolving understanding of our relationship with nature. It originated as an innovative agricultural concept, rooted in observing and mimicking nature’s resilience and interconnectedness. Over time, its philosophy and practices have expanded and adapted, moving beyond agriculture and permeating different aspects of human life.

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