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can we grow enough to feed the world with permaculture

Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
I have been listening to older podcasts and there is one with Helen in which she states that she beliefs that we cannot feed the world with permaculture, especially with a growing population. She has chosen not to have children for that reason. Paul, in his recent article, states that kids are a huge strain on our resources and I am assuming that he echoes Helens opinion. I also watched a video with Sepp Holzer and Robert Briechle: http://www.alpenparlament.tv/playlist/469-permakultur-revolution (sorry, it is in German), in which Sepp states that in his opinion Russia alone can feed everybody on earth if the principles of permaculture are applied (They are working together on a project in Russia. he wears a handmade Russian peasant shirt in the video. pretty cool!). I would really like to hear Toby's opinion on this matter.


http://www.yogaforallpeople.com/
John Sizemore


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 96
Location: West Virginia/ Dominican Republic
I think we can feed ourselves with permaculture if we include zone five as a source. The biomass of the forest can be utilized for making mushrooms or raising worms and so forth. The issue is not about feeding ourselves but rather do we want to live with the 2000 square foot homes for three people and heat them.
Also permaculture is not just food forest and chicken tractors. It has been inclusive of aquaponics, biogas, compost heating and so forth. As someone with some experience with aquaponics can attest to, it will feed a family in a very small space .If you were building your home from day one with a self-sustainability approach in mind then for the same money as a standard home a person could build an earth sheltered home including a greenhouse with an aquaponics system included. The waste fish byproducts become chicken feed and the fish eat vegetable scraps as well as grass clippings.
I have lived in a country depending on batteries and inverters and 500 watts would take care of you needs if you adjusted your life. It is possible to get a Stirling engine now that will power a 500 watts alternator for under $500.
To see what could be done just look at growing power in Chicago for what can be done.

I am the first generation of my family to grow up on the grid eating out of the super market. I hope to be the last.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Sort of a nonsensical problem, I think, considering the third ethic of permaculture is to limit our population and consumption so we can foster the well-being of the Earth and People. So permaculture is in itself the solution to the problem of food and "a growing population." In permaculture, ideally, the population is maintained at or below carrying capacity. It's nonsensical to expect a system which does not operate on the endless population growth principle to feed an endlessly growing population.

More about the Food Race and why you can't win it by producing more food: http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.cfm

More about population issues: http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_defendingwomensrts


Idle dreamer

Jesus Martinez


Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
Currently there is enough habitable land for everyone on earth to have something like 2 acres. In some areas that's enough for a lot of people to live off of, such as the tropics, and in other areas they might need a little more, but in most areas that will be a surplus of land. The answer is that of course permaculture can feed the world. I generally dislike this type of question because of exactly the replies in this thread already that imply somehow humans are a parasite that need to be extinguished for our evil doings and in order to prevent the spread of our plague further we need to institute draconian policies to sterilize us, round us up and eventually exterminate us. The majority of the worlds food problems currently are not production based but transportation and access based. The amount of produce we waste in the US can feed tons of people. We also have the issue of convincing 3rd world countries to stop producing their own food and instead grow crops for us rich people like coffee or to grow bio-fuel crops so these people who would otherwise be providing their own food are now having to buy it. In the 3rd world you also have the problem of changing diets as income levels grow, they tend to start consuming more (much more expensive conventionally raised) animal products instead of fruits and vegetables which are much cheaper and easier to grow. Someone in south america can go harvest bananas for a day that will feed him for more than a week and trade that food for 1 meals worth of meat.
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
I get what you are saying and agree with you. Was just interested because Helen in the podcast with Paul was quiet adamant about it not being possible - while Sepp Holzer felt that one country can grow enough.... both have used the principles of permaculture in their respective farms for a long time. It interests me when there are such opposing viewpoints....
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Jesus Martinez wrote: I generally dislike this type of question because of exactly the replies in this thread already that imply somehow humans are a parasite that need to be extinguished


Wow, I haven't seen any comment even remotely like that in this thread! Maybe "kids are a huge strain on our resources" is the most negative thing people have said about humans that I see in this thread.



Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Marianne West wrote:I get what you are saying and agree with you. Was just interested because Helen in the podcast with Paul was quiet adamant about it not being possible - while Sepp Holzer felt that one country can grow enough.... both have used the principles of permaculture in their respective farms for a long time. It interests me when there are such opposing viewpoints....


I guess my question is: Exactly what the "it" is that Helen says is impossible - impossible to feed an infinitely growing population on a finite planet? I'd say that's impossible using any system! But if we're talking can permaculture feed the current population from existing developed land, I'd say, yes, I think it can. That is, I can't see a reason it can't, since permaculture yields are higher than conventional agriculture yields and result in increasing fertility of the land instead of degradation. Obviously permaculture would actually have to be implemented on a wide scale to do this. A solution which is not implemented is not useful in solving a problem.



Jesus Martinez


Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
Tyler Ludens wrote:
Jesus Martinez wrote: I generally dislike this type of question because of exactly the replies in this thread already that imply somehow humans are a parasite that need to be extinguished


Wow, I haven't seen any comment even remotely like that in this thread! Maybe "kids are a huge strain on our resources" is the most negative thing people have said about humans that I see in this thread.





When you investigate some of the origins or views of the most vociferous supporters of reducing human populations, in my experience, what I said is the underlying belief held.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
see the growing free food on every corner thread..that might give you some ideas


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Jesus Martinez wrote:
When you investigate some of the origins or views of the most vociferous supporters of reducing human populations, in my experience, what I said is the underlying belief held.


I don't think those views are compatible with permaculture. There's no place for despising humans and thinking they are evil parasites in the ethic "Care of People," in my opinion.

John Sizemore


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 96
Location: West Virginia/ Dominican Republic
I read a something by Bill Mollison that also advocates the raw food movement to a certain degree. His take was kidney beans are poisonous raw and take extreme amounts of fuel to cook. If more of the food was in a raw or slightly cooked state when eaten then the extra fuel wood needs could be replaced with productive food trees.
A good portion of our resources now is aimed at heating the houses and disposing of waste. If that were done in the permaculture way then the effort now consumed by that would go to food. Just about every kind of organic waste can be converted into food numerous times and in the end make our own area extremely fertile.
The idea that economic success is measured by monetary trading is wrong. Wellbeing is the true measure. If someone eats enough and lives in a safe shelter than they are better off than someone living on 50k a year in New York City.
Permaculture also encompasses vertical farming with in sky scrapers. How much food could be grown on the sun facing side of a sky scraper if the outward 12 feet was a giant green house? What if the green house was used as a grey water filter system?
What if old strip mines were converted into cattail ponds for making ethanol at 17000 gallons an acre from rhizomes? What if the stalks were used as mushroom media? The best time to harvest the rhizomes is winter after the migratory water fowl have left so it is an enterprise that would create habitat and yet produce a net gain.
Mollison talks about bigger picture than just individual operations.
Jesus Martinez


Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
Also, Geoff Lawton in Greening the Desert (i think) talks about how much food can be produced from some of the tropical trees such as jackfruit, etc and how just lining the major roads with them instead of ornamentals could feed giant numbers of people. Something like, on their way in to work in the morning, they just stop on the side of the road and pick up breakfast, and they can procure dinner the same way on their way out.
kent smith


Joined: Sep 05, 2010
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
Some studies already suggest that we already produce enough food for the population, however it is an issue of politics and economics that keep a vast majority of the world hungry.
kent


Kent
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
kent smith wrote:Some studies already suggest that we already produce enough food for the population, however it is an issue of politics and economics that keep a vast majority of the world hungry.


Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for his work on the issue of food and politics; his conclusion was famine is typically caused by political situations, not by an absolute lack of food. I agree there is plenty of food in the world for all people, but is badly distributed and in the West, horribly wasted (see thread about food production quotas and waste: http://www.permies.com/t/11069/farm-income/Quota-system-has-stranglehold-Canadian) Permaculture would help with the problem of the distribution of food, because it is about local food security. It would help with the problem of waste because wastes are resources in permaculture.
John Sizemore


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 96
Location: West Virginia/ Dominican Republic
When discussing continued population increases it must be remembered that all it would take is one good pandemic to put everything into equilibrium. As time moves forward ancient diseases that were though on check are now drug resistant.
The wealthy diseases of diabetes and heart disease make the western population vulnerable to many other problems also. I think when the first years of peak oil finally come to pass there will be mass die offs.
No I am not some dooms day theorist. I just read history and I know what had happened in the past. I do feel though the natural local-vor people will probably fair better. Paul Stamets mentions locally grown food living with the mycelium having an inherent immunity to local pathogens that are passed onto the consumer.
But just like the years after the plague when the social fabric changed due to the serfs now having rights I do believe the social dynamic will change for the better. Those that have food forest will probably survive the plagues or at least in higher proportion due to the higher level of varied foods and nutrients consumed.
The mycelium in the soil would actually offer a local defense to most pathogens. I just do not think the population will increase very much more before we have a mass die off of humanity. It just is in the numbers.
I don’t know if I will be alive when the next plague hits. I can only hope that I leave enough of a permanent food supply for my friends and family to be able to get them through. It may be my great grandchildren that need it but it will happen someday. I personally think peak oil will be the catalyst. So I am thinking sooner.
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2


I guess my question is: Exactly what the "it" is that Helen says is impossible - impossible to feed an infinitely growing population on a finite planet? I'd say that's impossible using any system! But if we're talking can permaculture feed the current population from existing developed land, I'd say, yes, I think it can. That is, I can't see a reason it can't, since permaculture yields are higher than conventional agriculture yields and result in increasing fertility of the land instead of degradation. Obviously permaculture would actually have to be implemented on a wide scale to do this. A solution which is not implemented is not useful in solving a problem.




it is podcast # 33. I understood her as saying that it is not possible today. I could be wrong...
Marianne West


Joined: Jan 05, 2012
Posts: 94
Location: Lemon Grove, CA
    
    2
Sorry, I didn't mean this to turn into a discussion of having kids or not. But here is a thought on this. it seems that when people do better in their lives, have abundance, they start to having less children. I am thinking of Germany (and i think that holds true for other northern European countries as well, but I don't know for sure). it is great to have kids in Germany. The government gives you cash every month for every child. You get a certain amount of time (not sure if 6 month or 1 year) off after having a baby and still have some salary (I think from the state, not the company). You have a job guaranteed to be open for you up to 6 years after giving birth (school age), there are great activities for kids and more. Guess what, many people choose not to have children - not because they are concerned about overpopulation. Kids are a lot of work (I have 3) and a long time commitment (forever). And many don't want that.
It seems to me the easiest way to make sure that we don't overpopulate the earth is to make sure that everybody is doing good.
Just a thought.......
Holly Brown


Joined: Dec 29, 2011
Posts: 10
Location: Palm Beach County
"There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them."

"The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. Up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the farm and the fork. If crops wastefully fed to livestock are included, European countries have more than three times more food than they need, while the US has around four times more food than is needed, and up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches people's mouths."

"8.3 million hectares of land required to produce just the meat and dairy products wasted in UK homes and in US homes, shops and restaurants. That is 7 times the amount of Amazon rainforest destroyed in Brazil in one year, largely for cattle grazing and soy production to export for livestock feed."

http://www.feeding5k.org/food-waste-facts.php


"Creating the world we want is a much more subtle but more powerful mode of operation than destroying the one we don't." ~ Marianne Williamson
Toby Hemenway
author


Joined: May 06, 2008
Posts: 86
    
  16
The only thing that will "feed the world" at 7 billion is massive fossil fuel inputs, or some replacement for that. The reason we managed to get beyond 4 billion or so is because in the 1960s we figured out how to turn oil into food. That allowed us to develop food sources for another 3 billion people, instead of the famine that most population biologists were predicting at the time. Maybe we can put off the day of reckoning again, too, but at some point we need to deal. Food requires energy and fertilizer, and oil and natural gas have given us an abundance of those. But that party is over. Permaculture can help with a transition to a smaller population by recycling the abundance that oil has given us (though the amount we can keep cycling depends on energy, so that amount will decline with energy descent), and by letting us reduce our ecological footprint, since Pc creates habitat while producing food. But because permaculture is grounded in sharing the planet with other species, some of its yields go to other species, while the yields of agriculture go only to us, other species be damned. Farmers don't really like wildlife in their fields. This means that though some methods used in permaculture can be highly productive for humans--like keyhole beds--overall permaculture systems may not yield as much as intensely fossil-fueled ag, because in Pc we are agreeing not to take all of it. So, short answer, no, permaculture cannot feed 7 billion people or more, because if you are gutting the planet and spewing fossil fuel pollution over everything, you are not using permaculture, by definition. But permaculture looks to me like the best way to make the transition, by closing the loops as the system runs out of oil over the next few decades. Maybe a miracle fuel will come along, but I'd rather we learned to live sanely on the surface of a finite planet first. Walk before we fly, and so far we haven't mastered crawling yet.

The third ethic was originally "set limits to population and consumption" as stated in Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, but I suspect population limiting is too much of a hot button for many, so we go for "return the surplus" because, if I may be cynical, we can fudge on what the surplus is--my savings account isn't really surplus, right, so I can keep my money--but it's damned clear what population is; if you have more than 2.3 children you are contributing to the most serious problem on the planet. I won't sugar coat that. As for the irony of smart people not having kids, that's how they got to be the elite in this culture: by concentrating resources on 2-3 kids, instead of spreading it over a gaggle of them. The plan has always been: It's great to have plenty of dumb people, to be my slaves. Since I control all the money and power, their numbers are irrelevant.

But population the critical issue of our time, especially the population of the developed world, where 1 American consumes and pollutes as much as 9 Brazilians or 55 Zimbaweans. Everything else, climate change, pollution, energy descent, comes from too many people on a finite planet. Low populations can get away with all sorts of things that dense ones can't. Life gets unforgiving fast at high population levels.

But this issue devolves into politics really fast, doesn't it.

The beauty is, if we don't fix it ourselves, nature will fix it for us, just in a far more ugly way. There's a video on the web I highly recommend by Albert Bartlett called "Population, Arithmetic, and Energy" that makes all this very, very clear: a stopping of population growth is inevitable, and the things that decrease population are all very ugly, except for voluntarily having a small family.


I'm offering weekend permaculture courses in the SF Bay area. Info (and more) at http://patternliteracy.com
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
i think we need to go more along the lines of pauls HUSP theory to feed a growing world. unless everyone does permaculture like sepp, i can see the possibility of failure a lot easier than with everyone doing sepp type stuff. then if the whole world was HUSP there would be a tremendous amount of food and resources available for use.

but then again, you cant feed the world no matter what if there are 100 billion people on it.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Holly Brown


Joined: Dec 29, 2011
Posts: 10
Location: Palm Beach County
Thank you so much for stopping by and answering my questions, Toby! I plan on sharing your work with as many people as possible! I especially appreciate your post "Is Food the Last Thing to Worry About?" Since I only recently had my peak oil "moment" and have been kind of obsessed about this type of issue, it really put my mind at ease. I am looking forward to reading all of your archived blog posts.

I did want to reply to a statement in one of your blog posts relating to population, since there are no comments allowed there. You said, "I cannot help but wonder if eating high on the food chain via meat, since it will reduce population, is ultimately a more responsible act than eating low on the food chain with grains, which will promote larger populations. At some point humans need to get the message to slow their breeding."
Since I just this morning read a great article about population linked to by another person on this forum (sorry I can't remember who!) I couldn't help but pause here. Here's the article: http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.cfm

My thought is, based on what Mr Quinn wrote, is that I would have to argue that the act of eating meat would not per se reduce the population. He notes that as we create more food via fossil fuel usage, this creates more people of all kind (rich/poor, well-fed/hungry, etc), but never does the increase in production go to those existing starving folks---it always just increases the population.

A few points that come to my mind: To produce much of the meat the way we do in current society, those animals are fed on mostly grains, produced in the same agriculture manner you describe as so harmful.

With the amount of food easily and cheaply available today, most people in developed countries can still access sufficient meat calories affordably to the point where they can have large or overlarge families. Those who can't (ie third world countries) are probably already very poor and are seeing their own children starving/dying or are having more miscarriages, stillbirths, etc. (A fascinating read on how calorie intake influences women's fertility, and thus reproductive capacity over their lifetime is "Mother Nature" by Sara Hrdy.) This is a different context than over hunting in a foraging context.

Finally, it has been consistently shown that increased education, opportunities and equality within a society for women will tend to lower birth rates. Access to meat is already tilted toward rich countries having more and poor having less because meat costs more. So those better-off meat-eating folks already tend to have smaller families by virtue of being in countries where that is the case. (Of course, omitting folks having large families for religious or other reasons).

Full disclosure, I am a lifelong vegetarian, so I am completely biased. But, when I found out about permaculture, it really seemed to completely mesh with my vegetarian ideals. Even for people who will continue to choose meat in the future of less oil, surely, they will have to be surviving on a more varied diet that includes more fruits & veggies, (replacing both meat and a lot of breads, pastas, etc) since I hardly see us having much success without a permaculture solution. Even without cheap oil, and done maybe within a permaculture context, I believe it will still take a good bit more calories to create each calorie of meat, which would naturally push meat in the diet to a lower percentage overall.

Thanks again for all your work!
James Colbert


Joined: Jan 02, 2012
Posts: 246
    
    8
Hey guys, this is my first post. I have been lurking for a few weeks reading through the forums. I have heard that it takes one acre to feed a single person. We are currently farming 10 billion acres world wide. Don't you think with permaculture principles we can feed the world and a few billion extra. Not all farm land needs to be a food forest, a high yielding polyculture can produce more than a monoculture and if designed properly it can be sustainable right? The best thing for solving our population problems is education and modernization (food, water, medicine). I think we can solve the problem don't you?
John Sizemore


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 96
Location: West Virginia/ Dominican Republic
The problem when discussing the input of fossil fuels as needed to maintain the current level of food production, is it makes the assumption that the 20 or so basic crops are what would feed the world. Rice, Corn, Wheat and so forth are not the end all staple needed. In the tropics the Mayan Bread Nut produces a nut that is on par nutritionally to corn, It has seven times or so the production per acre. Only needs to be planted once. The nuts will store for five years as a food if just hung up in sacks in the rafters of houses. A family can collect a years’ worth in about 8 hours of work and it still can be used as an over story crop in a food forest.
http://mayanutinstitute.org/page.cfm?pageid=18882
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
there is a new show on either cooking or food network channel ..think it was sunday nights..where 4 cooks go to the trash that is being thrown out and collect enough food to feed 100 people..but the trash that is thrown out is about 44 % of all the food brought in to be sold !!! 44 %. I didn't see the entire show as i was busy, but they were gathering baked goods, fish, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, flour, etc..all that was being thrown out and all but a couple things were still fresh and usable and not outdated stuff..nothing was canned or frozen, all fresh
 
 
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