Tom Henfrey

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since Jun 19, 2016
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Recent posts by Tom Henfrey

Thanks for inviting me to participate Lorenzo, and to everyone who contributed questions or comments. And congratulations to Julie, Nataly and Michael, I hope you all enjoy the book and look forward to reading your reviews.

And thanks for asking after my voyage: I just today reached my destination (for now - not quite at the community growing project where I intend to stay as the canal between here and there is closed for repairs) after 11 days and over 100 locks; it's been a glorious trip.
4 years ago
Good question David. The choice we really made in the title was whether to call it simply 'Permaculture and climate change', or to add adaptation. This was essentially a branding decision: the main target audience of the book is those involved in devising and implementing climate policy, among whom knowledge and understand of permaculture is quite rare, but where there's a lot of interest in different approaches. Adaptation is currently a higher profile and more dynamic field in that area of work, so including it in the title will hopefully mean more people pick it up and act by changing policy, legal and financial structures etc. in ways that help bring some of these approaches in from the margins.
Between us and the rest of the permies.com community, what we are really trying to do is open people up to more holistic ways of understanding and acting that illuminate the connections and interdependencies among the different strategies we cover. This challenges the distinction between mitigation and adaptation, as permaculture/based adaptation measures are, of course, also low carbon.
In terms of policy measures, we've mostly set out a series of suggestions for more dialogue between policy and some of the strategic initiatives that are starting to emerge, like the Next Big Step project (https://international.permaculture.org.uk/) and ECOLISE, a European network of community-based sustainability organisation (www.ecolise.eu). The Climate Change Statement and Action Plan isn't our own, it's one agreed at the International Permaculture Convergence in London last September as an outcome of Next Big Step. It has its own website where you can read it in full, at www.permacultureclimatechange.org
4 years ago
Thanks for your question Pavel, it's interesting to hear about your situation.

I've heard of similar situations in other areas, like agricultural areas in South Asia fed by meltwater from the Himalayas. Our book mentions how rice farmers in Nepal connected with the Himalayan Permaculture Centre are taking up Sustainable Rice Intensification methods that allow rice to be grown with less water. We also cover ways in which people in different parts of the world have responded to drought through revegetation, new measures for water retention and management, and growing varieties more tolerant of reduced and/or unpredictable rainfall. Permaculturists have worked in drought-affected areas for many decades - since before climate change became so prominent as a global issue - and come up with many ingenious solutions. It would be interesting to discover what's possible in the Northwest US.

Cheers, Tom
4 years ago
And now responding to Tyler's comment. To me these are all great ideas, which land co-ops, community land trusts and others in commoning movements are already seeking to implement, usually on small scales: the chapter on commons-based governance in our book mentions some of these. A non-confrontational and coordinated process of land reform at national level (and internationally) to support wide-scale social-ecological restoration would be a remarkably powerful endeavour. Perhaps coalitions of local and regional government, businesses, charitable foundations and private citizens could begin working with landowners to identify opportunities to transfer land to common ownership and establish funds to support its purchase. Less optimistically, this would come up against some powerful vested interests with significant political power. However, there are cases like the land reform movement in Scotland, where communities have managed to buy the land where they live from wealthy landloards, which I find a source of inspiration and hope.
4 years ago
Hi Redhawk,

Thanks for your question; it's important to consider the deeper context of all these issues, and I think you've brought up a really vital point.

Unfortunately, the high level responses we've so far seen to the strains on the global financial system all seem to take the form of retrenchment, and there seems to be little political will even to regulate the financial sector, let alone reform it - leaving us a long way from the economic transformation that's necessary. I think this leaves most commercial farmers trapped in the precarious situation you describe, and exceedingly vulnerable to further financial instability, including fluctuating prices for produce and raw material. It's a system set up to take advantage of conditions that no longer exist, and the longer this situation persists, the more locked in we get.

I always try to look for the optimistic: if economic conditions changed so that the prices of food, agricultural inputs (including fossil fuels) and value derived from land accurately reflected their costs - social and environmental as well as fiscal - that would remove current biases and likely favour small-scale and/or agroecological production. In which case large operations would find it in their interests to apply their considerable skills in managing large tracts of land and flows of money to coming up with more ecological and resilient approaches. There's some great work on this type of thing in the field of Regerative Enterprise - a permaculture approach to business (agricultural and other) that is attracting a lot of interest in some of the places you'd least expect. So there are some hopeful signs that the tide is turning and we'll start to see some pre-emptive action before it's too late. Meantime, everyone doing such wonderful things in the permaculture world can continue to set a good example.

In Community,

Tom
4 years ago
Thanks Julie for such a thought-provoking question - or series of questions really, your post is rich and covers a lot of important issues.

Looking at the present situation first, it's clear that the pattern of large-scale, high-input, low diversity cash cropping we see today is the product of centuries of social engineering, beginning with bringing land into private ownership (often replacing customary and traditional systems of land use that supported agroecological methods with much in common with permaculture farming) and continuing with fiscal, market and legislative structures that favour market specialisation and consolidation. Particularly important at the moment are subsidy structures - both the direct subsidies paid to farmers themselves (on which, in the UK at least, all large scale commercial farms depend), and indirect subsidies paid to, for example, the fossil fuel industries and large-scale retailers. Rafter Sass Ferguson's work on farms in the US shows that small-scale permaculture-based operations of the type you and I would like to see more of struggle to compete financially because of the way these structures favour the intensive model. Here in the UK, research conducted by the Ecological Land Cooperative shows that small-scale low impact farms using agroecological methods can - unlike most conventional farms - be financially viable without subsidies, as well as producing myriad other benefits (ecological, social, cultural, educational - not to mention mitigating and adapting to climate change). A big aim of the book is to communicate to people in policy, business and other areas that affect these wider contexts the benefits and value of permaculture and the many different approaches employed on permaculture farms. We also consider commons-based approaches to ownership of and decision-making over land and new approaches to business that are more consistent with the practical aspects of permaculture, as well as being versatile and flexible enough to cope with new circumstances like those we're seeing come about through climate change and other major social and ecological upheavals (like the financial turbulence Redhawk refers to in the next post). It's my view that major shifts in all these areas are necessary to help us adopt and work towards resilient and zero-carbon approaches to food production with the urgency demanded by climate change.

So while I think that what I've said so far will make it clear that I don't completely agree with your husband, I can see his point, in that we can't seek to impose change on others. What we can do as permaculturists is educate, inspire, facilitate dialogue, and lead by example in order to help emerge bioregional strategies that take into account, and seek to reconcile, the needs, interests and concerns of all people involved as well as seeking to do what's best for the land and its non-human inhabitants. So my answer to your husband's question would be that to permaculturise Palouse I would initiate comprehensive multi-stakeholder dialogue, and feed into that suitable information about the relationships between agriculture and climate change, the consequences, and possible solutions being applied in permaculture and many other fields. I'd bet the existing farming community would have a lot of vital knowledge, ideas and skills for such an undertaking. There's certainly general evidence for the benefits of downscaling, but whether a voluntary shift to small-scale agriculture is possible in any particular place - or whether large-scale farming can somehow transform to lower-input, more diverse, socially just and climate-friendly forms - to me are questions that are hard to answer by any other way than giving it a try.

Tom
4 years ago
Thanks to everyone for the friendly welcome, and Lorenzo and all at permies.com for running this session.

I'm currently transporting my new home, a houseboat, across the canals of Northern England to my current home town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. It's slow going but a wonderful way to travel that's reminding me how much beauty and diversity there is, often hidden away, in this part of the world. It means my internet access is intermittent, so I might not always be able to respond promptly, but I'll try to get online every day or so to see what's happening and contribute to the discussions. I see there are a few questions up already so I'll get straight on with looking at them...
4 years ago