Manifesto for a professional permaculture

Climate change, peak energy, economic crisis, social inequalities, political crises, loss of biodiversity… The world is now on the cusp of upheavals that will have a profound impact on the way we produce, consume and our way of life. Who can predict when and how these changes will affect our planet and our daily routines? However, we are already sure of one thing: The world as we know it today will experience dramatic changes.

Sustainable development, which aims to achieve a long-term balance between the environment, economy and social issues, is not sufficiently ambitious to address all of these changes. We therefore need to already lay the foundations of an ecological transition if we don’t want to deal with the disturbances when it’s already too late.

The transition initiative was launched in 2006, and several countries around the world have begun to take an interest in ecological transition. In 2012, France launched a multi-stakeholder consultation, the “Grenelle of the Environment”, to take long-term decisions for environmental protection) but the results of these consultations have not met expectations.

The transition concept advocated by Rob Hopkins is inspired by permaculture and has been designed according to this paradigm. This explains why permaculture is at the heart of the transition town project.

In light of its importance, ecological transition needs to be handled with care and professionalism. Even if large segments of the population adhere to the transition concept, in reality very few people are living according to its precepts , in large part because there are insufficient numbers of permaculturists and labourers to meet their needs. The only way to help people to take their first steps towards a transition is by implementing a professional permaculture. This will help to advocate the concept and provide those interested in adopting it with the services they need to embrace this approach. It would also help permaculture professionals to diversify their sources of income, and would allow them to make a living in activities that do not involve farming their own land and provide mentorship and training to others.

As things currently stand, permaculturists face far from ideal conditions, as the majority of them are unable to develop their expertise and make a living from it. The need in aggradation and promotion of the territories on the one hand, and individual demands on the other hand, provide the perfect conditions to begin offering permaculture services to different segments of the population. However, one of the biggest challenge that permaculturists need to overcome is the absence of an overarching professional structure.

Professionalizing permaculture does not imply that participants will be in competition with one another, regardless of whether they are professionals or amateurs. The approach is to create a common structure focused on meeting client needs and ensuring they are satisfied with the end result. A professionalized permaculture will need to adopt a more self-centred practice, designed for the satisfaction of the permaculturists themselves. However, it is important to emphasize that this self-centred and non-professional approach will be working to achieve a common good.
Recognition of permaculturists will enable them to gain a professional status. This is important as little consideration is nowadays given to activists and volunteers working in associations, that are passionate about their work, but whom are categorized as people that don’t generate an income as they don’t have a professional activity. This is not necessarily incompatible with an ethical approach to permaculture, nor is it focused on profit, as it is sometimes even provided free of charge. People should also be free to define when it’s appropriate to start a gainful activity to fulfil their needs and wishes.

The professionalization of permaculture has already begun, especially with respect to training. However, the certification process is not the ‘be all and end all’ of: A certificate is not necessary or enough to be a professional permaculturist. It just reflects that someone has the basic knowledge required to practice permaculture, and acknowledges a willingness to learn and to be recognized.

We are convinced that permaculture needs to incorporate a professional culture. From our perspective, this has to be done within the context of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) in order to preserve the principles and values of the concept.

If we agree that permaculture does not form part of any contemporary economic system dogma, it follows that the concept can be integrated in any of all. However, in the context of our current financial capitalist construct, workers’ cooperatives are the optimal context in which to develop the idea as they are ideally suited for a closer integration with local activities. Taking in consideration local actions, the specificities of the territory, the countryside, the environmental, geographical, geological, architectural, weather and cultural particularities help to take care of the soil with the local knowledge. The implementation is holistic as promotes locally developed solutions.

Workers cooperatives are associated with human qualities such as empathy, equality and are close in spirit to voluntarism and associative work. In addition, the shareholder base, help to redistribute the financial excess between the worker cooperative wage owner. This makes it possible to share wealth equitably.

These cooperatives should be able to finalize tailored permaculture projects, relying on a structured and qualitative approach. Gathering the knowledge and the resources and engage them to achieve concrete end-results is essential. Permaculture projects need to be designed methodically and realized iteratively and incrementally to create a layered output and to adjust to the current environment and possible expansion. Permaculture adopts a long-term and structured approach, which requires a regular follow-up for each project. This entails the establishment of an iterative structure and an agile project management methodology. The end-goal is to have a flexible organizational structure, which promotes the autonomy and creating permaculture cooperatives to address global challenges with locally based solutions.

What are the traits or qualities needed for those permaculturists that wish to become professional and participate in cooperatives?

The most important is the willingness, trying to understand and respect the value of the permaculture and share your skills. As previously mentioned, a certificate validates a teaching but is not a skills assessment. That is why it should not be a selection criteria but rather certifies that someone has followed a course in permaculture. Conversely, a personal project that is driven by personal engagement and passion or any other training course allow to develop the necessary skills for a professional practice.

Profile diversity is also important. Many of the people that are practicing permaculture are self-taught, and include people that are unaware that that their approach is part of the concept. One of the most important underlying principles of permaculture is diversity. So why not apply this principle to professionals? Innovative, suitable, singular and resilient solutions are available due to the broad profiles, knowledge, methodology and skills that are available among permaculturists.

What distinguishes a professional from a volunteer are their respective knowledge and the best practices they have applied. An experienced professional has to be aware of his or her position in the current environment and also to be able to assess the amount of work needed to reach the target that he or she has set.

We are conscious of the risks that we face. The end-goal is to achieve ecological transition and the democratisation of permaculture. The current organisational structure of permaculturists does not allow us to do that. So let us change this situation by developing a professional structure, organizing ourselves in cooperatives, and gathering around us the largest possible number of permaculturists from the broadest range of backgrounds.

Our goal is to defend this vision. That is why we are united around Permacopia. So if you agree with the concept, you are welcome and please share your initiatives!

Permacopia Collective.