The permaculture chapter: principle 10 – use and value diversity

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

  1. Use and value diversity

This permaculture principle immediately resonates with the postmodern quality of heterogeneity, a synonym for diversity, as opposed to the homogeneity of modernity, the latter being the era in which the colonial endeavour to ‘civilise’ the world via the imposition of various aspects of one-dimensional ACID occurred. Permaculture works to systematise diversity and thereby promotes cooperative, complex relationships between the diverse parts that constitute a system, as can be seen in the following example offered by Mollison (1988: 26):

Existence is not only a matter of product yield, but a question of appreciating variety in landscape. Evolving plant systems and existing animals provide niches for new species: the cattle egret follows cattle; the burrows of rabbits are occupied by possum, bandicoot, snakes, frogs, and feral cats; and the growing tree becomes a trellis, shade spot, and a host to fungus and epiphytes.

The permaculture Association[1] accordingly states that permaculture designs “should always try to incorporate a wide variety of plants, animals and approaches”. It continues to explain the importance of diversity in a given system: diversity

is not just for the sake of it, but because diversity can act like an insurance policy – if one crop fails, another may succeed. Even within an orchard there will be a diversity of different varieties. Take apples as an example. A healthy diverse orchard will contain early flowering, late flowering, eaters, and cookers. If an early frost gets some, others will be popping out flowers later on. Polycultures (agricultural systems with many plants), are now proven to be more productive overall and resilient to weather, pests and other factors, than monocultures (agricultural systems with only one plant species.)

Speaking about the rules of necessitous and conservative use, which have already been encountered in this chapter, Mollison (1988: 3) reinforces the view of the Permaculture Association when he indirectly makes some important points about the role of diversity in systems:

Consideration of these rules of necessitous and conservative use may lead us, step by step, to the basic realisation of our interconnectedness with nature; that we depend on good health in all systems for our survival. Thus, we widen the self-interested idea of human survival (on the basis of past famine and environmental disaster) to include the idea of ‘the survival of natural systems’, and can see, for example, that when we lose plant and animal species due to our actions, we lose many survival opportunities. Our fates are intertwined. This process, or something like it, is common to every group of people who evolve a general earthcare ethic.

The view that the fates of natural systems, of plant and animal species, and of human beings, are all intertwined – this is indeed an explicit Orphic view and is often a primary motivating factor for permaculturalists.

The researcher has commented already on the aspects of his ‘permaculture journey’ where diversity was clearly prioritised: For examples, the diversity of plants and trees that constitute the food gardens, the increase in biodiversity that accompanies such gardens and other elements of the system such as the piles of wood that serve as walls to the homestead but also as homes to wildlife and as ‘fertility sponges’ that seep nutrients out for plants and trees, and finally the diverse energy-production methods of the system, namely the rocket stove, parabolic solar cooker, coil of piping for heating of water by the sun, and compost toilet (the latter of which less obviously returns energy and fertility to the system).

The ‘unnamed movement’ described by Hawken in Blessed Unrest again is one that is immediately relevant when considering the principle of using and valuing diversity. The movement is one constituted by millions of diverse groups, all working on differing aspects of the same problems, problems like “political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation” (Hawken 2007: 141-142). Then, Eisenstein’s solution to the problems of a debt-based fiat currency is constituted by a diverse set of alternatives[2]: “1. negative-interest currency; 2. elimination of economic rents, and compensation for depletion of the commons; 3. internalisation of social and environmental costs; 4. economic and monetary localisation; 5. the social dividend; 6. economic degrowth; 7. gift-culture and P2P economics.” As in the case of a strong and resilient diverse ecological system of which human beings are simply one small part, social and economic systems (as focused on by Hawken and Eisenstein, but the focus can be expanded to political systems as well) can be strengthened immensely by diversification of that which constitutes them, and permaculture has much to offer in this regard.

[1] accessed 25 February 2016

[2] The different approaches are each extensively explored in earlier chapters of the book.