Permacultura America Latina (PAL)
July 2007, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Permaculture is an ethics based design methodology for creating sustainable systems and settlements. It was initially developed in Australia by ecologist Bill Mollison in the late seventies but has since traveled the globe and today there are projects of every size happening in most countries of the world.
The International Permaculture Convergence (IPC) was originally designed as an international forum to enable permaculturists working in projects in various parts of the world to gather and share information and contacts. The IPC has been held since the early eighties in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Nepal, Scandinavia, Croatia and Brazil.
The IPC’s consist of four separate events which are:
a) The Conference (a public forum)
b) The Convergence (for practicing permaculturists)
c) The Permaculture Design Course (a courtesy to the host country)
d) The Permaculture Site Tour
Over time these four components have adapted and evolved to reflect the growth of permaculture as a global grassroots movement. Today the Conference is also an international public event headlined by a pre selected theme.
The current 8th Permaculture Convergence was hosted in Brazil and audio versions of the Conference in Sao Paulo are available for downloading and can be heard on the official website: www.ipc8.org There will also be a DVD of the Conference with subtitles available for distribution shortly.
All the four events of IPC8 took place between May 16th and June 8. . Some 570 participants were involved from forty two countries. Hotels, aeroplanes, buses, cars, taxis, boats, canoes in four cities at different ends of the country had to be organized and coordinated. No one missed a plane or got lost and only one person became ill from an allergy. PAL would like to thank all those benefactors that helped fund and support this Permaculture gathering and we deeply and sincerely feel that it has been an extraordinary success from which the planet will gain significantly in the years to come.
The 8th International Permaculture Conference was held on the 3rd floor of the Bienal Complex in Ibirapuera Park in downtown Sao Paulo between 16th – 18th of May 2007. The main hall, at 5000 sq meters, exhibited an exceptionally well crafted bamboo infrastructure installed by permaculture bamboo experts. An indoor mandala garden covered a section of the flooring and posters of projects from around the world were displayed prominently. Food and refreshments were catered on site and international delegates stayed at a nearby hotel with many walking to the event each day.
The city of Sao Paulo was chosen to host the event because it is the economic hub of Latin America. Additionally with its 18 million population and attendant urban complexities it blatantly mirrors many of the issues that Permaculture has to address with immediacy.
Green Economics was selected to be the theme because of the topic’s emerging influence and strategic potential. As a prelude to the Conference, the Brazilian Permaculture Network had engaged in dialogue and developed relationships with progressive banks and business entities for the previous two years. This initiative created the credibility and confidence in permaculture that finally cleared the path for some very prominent members of the national financial community to speak at the Conference. Thus for those of us working in the Permaculture movement in Brazil, this was our contribution, agenda, run up, and the background tapestry to the Conference.
The three day event had three sub themes: the first day began with an address of the state of the world, the ethical basis for a sustainable future, the case for Permaculture Design and the experience of Complementary Currency systems. In the afternoon successful urban initiatives in four cities in both the North and South were presented.
The second day was dedicated to the progress being made towards sustainability in the business world and the development of the increasingly influential carbon credit market. In the afternoon there were presentations of various alternative forms of economic systems gaining ground all over the world. The last day we heard of successful and visionary projects and programs being implemented.
All presentations had simultaneous translations provided through available headphones. This enriched the proceedings and increased communications and interactions with the audience immensely. An ambience of give and take was established with microphones being made available to the audience, which we have since learned, post conference, has resulted in several exciting outcomes.
By the last day there was a 500 member audience from 42 countries of the world from every continent, that included bankers, businessmen, economists, technologists, teachers, international foundations and permaculture project directors from a myriad of planetary ecosystems. It could be said that representatives of all of the pieces of the global puzzle were there in one room and talking to each other, with permaculture playing a prominent role.
Some very profound and extraordinary presentations were made. The mycologist Paul Stamets expressed a brilliantly innovative discourse on how mushrooms can save the world which dazzled the audience. The charismatic Tiao Rocha, who is reinvigorating popular education in Brazil and reintroducing the flame of the iconic pedagogist Paulo Freire to a whole new generation of Brazilians, brought everyone to a standing ovation.
Our own permaculturists Robyn Francis and Brock Dolman eloquently presented the excellence of permaculture design and water technologies as future strategy for sustainable development. The Cubans brought the evidence on what it took to make the transition to organic farming possible when they were hit by the Soviet collapse. The subsequent fossil fuel meltdown during their “Special Period” in the nineties is a little known period and reveals a fascinating public and governmental response to disaster.
The Economics panel moderated by Jim Gollin demonstrated equably the panorama of alternative economic solutions and strategies available to creative thinking municipalities, towns and neighborhoods. Carlos Louge, Donna Morton, Declan Kennedy, Scott Pittman with the participation of a spirited audience presented very valuable information. Other speakers such as Tony Anderson, Caridad Cruz, spoke of design strategies for Sustainable City Programs for Copenhagen, Havana, Winnipeg and in Germany.
From the conventional business world, which we ignore at our peril, came presentations on the initiatives being taken towards sustainability by such players as the Banco Real and the Natura Corporation. It was with interest we learned of the accounts of the steep learning curve that such structured entities must take to embark on ecological initiatives.
Aerton Paiva from the high powered Apel Consultancy has pioneered the introduction of systemic planning for sustainable outcomes in his business consultancies. He spoke of his work in inventing the computer software for a self evaluating sustainability index pegged to various international systems. His offer for free of this software to the thirty largest corporations in Brazil was accepted and all thirty of them, including Petrobras and Banco Itau have installed and are operating the system. In the US green accounting is performed by external auditors but this is the first such example for computerized self evaluation in the world and is a critical first step in corporate responsibility and transparency.
The inestimable Professor George Chan was unable to attend because of illness but his innovative work with Integrated Food & Waste Management Systems was presented by his students Eng. Alexandre Takamatsu and Eric Fedus. This highly relevant and multifaceted technical information for intensive animal production has already been implemented in Brazil but evolving contacts with corporate entities will re-engage a larger scale application.
The Africans from Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa brought a joyous and infectious energy to the audience with their song and music. And Jeffrey Bronfman, one of the first institutional supporters of Permaculture in Brazil spoke both of the vital role of ethics for our future in plenary session at the beginning of the Conference and closed the Conference with a moving spiritual invocation.
In summation we can say that as Conference organizers and conveners we credibly highlighted permaculture as an emerging global grassroots with a proven capacity for planetary level information transfer. Permaculture’s practicality as a sustainable methodology for development purposes was made clear to various sectors such as major Brazilian banks, business circles, developmental economists, important Brazilian agencies, the Sao Paulo public and other international players.
Finally the cultural diversity, geography, numerical strength, range of specialization, the longevity and combined experience of global permaculture was arrayed in a public international forum in Latin America.
The president of Banco Real sent a plane to collect Joao Rockett a permaculturist from IPEP in southern Brazil to review their community based cellulose production program. They will also consult with him in the design of future community programs.
The Caixa Federal (Brazilian Federal Bank) has solicited a permaculture design course for thirty five of its employees.
Plans have been made to establish a Waldorf School in Manaus in the Amazon and subsequent rental of land to start the process.
Connections made for consultancies in various carbon credit applications in the Amazon and Honduras.
Two newspaper and and two television interviews regarding permaculture were conducted.
Five days after the International Conference in Sao Paulo was completed the Convergence was held in the IPEC centre in Pirenopolis in the state of Goias in central Brazil. Pirenopolis is a cobblestone and charming colonial town surrounded by waterfalls and just two and half hours from Brasilia by car. It lies in the Cerrado ecosystem (savanna) which is a large transition zone between the Amazon and the Atlantic Rainforests.
Of the four comprehensive permaculture demonstration centres in Brazil IPEC was established as the second after Manaus in the Amazon. It is considered a world level demonstration site of natural building techniques and technologies and is responsible for training students from all over the country year round.
150 permaculture graduates from 42 countries from every continent participated in the gathering between May 25-28th. All were housed and fed on site with exceptional organic food and rain collected drinking water. Much of the electricity was renewable and all the sewage and other wastes were biologically recycled.
Four different outlets at four different locations on the project grounds served as presentation stations where LCD projectors permitted power point and slide show presentations. The main plenary was in the Bill Mollison Centre which is a large domed structure aka the Pantheon in Rome. There was an impressive number of younger permies gathered as well as some venerable greybeards who now represent between 20 and 25 years of experience. The Convergence gatherings are unique in enabling such an important interaction between generations. The range of experience and skills congregated on site spanned every climate group and innumerable planetary ecosystems and conditions.
Bucking a previously established trend of focusing on first world issues, the presence of so many delegates from Latin America, Africa and Asia created a rich and diverse framework for discussions and decision making. This diversity is the wealth and abundance of the permaculture movement and as in any diversity there is information that may be a life saving strategy for elsewhere.
The delegates from the eight African countries – Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa were literally brought in from the cold after having missed out on the last Convergence gatherings. Several of these delegates were the first students of Bill Mollison’s first visits to Africa twenty years before.
The information they brought with them of survival and excellence in renewal under the most difficult of circumstances was totally inspiring. In the face of genocide, civil wars, diseases, epidemia, cultural interference and grinding poverty and famine they devised strategies and systems that prevailed and flourished. And it is from such humble, dignified men and women we take pride and look to for innovation. Much of their work and in particular the Scope model can easily be applied in Latin America.
From Europe we heard of the Gaia alternative degree granting program, the work of the Balkan groups from Czechoslovakia and Croatia and the development of the European Convergences. Tony Anderson from Denmark explained our permaculture origins and specific practical formulas to counter global warming as in the 100,000 tree per person strategy. It was heartening to see the Brits with Suzy High taking on a wider global outreach program Stella Strega from Spain consistently opened the door wider and wider into the world of Chaordic systems and the possibility for evolving from the confusion of current organizational management and growth..
From Asia it was wonderful to hear of the work of Narsana Koppula who as a student of Dr. Vankhet has worked alongside innumerable womens groups in reforestation programs. Prem Thapa diligently continues his community work even under difficult political situations. And finally some of Rosemary Morrow’s work in southeast Asia was revealed and Mouy Mann from Cambodia eloquently described the aftermath of civil war and reconstruction.
The Latin Americans were as lively and boisterous as ever. The Cubans were stars and brought the story of their islands transition to organic agriculture and self reliance from fossil fuels in the face of total disaster. This was a laboratory situation which we would all do well to learn from. The MesoAmericans have made great advances and Ronaldo Lec and Juan Rojas continue to match both the ecological and political violence of their region with the excellence of their work. Their seed program is recovering the lost genetic contribution of the Mayans to world culture and uniting the indigenous aspirations of the Central American isthmus behind this endeavour.
Jefferson Mecham and Valentina Benavides have been heroically working in impoverished Andean communities continuously for 18 years and their work is producing young indigenous leaders, protecting the remaining cloud forest and knitting the threads of a seed saving network. The Argentinians have established a tradition of permaculture with evolving centres and the Patagonians were well represented with five delegates.
Limber Cabrera presentation of the work of Red Pal Peru showed the Shipibo aquaculture systems were still on track and developing as efficient, productive and culturally sustainable examples of development work that can be replicated throughout the Amazon. We must remember these systems provide the basis for protein security for indigenous groups deprived of traditional access to ancestral lands, notwithstanding their natural elegance and embodiment of traditional knowledge.
The final plenary sessions determined the next IPC 9 to be held in Africa and the events will be hosted by South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2009. A support organization was formed for this purpose and Wes Rowe will be guiding this process.
The Latin Americans have set November 2008 as their bioregional Convergence in Havana and the Mesoamericans will be meeting in November 2007 in Guatemala.
The PC Course took place between May 3rd- May 14th in the Grajau bairro of Sao Paulo at the project site of the Anchietta non profit organization. As is customary it was taught gratis by two prominent teachers Tony Anderson of Denmark and Brock Dolman of the USA. Funding was provided by Permacultura America Latina (PAL) and the Avina Foundation.
There were over seventy participating students from twelve countries. The Brazilians came from all over the country in addition to those from the bairro favelas (shanty towns). Several of the participating students were studying architecture and engineering in Sao Paulo universities.
The dormitory which housed the students was built specifically for the Course and only completed the day before it began. The building design reflected the need to protect the inhabitants and there were guards on duty every night.
The Anchieta project coordinates social and educational program within and on behalf of the Grajau bairro. Additionally they feed four hundred children daily as part of a nutritional program. The Grajau bairro has large and particularly violent favelas and thus the PC Course was a very frontline affair dealing with seemingly intractable social issues of drugs, poverty and urban marginalization.
From Day One the course objective was clearly spelled out to be the design of 20 hectares of land belonging to Anchieta. This was in line with the objectives of the funders, PAL and Avina who support courses on the provision that they lead to a subsequent initiative that reflects sustainability. The land in question had previously belonged to developers who were thwarted in their building schemes when the surrounding favelas invaded and occupied it. This action was violently suppressed by the police and the constructed shacks razed and bulldozed.
At an impasse the developers subsequently donated the land to the Anchieta project and since then it has been respected mostly because of the goodwill generated by the project’s physical presence, local management and its social programs. However there is an unstated understanding that at some point the land will be organized to benefit the community. Needless to say twenty unoccupied hectares in the middle of an urban megalopolis such as Sao Paulo represents a remarkable permaculture opportunity.
On graduation day the final Course designs were numerous and very impressive and many interesting ideas and concepts were presented. These designs are all carefully being looked after. As a result of the course a small gardening project involving the community children as a primary focus will be initiated this year as a first phase. The second phase will be to introduce and encourage the parents living in the surrounding favelas to begin gardening on small organized plots on the 20 hectare parcel.
Eventually the plan is to link up these gardening activities with other open areas in Sao Paulo where small gardening initiatives have been started by PC graduates from previous courses. As a network of organic gardeners with a significant production capacity, doors can be opened for dialogue with city authorities and interested civic foundations under the guise of urban food production.
Both PAL and Avina would like to thank the Anchieta Project and the Course teachers Tony and Brock for a job well done.
Amazon – Salvador Bahia
Directly following the Convergence a 45 core group traveled to Manaus to visit the IPA Demonstration Center which was established in 1997. The IPAhas developed several innovative animal production systems and a fish hatchery. Its aquaculture system and food forests cover a ten hectare parcel of land which had previously been destroyed by chemicals and heavy machinery. The project is located on the site of the original green revolution entrance into the central Amazon in the late nineteen fifties.
A three decker boat had been rented and sailed down the Amazon and turned off into its tributary the Rio Parana do Ramos and then later into the smaller Rio Urubu and after a 36 hour journey we reached the permaculture extension centre in Boa Visto do Ramos. Work here is being done with five communities and preparations are being made to expand this program to include 11 communities.
The four days spent here touring the projects and the return two day journey to Manaus were a time without either cell phones or internet. Permaculture is in essence an informal world aid agency bonded by a rolodex of connections and it was during this period that a space was created for intensive meetings and planning sessions and a deepening of friendships and working ties.
The second part of the Tour took place in Salvador in Bahia on the Atlantic coast of Brazil where OPA has its base. The group spent three days in the OPA community extension program and participated in project activities with the community children.
written by Ali Sharif