You’re trying to say that you can live in the modern way and continue to think in the traditional way. That’s not true. The way you live affects the way you think. – Danny Billie, Traditional Seminole
I’d like to recount here my impressions of the PRI, and how different it is from many other organizations. We (Tribal Networks) first came across them when looking for solutions to problems we found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where we were starting a project to bring in a school and an internet / community centre. Searching for "dry land permaculture" soon found Geoff’s "Greening the Desert" clip, and things progressed from there.
"The Permaculture Master Plan – Permaculture Centres Worldwide" is different not just in its broadness of vision and scope, but also, and I believe more crucially, in how it is being implemented. The PRI is making no demands on us as a local organization, they are not trying to take over or control us in any way. This is a common phenomenon among the relatively big organizations; they get bigger by assimilating smaller projects they are supposedly helping out. Everything they do has an underlying urge to make the organization bigger, and aims and intentions become subservient to that imperative. In this way most big organizations, while they may have started out with the best of intentions, end up mirroring the ways of the system that caused the problems in the first place.
Which brings me to the Danny Billie quote above. The principle is the same here. You cannot hope to do permaculture successfully when operating in the ‘normal’ way. Good permaculture can only be done under a system that follows the principles of permaculture. It seems to me that the PRI has managed to do that, even while becoming an internationally recognized and respected institution. This needs to be stressed. It doesn’t just happen, it requires conscious effort to keep true to your principles and yet still find a way to promote those principles on a large scale, worldwide. This is no small achievement.
So what am I on about? How does the "Permaculture Masterplan" embody permaculture principles? Let’s take our little project as an example. Our problem was a severe lack of water for most of the year, which then causes the other problems. For example; desertification, poverty, and disease from dirty water. The Permaculture Master Plan involves setting up independent projects, which become self-financing largely by running courses. Our project will repair the watershed of the whole valley, which in turn will hold in the water and increase water flow and fertility. This provides a long-term solution, unlike such things as irrigation, which cause debt and interfere severely with the local economy and relationships.
When Geoff described it all to me, sitting outside a farmhouse on top of a mountain in Ait Attab, it all sounded too good to be true. The first thing that came to my mind (being a corrupt European) was ‘scam’. Honestly that’s what it sounded like. We get a load of students to come over and do a course. They build the earthworks, pay for all the labour, and even pay for other students either locally or from poor communities elsewhere. It all costs us nothing at all!
But if it is a scam, then where are the losers? A scam always has losers, by definition. I could see no losers. The students have an amazing experience in a remote Berber tribal area, and gain experience and a qualification that can provide them with a worthwhile and fulfilling life (not to mention the chance of a future for our children!), the land gets to keep its water and become fertile again, the local people have more water and better variety of food, become more independent and regain self-respect, and our organization has a place, a root structure for future projects to sprout from and grow.
Where else do you see this win-win situation? Not in modern top-down systems, that’s for sure. But anyone who has done even just a Permaculture Introductory Course, or read a few of the entries on this website can recognize it right away. The Master Plan is planting seeds on many levels, and the principles of permaculture are carried through on each level. The design for the Master Plan is every bit as much a permaculture project as each on-the-ground project is.
Editor’s Note: People who want to take take a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course in an amazing location in Morocco, whilst in doing so supporting the education of poor locals, can check out the course for April.