Back in 2008 I spent 6 weeks in Venezuela. I have a Venezuelan friend who believes as I do that permaculture could and should be a driving force for positive change. We both also believe that the Bolivarian Revolution, championed most famously by the charismatic and controversially colourful personality of Hugo Chavez, despite many serious ‘growing pains’, provides the most pragmatic model for the social transformation of humanity towards a truly just and ecologically sustainable world. Already tremendous social and political changes have taken place since Chavez was elected in 1998. Despite corporate media propaganda to the contrary, his government’s record of accomplishment is undeniable (particularly when contrasted with the dramatic economic and social decline of the so-called ‘developed’ nations and the disturbingly increasing deficit of democracy occurring in Europe and North America.)*
However, one element that is discussed but rarely acted upon within the revolution is the role that ecological principles need to play within the context of building the ‘Socialism of the 21st century’. Eco-friendly light bulbs are introduced to replace inefficient incandescent ones and small (very small) renewable energy projects are initiated in remote areas to power villages. Organic agricultural projects are introduced. But there is no coherent vision supporting these initiatives but rather the feel good political rhetoric that captures votes (particularly in this, 2012 an election year). This is because ecological vision has yet to make a substantial impact upon the social/political vision of the revolution. Ecological principles need to drive the engine of change in the revolution — not just be a passenger on the train of political and social advancement. Ecological principles need to be at the center of the Bolivarian movement — not at the periphery. Ecological principles need to be the most defining element of socialism, not an afterthought.
Most significantly, ecological principles need to inform our designs for sustainable land and resource use and social interaction in as practical a manner as possible, so that people from all walks of life are able to participate, thrive and interact with all of our fellow life forms with the respect that they surely deserve as companions in Mother Earth’s family. Until, as a society, we see not only all humans, but all life forms as part of our own families and not as commodities, we shall be victims of conflicts that threaten our very existence. This concept embodies Che’s axiom of a revolutionary’s love applied in a universal context. This concept needs to be defined in the most practical manner when we design for land use, economic and social interaction and interaction with the natural world. As Marx proclaimed, we need to interact with the natural world as if we are part of its metabolism, not as an antagonistic disease attacking its host. Herein lies the fundamental distinction between socialism and capitalism.
But socialism needs the guidance of ecological principles as a compass to move forward and ecological principles need the social framework which only socialism can provide in order to support the integrity that breathes life into all ecological work. The 12 principles of permaculture form the philosophical bridge between socialism and ecology in a more coherent and fluid manner than anything else I have yet to encounter.
Neither dogmatic, nor exclusionary, permaculture embraces everything that is truly sustainable, from indigenous wisdom to the latest most cutting edge green technology, and most importantly it “treads the path with a heart.”
David Holmgren (co-originator of the permaculture concept) has delivered to us the most important work in this field:
“Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability”, 2003, Chelsea Green.
This work represents a blueprint for how to think about the world in a truly sustainable context. It empowers us to design systems that not only can work and endure but also to evolve in naturally — to heal the rift in Mother Earth’s metabolism that capitalism and institutional religion have ripped asunder.
But we need concrete examples that go beyond homestead and small community scales.
In this spirit I offer forth my permaculture design template for village and regional communities. Originally it was offered to the land reclamation department of the Venezuelan government (acronym INTI) who were (and are) attempting to reverse the rural influx to the overcrowded urban municipalities and also address the critical issue of food sovereignty at the same time. The one good thing about starting from scratch in these situations is that full scale permaculture design is made easier as less flexibility is needed than in previously existing flawed community designs where additional care and energy are required to adapt to prevailing circumstances.
While I was thinking specifically about Venezuela when constructing this design I believe it is widely applicable on a global scale.
Please keep in mind that this is merely a ‘proposed’ model rather than an established criteria at this point.
Consequently, I would greatly appreciate feedback and criticism (constructive or otherwise) to help develop the model.
Initiative for INTI Land Reclamation Process in Venezuela
To create a plan which:
- ensures ecological sustainability
- ensures economic viability
- protects against economic & political corruption of the organic and ethical evolutionary process
- nurtures and enhances values of the new sustainable paradigm.
Before (and in some cases after) land is allotted, the following resources and services must be implemented or provided:
- A permaculture land assessment must be carried out in order to understand what there is to work with and what obstacles or problems must be dealt with so that the above criteria can be achieved (hydrology, soil types, regional and local climatic factors, existing flora & fauna, edge habitats, surrounding habitats, previous natural history and indigenous knowledge of the area (if possible to obtain).
- After the first imperative is carried out a hydrology plan must be implemented (potentially earth-moving activity to create a series of linked small dams, streams and a reservoir(s)).
- Sites for renewable energy, composting system(s), and shared food resources
- Sites for shared community resources (energy production, shared food production) and services (school(s), community centre(s), cultural centre(s) and recreational site(s).
- Interlinking for each individual parcel of land (water, energy, telecommunications & transport)
- EMERGY calculations estimate that global capacity of land required to sustainably support each human being is 2.2 ht. Work on an average of 2ht/person and 3- to 4-person households. Attempt to limit individual allotments to 1 ht for a family average of 3 (we must reduce human populations) and devote the remainder (5 ht) to infrastructure, social production and wildlife integration.
- Permaculture instruction before recipients work their parcels of land with continuing consultation for problem solving.
- No secrecy! After implementation of infrastructure stage, all processes must be agreed upon by communal consensus and all information made public (outside as well as internally), available through all stages.
- Use only organic procedures and materials, ban use of all synthetics (fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides).
- Prohibit scorched earth agriculture (burning the land for a quick carbon boost which destroys natural biological processes in the soil), mono cultures and concentrated or large scale livestock ranching.
Initiate construction of infrastructure after the assessment is completed:
- During dry season conduct earthmoving work for dams, roads, paths, community structures, social production sites (services and value added products) composting sites and wildlife corridors.
- Put into place energy infrastructure for community projects (turbines for dams, for wind on exposed areas not used for other activities, biogas sequestering from compost piles, etc) and wiring networks.
- During wet season when dams are full (or filling) plant — shared community trees, (fruit, nut, medicinal and insect control (eg. Neem), for nature (food for wildlife and beneficial insects), aromatic and for furniture/crafts.
- Bamboo (4-7 year harvest cycle) for construction materials, food, natural barriers, fire retarding capacities and land erosion prevention. Seasonal staple food crops (grains, pulses, legumes). Stock dams and reservoir with fish and water hyacinth for water purification, beneficial insect and fish/wildlife habitat, humanure and composting admixture materials and mulches (carbon, fungi) for agriculture. Plant adaptables (bananas, papaya, yucca, bamboo) and pioneers (nitrogen fixing legumes and green manures for soil building) on individual sites during this initial stage so that immediate yields are produced as well as initiating critical soil building procedures.
- Employ labour of prospective stakeholders. Provide food and temporary shelter deducting from wages one third for amortization of materials, one third for amortization of services.
- Plan for 4 days work, 2 days of permaculture class, one day of leisure/family per week.
- Consult with individual stakeholders after completion of basic permaculture course regarding specific components towards design of community site and prospects for individual sites.
After basic infrastructure is established and consultation with all stakeholders:
- Move stakeholders onto individual parcels (no more than 1 ht each).
- Pool labour and resources to construct core shelters for each site.
- Prioritize humanure, greywater and recycling design systems (humanure composts for community trees, animal manures, food scraps and carbon debris for garden composts, rooftop catchment of rainfall, sediment filters, separation of metals, plastic, paper and glass for re-use or transformation for new uses).
- 5 days work, one day permaculture education for site specific challenges and emerging problems, one day leisure/family.
- Plant more specific polyculture crops on individual sites and encourage small scale animal systems (foul, dairy and pigs/rodents) for use as insect foraging, manure production as well as food production (always integrated in guilds with other systems on site).
- Implement small scale renewable power generation (where applicable — solar panels on rooftops, small turbines from moving water through site, geothermal, etc).
- Develop community infrastructure (work on school(s), communication system (wireless, radio & video centre(s), shared electric vehicle co-op, internal democratic organization structures.
- Develop capacity for social production as self regulating co-op services (education/culture, restaurants, technical repairs, etc.) and co-op value-added product industries (bakery(s), furniture, crafts, processed foods, etc.)
- Develop products and uses for recycled materials.
- Incorporate permaculture/socialist principles at all educational levels:
- require gardening class at school entry level
- require more advanced courses in permaculture & political/economic theories as students ascend grade levels
- remedial and advanced courses for adults
- new stakeholders (over 16 yrs old) must take at least a 72-hour PDC course before acceptance (no exceptions regardless of age).
- all stakeholders must participate in an agreed-upon minimum time per week or month in community harvests and maintenance programs.
Community increases self sufficiency but should also be able to evolve additional capacities and dimensions as:
- Bamboo is harvested (on a continuing basis) for construction, furniture and craft uses).
- Surpluses increase for shared community resources (fruit, nut & neem trees) & aquaculture when less time is required for maintenance as systems evolve.
- Individual sites evolve complimentary differences incorporating additional capacities as time becomes more available to stakeholders.
- Implement eco-restoration projects for buffer and surrounding contiguous areas if necessary (reforestation, waterway reclamation, soil reclamation, etc.).
- Develop mycological production/research facility to enhance soil fertility, reduce and control pests and blights, use for additional food and medicinal production.
- As overall surplus exceeds the needs of the community they can be applied for use in communities of need or towards new similar community developments.
Why this plan should work
- The economic plan is based upon ecological principles and is thus environmentally stable (if implemented faithfully).
- Integrated community resources and services create conditions suitable for economic transactions supported by strategies embracing principles of solidarity, which reduces individual risk and promotes internal, participatory democracy while reducing or eliminating the possibility of internal bureaucratic inertia.
- Size of individual plots (coupled with above #2) at one hectare prevents external financial manipulation (forcing people to sell their plots back to the oligarchy).
- The ‘no secrecy’ clause prevents corruption from gaining even the smallest foothold anywhere, at any level in the system.
- Permaculture/socialist educational initiatives create the foundation for shifting values of the current dysfunctional paradigm toward a paradigm supporting sustainable values.
- Shutting out all corporations from participation and internalizing surplus redistribution controls the profit motive which is most responsible for the success of ‘divide and conquer’ strategies of corporate aggression.
- Because stakeholders participate from the beginning there is a definitive connection and recognition between the association of self interest with community and environmental integrity.
*Those interested in learning more about the exciting social transformation taking place in Venezuela should consult the superb (English language) website www.venezuelanalysis.com.