The Pros and Cons of Permaculture Versus Conventional Food Production in a New Climate Change and Peak Oil Context

Permaculture should be considered as a sustainable food production system - a completely new way to plan ‘food production’. Cuba is a good example of where they use permaculture to produce food in a low carbon manner with almost no input (fertilisers and pesticides) nor transport and heavy equipment (all of which depend on oil and are sourced externally). Employment was created, and the principle of working with nature was applied by rehabilitating and using the many environmental services (nutrient and inputs recycling). As a result, Cubans produced healthy food that had no external costs. The documentary ‘The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’, was shown to give a background on how Cuba addressed its socio-economic challenges and agriculture in general, after the withdrawal of oil and aid from the Soviet Union. To achieve sustainable economic development, it is vital to work with the community and work with the environment instead of fighting with the forces of nature.

The early adoption of a low carbon growth path can create competitive advantages for countries taking cognisance of the effects of climate change and environmental pollution. Hence the need for a low carbon vision in SA is needed to inform a revised climate change white paper. The White Paper on Climate Change presents the South African government’s vision for an effective climate change response.

The two main objectives of the White Paper are:

  • To effectively manage inevitable climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain SA’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity; and
  • To make a fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that avoids dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system within a timeframe that enables economic, social and environmental development to proceed in a sustainable manner (

Although it is widely agreed that a ‘low carbon vision’ should inform decisions within the agriculture sector, it has been argued that due to a lack of information and a clear articulation of this low carbon vision to farmers and most government departments, the dream of low carbon agriculture forever remains just a wish. Low carbon farming not only supports sustainable farming, but recognises that small-scale labour intensive agriculture techniques and models could reverse the present decrease in agricultural jobs, contribute to empowerment, promote food security, conserve soil quality and structure, and  contribute to biodiversity. Developing sustainable agriculture is a necessary part of creating a sustainable society.

The vision of a new sustainable development paradigm should involve and secure buy-in of all relevant local stakeholders, recognise and deal with current threats, and articulate an alternative development path. Government’s new Climate Change Response White Paper does not adequately confront the need for a low carbon agricultural sector. Agricultural development strategies should promote the localisation of food production, recognise the negative environmental impacts of monoculture, develop conservation agriculture and permaculture production, require responsible producers to be accountable to local customers, ban Genetically Modified Organism’s (GMOs) that kill biodiversity and producer resilience, and last
but not least secure land for small-scale agriculture.

- Piere-Louis Lemercier, Renewable Energy and Transition Network.

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