Ecuador Permaculture

Alive and Well

By Linda McFarlin

Ecuador permaculture is alive and well, but not exactly in the same form as taught by the primary advocate for permaculture, Bill Mollison, an Australian who co-founded the holistic movement now known and practiced all over the world.

Bill Mollison's ideas for sustainable, permanent agriculture mimic nature's own eternal plan for balanced, healthy plant growth. He wrote down the principles he observed in nature and began teaching them.

He sought to work with nature rather than conquer, subdue or control it and to observe it rather than to continue unsustainable, harmful agricultural practices that depleted the soil.

In the 1970's he realized that humans weren't actually designing agricultural systems. According to him, our agricultural practices had been turning the earth into more and more desert for 7000 years. We weren't using ecological systems that really worked well.

But permaculture is not new to the world, especially to its indigenous peoples, who have retained a balanced way of interacting with green living things for thousands of years.

In Ecuador this practice goes by the name of agro-ecology. This is the study of the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment within agricultural systems.

Bill Mollison calls himself a field biologist and itinerant teacher. But it would be more accurate to describe him as an instigator. When he published Permaculture One in 1978, he launched an international land-use movement many regard as subversive, even revolutionary.

In an interview Mollison said, "People are so stupid and so destructive we can do nothing for them. So I withdrew from society. I thought I would leave and just sit on a hill and watch it collapse.

"The ethics are simple: care of the earth, care of people, and reinvestment in those ends.

"It took me about three weeks before I realized that I had to get back and fight. You know, you have to get out in order to want to get back in."

Here is Mollison's reply to the interviewer's question about when he first developed the idea of permaculture.

"It actually goes back to 1959. I was in the Tasmanian rain forest studying the interaction between browsing marsupials and forest regeneration. We weren't having a lot of success regenerating forests with a big marsupial population. So I created a simple system with 23 woody plant species, of which only four were dominant, and only two real browsing marsupials.

"It was a very flexible system based on the interactions of components, not types of species. It occurred to me one evening that we could build systems that worked better than that one.

"That was a remarkable revelation. . . If you're lucky, you have three good revelations in a lifetime.

"Because I was an educator, I realized that if I didn't teach it, it wouldn't go anywhere. So I started to develop design instructions based on passive knowledge and I wrote a book about it called Permaculture One. To my horror, everybody was interested in it."

Permaculture courses teach students to proactively design and create their own sustainable landscapes. They learn a holistic approach to life that considers not only the wise and efficient production of organic food, but solutions to sustainable alternative energy, natural housing, raising animals, water conservation, building healthy soil and managing waste.

I (Linda)first heard about Ecuador permaculture in when I talked to Nicola Mears, an organic horticulturist who ventured to Ecuador from New Zealand 20 years ago. She and her partner operate a 27-acre organic farm called Rio Muchacho, in Canoa, on the coast of Ecuador. They conduct month-long permaculture workshops.

Contact information: + 593 (0) 5 2588184. Out of the country, drop the zero. 

From the Permaculture Institute website come these words about permaculture among indigenous communities worldwide, including those in Ecuador: "It is important to understand that the indigenous people know more than many of us about sustainability, but with the advent of globalization and the continuous attacks on their traditional way of life, the knowledge is being lost or invalidated.

"In that sense, permaculture often brings people back to what they used to know, validates their cultural practices, and introduces methods that are effective in today's world. For indigenous people, forests used to be their cultivated garden, where fruit, medicine and food were abundant in their carefully managed and mapped environment.

"With the loss of indigenous lands, deforestation and pollution, those practices no longer work. Ecuador Permaculture introduces techniques for reforestation, community organizing around land issues, methods of building soils and creating productive environments within the existing land management patterns."

San Lorenzo Women's Coop 

Permacultura America Latina's Ali Sharif had a vision to save seeds from the world's tropical fruit trees. He made this vision a reality by establishing the Madre de Selva Center in San Lorenzo, Ecuador, which preserved seeds from over 400 types of fruit trees.

Poor women who were single mothers with no land of their own formed the San Lorenzo Women''s Coop. They planted gardens in the right of ways throughout San Lorenzo as a healthy, creative way to feed their children. They also started a farmers' market and raised chickens.

When a new mayor of the city tried to force them to stop gardening on the right of ways, there was such a loud public outcry from women, who faced him with their machetes, that he reversed his decision.

A Multiple-Language Ecuador Permaculture Course in Esmeraldas

Over 100 participants from many different parts of the world gathered in Esmeraldas on the northern coast of Ecuador for Ecuador's first permaculture course. It was translated into 5 languages all at once, in addition to the local indigenous languages spoken. The landmark couarse included natives of the Shuar, Quechua and Huaorani tribes and blacks descended from African slaves.

Even the Tiger Battalion, a branch of the Ecuadorian Army, has embraced permaculture. Gary visited one of their permaculture farms where they happily grow acres of delicious vegetables and fruits. They had confiscated the farm from a drug baron whom they had arrested. 

Sacred Suenos Andean Regeneration Project

Two intrepid gardeners named Yves and Jen are pioneering an Ecuador permaculture project on degraded land that is a 2-hour walk from Vilcabamba. Talk about determination, creativity and courage. These two are building their own green paradise on a budget equal to the earnings of a native farmer.

The land they chose had been burned every year for 100 years. The pair have worked very hard to implement low-tech ways to save water, irrigate and rejuvenate the soil. They mulch, compost and terrace their gardens.

Their dream is to build a home and to see Ecuador permaculture projects blossom all over, just like their gardens.

Stay in a Permaculture Paradise
At Black Sheep Inn

The Black Sheep Inn near Chugchilan practices Ecuador permaculture principles with a passion. They are hard-core, with dry composting toilets, gray water recycling, reforestation, terraced organic gardens, a passive solar adobe greenhouse that produces heat with chickens and water tanks.

As pioneers in the building and use of dry composting toilets, they have a lot to say about the disgusting practice of pooping in clean water that is commonplace throughout so-called civilized countries. Their opinions and experiences with dry composting toilets in eye-opening and expansive. Perhaps you'll be brave and enlightened enough to not only try one but also incorporate one or two into your current lifestyle.

Volunteer and Study Opportunity

Click here for Volunteer and Study opportunities for Ecuador Permaculture.

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