The Spirit of Inclusion: Regenerating People as well as Landscapes

Maddy Harland
Tuesday, 8th March 2016

Maddy Harland argues that social equality and racial inclusion are not issues outside the permaculture movement but are integral and are at the heart of regenerative design.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.
Wangari Maathai

In September 2015 I attended my first International Permaculture Conference and Convergence. I have never had the opportunity before, for various reasons, such as a reluctance to spend carbon on flying and, frankly, financial constraints. Both the Conference and then the Convergence were in the UK and were attended by over 980 people from 70 countries. Each was a feat of organisation by the Permaculture Association (Britain), our national networking charity, and involved wall-to-wall opportunities to attend workshops about every aspect of permaculture.

I came away deeply inspired by the hardworking, noble and unselfish people I met who work tirelessly on projects at the cutting edge of innovation. I learned about ecosystem restoration, delved deep into soil science, growing food forests, permaculture’s response to climate change, the refugee crisis, social and racial equality, alternative income sharing ... so many subjects, so much expertise, and all presented from a perspective of practice rather than theory. I also experienced a sense of optimism and camaraderie that only face to face contact can offer, and I felt blessed. I enjoyed giving my presentations too, especially telling the story of my forest garden, from barren, silent arable field to a productive edible landscape teeming with biodiversity and food.

Like any movement, the permaculture world is subject to criticism. We are accused of being unscientific, so the recent launch of the Permaculture International Research Network will encourage a growing vigour to document and test the science behind permaculture design. We are planning to launch a peer reviewed journal with an international editorial board, supported by universities and research institutes from at least four continents, to encourage the publication of permaculture research and practice.

We are also subject to self-criticism and are aware that the more visible teachers, authors and leaders of the movement are still white, male Westerners and we are seeking ways of becoming more racially and socially inclusive. In multi-racial societies, how many people of colour hold the highest offices? How many countries in the world currently have a female head of state/prime minister? Currently, 22 out of 196. How many countries place environmental protection before GDP? These questions are uncomfortable but they have to be asked. Nations governed by indigenous people, such as Bolivia, have set an example to the industrialised nations who are held in the sway of ecocidal corporate interests.

Becoming more inclusive requires education and a growing awareness of our own conditioning. It is a painfully slow process. We live in a patriarchal world where old colonial ambition still holds sway in either subtle or completely overt and brutal ways. The permaculture movement is trying to move beyond this conditioning but it has some way to go. This shift needs to be at the core of permaculture. The Black Permaculture Network is eloquent: “We are committed to envision, design and create a world in which we affirm and celebrate human diversity, where we can learn from one another’s perspectives and support one another’s struggles. We are proud to lend our support to all those who work to make that vision real.” Co-operation and harmony are the keys to human survival, not violence, racism, sectarianism, elitism and war-mongering. At PM we believe we must speak up for those who are oppressed and excluded. We need to model the change we want to see in the world.

A degree of self-doubt, in the shape of healthy questioning, and a desire to creatively respond to change – a key principle in permaculture design – are positives. At PM we continue to try and broaden our own understanding and to be open to new learnings. So I offer you a new, varied issue produced with the help of all our generous contributors and allies. We hope it uplifts you and makes you feel more bold about fulfilling your own dreams in this challenging world.

Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture magazine, Permanent Publications, The Sustainability Centre and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

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