The Planet’s Soil Is Being Eroded – Does Permaculture Hold The Answer?

Tony Rollinson & Maddy Harland
Friday, 22nd July 2011

As population numbers grow we will need to vastly increase food production. Whilst a UN treaty will attempt to address this vital issue, permaculturists are amongst those already tackling this crucial work.

In response to yesterday’s request for stories that are grabbing your attention, one of our reader’s pointed out a terrific piece by Geoffrey Lean of The Daily Telegraph Saturday, 16th July 2011. Lean’s feature was about the Earth’s topsoil and how it is being eroded at an alarming rate. He quotes Luc Gnacadja who is UN expert on this subject as saying that six to10 inches is 'all that stands between us and extinction'.

Lean’s piece then goes on to eloquently describe the solutions that have already been used to ameliorate this issue around the world. They are inspiring, and they mirror the work of some of the world’s leading permaculture experts who are also tackling desertification and winning. He quotes the work done in the Loess Plateau, in China – a landscape he cites as long being known as the most eroded place on earth. Within the space of just 15 years the work of the local people, supported by the Chinese government and World Bank (neither are usually associated with earth restoration), “has made an area the size of Belgium fertile again”. The techniques employed include terracing the barren slopes and building dams. Tree felling has been banned and land has been set aside for nature as well as crops – demonstrating the permaculture principle of designing for the greatest biodiversity. Lean quotes yields and incomes as having quadrupled. Another exampl is in Niger, where farmers have greened five million hectares of unproductive land by stopping goats eating seedlings.

In Permaculture 68 we published an article about the work of Dr Chris Reij, a specialist in sustainable land management from the Netherlands, who has been developing techniques to successfully rehabilite degraded land in the Sahel, a vast strip of land across the southern Sahara, running from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Already, 50,000 square kilometres (21,000 square miles) have been greened.


Using Permaculture Principles

Dr Reij's technques do not require large funds from governments or the World Ban as they are based on doing a number of different things on a small scale that collectively knit together into a larger pattern of regreening ('use slow and small scale solutions'). Critically, they engage local people ('resource locally'). Once ordinary people can see that small scale solutions are achievable, and that they will work in their locality and are affordable – or even free because they use available resources – they begin to be encouraged to replicate them in their region. This is the powerful message of permaculture. No big civil engineering projects, no conditional centralised funding sources, just appropriate technologies and creative, innovative thinking. This is permaculture at its best.


For an excellent FREE eBook introducing permaculture, please see David Holmgren's The Essence of Permaculture.

Lobma Thundrup |
Mon, 25/07/2011 - 16:11

Thank you for that piece. I will look up the article by by Geoffrey lean, he's about the only Telegraph writer i can read. Amazing to hear what they have achieved in the Loess Plateau. And with help from the worlds bank too!

The article about the work of Dr Chris Reij in PM you mention, was very inspiring. And shows just what someone can achieve who has the foresight, determination to make things happen and will power. he's an amazing person. As is Polly Higgins too. Tanks Maddy for your endeavors. Very much appreciated.