Cyprus Mail
Life & Style

Changing the world through common sense

By Alix Norman

Wikipedia tells us that permaculture is “a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitats and agricultural systems modelled from natural ecosystems”. Which all sounds rather serious and, unless you’re a graduate of tree-hugging 101, a bit difficult to get one’s head round. Which is why I’ve decided to talk to a real, human expert in the subject. And also because permaculture is something that is really terribly important to us all, especially in Cyprus…

“Permaculture is a way of making decisions that is holistic and based on understanding how nature works,” says Peter Cow, explaining how this system of ‘permanent agriculture’ was coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the seventies. “It breaks down into ethics and principles for living a sustainable lifestyle. And it can be applied to anything from agriculture to business, buildings to communities.”

A thoughtful young man with a dry sense of humour, Peter is a trained teacher of permaculture who has spent the last few years of his life travelling the world and inspiring others to develop an interest in the subject. He’s lectured in Greece, helped set up a stable community in the woodlands of Devon, campaigned against genetic engineering and, from 2007, has taught everywhere from England to Finland, Portugal to Jamaica. And he’s here in Cyprus at the invitation of a group of concerned pioneers of permaculture to help initiate change for the good.

With a 15-day course over the last three weeks, Peter has been able to reach a vast number of people interested in sustainable living, in topics such as forest gardening, soil management and eco living. “It’s about observing and understanding each situation uniquely, using the ethics and principles of permaculture to make a change for the better. It’s about earth care, people care and fair share, so we’re looking at things like catching and storing energy, cooperation rather than competition, minimum effort for maximum effect and multiple function.”

This last, he explains, is one of the key principles of permaculture, the idea that everything can and should be multi-functional: “You could, for instance, float solar panels on top of dams – you’re not just producing energy, you’re also reducing evaporation, increasing the amount of fertile land and inhibiting the growth of algae.” It’s a system which has been tried elsewhere in the world to great success, Cow says, and one which would be extremely beneficial in countries that have particular issues with their water supply, such as Cyprus.

“Cyprus has a wonderful and diverse landscape, but it also has quite a few challenges around water supply. Currently, it seems that a lot of the water is coming from aquifers, which don’t replenish for thousands of years. So the water is getting saltier, being used up much faster than it’s replaced.” But the solutions, he suggests, are many: storing water in the soil, reservoirs or tanks, building earthworks, planting trees and increasing the organic matter in the soil are all ways of stopping run off. “If you increase the organic matter of the soil by as little as one per cent, you’ll find you can store more, up to 150 tonnes of water per hectare.”

Giving the example of a log cabin house in Larnaca, a study on the course, he talks about how the group discovered that over 100 tonnes of rainfall could be collected from the roof each year, while at a farm near Nicosia, he adds, the pH value of the water supply has been changed by partnering with the soil biology: “Rather than ploughing and killing the soil life, the farmer’s putting bacteria and compost into the soil to work with the trees and hold the soil life. And now he’s growing olives trees that are much more lush than the next door farm!”

There’s a great deal more to permaculture than merely improving the way we manage our water, but it’s a good start, says Cow. After all, if you’re not protecting your water, the soil gets washed away, quality degrades, dams silt up and agriculture suffers. And you end up importing what could otherwise be grown, in which case you’re merely exploiting someone else, while your own land, people and economy suffer.

“If you look at a lot of the systems we rely on – water, land, finance – we find we’re coming up against limits that we’ve been ignoring for too long. The way were doing things at the moment is quite destructive: we’re finding there’s less soil to grow food, fossil fuels to keep our machines running, general ease and comfort.” But permaculture, he suggests, is “a way to change the world by offering a better solution. It’s common sense really,” he concludes.

And this common sense does seem to making a difference. One of the organisers of the course, Annelie Roux, explains how Cow’s teachings have already inspired many of the people on the island: “We’ve got a little community garden here in Paphos where we’re putting the principles of permaculture into practice – turning old pallets and pool liners into beds to save water, growing beans on shady bamboo tepees, using the old canvas from billboard signs to cover our compost heap. But now we’ve done the course, we’re much better equipped to analyse a situation, see what needs to be done and get on with it; we have the design tools to actually apply our good intentions. And, of course, it’s enabled us to build up a much stronger network of people who are interested in permaculture.”

The permaculturists of the island, she says, will definitely be organising a lot more workshops and courses to popularise the issue. And, if the idea of a sustainable and responsible life – for both you and future generations – appeals, perhaps it’s time you found out a bit more about how to make that happen. After all, permaculture isn’t just about the here and the now and the me. It’s about the future and the us, I’ve discovered. And isn’t that something we should all be working towards?


For more information about permaculture, contact Peter Cow at For further details and updates on permaculture in Cyprus, contact Annelie Roux on 99 714325, [email protected] or contact trainee permaculture teacher Sophia Matsi at [email protected]


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