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Permanent Agriculture

By Natasha Stafford, Permaculturalist

Anyone involved or interested in agriculture was this month invited by the Australian Government to make a submission to the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper Taskforce. A white paper is an authoritative report helping understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. Ultimately the process will inform policy construction for the current government.

The many topics included food security, improving farm gate returns, increasing competitiveness, contribution to communities, finance, job creation etc.

I was interested to cover the farm gate situation as I believe it is where fundamental change needs to occur to ensure fertility of the land, survival of and prevention of drought and longevity of the rural community as a whole. My main concept was the introduction establishment of sustainable agriculture, in the form of Permaculture.  Permaculture or “Permanent Agriculture” combines many traditional and natural farming methods which can be applied in any rural situation.

Permaculture looks at the natural patterns in nature to rejuvenate and retain fertility in and soil. This would increase productivity and reduce the need for large amounts of emergency aid to rural communities in times of crisis.     For example, the building of a soil ‘swale’ or small hill built on contour can prevent land being lost to desertification. It can also act as a buffer against extreme dry periods. The swale acts as a barrier and gathers any moisture and wind blown natural debris to build a natural catchment. This catchment in turn retains moisture and builds fertility. This can then be planted with windbreak and soil regenerating plants. The plants hold soil and shelter and shade land on the lee side to grow food crops or fodder for stock.

A nationwide network of trained permaculturalists could aid farmers in the design and implementation of such concepts. A website and education kit could also be formulated. Encouragement could be given for young unemployed people in rural areas to train in the practice as well. The research and development of earthmoving equipment to be attached to the average tractor could be another small industry to aid the application of permaculture.

A ‘Green Paper’ due mid-year summarises the information collected by the taskforce. Further discussion ensues, and the White Paper itself is due to be released at the end of the year.