Author: Rafter Sass Ferguson and Sarah Taylor Lovell | Published on: October 25, 2013
Agroecology is a promising alternative to industrial agriculture, with the potential to avoid the negative social and ecological consequences of input-intensive production. Transitioning to agroecological production is, however, a complex project that requires diverse contributions from the outside of scientific institutions. Agroecologists therefore collaborate with traditional producers and agroecological movements. Permaculture is one such agroecological movement, with a broad international distribution and a unique approach to system design. Despite a high public profile, permaculture has remained relatively isolated from scientific research. Though the potential contribution of permaculture to agroecological transition is great, it is limited by this isolation from science, as well as from oversimplifying claims, and the lack of a clear definition. Here, we review scientific and popular permaculture literature. A systematic review discusses quantitative bibliometric data, including keyword analysis. A qualitative review identifies and assesses major themes, proposals, and claims. The manuscript follows a stratified definition of permaculture as design system, best practice framework, worldview, and movement. The major points of our analysis are as follows: (1) Principles and topics largely complement and even extend principles and topics found in the agroecological literature. (2) Distinctive approaches to perennial polyculture, water management, and the importance of agroecosystem configuration exceed what is documented in the scientific literature and thus suggest promising avenues of inquiry. (3) Discussions of practice consistently underplay the complexity, challenges, and risks that producers face in developing diversified and integrated production systems. (4) The movement is mobilizing diverse forms of social support for sustainability, in geographically diverse locations. (5) And scholarship in permaculture has always been a diverse marginal sector, but is growing.