However for those who recoil at the idea of a rosy-cheeked pensioners’ club dedicated to all things earthen, think again. According to permaculture consultant and designer Mustafa Fatih Bakir, the practice is not just for the green-fingered and perpetually jolly, but for people of all ages and social groups regardless of income or professional backgrounds. Speaking in an interview on Monday with Sunday’s Zaman, Bakir, who gained his expertise at the Tasmania-based farm of “the father of permaculture,” Bill Mollison, in 2007, said that permaculture, which develops sustainable human settlements and systems modeled on natural ecosystems, is integral to the very essence of human culture itself.
“Permaculture appeals to all groups, races, cultures and nationalities because it is essentially to do with human culture,” Bakir said, explaining that the origin of the word comes from the Latin terms “permanent,” meaning to endure or persist, and “culture,” which refers to activities supporting human communities. “The idea essentially is to persist as human beings on this planet, which if we continue at the rate at which we are going, is not going to be possible for very long,” the İzmir-based expert added.
One of the pioneering figures in permaculture in Turkey today, Bakir is leading the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course alongside fellow expert Rhamis Kent over the next two weeks at İstanbul’s Kadir Has University. The 72-hour course, which equips participants with an internationally recognized qualification, will take place prior to the First Mediterranean Regional Permaculture Conference on July 14 and the Mediterranean Regional Permaculture Convergence, set to be hosted in İzmir’s idyllic Marmariç Permaculture Village from July 17-21.
Regional convergence to be largest permaculture meeting in Turkey to date
The largest permaculture get-together in Turkey to date and the first one of its kind in the wider region, the regional convergence will see PDC graduates of the Mediterranean and the Middle East gather to share knowledge and experiences of permaculture in the Mediterranean, an area suffering heavily from severe soil loss due to a combination of population pressures and climate patterns.
Bakir, whose professional background is in architecture, told Sunday’s Zaman that permaculture’s close relation with most human endeavors means it has the potential to appeal to everyone. “I am an architect, so it appeals to me because of design, in the same way permaculture will appeal to a banker because of economic benefits,” he explained.
Based on Mollison’s book “Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual,” the PDC course will run from June 30-July 12 at Kadir Has University. With the expansive range of topics covered in the program including Eco-Home orientation and design, energy saving methods in cold climates, recycling and waste management, organic food production and eco-friendly pest management, soil improvement and fighting erosion, aquaculture, disaster preparedness and prevention, bio-regional organization and urban gardens, Bakir stressed that there is no prerequisite to taking part in the course. Indeed over the past few years, the seasoned permaculturist has seen everyone and anyone earn the certification, ranging from a 12-year-old schoolboy to illiterate villagers in Africa.
Commenting on the nature of government policy toward permaculture, Bakir was hesitant to generalize but said that good and bad tendencies coexist in most ministries and government institutions.
Despite a trend in Turkey of government policies that are not exactly sparkling in the environmental and conservation departments, Bakir revealed that the country may well be on the verge of undertaking a pioneering, large-scale watershed restoration project in Konya in what would be a groundbreaking collaboration between the Turkish permaculture community and the Ministry of Agriculture.
Although yet to be confirmed, such a project, Bakir told Sunday’s Zaman, would draw inspiration from the restoration of China’s Loess Plateau, one of the world’s largest erosion control programs, which saw a barren, exhausted landscape almost the size of the Netherlands transformed into a large, green oasis.
“The global permaculture community describes this project as the best $500 million ever spent. Here we witnessed a huge landscape devastated over time by poor agriculture techniques transformed into a mind-blowing paradise over the period of 15 years,” he said. A documentary titled “Green Gold,” made during the restoration process by renowned filmmaker John Liu, will be screened as part of the conference on July 14, Bakir added.
‘A lot of activists can’t give answers’
The focus of permaculturists, Bakir was keen to emphasize, is not just to invest time and effort in activism against something but to promote new alternatives. “A lot of activists can’t give answers; they only really know what it is they don’t want. As permaculturists we focus on finding alternatives before we declare our opposition to something,” he said.
Indeed, the key part of permaculture, according to Bakir, is its focus on an ethical base. “Put simply, permaculture is design science for sustainable systems with an ethical base. This is what is missing from many systems in most professions. Nowadays I feel nauseated when I look at architecture magazines,” he exclaimed, continuing: “As an architect, I know how the businesses in these sectors work. Nobody is really bothered about the ethical basis of what is going on.”
Bakir does not find himself dabbling much in architecture these days. But this is not, he says, driven by disillusion with architecture, but is instead due to the sheer volume of interest being demonstrated in permaculture courses, design and consultancy.
“As more and more people become aware of what is going on in the world and where the globalized system is leading us, they are finding permaculture and demanding qualified designers and consultants to help them with their businesses. So our main focus at the moment is on training people quickly, but also effectively,” he added.
A practical system focused simply on the transformation of sustainability into a realistic concept, permaculture and the PDC course, according to Bakir, hold the key to sowing the seeds of positive change. Indeed, as Mollison himself once famously said, “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”
For detailed information on the PDC course, and the Regional Permaculture Conference and Convergence see http://www.rpc2012.com/en/.