Designing Beyond Sustainability

Learning Permaculture Design in the year of the 30th anniversary of the first PDC held in India: A report by participant and freshly graduated permaculture designer Beatrice Tomassi.

The 13th International Permaculture Convergence IPC India 2017, hosted by Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, is taking place at a young permaculture site which is Polam Farm, rising as an educative and demonstrative space for sustainable practices amongst fields of bt cotton monoculture, in the state of Telangana. The preparation and design for the event has been under the guidance of Narsanna Koppula, who has worked with permaculture at Aranya farm for about 20 years.

Prior to the IPC, an extended Permaculture Design Course was organised at Polam Farm, from 3rd to 22nd November 2017, which took a total of two years of planning. The traditional 72 hours curriculum usually happening over two weeks was expanded so as to include 25 additional hours of advanced training in one of four optional streams, which are social permaculture, urban permaculture, water and earthworks, and agriculture.

The social stream focused on the permaculture ethic of People Care and the integration of social design and practice into permaculture systems, through inclusive and creative facilitation.

The urban stream guided the application of permaculture principles in strategies and techniques to bring resiliency into the urban setting, on multiple scales.

Water and earthwork explored the interaction of the landscape and water and their support to regenerative systems, through conceptual, technical and practical components.

Agriculture addressed the initiation and management of a productive permaculture agriculture system, by selecting tools and techniques to create site specific designs.

A team of nine professors was organised so to have balance in gender and culture: five have come from Asia and four from the west. The lead instructor was Robyn Francis, the core instructors were Rico Zook, Clea Chandmal, Govinda Sharma and Narsanna Koppula, and the streams instructors were Hui-i Chiang, Jude Hobbs, Starhawk and Gopi Sankarasubramani.

Important nodes of the course’s structure were the teacher’s assistants, who acted as a contact point between teachers, organisers, staff and participants. Eight of them had attended the Permaculture Teacher Training that took place just before the PDC, which was the first PTT organised in India. This served as a great opportunity for them to directly apply what was learned during the course, and for us participants to receive a more integrated support.

The idea behind the course’s design was to offer an original plan and advanced streams to a large group of 87 students coming from 24 different countries. Upon registration, participants had the option of paying a ‘support rate’ to allow more local participants to join the course at a significantly reduced rate. All profits from the course have been donated to the IPC India event.

Within the design of the course, different approaches including practice, theory, kinesthetics were adopted, and all has been founded on enjoyment of observation and interaction. In this way it has been possible to maintain flexibility and incorporate feedback systems such as the ‘affinity groups’, which could gather information about the interaction of the course with people and environment. In comparison to traditional education, hierarchical systems are not found and the teaching is perceived as a facilitation of one’s learning process, encouraging the expansion of one’s horizons.

On the 3rd of November most participants arrived on Polam Farm from Hyderabad, the largest urban centre located a couple of hours away from the farm. The clogged streets downtown awaken the desire for quiet and silence, which can be found at Polam. At the farm participants are warmly welcomed by the organising team, in the afternoon attended an introductory meeting and in the evening an orientation session, which sets the scene in permaculture referencing figures such as Bill Mollison, Masanobu Fukuoka and Dr. Venkat, who was one of the first big practitioners of permaculture in India.

Affinity group meetings took place every morning until 9am, when everyone gathers for check-ins and announcements. The selection of material provided is a built up reservoir of resources from each teacher’s experience: classes go far beyond the explanation of particular systems, they are interactive and touch upon knowledge about fundamental life processes at work in the world as we observe it and interact with it. The teacher team has demonstrated enthusiasm, charisma and experience, in the teaching of information dense material, as well as in passing on knowledge about life itself, thus having a deep and meaningful impact on our perception, lifting us up and rising together.

We are learning that permaculture leads beyond sustainability: it is about finding our true selves and restore the balance and harmony in between ourselves, with eyes wide open, because true regeneration originates from relationships. Permaculture invites us all to explore the creative processes of designing functional systems while restoring the Earth.

Time during breaks and meals is always an opportunity for walks, conversations and exchanges: this enables us to be increasingly aware of the space and energies around, as we shift from group to group throughout the day. Having the PDC just before the IPC means that a lot of movement happens at the farm, a dynamic flow of people in and out make many more exchanges possible, with workers from nearby villages and volunteers from around the globe contributing to the event.

In the evenings activities such as power talks, presentations or movie nights are organised, a beautiful moment to share experiences and discover what everyone is passionate about and their desires to contribute.

Free days are an occasion to explore the farm and get involved with the work of volunteers, or perhaps have a chai in the nearby village of Jogipet. After separating into streams, a day trip to Aranya Farm was organised, guided by Narsanna and Padma Koppula. They have dedicated much of their action towards the integration of the community and building of social connections, through dispersal of seeds and campaigns against the government selling land to large developers, one of their slogans being “land to the landless”. They consider themselves as custodians of the land, but involve the local community in any planning or decision making process, in the gradual development of the land and its systems.

During the last days of the course participants were busy working within their chosen design teams on the final design presentations, which consisted in stream specific real-life designs on Polam Farm. They were concluded on the last day of class and then followed by the closing ceremony at the outdoor classroom, when certificates were handed out by the teachers. The place was pervaded by gratefulness and joy, for having shared such a profound experience.

This PDC has been empowering and uplifting, thank you to every single one, for the fantastic contribution you have made to nature.

“Permaculture wanders in the valleys between the mountains of the disciplines when nobody else is at home.”

Bill Mollison


Robyn Francis (Australia)

Rico Zook (USA)

Clea Chandmal (India)

Govinda Sharma (Nepal)

Narsanna Koppula (India)

Hui-i Chiang (Taiwan)

Jude Hobbs (USA)

Starhawk (USA)

Gopi Sankarasubramani (India)

Beatrice Tomassi


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