Heroes of Sustainable Agriculture Part 4: Bill Mollison

Bill Mollison takes much of the credit for the spread of Permaculture worldwide; throughout the 3rd quarter of the 20th century he became well known for speaking to a wide range of audiences about permaculture. (UTAS). Additionally, he has published 5 books on the subject that have sold millions of copies, several of which have been translated to at least 8 different languages. “Mollison has written various articles and reports on permaculture for governments, educational and voluntary organisations and the general public.” (RightLivlihood). He has worked in places like Hawaii and Brazil, designing tropical polycultures and village housing; in places like the USA and UK he has been involved in strategies for city farms; “he has developed a teaching manual in arid land techniques for the Australian Department of Education’s Technical and Further Education Colleges and has advised on this topic in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Brazil and the USA.” (RightLivelihood). Through his permaculture Insititute, Mollison initiated the “EarthBank Society,” advising groups on ethical investment and publishes on alternative economic and financial strategies; he also initiated the “Tree Tithe Program,” which generates funding for tree planting projects in various countries throughout the world. (RightLivelihood).

Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison is often called the “Father of Permaculture,” a system of design for creating sustainable human environments. Mollison developed the permaculture theory with a man named Dave Holmgren, and in 1978 Mollison founded the first Permaculture Institute in Tasmania. (UTAS). The essence of permaculture is both agricultural and cultural, and on one level deals with plants, animals, buildings and infrastructures (water, energy, communications). But permaculture deals with the relationships between these various elements and its purpose is to design systems that are “ecologically-sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.” (Mollison). The theory and practice of permaculture has spread worldwide, and is a major driving force behind the re-education and transformation of the way humans cultivate and relate to their environment.

The Classic Cover Image from Mollison's "Permaculture: A Designer's Manual"

Permaculture design concepts are based on 10 principles and guided by a “threefold ethic: care of the earth, care of people, and dispersal of surplus time, money, and materials towards these ends.” The principles are: relative location: design components must be put in the right place to function efficiently, relative to all other components in the system; each element performs many functions: choosing versatile components (plants, animals, equipment, water, etc.) enables outputs of one thing to fulfill needed inputs of another; each important function is supported by many elements: diversifying one’s farm or community builds resilient systems; zone planning: this has to do with the layout of the land in use, and how far away from home base we establish elements of the system –permaculture deals with 5 zones; sector planning: this step brings consideration to wild elements such as the sun pattern, fire danger, flood-prone areas, screening unwanted views, etc.; using biological resources: this maximizes natural energy from plants and animals; energy cycling: permaculture systems seek to stop the flow of nutrient and energy off the site and instead turn them into cycles; small-scale intensive systems: reduce the need for large harvesters and transport trucks, and using the land efficiently before expanding; accelerating succession and evolution: incorporating the understory and later successional woody plants and trees into the system for maturation of the ecosystem; diversity: plants and animals that compliment one another and support symbiotic growth should be used – diverse plantings are often more resilient; edge effects: this principle recognizes the exceptional diversity and productivity of the interface between two mediums (air and water body, forest and grassland, etc.), and seeks to create more “edges” in designing the system.

The final and perhaps most important principle is the “attitudinal” principle. Permaculturists understand that nature works best cooperatively; as part of nature, humans are best off solving problems in the flow of nature rather than against nature. The proper attitude of the permaculturist sees the solution in the problem! This attitude naturally shift one’s focus from “fixing problems” to “finding solutions.” This permaculture principle is perfectly aligned with the SCI principle, “the field of all possibilities is the source of all solutions,” because it affirms our knowing that the solution is never absent, but simply requires our engagement in the invisible, infinite, and ever-present field of all possibilities. Mollison should be celebrated for his remarkable contribution to sustainable agriculture. The activities of permaculturists worldwide are transforming the was cities, suburbs and rural areas relate to the land. Permaculture offers a mindset for generating real solutions, and it has come at a time of great need.


The Right Livelihood Award – Biography:



University of Tasmania Library:

Mollison, Bill. 1988. Permaculture: A Designers Manual. Tagari Publications


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