Monoculture Vs. Permaculture: What’s The Difference?


Monoculture and Permaculture

Monoculture is one of those practices many people consider one of the most harmful human activities, yet think it will solve the growing need for food. On the other hand, Permaculture is a lesser-known agricultural practice, which many people believe is a great means to address the global environmental crisis. So, what are the differences?

Permaculture integrates patterns in ecosystems to replicate biodiversity into agriculture to minimalize human energy intervention. Monoculture efficiently produces a single crop or livestock type grown in a specific area, relying heavily on human involvement and energy-intensive machinery.

The monoculture world is so integrated into our way of life that the prospects of an alternative seem challenging. Let’s unpack Monoculture and Permaculture to get an understanding of what makes these practices different. 

Monoculture And Permaculture Are Farming Techniques

Monoculture and Permaculture are farming practices applied in various agricultural spaces. Let’s unpack the differences between the two, as well their positive and negative characteristics.

Monoculture Farming Practice

As the name suggests, Monoculture is centered around one crop, or farming style in an allocated area. This farming practice yields large amounts of produce or product at a consistent and cost-efficient rate.

Although industrial or intensive farming is the primary farming technique, organic farms also use Monoculture to grow certain crops. Common crop types include common grains, like corn, rice, and wheat, plenty of forage, fiber, and vegetables.

The Advantages Of Monoculture Farming Practice

Since farmers can focus on executing quality products for one crop type, they can produce enormous quantities at an efficient rate and much lower cost. This farming style feeds thousands of families every day.

The Disadvantages Of Monoculture Farming Practice

Plants are constantly under threat from pests and diseases. There is basically a pest for every type of crop out there. So, when you have a lot of one crop, what happens? A severe pest and disease problem can wipe out rows and rows of produce in one go.

Speaking of rows, Monoculture farms take up so much space! In fact, there are over 423 million acres of crops in the United States alone. This requires a lot of coal and oil to fuel the machinery to prepare the land and maintain the farmland.

Farmers are forced to use chemicals, which poison the soil and water. It requires a large team of personnel with the appropriate training and technology to maintain a successful crop.

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Permaculture Farming Practice

Permaculture is a technique rather than a means of agricultural production. It’s a way to strengthen one’s ties to nature’s wisdom to utilize the ecosystem and its services by incorporating them into humanity’s well-being and progress.

Permaculture is a combination of the words and ‘permanent’ and ‘agricultural.’ Bill Morrison and David Holmgren, both Australian scholars, and farmers dedicated their time to compiling the ideas for living and farming based on a set of Permaculture principles.

According to this philosophy, everything is designed to be a part of a more extensive system that requires minimal human involvement. Primarily based on ecology and science, these energy-efficient designs are to create reiterations of natural patterns. The idea is to ensure that all agricultural practices are as sustainable as possible.

The Advantages Of Permaculture Farming Practice

The creation of a Permaculture farm, like all farms, requires a lot of energy input in the beginning phases. However, once implemented, the need for input is radically less than monoculture farms. They are designed to replicate natural systems, so a Permaculture farm with all the right companion plants will thrive on its own, as nature intended.

A huge theme in the Permaculture movement is their focus on reducing waste and eliminating it altogether. An efficient system can aid in the reduction of soil contamination.

Farmers consider the farm’s and its personnel’s capabilities and capacities while designing Permaculture farms. It’s not about earning the most money from that farm but rather about what design will best suit the circumstances.

The Disadvantages Of Permaculture Farming Practice

Many farmers are unwilling to adapt or spend the substantial amount of money required to implement a multidimensional farming approach. 

Many people believe that participating in these practices is tied to spirituality more than agriculture (a misconception). People are apprehensive about trying things they haven’t done before, especially when there is no guarantee of long-term rewards and expectations aren’t etched in stone.

The transition from implementation to experiencing diverse and bountiful produce takes some time, which is too risky for some farmers.  It may have a detrimental impact on our economic progress because it isn’t the most efficient mass-production strategy.

How Does Permacultures’ Structure Differ To Monoculture?

Permaculture has 12 Guiding Principles, which surround a tri-factor of ethics. These ethics are made of Earth Care, Fair Share, and People Care. Sounds familiar, yeah? Well, that’s because these principles were generated from the interconnections of various belief systems and values. As a result, many people around the world share them.

Monoculture has always had one objective, to grow enough food to sustain life. Over the past decade, it has done a mighty job, but the environmental implications are too paramount to ignore.

The 12 Design Principles For The Permaculture Lifestyle

The 12 guiding principles offer a small pearl of wisdom and guidance for those who want to implement Permaculture into their farming techniques or their way of life. They are in no particular order. In fact, almost everything in the Permaculture realm acts as a cycle.

1.     Apply Self-Regulation And Accept Feedback

This principle promotes that it is okay to make mistakes; you just have to learn from them and try an alternative route. Fortunately, the Permaculture community is incredibly supportive in assisting those trying out these alternative practices. 

For large organizations to thrive, they use feedback from their operations to improve their systems to adapt to the constantly evolving work environment. In nature, evolution rules out the characteristics that cannot function in the direction the world is evolving. 

With the increasing realization that industrial agriculture is not a sustainable means to supply the world with the food needed to survive, people are starting to consider alternative practices.

2.     Catch And Store Energy

Everything we do on this planet requires energy. Permaculture is focused on developing long-term methods for capturing and storing natural energy without negatively impacting the earth. The potential benefits of such inventions may be able to assist our planet in its recovery.

For example, researchers and scientists are transforming solar panels, like Solar Water Heating panels. These panels look similar to a solar panel, but the metal squares that absorb solar energy are shaped like a tube. The water that passes through there heats up like a standard gas geyser commonly used in the States.  

3.     Creatively Use And Respond To Change

This principle provides a new and hopeful perspective on the changes we encounter daily. It encourages critical thinking and the exploration of alternatives before concluding that something is irreversible or just a disaster.

We prepare for change and expect things to alter over time. Seasons change, opinions vary, and our environment evolves at a rapid pace. It takes a survivor to confront and conquer these changes.

It’s essential to keep in mind that Permaculture is about the future, not just the present. Life is filled with curveballs and is constantly changing. You should not be scared, instead, embrace it and use it to your advantage.

4.     Design From Patterns To Details

By interacting and observing in your immediate environment, one can recognize natural patterns and apply them where applicable. Thinking broadly about all aspects of our lives can assist us in making the right decision in our human progress. For example, one can design a sustainable garden based on these patterns.

5.     Integrate Rather Than Segregate

When diverse people with various worldviews, opinions, and belief systems are brought together, society becomes stronger. Plants are in the same boat. You’ll need various companion plants to attract pollinators and discourage harmful insects for your farm to survive and thrive.

Monoculture fails because there is too much of one item in a space, which is not sustainable following the integrative nature of the earth and its patterns. This is evident since we can see how types of agriculture have had such terrible environmental consequences. 

6.     Observe And interact.

We live in a fast-paced world where people are racing forward, potentially overlooking essential lessons to help adapt and progress. Balance is key in life, and to achieve that, one must take a step back from time and observe the circumstances surrounding one.

7.     Obtain A Yield

This concept is an excellent depiction of Permaculture philosophy’s three ethics. The purpose of the ambiguity in this principle’s title is to convey that obtaining a yield is multifaceted and can be tangible and intangible. 

Living a permaculture-based lifestyle can give us a wide variety of functional and emotional benefits and the others described in this article. It can relate to a successful crop output to feed your family or acquiring items that will enable us to live happy and healthy lives.

8.     Produce No Waste

This is one of the more difficult and impressive Permaculture design principles. It forces you to adjust your perspective and consider anything that would normally be thrown away after its primary purpose.

It’s only waste when it’s wasted. Don’t be concerned. This does not imply that you should start stockpiling your trash. It basically means that you should recycle and repurpose anything you can.

For example,  the cow manure from the livestock on large-scale agricultural farms is known for being a hub for methane gas, which is a big no-no for the environment. A way to reduce this methane is a Permaculture technique of turning the manure into natural fertilizer.

9.     Use And Value Renewable Resources And Services

This principle underlines the importance of utilizing all renewable energy sources that can aid in the recovery and regeneration of our ecosystem.

People are hesitant to change, especially if they are aware that it would have negative consequences. This unwavering reliance on finite resources such as coal or fossil fuels, for example, is a recipe for disaster and environmental destruction. 

Fortunately, not everyone is so hesitant. Many advocates, industries, and countries are working to adopt alternate energy-harvesting methods that can be used indefinitely. The nice thing is that it’s not asking for much; installing a solar panel at home or a solar wind turbine on the farm could be enough.

10. Use And Value Diversity

A thriving environment is rich in biodiversity. The same can be argued for humanity; we struggle to live without diversified integration into our global community. Imagine only having one type of musical genre? Unfathomable right? How boring would that be?

We cannot thrive as a human species without respecting the power and significance of nature and how its diversity is the key to our survival. Human civilization thrives when there is a diverse representation of our global society.

The real fun begins when a diverse community interacts with a diverse ecosystem. When you add an ecosystem filled with rich biodiversity, everything is possible without messing up the planet. 

11. Use Edges And Value the Marginal

Permaculture necessitates a degree of perspective adjustment and a positive and solution-oriented approach to every empty space, difficulty, or opportunity. Incorporating these sustainable practices into agricultural landscapes can be challenging because one might not know where to begin.

It all starts with beginning small, with an empty area or a building wall that has the potential to become more than just a wall. Walls that are well-positioned under the sun, for example, can be transformed into vertical gardens without taking up additional room.

12. Use Small And Slow Solutions

Each principle offers different trinkets of wisdom to apply in your work and everyday life. Some can be used more philosophically, while others will help you achieve massive reductions in agricultural-related air and groundwater pollution.

For example, the 8th principle, Produce No Waste, precisely as the name suggests, doesn’t produce waste. The common saying goes, “Nothing is waste until it is wasted.”

While for the 6th principle, Observe and Interact, is about slowing down and taking in your immediate environment. Understanding and interacting with one’s environment will provide encouraging insights on what needs to be improved or changed.

A Summary Of The Differences Between Monoculture And Permaculture

Monoculture farmers are aware that their practices are not sustainable. They have not necessarily taken any feedback to improve thee conditions. In fact, there are spaces where it is getting worse as people are using stronger chemicals and more intensive machinery.

There are so many differences between the Permaculture Principles and how Monoculture practices differ. Below is a table that shows the critical difference between Monoculture and each principle. Here is a short summary of the key differences between Monoculture and Permaculture practices:

MonocultureVSPermaculture
Single Crop ProductionCrop VarietyDiversified and Integrated
Conventional FarmingIndustrySmall-scale to medium-scale farming, although large-scale farms are known to exist and be successful
Requires a lot of energy to create and maintain Very susceptible to diseases No genetic diversity in the agricultural systemDisadvantagesRequires a lot of energy and effort to start a Permaculture farm It isn’t appealing for the economic-orientated industries and corporations, for it prioritizes Earth Care, Fair Share, and People Care.
Able to feed large amounts of people worldwide at a cost-efficient rate and at a quick rate.AdvantagesOnce commenced, maintenance requires minimal input Genetic diversity in an agricultural system Considerate of geolocation and its residents before creating farmland area
High yield at an efficient rate Cheaper to implementBenefitsFocuses on eliminating waste
Ensure that a high yield is obtained at the quickest time and at the lowest rateGuiding PrinciplesThere are 12 guiding principles used to implement Permaculture into work and a way of life

Conclusion

Permaculture has been gaining a bit of popularity over the recent years. Still, there has been a dedicated worldwide following for decades. Many believe that Permaculture is the way forward to restoring it. It has been dubbed the solution to the challenges that Monoculture faces.

Monoculture gained a huge roll of momentum when its success in feeding millions of people at a sufficient rate and low cost. This way of life has never really been questioned, even when the statistics of its impact began to pile up. It can yield a significant profit from a particular area, making crops very susceptible to diseases.

On the other hand, the more effective your Permaculture design is, the more self-sufficient it becomes, producing a high output with minimal human intervention. Permaculture grows a forest from eroded soil, while Monoculture degrades soil when converting forests into fields.

The 12 Permaculture Design Principles serve as a foundation for understanding permaculture. They can help us see how we might put our ideas into action and move toward a more ethical and sustainable way of living.

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Harold Thornbro

Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Public Speaker, Teacher, Homesteading and Permaculture Enthusiast. If You're Looking For Me, You'll Find Me In The Garden.

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