Thursday, 8 December 2016

Building soil can stop climate change (online)

Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet

 Studies suggest that regenerating soil by turning our backs on industrial farming holds the key to tackling climate change.

A 23-year-old food forest (video)

Thriving 23-Year-Old Permaculture Food Forest - An Invitation for Wildness
In the small town of Riverton at the bottom of New Zealand's South Island is Robert and Robyn Guyton's amazing 23-year-old food forest. The two-acre property has been transformed from a neglected piece of land into a thriving ecosystem. This lovely video introduces the food forest. (Watch this to find out what Santa Claus does in the Summer!).

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Introducing the Lexicon of Sustainability (video)

Community Supported Agriculture, by The Lexicon of Sustainability

As well as serious and weighty books and articles, I sometimes like to feature lighter, shorter material including video on The Digest. Here's just one from the many great short films produced by the Lexicon of Sustainability Project that I hope will inspire you to explore more of their great work, and share it with colleagues, friends and family.

Agroecology enhances climate change resilience (online)

Climate Change: Agroecological approaches to enhance resilience to climate change

The Green Revolution has performed well in areas with a stable climate, adequate water supply and access to inputs and cheap energy. But the necessary fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment and fuel are derived from dwindling and ever more expensive fossil fuels. At the same time, climatic extremes are becoming more frequent and intensive agricultural systems show a lower resistance and higher vulnerability to such fluctuations. Fortunately, there are alternatives that enhance resilience and ensure high yields.

Agroecology at territorial scale (journal)

Agroecology territories: places for sustainable agricultural and food systems and biodiversity conservation

The development of sustainable agricultural and food systems is so far almost exclusively proposed either at the scale of specific agricultural systems or for selected supply chains. Strongly neglected is the development of sustainable systems at a territorial scale. We, therefore, present here the concept of agroecology territories. We define agroecology territories as places where a transition process toward sustainable agriculture and food systems is engaged. Three major domains must be considered for the transition to take place: adaptation of agricultural practices; conservation of biodiversity and natural resources; and development of embedded food systems. Stakeholder group strategies, developed by those who actively engage in these three domains and are themselves actors in the transition, are integral to agroecology territories.

Agroecology and the Sustainable Development Goals (online)

Agroecology contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals

A meta-analysis of 50 case studies from 22 African countries shows the contribution of agroecology to the attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The trends revealed here make clear the potential of agroecology to sustainably increase food sovereignty while conserving biodiversity and respecting indigenous farmers’ knowledge and innovations.

Polyculture trials 2014-16 (online)

Balkan Ecology Project's polyculture trials 2014-16

For three years Balkan Ecology Project have been testing the practice of growing vegetables and herbs in polycultures (or what is known as guilds within permaculture circles). They have been using their home garden for these tests and recording the inputs and outputs from the growing seasons. Their aim is to discover whether or not growing in polycultures offers benefits over conventional methods of growing, and to see to what degree they can obtain good yields of nutrient dense food whilst providing habitat for garden wildlife. Here they present a description of the garden layout and planting scheme, an overview of their cultivation practices, the results from year three of the study, their record keeping methods, and some notes and observations from this year.

Functional Ecolgy special issue free online

To celebrate 30 years of Functional Ecology current journal Editors Charles Fox, Alan Knapp, Craig White and Ken Thompson have each chosen their favourite papers from our back catalogue. We asked the Editors to choose papers they feel have had a major impact on their field and that continue to be relevant today. The resulting eclectic selection spans the full history and broad scope of the journal. All 17 papers are free to access.

Engaging the public in community carbon reduction (#journal)

“The Good Life”: Engaging the public with community-based carbon reduction strategies

In recent years the UK has positioned itself to become a global leader in addressing climate change, including an increasing emphasis on the role of communities to facilitate, increase and sustain carbon reduction practices. Previous research into community-based carbon reduction projects has highlighted the difficulty of engaging the public in community initiatives and sustaining pro-environmental behaviours. We need an understanding of how individuals respond to, and engage with, (or even ignore) community-based carbon reduction strategies. The paper presents findings from focus groups in three urban communities and investigates individual engagements with community-based carbon reduction strategies. The paper discusses what people know, feel and do about addressing climate change at the community level. An “information-vacuum” is reported that leads to an “awareness-involvement gap” that inhibits sustained engagement. The paper advances a new theoretical framework and a “what works” approach for community-based initiatives attempting to meaningfully engage the public.

Economic crisis shaping alternative narratives (#journal)

The economic crisis as a game changer? Exploring the role of social construction in sustainability transitions

This paper takes a transition perspective to explore, from a Western European viewpoint, how the economic crisis is actually viewed through a variety of interpretations and responded to through a range of practices. The authors argue that framing societal phenomena such as the economic crisis as "symptoms of transition" through alternative narratives and actions can give rise to the potential for (seemingly) short-term pressures to become game changers. Game changers are defined as the combination of: specific events, the subsequent or parallel framing of events in systemic terms by engaged societal actors, and (eventually) the emergence of (diverse) alternative narratives and practices (in response to the systemic framing of events). Game changers, when understood in these terms, help to orient, legitimize, guide, and accelerate deep changes in society. They conclude that such dynamics in which game changers gain momentum might also come to play a critical role in transitions.

Four pathways to transition (#journal)

Many pathways toward sustainability: not conflict but co-learning between transition narratives

While a broad agreement exists with regard to the need for mainstreaming sustainability into decision-making and everyday practices, different transition pathway narratives are advocated. This article describes four archetypes of present transition narratives; (1) the green economy, (2) low-carbon transformation, (3) ecotopian solutions and (4) transition movements. Based on our analysis, we argue that despite the assumption that these narratives represent competing pathways, there is considerable complementarity between them. An integrative approach could potentially help bridge these intervention types and connect fragmented actors at multiple levels and across multiple phases of transition processes. Effectively mainstreaming sustainability will ultimately require sustainability scientists to navigate between, and learn from, multiple transition narratives.

Community resilience to climate change (report)

Community resilience to climate change: an evidence review

How is the resilience of communities to climate change in the UK currently understood and practised? The concept of community resilience to climate change in the UK has a diverse range of meanings and associated activities. This review of evidence and practice explores this varied and contested field to build the evidence base and help support the development of community resilience to climate change.

60 ecohomes, all different, all glorious (video)

60 short films showcase eco-homes

Living in the Future is an amazing collection of 60 short films and three long documentaries that introduce some of the most innovative, interesting and inspiring eco-homes in Britain and beyond. Living in the Future is an ongoing project documenting sustainable communities and ecovillages around the world. They host a free online series, a regular blog and a set of three feature documentaries - Ecovillage Pioneers, Lammas and our latest film, Deep Listening.

Tree planting helps sheep farmers (report)

Planting trees to benefit sheep farming

Upland hill farming at high altitudes can bring challenges such as lack of shelter and protection for newborn lambs. This Woodland Trust case study describes Cumbrian sheep farmer David Noble’s experience of planting trees on his farm to help provide his sheep with shelter from the elements in winter, and shade in summer, improving flock welfare. It details the planting system he put in place and the many benefits he hoped to achieve from it, such as reduced lamb neonatal loss, water pollution and poaching, and helping to stabilise stream banks on lower lying pastures and create new habitats for wildlife. This case study shows that when planted strategically, even small scale tree planting can have numerous benefits.

Community climate action in Europe (report)

Community Climate Action Across Europe

TESS (Towards European Societal Sustainability) was a European research project exploring the role of community based initiatives (CBIs) in transitioning to a low-carbon Europe. The project developed methodologies and tools for monitoring and reporting the social, political, economic, technological and environmental impacts of CBIs as well as their carbon emissions savings. Findings showed that community-based initiatives are key drivers of local innovation, with food and energy the domains in which CBIs were most active. This new booklet summarises the activities of community-based initiatives across Europe, introducing the range and diversity of community activity taking place in the city of Rome, Berlin, Catalunya and the countries of Finland, Romania and Scotland.

New PhD opportunities in UK

Two new PhD opportunities in transition and green innovation 

The Policy Studies Institute at the University of Westminster and The Green Challenge Scholarship are currently offering funded PhD places.

PSI is a research centre in the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment (FABE) at University of Westminster, and is eligible for three MPhil/PhD studentships for entry in September 2017. They are keen to encourage and support high quality proposals in areas that align with the interests and expertise of their researchers, including those relating to transition towns and transitions. More information here:

The Green Challenge Scholarship is a competition for prospective and current students wishing to pursue a postgraduate degree that will help lead to the development of a ‘green themed’ commercial concept. The competition is a unique funding opportunity offering students the chance to win a scholarship that will help to develop knowledge related to their idea of up to £20,000 to cover their postgraduate degree tuition fees.The competition is now open and application close on 27TH March 2017. Download the Guidelines, FAQ’s and Application Form here (

New FAO agroecology website (online)

This week FAO has launched a new online Agroecology Knowledge Hub. The website is aimed at maintaining and promoting information and updates on Agroecology, as well as providing a space to share experiences of FAO and our partners in Agroecology. Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen our worldwide network.

Nous voudrions vous informer que la FAO a développé un «centre de connaissances sur l’agroécologie » sur le site suivant :, qui a pour but de conserver et de promouvoir toute l’information existante et les nouveautés au sujet de l’agroécologie, en provenance de la FAO ou de nos partenaires. Le but est aussi de renforcer notre réseau.

Esta semana FAO ha lanzado un nuevo Centro de Conocimientos sobre Agroecología en línea, en el siguiente sitio web: Esta página está enfocada a mantener y promover información y actualizaciones sobre Agroecología, así como proporcionar un espacio para compartir experiencias de FAO y nuestros socios Agroecológicos. En esta última instancia nuestro objetivo es fortalecer nuestra red mundial.

Monday, 24 October 2016

10 year forest garden trial: half way report (online)

In 2010 two anonymous donors gave a total of nine thousand pounds to the Permaculture Association to conduct a ten year research trial into forest gardens in the UK. The idea was to give half of the money to a dozen newly established forest garden to help cover their set up costs, and to use the remaining money to monitor their progress and evolution over the following ten years. 

This report marks the half way point of that project. It reports on the progress of the forest gardens in the trial, and on what has been learned to date. Read it here.

Home gardens for food security (journal)

Home gardens: a promising approach to enhance household food security and wellbeing

This paper first examines definitions and characteristics of home gardens and then provides a global review of their social, economic, and environmental contributions to communities in various socio-economic contexts. Home garden research covers Africa, Asia, and Latin America; studies recognize positive impacts on food insecurity and malnutrition, income and livelihoods, and ecosystem services. However, only a handful of case studies were found on post-crisis settings. This review then investigates the home garden experiences of post-conflict Sri Lanka, where home gardening has been practiced for centuries. While emphasizing multiple benefits, the authors also highlight constraints to home garden food production. They emphasize the need for more research to appraise the role of home gardens, their economic value and their impacts on food security, nutrition, economic growth, and gender issues.

Agroforestry for climate change resilience (#journal)

Multipurpose agroforestry as a climate change resiliency option for farmers: an example of local adaptation in Vietnam

Increasing frequency, intensity and duration of severe weather events are posing major challenges to rural livelihoods. This study aimed to: (i) identify tree species that reduce vulnerability of cropping systems under climate variability; and (ii) develop a method for rapidly assessing vulnerability and exploring strategies of smallholder farmers. Participatory Rural Appraisal methods in combination with Geographical Information Systems tools and analysis of meteorological data were used to evaluate local vulnerability and to investigate local adaptation measures in Vietnam. While rice and rain-fed crops suffered over 40 % yield losses in years of extreme drought or flood, tree-based systems and cattle were less affected. 13 tree species performed well under the harsh local climate conditions in home and forest gardens to provide income, food, feed and other environmental benefits.

Urban food forestry (journal)

Introducing urban food forestry: a multifunctional approach to increase food security and provide ecosystem services

The authors examine the potential of perennial woody food-producing species (“food trees”) in cities and propose a multifunctional approach that combines elements of urban agriculture, urban forestry, and agroforestry into what they call “urban food forestry” (UFF). They use four approaches at different scales to gauge the potential of UFF to enhance urban sustainability and contribute to food security. They also develop a Climate–Food–Species Matrix of potential food trees appropriate for temperate urban environments, including 70 species, 30 of which were deemed “highly suitable” for urban food forestry. Untapped potential exists for urban food forestry to contribute to urban sustainability via increased food security and landscape multifunctionality.

Urban agroforestry (thesis)

This paper reviews examples of the current theory and practice of agroecology, agroforestry, and permaculture in urban ecosystems, and looks at possibilities for integrating agroecology, agroforestry, and permaculture design principles in order to deal with the unique challenges and opportunities of the urban ecosystem. These practices can lessen the ecological footprint of urban areas by increasing the production of ecosystems services. Urban agriculture and forestry can be integrated into an urban food forestry design system utilizing agroecological and permaculture principles and science.

Forest gardening in practice (book)

Forest Gardening In Practice: An Illustrated Practical Guide for Homes, Communities & Enterprise

A forest garden is a place where nature and people meet halfway, between the canopy of trees and the soil underfoot. For three decades experimental forest gardens have been planted in temperate cities and rural sites, in households, neighbourhoods, community gardens, parks, market gardens and plant nurseries. Forest Gardening In Practice is the first indepth review of forest gardening with living, best practice examples. It highlights the four core skills of forest gardeners: ecology, horticulture, design, cooperation. It is for hobby gardeners, smallholders, community gardeners and landscape professionals.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Forest garden takeover, October 2016

Forest Garden special; for one month only!

After the amazing popularity of Candela Vargas' new forest garden guide last month, I thought I'd dedicate The Digest to forest gardening for the whole of October. So everything I'm posting this month is in some way related to forest gardens or agroforestry (or both). Big thanks to Tomas Remiarz for inspiring this idea by sharing his bibliography with me. If you've got anything forest garden related you'd like me to post on The Digest, please email it, or a hyperlink to it, to by 23rd October. Thanks!

Trees for forest gardens (book)

Trees for Gardens, Orchards & Permaculture by Martin Crawford

Are you wondering which productive trees to plant in your garden? Or are you planning a forest garden? Perhaps you are planting an orchard but want a greater diversity of useful trees than is common? Or do you want to know what unusual fruit trees you can use? The answers to all these questions can be found here. Martin Crawford has researched and experimented with tree crops for 25 years and has selected over 100 of the best trees producing fruits, nuts, edible leaves and other useful products that can be grown in Europe and North America.

Edible forest gardens website (online)

Edible Forest Gardens

Edible Forest is dedicated to offering inspiring and practical information on the vision, ecology, design, and stewardship of perennial polycultures of multipurpose plants in small-scale settings.  We intend this website to grow into an information and networking resource for newcomers, amateurs, students, and serious practitioners and researchers alike.

Agroforestry Research Trust (online)

Agroforestry Research Trust

The ART is an educational and research organisation, founded in 1992 as a registered charity, to educate and conduct research into all aspects of agroforestry. Various academic and practical research projects have been undertaken since its formation, and results of research published by the Trust in a number of publications and in its own quarterly journal, Agroforestry News.  Courses and tours are also run on aspects of our work.

Agroforestry - next step for sustainable agriculture (#journal)

Agroforestry—The Next Step in Sustainable and Resilient Agriculture

Agriculture faces the unprecedented task of feeding a world population of 9 billion people by 2050 while simultaneously avoiding harmful environmental and social effects. In this paper, the authors examine current organic and conventional agriculture systems and suggest that agroforestry could be the next step in sustainable agriculture. By implementing systems that mimic nature’s functions, agroforestry has the potential to remain productive while supporting a range of ecosystem services. This paper outlines the common practices and products of agroforestry as well as beneficial environmental and social effects. It addresses barriers to agroforestry and explore potential options to alter policies and increase adoption by farmers. The paper concludes that agroforestry is one of the best land use strategies to contribute to food security while simultaneously limiting environmental degradation.

The importance of ecosystem diversity (#journal)

The functional role of producer diversity in ecosystems

This article reviews over two decades of experiments that have examined how species richness of primary producers influences the suite of ecological processes that are controlled by plants and algae in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystems. Using formal meta-analyses, we assess the balance of evidence for eight fundamental questions and corresponding hypotheses about the functional role of producer diversity in ecosystems. These include questions about how primary producer diversity influences the efficiency of resource use and biomass production in ecosystems, how primary producer diversity influences the transfer and recycling of biomass to other trophic groups in a food web, and the number of species and spatial /temporal scales at which diversity effects are most apparent. After summarizing the balance of evidence and stating our own confidence in the conclusions, we outline several new questions that must now be addressed.

Classifying plants by functional types (#journal)

Plant functional types: an alternative to taxonomic plant community description in biogeography?

This article critically reviews the concept of plant functional types as an alternative to the traditional taxonomic species-based approach to plant community description in biogeography and ecology. Plant functional types are nonphylogenetic groupings of species that show close similarities in their response to environmental and biotic controls. Functional classifications often cut across taxonomic classifications and may be more meaningful in terms of plant response.

Practical applications of plant functional types in biogeography and ecology are also reviewed. Plant functional types can aid in the understanding of ecological processes, such as the assembly and stability of communities and succession, and facilitate the detection and prediction of response to environmental change at a range of scales. Despite its potential, the plant functional type approach is probably best viewed as a complementary approach to description using traditional taxonomy.

The importance of plant functional diversity (#journal)

Vive la différence: plant functional diversity matters to ecosystem processes

There is a growing consensus that functional diversity, or the value and range of species traits, rather than species numbers per se, strongly determines ecosystem functioning. Despite its importance, and the fact that species diversity is often an inadequate surrogate, functional diversity has been studied in relatively few cases. Approaches based on species richness on the one hand, and on functional traits and types on the other, have been extremely productive, but attempts to connect their findings have been rare. Crossfertilization between these two approaches is a promising way of gaining mechanistic insight into the links between plant diversity and ecosystem processes and contributing to practical management.

Forest gardens on the nature-culture continuum (#journal)

Forest gardens as an ‘intermediate’ land-use system in the nature–culture continuum: Characteristics and future potential

 Forest gardens are reconstructed natural forests, in which wild and cultivated plants coexist, such that the structural characteristics and ecological processes of natural forests are preserved, although the species composition has been adapted to suit human needs. They lie between natural forests and tree-crop plantations in terms of their structure and composition. Their management is characterized by combined use of silvicultural and horticultural operations, and spatial and temporal variations. These ecologically sustainable systems are often dynamic in species composition in response to changing socioeconomic conditions. Evolved over a long period of time as a result of local community's creativity, forest gardens have received little attention in agroforestry research. The study of forest gardens offers good opportunities for obtaining a better understanding of the ‘nature-analogous’ agroforestry systems and for developing multifunctional agroforestry systems combining production and biodiversity.

Socioeconomic conditions supporting forest gardens (#journal)

The socioeconomic conditions determining the development, persistence, and decline of forest garden systems

There is a range of forest management systems between pure extraction and plantation systems. Such “intermediate systems” range from wild forests modified for increased production of selected products to anthropogenic forests with a high-density of valuable species growing within a relatively diverse and complex structure. These systems, classed here as “Forest Garden Systems” (FGS), have important socioeconomic and ecological benefits, and yet they have been largely overlooked by researchers, development practitioners, and policy makers. Based on case examples and the authors’ experience, this paper analyzes the socioeconomic and institutional factors that explain the development, persistence, and decline of FGS.

Agro-successional restoration of tropical forests (#journal)

Agro-Successional Restoration as a Strategy to Facilitate Tropical Forest Recovery

With the increasing need to restore former agricultural lands in the tropics, it is critical to explore different models for how to restore these lands. The authors propose that agro-successional restoration, which they define as incorporating a range of agroecology and agroforestry techniques as a transition phase early in forest restoration, could be used more widely to overcome socioeconomic and ecological obstacles to restoring these lands. Over centuries, farmers and scientists have developed various agroforestry techniques that aim to cultivate crops and trees, in a range of crop types, time periods of cultivation (a few years to several decades), and complexity of species planted. The management practices used, such as weeding and increasing soil fertility, parallel those used in many forest restoration efforts. Benefits of the agro-successional model include extending the management period of restoration, offsetting some management costs, providing food security for small landholders, and involving small landholders.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The permaculture community in England (#journal)

Examining Innovation for Sustainability from the Bottom Up: An Analysis of the Permaculture Community in England

This article examines attempts by the permaculture community in England to interact and influence the Agriculture Knowledge System of the mainstream agro-food regime.

Strategic Niche Management and Communities of Practice theory are combined to examine the ways in which the permaculture community has evolved and has sought to develop its agro-ecology message and influence the agro-food regime.
Evidence of second order learning and networking with stakeholders outside the community of practice is limited. A tension between internal activities that reinforce a boundary between the permaculture knowledge system and the wider Agriculture Knowledge System are evident. Some external activities designed to cross boundaries are noted. However, activities designed to translate permaculture ideas into mainstream agriculture have had limited success. This reveals the way that beliefs, values and epistemologies make the process of sustainability transition challenging and complex, particularly when different knowledge systems clash with one another.

Also published here, April 2018:

Markets for agroecology (online video)

What type of markets support agroecological and sustainable food systems?
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations organizes Technical Seminars/Webinars on Agroecology and related issues to foster an inter-disciplinary exchange of knowledge and field experience on topics that are relevant to sustainable production systems and agroecology. Here is a two hour video of their latest seminar, held on 10th June 2016. Within the seminar, 4 speakers present their research projects, each taking about twenty minutes.

Co-creation in agroecology (online)

Knowledge building is central to agroecology rooted in family farming. But why? What type of knowledge, and whose knowledge is mobilised? This issue of Farming Matters explores what we really mean by co-creation of knowledge in agroecology, why it is so essential for today’s challenges, and how it takes place around the world.

A European vision for sustainabilty (report)

Europe becomes aware of the limits of the Blue Planet and of the need for a fair share for all, notably the rapidly growing developing nations and the younger generation. Europe needs to rediscover social market economy principles, including solidarity, and to match it with planetary boundaries to create an inclusive society for all Europeans. Having achieved peace among the European nations, the European Union must secure economic success, social peace and peace with nature: that is the challenge of sustainability. This report seeks to assess the stakes, argues for new forms of governance and addresses a limited number of sustainability hotspots.

Towards an agroecological world (report)

From uniformity to diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems

Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world. Many of these problems are linked specifically to ‘industrial agriculture’. What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Climate change technolgy wiki (online)


ClimateTechWiki offers a platform for a wide range of stakeholders in developed and developing countries who are involved in technology transfer and the wider context of low emission and low vulnerability development. It offers detailed information on a broad set of mitigation and adaptation technologies.Registration is free and registered users can add technology case-studies and participate in forum discussions.

Share your research online

Share and promote your research online

ResearchGate is a social networking site for researchers to share papers, ask and answer questions, and find collaborators. It is the largest academic social network in terms of active users. People that wish to use the site need to have an email address at a recognized institution or to be manually confirmed as a published researcher in order to sign up for an account. Members of the site can upload research output including papers, data, chapters, negative results, patents, research proposals, methods, presentations, and software source code. Users may also follow the activities of other users and engage in discussions with them.

Here's the actual toolkit for forest gardens!

Forest garden Archetypes

A few weeks ago I shared Candela Vargas' work developing a tool kit for creating forest gardens. This post has proved very popular. Unfortunately the link provided did not include the actual toolkit itself. Candela has very kindly supplied me with a link directly to the toolkit; and here it is! The booklet identifies a number of forest garden archetypes based on the values of the forest gardener, the key features, the uses of the garden, the layout, the kinds of plants and the buildings on site. It then encourages each forest gardener to think about which archetype is their ideal, and gives help, advice and case studies for helping to achieve it. A fantastic resource and a great read!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

700 posts and going stronger than ever!

This is the Digest's 700th post. Four years ago when I came up with the idea, I never  imagined it would get this far. Nor did I imagine the size of the audience; as of today we have had 89,074 page views, 1,813 in the last month alone. The audience is a truly global one, with people in over 70 countries using the Digest and more than half the audience now outside the UK and the US, a welcome new development this year. Our most popular post to date has had 398 views.Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read the posts, I hope you find them useful. As ever your feedback is most welcome.

Zen and permaculture design (book)

Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design

Do you wish to creatively engage with the wickedly complex problems of today, while not adding to the mess? Do you want to consciously act with clarity and grace whilst living on a thriving planet? Do you want a fair society, where people care for each other, their children and grandchildren? Stefan Geyer shows how permaculture, infused by insights from the Zen tradition, can be a modern method of liberation from our society’s present woes.
Permaculture is a new regenerative culture, and permaculture design is the method to get there. It offers emancipation and emboldens us to think in joyfully expansive, daringly experimental and creatively caring new ways. This book is full of inspiration that you can carry with you anywhere. Each page explores a permaculture idea or theme. These are not the last word on the subject but catalysts for new thought.

Food sovereignty and feminism (#journal)

Struggling for food sovereignty in the World March of Women

This contribution focuses on how food sovereignty is being re-signified as a feminist issue by a non-peasant transnational feminist network, the World March of Women. First, we review the feminist literature on women, gender and food sovereignty and make suggestions regarding how to conceptualize the latter to better analyze feminist struggles on this terrain. Second, we highlight the variety of discourses and practices through which food sovereignty is appropriated in the different spaces of the March. Third, we identify the uneven deployment of food sovereignty among the national coordinating bodies of the March. Our conclusion stresses the role of discursive articulations and of internal and external alliances as processes through which food sovereignty is diffused and transformed, and draws some implications for the larger scholarship on food sovereignty.

Coloniality in US agricultural policy (#journal)

The coloniality of US agricultural policy: articulating agrarian (in)justice

Drawing on participatory action research with La Via Campesina’s US member groups, this paper traces the coloniality of US agricultural policy. The framework of coloniality conjures history, contextualizing US Department of Agriculture (USDA) racism within long legacies of subjugation, while paying homage to historical resistance. It raises the stakes regarding the neo-imperialism of agribusiness monopolies, while highlighting divide-and-conquer strategies and the colonialist mentalities that linger on despite reform. The discursive impact of coloniality builds upon existing, grassroots articulations of the need to decolonize agricultural policy. Calling out the coloniality of US agricultural policy echoes global revalorizations of peasant agriculture, while overcoming the constraints of the term ‘peasant’ in US-English-speaking contexts.

Perennial staple crops in Malawi (journal)

Ratooning and perennial staple crops in Malawi. A review

The management of staple crops as perennials is a historic legacy and a present-day strategy in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet perenniality is rarely an agronomic subject. Farmers in Malawi cut annual crops, such as pigeonpea and sorghum, to extend production for more than one growing season. Cassava, a perennial food crop, has a proven track record of abating hunger. Here we review ratooning, a method of harvesting a crop which leaves the roots and the lower parts of the plant uncut to give the ratoon or the stubble crop. This review is completed with interviews with Malawian farmers. The management of staple crops as perennials is underserved by research. The literature and interviews indicate that pigeonpea and sorghum have high productive potential when well managed in ratoon systems.

Cover crops in perennial agriculture (#journal)

Cover crops to increase soil microbial diversity and mitigate decline in perennial agriculture. A review

Perennial agriculture is prone to declining productivity due to negative plant-soil feedback. Although cover crops are already used in these systems for other reasons, their capacity to influence soil biota is unexploited. This article examines the role of plant diversity and identity on plant-soil feedback. We conclude that (1) increasing plant diversity increases soil microbial diversity, minimizing the proliferation of soil-borne pathogens; (2) populations of beneficial microbes can be increased by increasing plant functional group richness, (3) brassicas suppress fungal pathogens and promote disease-suppressive bacteria; (4) native plants may further promote beneficial soil microbiota; and (5) frequent tillage, herbicide use, and copper fungicides can harm populations of beneficial microbes. Non-crop vegetation management is a viable and cost-effective means of minimizing crop decline in perennial monocultures.

Coffee agroforestry management (#journal)

Agroforestry coffee production increased by native shade trees, irrigation, and liming

Agroforestry systems usually include shade trees, providing a large diversity of fauna and flora. Shade trees are, however, being removed to increase crop production in many tropical regions. We evaluated the importance of shade tree management for crop production in the context of management practices. Management practices included fertilization, liming, coffee pruning, weeding, and irrigation in 113 coffee agroforests in Kodagu, India. Results show that a rise of 100 shade tree per hectare increased production of berries by 5.6 % and bean size by 6.25 %. Irrigation and liming increased berry production respectively by 16 and 20 %. These management interventions offset the relatively small effect of reducing shade density.

The Hidden life of Trees (book)

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate-Discoveries from a Secret World

 Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland. After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.

Rooftop production of vegetables (#journal)

Rooftop production of leafy vegetables can be profitable and less contaminated than farm-grown vegetables

Urban agriculture may solve issues of feeding urban populations. It has been estimated that the total rooftop space in China is about 1 million hectares, some of which can be converted for rooftop farming. This article present here a feasibility study of hydroponically grown vegetables in a rooftop screen house in Guangzhou, China. None of the roof hydroponic vegetables exceeded the maximum residue limit for lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, or nitrate. In contrast, 5 of 98 market vegetables were contaminated by exceeding the maximum residue limit for lead. Similarly 3 were contaminated for arsenic, 23 for nitrate, and 2 for organophosphate or carbamate insecticide. Compared to high-end vegetables sold on the market, rooftop-grown vegetables were competitive in cost and quality. Given that many countries have limited arable land to feed a large population, the widespread adoption of rooftop hydroponics could help expand the total area available for food production.

Crop-livestock integration betwen farms (#journal)

Crop–livestock integration beyond the farm level: a review

Paradoxically, the number of crop–livestock farms is declining across Europe, despite the fact that crop-livestock farms are optimal to the sustainability of agriculture. To solve this issue, crop–livestock integration may be organized beyond the farm level. For instance, local groups of farmers can negotiate land-use allocation patterns and exchange materials such as manure, grain, and straw. Development of such a collective agricultural system raises questions about how to integrate crops and livestock among farms, and the consequences, impacts, and conditions of integrating them. This article reviews the different forms of crop–livestock integration beyond the farm level, their potential benefits, and the features of decision support systems (DSS) needed for the integration process.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A toolkit for developing forest gardens (thesis)

Forest gardens are spreading around the temperate world with a diversity of goals, strategies and spatial structures as practitioners implement these needed systems. Tools and frameworks to advance the research of forest garden methods are a basic requirement. A toolbox booklet was developed through participatory action research. Gardens in the UK and Denmark were studied. The final output is the Forest Garden Archetype booklet, created through participatory action research and showing tools that may be used to strengthen the forest garden discipline.

Here is a direct link to the booklet itself:

Monday, 12 September 2016

Macro-economics for permaculture (report)

For the past few years, Capital Institute has been on an evolutionary learning journey…searching for a path that will lead beyond our current unsustainable economic system and the finance-dominated ideology that drives it. They call it Regenerative Capitalism. Ex-Wall Street economist John Fullerton writes in his introduction:

'My most startling discovery  was that the modern scheme of economics and finance formed the root cause of these systemic crises. My struggle to find a credible alternative framework for economics and finance sharpened my interest in the intellectual and scientific underpinnings of “systemic” or “holistic” approaches. I began by studying how we might apply the lessons of living systems to economic systems...I then discovered that scientists were turning the rules by which living systems sustain and regenerate themselves into empirical principles of systemic health and development, which applied as much to nonliving systems, including economies, as to ecosystems and living organisms.'

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Discover the PIRN facebook page

Permaculture International Research Network Facebook page

Regular readers of The Digest will enjoy The PIRN Facebook page. Discover how trees talk to each other, be inspired by someone baking bread, see how the charity IED helps farmers in Senegal, read new research on carbon dioxide exchange in plant communities, and learn about Italy's new law to reduce food waste. The page is dedicated to supporting a vibrant, diverse International Permaculture Research Network. Another great resource brought to you by the Research Team at the Permaculture Association Britain!

Education to spread agroecology (report)

Education for Agroecology

In this report, Nicole Vosper shares the key findings of her research exploring education and agroecology. She presents successful models from around the world that have been inspiring and supporting people to practice agroecology. This report shares insights into how successful agroecology learning opportunities have been designed, structured and resourced. It also includes commentary on the various curriculums, as well as the common forms of pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching). Finally, it highlights the role of education in accelerating agroecology and gives recommendations to organisers and educators in this field.

Does humus exist? (online)

 In case you were left scratching your head by the recent 'humus doesn't exist' report, here's  a pdf of a slideshow presentation by the authors of the study that made the claim, which makes for easier reading:

Call for sustainable ag. research funding

Scientists call for increased federal investment in sustainable agriculture

Based on a new analysis of federal funding from the US Department of Agriculture, researchers say there is an urgent need for increased investment in research and development aimed at making sustainable food production more effective. The article published in Environmental Science & Policy has been selected for the Elsevier Atlas Award of June 2016. The team searched 824 projects accounting for almost $300 million in funding or 10% of the 2014 USDA Research budget. In many cases, sustainable agriculture was included in projects but not as the primary focus. The findings suggest that significant improvements in sustainable agriculture could be made with additional investments and support. The researchers note an urgent need for additional public funding for research aimed to advance highly promising areas of biologically diversified farming and ranching systems.

New UK agroecology database


This website provides a platform for networking, research, and engagement related to agroecology in the UK. The platform hosts the outputs of a scoping study into agroecological business models in the UK. A central output of the study is a database of agroecological businesses, projects, and initiatives in the UK. All of the information contained in the database is publicly available online and was not provided by the individual initiatives. The database available here is intended to be an interactive and growing resource. This site also provides a history of agroecology, extensive related literature and external resources, and a forum for those interested in agroecology to interact.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Editors wanted for new journal

Editors required for new permaculture journal 

As part of The Permaculture International Research Network, we are developing a new online journal, Permaculture Research.  It will be an interdisciplinary, peer reviewed journal that publishes high quality research on all aspects of permaculture. To strengthen our editorial team, we are seeking Assistant Editors from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Follow the link to find out more.

Concrete decay destroys infrastructure (online)

How industrial civilisation is (literally) built on a foundation with an expiry date

The main issue is simple: putting in steel reinforcing bars lowers the cost and weight of installing reinforced concrete, but at the severe expense of reducing its lifespan. In other words, literally everything you see today that’s made of concrete will need to be replaced within a hundred years of its installation.
Our reinforced concrete infrastructure sends a dire warning.

'Organic Revolutionary' book review

Organic Revolutionary: A Memoir of the Movement for Real Food, Planetary Healing, and Human Liberation
A book review submitted to The Digest by Graham Bell; thanks Graham! All readers are most welcome to submit Digest content to

I recommend this book to anyone interested in setting standards.  Grace delineates her progress from hippy farmer to state legislator in great detail.  In the process she describes the challenge of setting standards for organic production in the US.  Because the book took fifteen years to write there are great changes in mood.  For those similarly challenged with 'What is a good standard' (a debate raging in various permaculture circles right now) it clearly states the different positions people will take: purist and enabler would be the extremes.  It points out very perceptively the advantages and disadvantages of these polar opposites.

Personally I would like to have heard more about Grace the person.  Whilst in some respects she is very open about her life, loves and relationships, I feel a little more of these aspects of her story would have helped me appreciate her journey.

 Meanwhile a very worthwhile read.  I particularly like the section: Soil is anything but pure.  Quote: 'the reductionist model of nutrition gives no indication of the vital, living quality of a food product.', 'Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made' Mark Twain (AKA Sam Clements) and lastly: 'Yet in fact the push for higher standards actually made it easier for the large, professional business organisations than for smaller owner-operators.  They were simply better equipped to deal with the increasingly finicky and paperwork heavy demands of organic certification.' A salutary lesson for us all.

Urban gardens grow food and biodiversity (online)

Civic pride 'can help sustain urban biodiversity'

The establishment of community gardens in inner city areas can boost social and ecological sustainability, suggest researchers. A study found those that produced food were the ones most likely to deliver "win-win" scenarios. Urban green spaces managed by local people were more likely to be preserved for future generations, they added. Research has shown that green urban sites such as allotments, community garden, or cemeteries, can make a major contribution to sustaining urban biodiversity. They offer insect-friendly habitats, which improves pollination for plant species, and attract predators such as birds. This biological diversity also makes the space more appealing for people.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Building your eco-home (book)

The Eco-Home Design Guide: Principles and practice for new-build and retrofit

Designing an eco home is much more about working with your house's place and situation than relying in intrusive technology and hi-tech materials. In this book, Christopher Day draws on his extensive experience to explain the key principles of eco-home design, using common-sense methods to create a pleasant, comfortable and healthy home. With beautifully simple hand-drawn illustrations, he takes you through: using the local topography, combined with landscaping, to improve your home's micro-climate, designing to keep your home dry and warm in the winter, and cool in the summer, minimizing hidden environmental impact, making the house safe and healthy, both emotionally and physically.

Green energy futures (book)

Green Energy Futures: A Big Change for the Good

What will replace fossil fuel? Is there a way forward using renewable energy sources while avoiding nuclear power? This book argues that nuclear is unlikely to have much of a role in future, and shows that the nuclear debate has absorbed too much time and energy, to the detriment of a more relevant and urgent debate over what sort of renewable/efficiency mix we need. This book engages in that debate, exploring the implications of shifting to greener, cleaner energy sources. It argues there is no one green future, but a range of possible options: we need to choose amongst them. This book offers an overview of the technical, economic and environmental issues to help scholars, professionals and policy makers involved in discussing those options.

Vested interests versus renewable energy (book)

Renewable Energy Transformation or Fossil Fuel Backlash? Vested Interests in the Political Economy

Renewable energy is rising within an energy system dominated by powerful vested energy interests in fossil fuels, nuclear and electric utilities. Analyzing renewables in six very different countries, the author argues that it is the extent to which states have controlled these vested interests that determines the success or failure of renewables.

2050: a low carbon society (book)

Living in a Low-Carbon Society in 2050

Combining theory, case studies and speculative fiction, a range of contributors, from leading UK academics to pioneering renewable activists, create a compelling picture of the potential perks and pitfalls of a low carbon future.

The global politics of climate change (book)

Climate Change in World Politics

A multi-faceted view of climate change from an International Relations, global governance, justice, sustainable development and national identity perspective. John Vogler examines the international politics of climate change, with a focus on the United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC). He considers how the international system treats the problem of climate change, analysing the ways in which this has been defined by the international community and the interests and alignments of state governments.

Permaculture your life (book)

How to Permaculture Your Life: Strategies, Skills and Techniques for the Transition to a Greener World by Ross Mars 

This book is a great resource for everyone interested in Transition, permaculture and more self-reliant and satisfying lifestyles. It is packed with information on permaculture design principles, soil building, nutrient-dense food growing, including top plant and tree selections for all climatic zones. Coverage extends to rainwater harvesting and irrigation, human waste management, and strategies for rural properties plus a unique focus on applying permaculture to small urban spaces. Also covered are hand tools, food preservation, energy production, and low-carbon housing and a plethora of nearly forgotten skills such as soap making, basket weaving, seed saving, and rope and candle making, and more

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Time lapse film of woodland plants (video)

 Time-lapse of woodland plant emergence

Just for fun - and to remind you of the wonder of nature- from BBC's 'Private Life of Plants' (1.5 mins)

Critquing the green economy (book)

Inside The Green Economy: Promises and Pitfalls

The economic and ecological bases of a general prosperity are in danger, the gap between rich and poor is widening. The concept of the Green Economy offers a new model, based primarily on large-scale technological solutions. But the Green Economy cares little about politics, barely registers human rights, does not recognize social actors and suggests the possibility of reform without conflict. It suggests that the world as we know it can continue with green growth.
But can efficiency be a solution if it results in even more consumption? Is it possible to save nature by putting a price on the services it provides? Should we rely on magical technological solutions to save us? This book puts the Green Economy to the test, discusses its promises, describes actual consequences and names its blind spots. It is an invitation to embrace radical optimism to find transformative strategies for a livable future.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Securing affordable farm land in the UK (video)

The Ecological Land Cooperative

The Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC) was set up to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land based livelihoods in England. This short film introduces you to the ELC staff and the smallholders at their first project site, Greenham Reach, in Devon, UK.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Agriculture and aquaculture combat rising sea levels (news report)

Bangladesh agriculture adapts to sea-level rise 

A continuous influx of sea water is threatening agriculture and food security in vast coastal areas of Bangladesh, but farmers are finding ways to adapt, like cultivating fish and crops at the same time.
The coastal and offshore areas of this low-lying, densely populated country include tidal estuaries and river floodplains in the south along the Bay of Bengal. Here the arable land is about 30 percent of the total available in the country.
According to salinity survey findings, about one million hectares, or about 70 percent of cultivated lands of the southern coastal areas of Bangladesh, are affected by various degrees of soil salinity.
It is already predicted that if the current trend of climate change continues, rice production could fall by 10 percent and wheat by 30 percent.
 Coastal Integrated Technology Extension Programme (CITEP) encourages farmers to use the Sarjan model of long raised rows of soil about one metre wide and 90 cm high for cultivating varieties of vegetables. The trenches between the rows are filled with water into which various types of fish are released for maturing. The water for irrigating the plants comes from nearby lakes filled with freshwater drawn from the Meghna River.
The advantage of using Sarjan model is that it protects cropland from inundation during storm surges, tidal waves and flash flooding and avoids high salinity.
The new farming practice has turned out to be very popular in Char Fasson, where over 9,000 farmers are now using the model. Many farmers have also formed self-help groups where members benefit from sharing each others’ experiences.

Is this a permaculture-allied solution?  Could it be used elsewhere? 
Are you doing permaculture in this region?  If so, we'd love to hear more about it. Please get in touch with Naomi on