Every year vast areas of the Amazon are burned or destroyed as farmers and ranchers ignite their lands, converting forest into open fields, claiming that this methodology is the only possible way to have productive agriculture systems in the region. Slash and burn agriculture is still responsible for the destruction of most of the primary forest of Amazonia. Fire erodes the capacity of this unique ecosystem to support life, by releasing available nutrients into the atmosphere, by exposing soil to the erosive forces of wind and rain and by destroying the populations of animals and plant species. Fire is the single greatest threat to the biological integrity of the largest and richest tropical forest system on the planet. Fire is know to be the necessary sin on the agriculture frontier of the Amazon, enhancing the short term productivity of farmers, but reducing the long term economic viability of proper land use and sustainable productive systems. A new model for land use development is needed for the Amazon, restricting the unnecessary destruction of primary forest by increasing the profitability of permanent agricultural and sustainable forestry system in landscape already occupied. These productive systems based on sustainable productive cycles must be intensified, as the future of the Amazon is still undefined.


One practical solution to this ongoing situation is to insert the practice of permanent agriculture - permaculture - as a preferred cultural land use system. Permaculture is an interdisciplinary and integrated design system for creating sustainable and productive human environments, in balance with nature. Its capacity includes meeting human requirements in small intensively cultivated areas thereby relieving the pressure on the rainforest and promoting intrinsic values such as protecting biodiversity. In order to protect biodiversity we must first create productive and self reliant systems. We must apply this understanding in the design and implementation of sustainable communities and the manner in which houses are constructed, food is cultivated, how we recycle natural energy and how finance is conducted. This we call Permaculture design. The term Permaculture is formed by a simple coalition between two words: permanent and agriculture. Permaculture was created and developed by Bill Mollison, a devoted Australian scientist, that has spent a lifetime spreading the techniques of Permaculture around the world. He established a fund to enable Permaculture teachers to reach groups in needs, particularly in the poorest parts of the world. Now, certified professionals all over the world teach full design Permaculture courses, using ecological design as a tool to re-create productive natural ecosystems that have fertility, diversity, stability and resistance.

With Permaculture it is possible to create a productive human settlement without destroying the surrounding ecosystems. By uniting age-old knowledge with modern scientific discoveries, is possible to develop rural properties that are productive, viable and secure for the farmer. The basic principles of Permaculture can be applied with excellence in the tropics or in any other biome in Brazil, creating adequate social and environmental solutions for the country.

In Brazil, the rural family is in desperate need of information and resources that will allow them to survival in harmony with the environment. We need to provide practical solutions for these rural communities. With Permaculture it is possible to create models that considers rural economic aspects, appropriate technology, soil recovery, water management, alternative energy and bio-architecture. Permaculture is a true holistic system of planning for humankind's permanence on Earth. In Permaculture we look at problems as the root for their solutions.

In 1997, a Permaculture Reference Center for the Amazon was established at the Federal Agricultural School of Manaus on nine hectares of abandoned, degraded land. The Project was initially supported by the Daniel Dazcal Foundation, the Permaculture Institute of the Amazon (IPA), Permacultura America Latina (PAL) and the Federal Agriculture School of Manaus. The mission of the project was to create a Permaculture Demonstration Site that is specifically adapted to the Amazonian environment. It was established on the outskirts of the city on destroyed pasture that had long been abandoned. By promoting new sustainable practices that are applicable to the family farm and community, we are showing that it is possible to create integrated production systems that supply the needs of human populations without degrading the environment. These integrated systems are designed to create a symbiotic relationship between a set of plants, animals, structures and people in which the products of one element supply the needs of another. This reference project is a permanent nucleus for the diffusion of knowledge, techniques and methods of Permaculture specifically oriented to the Amazon region. The project also demonstrates that only three hectares is really necessary to meet most of a family's food requirements even on the poorest of soils.

Project Objectives

- To promote and disseminate Permaculture techniques within the Amazonian region through the establishment of a Permaculture Reference Unit within the Federal Agricultural University of Amazonas.

- To establish and develop a sustainable agriculture model for Amazonian communities and families, based on diversity and alternative productive system.

- To establish a living seed bank containing a diverse range of tropical fruits and medicinal plants that will be accessible to the public.

- To teach and train new Permaculture leaders through out the region.
Nursery (Zone1)

All activities of the project follow the basic principles of Permaculture design. The area is divided into zones of activity according to the internal energy requirements of the system. In short, the project is zoned based on the relative location of the elements, their functions and a plan for the efficient utilization of energy in relation to the utilization and management of natural resources. An ideal criteria for defining the zones is the frequency of visits necessary to maintain a particular element or sector. Zones one, two and three are areas of high-energy input or frequent visits where many activities are concentrated. Several visits may be needed each day for the upkeep of these areas. It is important to emphasize what function each zone serves in supporting the functions and elements of the other zones. In this way a truly integrated system is formed. During the initial period of the project, development was concentrated in these three different zones.
Central Nursery
Compost Production (Zone 1)

Zone one consists of a plant nursery and an area immediately surrounding it (this would represent a family house in a rural system). It is the project nucleus and origin of all our field activities. From the cataloging, selection and preparation of seeds to the production of diverse species of seedlings for planting in other zones, the nursery is considered the cradle where the cycle of life begins. In this zone, it is possible to create many productive growing spaces, even using the areas along the walls (and other vertical apaces) for food production on trellises. In close proximity to the nursery, we have implanted various diverse systems of vegetable production with the objective of reproducing models of semi-intensive home gardens. Zone one also contains seedbeds, hillside terrace crops, rabbit/worm integrated compost production systems, banana circles, and a classroom.

Seedbeds - Organic Production (Zone 1)
Chicken Tractors (Zone 2)
Alley Production System

Adjacent to zone one, it is utilized for the planting of perennials, mixed systems and intensively managed agroforestry. It also includes animal systems that require frequent attention. In this sector we have established an alley cropping system for the diverse production of fruits. Integrated into the alley cropping system is a poultry system for the production of wild-birds, chickens, ducks, geese and all of their derivatives. Manure, an important resource for the production of organics, is fully utilized in planting and compost making as a nitrogen rich fertilizer.

Fruit Forest

Permaculture Classes

It is a most distant area. It contains a large food forests, seven hundred meters of swales and full productive aquaculture pond. Planted in this zone are perennials that don't need daily management. At this time, we are working to establish a complete aquaculture system in this zone. Here, a diverse number of species will be raised including; fish, turtles, mollusks, aquatic plants and aquatic birds. Zone three is important for the establishment of food forests and valuable timber species in order to generate a rich and diverse production of wild commercial species and other elements essential to the health of a Permaculture System. A large scale compost and worm operation in Zone 3 has made possible a large plantation of fruit and medicinal trees and an extensive food forest system which now enjoys a closed canopy.

Practical Class
Project Experience

Much of Brazil's rural history is recent and communities have not had the benefit of shared and useful knowledge that is traditionally handed down through the generations. Most small farmers lack knowledge about the available resources in nature, how nature really works and the practical information on how to utilize them. Change is difficult in rural areas. Our project staff is based on experienced professionals, long working with permaculture and leading environmental projects within the Amazonian region. Several permaculture design courses have been given since the beginning of the project. More than 700 local people have been trained. At the same time, the project is creating two other small demonstrative resource centers, in two separate communities.

We have completed the first stage of the project by putting this model on the ground. It is serving as an important educational tool for students and farmers and more importantly, government authorities and other NGO's. A local cooperative will be formed from our extension work with farmers and small business. Part of our objectives for the second state of the project is to expand this process and develop a certified organic market for both cultivated and sustainably derived Amazonian forest products. There is now a new front of action to begin a major educational program that will look for and train new local leaders in ground Permaculture activities. The project will be the site for an advance Permaculture educational program as part of an agenda that is being design on a national level.

We know that the problems of rural communities are fundamental: water, appropriate shelter, energy, food production and earth care. We also know that an integrated training program can make a big difference on the community level. The construction of ferrocement water tanks (for example) can collect free and clean rainwater from roofs. These water tanks can be built in two days and are six times cheaper that concrete tanks. The heart of our challenge lies with education and our ability to present organized information at the most practical level. We feel that our project is a model for the region since, ultimately, it is society that determines the fate of its own environment and permaculture is an ecological design science whose methodology ensures a productive long term social interaction with nature.