The benefits of permaculture in the Guardian

Permaculture can help farmers produce more food using fewer resources through agroecology – a farming approach that mimics natural ecosystems.

The Benefits and Limitations of Permaculture in Central Malawi in Permaculture Activist

The agricultural changes the permaculture farmers made resulted in multi-faceted agricultural, environmental, livelihood, and food and nutrition security benefits. These benefits were important given the common pathways of poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition. However, farmers’ use of permaculture and potential impacts were constrained by the broader agro-food system and climate change.


“‘We are farmers’: Agriculture, food security, and adaptive capacity among permaculture and conventional farmers in central Malawi.” PhD Dissertation, American University.

Small-scale family farming to meet household food and livelihood needs is a central activity for most households in rural Malawi. Food insecurity and malnutrition are persistent problems for these farmers. Conventional agriculture techniques and maize production are the focus of most household farming, government agriculture policy, and agricultural development programs. However, conventional agriculture and maize production are expensive and unreliable in the short term, and environmentally and financially unsustainable in the long term. As an alternative, some NGOs and farmers in Malawi use permaculture, an agroecology design and low external input agriculture system. Previous research and NGO reports have pointed to benefits and constraints to permaculture adoption in Malawi.

For this dissertation, I investigated the relationships between agriculture practices and food security among smallholder conventional and permaculture farmers in Lilongwe Rural District in Malawi in partnership with two implementing permaculture organizations. Building on political ecology, the anthropology of food, structural violence, and permaculture literatures, I analyzed the impact of permaculture practice on farmers’ agricultural practices, diet, and food security. This analysis showed that farmers who used permaculture experienced agricultural, environmental, livelihood, and food and nutrition security benefits in comparison to farmers who solely used conventional agriculture. These benefits were important given the context of structural violence in which farmers face systemic risk to impoverishment, food insecurity, and malnutrition. However, the benefits of permaculture use were constrained by the broader agro-food system, resource entitlements, and other structural constraints. The findings of this study add to our understanding of how smallholder farmers in Malawi can maneuver within the broader agro-food system, while pointing to potential strategies that farmers and organizations can use to try to address existing constraints.

“We are farmers” - Dissertation PowerPoint presentation