Permaculture Designers Manual


Section 2.4 –

Permaculture Resources


The energies coming into our system are such natural forces as sun, wind, and rain.

Living components and some technological or non-living units built into the system translate the incoming energies into useful reserves, which we can call “resources“.


Some of these resources have to be used by the system for its own purposes (stocks of fish must be maintained to produce more fish). An ideal technology should at the very least fuel itself.

The surplus, over and above these system needs, is our yield. Yield, then, is any useful resource surplus to the needs of the local system and thus available for use, export or trade.

The way to obtain yield is to be conservative in resource use, for energy, like money, is much more easily saved than generated.


Resource saving involves recycling waste, insulating against heat loss, etc. Then, we can work out paths or routes to send resources on to their next “use point“.

If the aim of “Functional Design” is to obtain yields or to provide a surplus of resources, it is as well to be dear about just what it is that we call a “resource“, and what categories of resource there are, as this latter may affect our strategies of use.

ln short, we cannot use all resources in the same way and to the same ends. Ethics of resource use are evolved by knowing about the results of resource exploitation.


Forests, soils, air, water, sunlight, and seeds are resources that we all regard as part of a common heritage.”

The second category of a resource is that which belong to us as group, family, or person: those fabricated, ordered, or otherwise developed resources that people create by their work, and of which a presence or absence does not apparently affect the common resource.

What we create, however, is always made from the common resource, so that it is impossible to draw a line between these categories.

What other ways can we look at resources? Let us try a use-and-results approach.

What happens if we use some resources if we look upon them as a yield? We then find that a response or result follows.


Resources are:


Green browse is an example: if deer do not browse shrubs, the latter may become woody and unpalatable. Also, a browsed biennial, unable to flower, may tiller out and become perennial  (e.g. the fireweed Erechthites nibbled by wallaby in Tasmania).

Seedling trees can be maintained at browse height, but if ungrazed, escape·to unbrowsable height and shade out other palatable plants.

Overgrazing may (by damage) cause extinction of palatable selected browse and browsers, but under browsing may cause similar effects.

lnformation is another resource that can increase with use.

It withers or is outdated if not used. Too little impoverishes a system, but when freely used and exchanged, it flourishes and increases.


In impalpable terms, a view or a good climate is unaffected by use. In palpable terms, the diversion of a part of a river to hydroelectric generation or irrigation (the water returned to the stream after use), is also unaffected, as is a stone pile as mulch, heat store, or water run-off collector.

A well-managed ecosystem is an example of resources unaffected by use.




For example an unharvested crop of an annual, or a grass which could be stored for the winter, irruptions of oceanic fish, swarms of bees or grasshoppers, ripe fruit, and water run-off during rains.





For example, a fish or game stock unwisely used clay deposits, mature forests, and coal and oil.



Such as residual poisons in an ecosystem, radio-active, super·highways, large buildings or areas of concrete, and sewers running pollutants to the sea.

Categories I to 3 are those most commonly produced in natural systems and rural living situations and are the only sustainable basis of society.

Categories 4 and 5 are as a result of urban and industrial development, and If not used to produce permanent beneficial changes to the ecosystem, become pollutants (some are permanent pollutants in terms of the lifetimes of people).


It follows that a sane society manages resources categories I to 4 wisely, bans the use of resource category 5 and regulates uses to produce sustainable yield. This is called resource management and has been successfully applied to some fish and animal populations, but seldom to our own selves.

Investment priorities can be decided on the same criteria, at both the national and household level.


The policy of Resource Management

A responsible human society bans the use of resources which permanently reduce yields of sustainable resources.  e.g. pollutants, persistent poisons, radio-active, large areas of concrete and highways, sewers from city to sea.”


Failure to do this will cause the society itself to fail, so that programmes of highway building and city expansion, the release of persistent biocides, and loss of soil will bring any society down more surely and permanently than war itself.

Immoral governments tolerate desertification and land salting, concrete highways, and city sprawl, which takes more good land permanently out of life production than the loss of territory to a conqueror.

The immorality of this nature is termed “progress ” and “growth” to confuse the ignorant and to supplant local self-reliance for the temporary ends of centralized power.

The key principle to wise resource use is the principle of “enough“.

This is basic to understanding societies in chaos or systems in disorder. Today superhighways and overpasses in Massachusetts alone need some 400 billion dollars to repair, and the collapsing sewer systems of London and New York some 80 billion.

Neither Massachusetts, London, nor New York can raise this money, which shows that an unthinking historical development strategy can cripple a future society. Today ‘s luxuries are tomorrow’s disaster.


Principle of Disorder

Any system or organism can accept only that quantity of a resource which can be used productively. Any resource input beyond that point throws the system or organism into disorder; oversupply of a resource is a form of chronic pollution.

Both an over and under-supply of resources have much the same effect, except that oversupply has the most grotesque results in life systems than under-supply.

To a degree, under-supply can be coped with by reduced growth and a wider spacing or dispersal of organisms, but an oversupply of a resource can cause inflated growth, crowding, and sociopathy in social organisms.

In people, both grosses over and undernutrition are common. Ethical resource management is needed to balance out the pathologies of famine and obesity.