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Title:Permaculture as farming practice and international grassroots network: a multidisciplinary study
Author(s):Ferguson, Jeffrey
Director of Research:Lovell, Sarah T
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Lovell, Sarah T
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Wander, Michelle M; Chhatre, Ashwini; Bassett, Thomas J
Department / Program:Crop Sciences
Discipline:Crop Sciences
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):permaculture
grassroots networks
diversified farming systems
sustainability transitions
Abstract:Agroecology is a promising alternative to industrial agriculture, with the potential to avoid the negative social and ecological consequences of input-intensive production. Transitioning to agroecological production is, however, a complex project that requires action from all sectors of society – from producers and consumers, and from scientists and grassroots networks. Grassroots networks and movements are increasingly regarded as agents of change, with a critical role to play in agroecological transition as well as broader socio-environmental transformation. Permaculture is one such movement, with a provocative perspective on agriculture and human-environment relationships more broadly. Despite its relatively broad international distribution and high public profile, permaculture has remained relatively isolated from scientific research. This investigation helps to remedy that gap by assessing permaculture through three distinct projects. A systematic review offers a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the permaculture literature, through the lens of agroecology. This review is organized around a layered conception of permaculture as design, practice, movement, and worldview. The major points of our analysis are as follows: (1) principles and topics largely complement and even extend the agroecological literature; (2) distinctive approaches to perennial polyculture, water management, and agroecosystem configuration suggest promising avenues of inquiry; (3) discussions of practice consistently underplay the complexity, challenges, and risks that producers face in developing diversified and integrated production systems. The second project, an international web survey, with over 700 responses from over 40 countries, provides a first look at permaculture as an international grassroots network. The survey examined self-identified roles of permaculture participants and explored the relationships between those roles and socio-demographic factors race, gender, and socioeconomic status. The influence of structural factors on participant roles was examined by including multidimensional national indices of development, inequality, and ecosystem vitality, for the 45 countries in the sample. Results showed the participation of women at or above parity (53%), while participation by race showed a white supermajority (96%). Multivariate regression demonstrated that race, gender, and socioeconomic status are shaping participation in distinct ways and that each of these variables interacts with structural factors. The third project provides the first systematic investigation of the agricultural sector in permaculture, using innovative methods to gather enterprise-level data at 48 self-identified permaculture farms in the US. This project develops a preliminary typology of permaculture farms based on livelihoods, and assesses the relationship between farm diversification and labor efficiency. Multilevel modeling shows that both diversification and involvement with permaculture increase returns to labor, but may interfere with each other, and that tree crops have significantly higher returns to labor when integrated with animal production systems.
Issue Date:2015-12-02
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/89037
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 J. Rafter Sass Ferguson
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12


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