Permaculture and Taiwan's Indigenous Communities

Presenter: Tammy Turner
Director of International Affairs, Taiwan Indigenous Enterprise and Economic Development Association
Senior Partner, Pristine Communications
Permaculture Practitioner


Permaculture design encourages the revaluing of local ecological wisdom and practices, which naturally exists with many of the world's indigenous peoples. The greatest challenge, however, is in preserving indigenous cultures themselves, which are the living systems in which such practices exist. Permaculture provides an excellent opportunity for understanding and appreciating the wisdom of traditional ways, which can be a powerful impetus for cultural preservation.

This paper provides a definition of permaculture and a brief overview of permaculture ethics and principles, its evolution and its relationship to indigenous cultures and practices. It also provides a short history of permaculture in Taiwan, and a more detailed account of permaculture and its connection with Taiwan's indigenous communities through educational and ecotourism programs incorporating permaculture principles.

Permaculture – What is it?

The word "permaculture" was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and one of his students, David Holmgren. It is a contraction of "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture."

There are many definitions for "permaculture", but my favorite is that it is "about creating sustainable human habitats by following nature's patterns; and an ecological design system that inspires and empowers us to create our own solutions to local and global problems. It provides ways to design and create healthy productive places to work, rest and play."

A more formal sounding description of permaculture says that it is "a process for designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community building movement which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place them in the landscape. This synergy is further enhanced by mimicking patterns found in nature."

As suggested by the first definition, permaculture entails much more than just food production. It also includes components such as energy-efficient buildings, waste water treatment, recycling, and land stewardship in general. More recently, permaculture has expanded to include economic and social structures that support the evolution and development of more permanent communities, such as co-housing projects and eco-villages. As such, permaculture design concepts are applicable to urban as well as rural settings, and are appropriate for single households as well as whole farms and villages.

A key feature of the design process in permaculture is "zoning". This is about placing things appropriately in relation to each other, and works on the principle that those things which require frequent attention are placed closest to the home. It is about using time, energy and resources wisely, which can be as simple as planting frequently used herbs nearest to your kitchen, or as complex as planning a community.

(Acknowledements: UK Permaculture Association and Steve Diver, NCAT Agriculture Specialist)

Permaculture Ethics and Principles 樸門的倫理與原則

樸門倫理 Permaculture Ethics (3)

  • Earth Care – recognizing that the Earth is the source of all life and that we recognize and respect that the Earth is our valuable home and we are a part of the Earth, not apart from it. 照顧地球─是我們第一優先的是要照顧地球,確保不會破壞地球的自然系統。
  • People Care – supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that are not harming ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies. 照顧人民─滿足人們的需求,讓人們得以生存,維持良好的生活品質,同時不致傷害地球。
  • Fair Share (or placing limits on consumption) - ensuring that the Earth's limited resources are utilized in ways that are equitable and wise. 分享多餘─接受人口及消費的節制,認清人類不可能在無限制增加的同時照顧好地球。我們必須要節制我們的成長及我們的消費。有時你會聽這項倫理被闡釋為:「分享你多餘的,投入一切在第一及第二項倫理中。」這意謂著,控制自己的消費,使自己能投入更多資源在照顧地球及照顧其他人上。

Permaculture Principles 樸門原則 (14) (Mollison and Holmgren)

Principles related to Learning 關於學習的原則

  • Observe and interact 觀察與互動
  • Creatively use and respond to change 靈活運用並回應變化
  • See problems as solutions 將問題視為正面資源

Principles related to Energy 關於能源的原則

  • Catch, store and recycle local energy (incl. water and matter) 收集、儲存、回收當地的能源(包括水+物資)
  • Efficient energy planning 有效率的能源規劃
  • Use and respect renewable resources and services 使用並珍惜再生資源與服務

Principles related to Cooperation 關於合作的原則

  • Integrate into relative location 將合理的相對位置整合起來
  • Every element has multiple functions 每個元素可產生數項功能
  • Every important function is supported by many elements (redundancy in critical functions) 同一元素有多重來源

Principles related to Ecological Systems 關於生態的原則

  • Use and respect diversity 運用並尊重多樣性
  • Use self-regulation and accept feedback 運用自治和接受回饋
  • Use edge and value the marginal 使用邊界生態及重視邊緣資源

Principles related to Scale 關於尺度的原則

  • Design from pattern to detail 從設計模式到細節規劃
  • Use small and slow solutions 採取小而慢的解決方法
(Compiled by Earth Passengers and used with permission.)

Permaculture as a Global Movement

Permaculture has developed a large following of individuals who have received training through intensive 100-hour long 'permaculture design courses'. These courses are offered with the intent of rapidly training individuals in a core set of design principles so that those individuals can become designers of their own environments, thus reducing society's reliance on environmentally destructive industrial systems of production and distribution.

Thus, what began with Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as an ecological design approach for human habitats has since grown into a multinational movement spreading out from its epicenter in Australia, to New Zealand, the UK, India and the US, and now making great headway in countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. This 'permaculture community' continues to expand on the original teachings of Mollison and his associates, integrating a range of alternative cultural ideas, through a network of training, publications, permaculture gardens, and forums.

Framework for Transitioning to an Energy Descent Future

The expansion of what some people have called “permaculture thinking” is especially evident in David Holmgren’s “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” published in 2004. Presenting permaculture ethics and principles with a view to “energy descent” in a post-peak oil future, this publication has sparked a wave of initiatives at the village, town, and regional level seeking to create a “transition model that emboldens communities to look peak oil and climate change squarely in the eye and unleash the collective genius of their own people to find the answers to significantly rebuild resilience (in response to peak oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change).

(Acknowlegements: Transition Towns Wiki:

Revaluing the Wisdom of Indigenous Practices

Permaculture recognizes that many indigenous peoples are actually the original "permaculturists", having developed cultures and practices that were sustainable over many millennia in their local environmental contexts. It is for this reason that permaculture design encourages the revaluing of local ecological wisdom and practices, which naturally exists with many of the world's indigenous peoples. The greatest challenge is in preserving indigenous cultures themselves, which are the living systems in which such practices are embedded. Indigenous people don't have to learn permaculture design to maintain their practices and preserve their cultures. Permaculture can, however, provide an excellent opportunity for understanding and appreciating the wisdom of traditional ways, which can be a powerful impetus for cultural preservation.

Permaculture in Taiwan

Before reporting on how permaculture has connected up with indigenous communities in Taiwan, I want to acknowledge the people who have been at the heart of teaching, practicing and promoting permaculture in Taiwan. There may have been others involved along the way, but to my knowledge, the following people have been instrumental in building the permaculture community here in Taiwan.

First and foremost are Peter Morehead (certified permaculture designer and teacher, passive solar applications designer -- solar ovens, distillers, etc., natural building technologies instructor), his wife and partner 江慧儀 (environmental education program designer and environmental and social justice activist) of the Earth Passengers; 黃盛璘 (horticultural therapist, permaculture practitioner and instructor on related topics), Professor Chiu Yu-ru邱奕儒 (expert in large and small-scale water resource management, rainwater harvesting, land-use planning and an urban permaculture practitioner), 柚子 (yoga instructor, performance artist, and urban permaculture practitioner), Yaman (farmer and DIY natural food production enthusiast and instructor), 氧化鐵 (rainwater harvesting system designer, homesteading skills instructor), Tseng Heng-sheng 曾恆生 (appropriate technology genius and instructor). These people are basically Taiwan's permaculture pioneers, who have been working individually and together to build a permaculture community in Taiwan for several years.

I am a relative newcomer to this group. As one of the bilingual practitioners, I help with permaculture educational programs and design projects by sharing my communications and facilitation skills. I also contribute my entrepreneurial experience/thinking and limited but gradually growing knowledge of Taiwan's flora and fauna.

Even though the permaculture community of instructors and practitioners is not attached to any one formal entity, the permaculture "pioneers" mentioned above serve as a steering committee and support group for permaculture-related projects and activities in Taiwan. Courses and workshops are also supported by a network of individuals and organizations who believe in the importance of promoting permaculture principles and design skills in Taiwan.

Other movements and initiatives in Taiwan have brought new people into the permaculture realm: organic farming, natural farming (originating in Japan), and other holistic agriculture/gardening systems, natural and eco-friendly building, community building and eco-tourism all have natural affinities with permaculture. People interested or working in these areas often join permaculture-related courses, workshops and teach-ins at "green" and conservation-oriented events. Many of Taiwan's indigenous communities are also interested and involved in many of these endeavors.

Connecting with Taiwan's Indigenous Communities

In fact, it was through a permaculture teach-in session at an outdoor green event that I met individuals involved in forming the Taiwan Indigenous Enterprise and Economic Development Association (TIEEDA) who were keenly interested in permaculture and green and social enterprise. I was asked to join in the Association's formation discussions, and eventually, asked to join the board of directors at its formal establishment last December. Originally I was reluctant to take on this responsibility, but it was clear that the indigenous leaders seeking to form the Association wanted to introduce permaculture and social enterprise concepts to their communities through educational programs, so I accepted. Also, because I was already volunteering and working with Taiwan's indigenous communities through the volunteer work of my husband, Philip Diller, who is the International Affairs Director for TICEDA, it seemed like an opportunity to better coordinate efforts to preserve Taiwan's indigenous cultures while also promoting sustainable enterprise through indigenous-led educational initiatives.

TIEEDA was formed with the express intent to establish an educational and training institute devoted to Taiwan's indigenous peoples. The Association has already succeeded in the first step toward this goal by assuming responsibility for the Taipei Indigenous Community College, a multi-year project sponsored by the Taipei City Government. A core objective of the College's programs proposed by the Association is to engender a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of Taiwan's indigenous cultures and traditional practices by connecting them to the growing value attached to eco-awareness and sustainable living. My role in this project has been to assist with creating a blueprint for curriculum and educational content development and connecting the Association with program designers and instructors in the permaculture, indigenous cultural enterprise and indigenous ecotourism communities. The College's programs were officially launched just yesterday (4/12) and the Association is now promoting these unique educational offerings to indigenous communities as well as non-indigenous people in the Taipei area and beyond.

Another permaculture project involving Taiwan's indigenous communities is what the local permaculture community calls the "Lixiang Dadi project" in Hualien County. The project focuses on a site located next to Lixiang Dadi (The Promised Land), which is a nature-themed vacation resort. The Lixiang Dadi business owners have shown great interest in the permaculture design approach and have offered up a partially developed site that is an extension of the resort grounds for use by the permaculture community. The Lixiang Dadi resort has a good reputation as one of the best local employers and many of the people working on site are from nearby Amis communities. One of the motivations for me in supporting this project was the opportunity to provide better access to communities in eastern Taiwan to learn about permaculture concepts and gain hands-on experience in the more practical elements of permaculture design. In order for such a project to succeed, however, it has been imperative that we train locally based individuals to support site operations on a day-to-day basis and to connect with local indigenous communities that could participate in, and ultimately take over, the project. With the invaluable assistance of Alice Takinawa and other indigenous leaders, the Lixiang Dadi project support team has started dialogs with eco-wise individuals in Amis communities in nearby Shoufeng Township and at Mataian Village in Guangfu Township as well as Bunun communities a bit farther to the south. Now that we have started implementing the site design work and the weekend-long, hands-on educational programs, the practical wisdom of the indigenous people working at the resort is also coming to light and being appreciated by all involved with the project.


In conclusion, although both the Taipei Indigenous Community College and Lixiang Dadi permaculture endeavors are still in their early stages of development, I am confident that they will succeed in helping to "revalue" and “reinvigorate” Taiwan's indigenous cultures and their unique environmental wisdom.

Follow-up Information and Contacts

Permaculture Resources

There are over a million documents on the Internet with references to permaculture. I have listed just a few of the most informative online resources.

Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

Permaculture Institute, USA

UK Permaculture Association Network

Global Permaculture in Action Slideshow

Earth Passengers (大地旅人), Taiwan