What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture is an ethical design science that creates regenerative life-support and land-care systems that mimic the patterns and processes found in nature, and that provide diversity, stability and resilience. These systems yield an abundance of shelter, water, energy, and food to meet local requirements. In other words, permaculture is human ingenuity married to the wisdom of the wild.

Much more than just sustainable agriculture, permaculture is an integral view that incorporates the full spectrum of human and natural elements: the environment, energy, resources, housing, community, technology, education, the arts, spirituality, healthcare, and more. It is a solutions-based way of thinking and an integrated design system that provides a realistic alternative for future sustainability. Sustainable living is a lifestyle choice that considers a person’s relationship within the community and the natural environment and seeks harmony with both.

Offering a holistic approach to regenerative living, permaculture highlights individual and community responsibilities for sustainability and focuses on choices, values, ethics, and the way in which human beings interact with the natural world.

Our Stand

We aim to optimally integrate local integral practices and western permaculture concepts by observing, learning and working with indigenous and local forest communities.

Chaikuni's aim is to combine both indigenous wisdom and modern knowledge to create sustainable and reciprocal alternatives to the current model of linear development and the widespread adoption of soil-depleting monocultures. By creating meaningful, reciprocal dialogue and praxis between local indigenous and mestizo Amazonian farmers on one hand, and Chaikuni's professional, agro-forestal engineers and permaculture experts on the other, we are experimenting with novel, healthy, and sustainable ways to interact with the environment, its people, and the local economies.

Our long term vision is to empower local communities to shift or find back to more sustainable, ecological, and financially-sound practices, and to create a movement that regenerates the Amazon.

Chaikuni draws upon the concept of sumak kawsay (in Quechua), regionally known as buen vivir. This idea of “good living” is historically shared by many Latin American indigenous societies. At its root lies the understanding of the ecosystem as a harmonious continuum of interdependency between living beings and the environment that sustains them. Within this view, causing damage to the ecosystem is akin to causing damage to ourselves.

The Challenge

In the face of destructive extractive industries and the widespread use of slash-and-burn monoculture agricultural models in our Amazonian region, we seek to inspire people, both locals and visitors, to (re)discover more diverse, sustainable, and regenerative ways of living with our forest environment, and become agents of change in order to rescue and preserve endangered ancestral, agricultural, and cultural knowledge, and preserve the unique Amazon ecosystem.

Ancestral models of sustainable and diversified agricultural production and cultivation, such as the chacra integral model that we promote at the Chaikuni Institute, proliferated all over pre-conquest South America. With the arrival of European colonizers and traders, as production methods shifted from local sustenance-based models towards the massive shipping of goods continentally and globally, this knowledge was progressively lost in favor of the increasing implementation of monocultures, which reached its peak from the mid-20th century and onwards. Today, the problem has been exacerbated due to the acute demand of produce coming from the big cities, both locally and globally.

Since the mid-20th century and onwards, most farmer and forest communities have adopted slash-and-burn methods that rapidly impoverish the soils and decimate the local environments.

Chacra Integral

Closely linked to the “buen-vivir” worldview, a chacra integral, sometimes referred to as chacras indígenas or chacras tradicionales, translates into a production system that allows an extended family of farmers to cover a wide range of vital needs such as food, employment, income, medicine, shelter, company and craft-making, while being stewards and protectors of their environment. This is achieved through a highly diversified and high-yielding system of intertwined agricultural, forestal, and livestock-related activities, which in turn provide refuse that is used as food for livestock and fish farms and as raw materials for the production of arts and crafts. Since different crops bear fruit during different times of the year, such a system allows the chacra to maximize production by yielding a variety of harvests all year long, boosting food sovereignty and making local families more resilient to market fluctuations.

By not burning the cut vegetation but leaving it on the ground, the chacra integral system regenerates rather than impoverishes soils. By doing so, a chacra integral also avoids further deforestation, since it is no longer necessary to clear a new piece of forest in search of new nutrients every couple of years, as is the case with slash-and-burn agriculture, the largely predominant model used in our amazon region today.

According to Chaikuni's Forest Engineer and permaculture coordinator Silvia del Aguila Reyna, the dangers of extensive monoculture and slash-and-burn style chacras have been presented through workshops and other interventions to local rural communities in the Loreto region as early as during the 1980s, yet there has been little to no practical incentives or support since to help farmers transition into a more sustainable practice. In present time, the practice of chacras integrales has almost disappeared from the Peruvian rural landscape, and indigenous forest farming techniques are being increasingly forgotten and lost. However, diverse groups such as the Kandoshi people along the Pastaza river or some Achuar and Kichwa communities in the upper Huasaga river, have shifted away from slash-and-burn monocultures and back to their ancestral practices.

One of Chaikuni's goals is to safeguard, recover and promote these indigenous forest farming practices as part of the solutions we so urgently need today to regenerate and save the Amazon ecosystem.

An Alternative Paradigm

Fusing indigenous wisdom and modern knowledge to regenerate the Amazon

Since our inception in 2012, our Permaculture Program has been recovering and investigating healthy and regenerative ways to interact with our environment. We bridge traditional indigenous land-management techniques with modern permaculture methods to develop sustainable living and regenerative land use alternatives.

Our Work

Our Permaculture Program is currently designed around five main pillars; our permaculture center (demonstration site of permaculture principles, practices and technologies), research work to recover and generate ecological knowledge, outreach work and capacity building with local Amazonian communities, supporting market access for local families and environmental education.

Deutsche Welle News, Global Ideas

Sustainable farming in the rainforest

Following a visit to our permaculture center in July 2019, the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW), releases a video report on our regenerative agroforestry work. The video is translated into three languages and shown to millions of viewers worldwide, in particular in Latin America.

For more in-depth information on our program activities and achievements, please read our 2021 Annual Report.

We work with plots of land used to cultivate food forests and medicinal plants known as “chacras integrales”; the traditional manifestation of Ayni, a South American indigenous concept that means reciprocity and communal support.