Put the Fork Down! – A Mindful Eating Path Towards Better Health

Written by Danielle Agnello LinkedIn Twitter: @DannyAgnello_GH

Edited by Sinéad O’Ferrall Twitter: @SineadOFGH

What is Mindfulness?

Today’s mindfulness eating experiment is about eating in a way that involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a chocolate chip bender. 

We live in an incredibly busy world, the pace of life is often frantic, and our minds are always running wild, we are always doing something. So, I would like you to take a moment and think about the last time you did nothing, and I really mean nothing. You weren’t watching TV, nor texting or emailing, you were just engrossed in – stillness.

Do you eat like the Cookie Monster?

Mindfulness and Mental Health

Collectively, we worry about maintaining a healthy physical body, but overlook maintaining a healthy mind. We rely on the mind to be happy, content, and emotionally stable as individuals, and at the same time to be kind and considerate in our relationships with others. That same mind that allows us to be focused, creative, to help us perform our best in anything that we do, does not receive the same level of care or concern as our physical body, and we often do not take the time to look after it.

This lack of attention, does of course often result in stress and contributes to mental illness. Our mind starts spinning away with all different types of emotions, and a lot of the time we don’t really know how to deal with that. The sad fact is, that we are so busy, so caught up that we are no longer present within the world in which we live in. The result is we are missing out on some of the most beautiful and important moments that are in fact, life. The crazy thing is that people just assume that is how life is, but that’s really not how it has to be.


I was 13 when I went to my first meditation class, and since that day I have discovered, in my own journey and struggles, that meditation was not a type of aspirin for stress or depression; but that is is more a preventive measure. Many people have different methods of dealing with stress, some people bury themselves in work, others turn to friends or families, some use drugs or other substances to just quiet their minds. However, one plausible, practicable, achievable and scientifically proven technique, is the act of being Mindful.

Mindful Eating

One thing that we do on a daily basis, multiple times of day, is eating. So what better way to practice being mindful then pairing it with the consumption of vital nutrients. Hence, Mindful eating was born. This is not a diet, nor the act of giving anything up, it is a process of enjoying eating more intensely. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? 

Like meditation, mindful eating has its roots in Buddhist teachings. It aims to reconnect us deeply with the act of eating, aiding us in the process of checking in with ourselves, “Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad, or because I am stressed out?” Mindful eating is based on the idea that there is NO wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of consciousness about what we are eating and why. The goal is to base our hunger on physical cues, that empty burn you feel in your tummy, rather than emotional ones that result in comfort or binge eating.

Mindful Eating – more than just food on the brain!

This practice has been growing, and in the eyes of some experts, the act of simply eating slowly and relishing each bite can be a remedy to slow the stampede towards increasing rates of obesity. For instance, a monthly mindfulness lunch hour has been incorporated at Google, and self-help guru Oprah Winfrey is a huge advocate of it. Also, research has been conducted at Harvard and Cornell investigating the effects of this simple practice. One study tracked more than 1,400 mindful eaters and it showed them to have lower body weight, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer symptoms of eating disorders.

Lets try it!

Now you have an idea of what mindful eating is, let us practice this all together with a nice snack. If you are hungry, grab a snack, preferably a healthy one and take a deep breath.  So to begin, I want you to first gaze at your piece of food, musing on it, holding it up and seeing how each layer looks, the color of it, noticing how heavy it is, all while you wait patiently to taste it.

Dog food
Take time to gaze at the food before tasting it.

Now that you have eaten with your eyes, you can take a forkful of food and place it in your mouth. This my friends is your first nibble of food. Now is the hard part, “put the fork down.” I know it is challenging, because that first bite was so good and the next one is calling to you. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Don’t speak, don’t think, just tune into the texture of the food, the flavor of the carrot, or the crunch of the nuts. Notice the beautiful color of the cake on the plate. As you are eating, you are paying attention to the sensation and purpose of the food that is in your mouth.

Now that you have fully appreciated your first bite, I invite you to pick up your fork, and put another piece into your mouth. This is that second bite that your mind was longing for. Slow down your chewing, remember to put your fork down. Enjoy the texture and flavor of your food, contemplate the spices, the crunch, the sweetness, warmth and tenderness of the food.

Before you pick up your fork once more, I want you to also think about the origins of this food. The thousands of farmers, the rays of sunshine, the truck drivers and chefs that have worked countless hours to get this piece of food, here onto your plate. I want you to connect with the story of behind your food. Who grew the ingredients for this? How? How did it get here?

colour food
What is the story behind your food?

So now you are free to continue eating this way for the rest of your meal or snack, and while you are eating please enjoy this experience, the pleasures, and the frustrations of the practice of mindful eating.

It can be so simple – Eat. Respect. Appreciate. Repeat & Bon Apetite!

Joining the dots: nutrition programme delivery & health systems strengthening

It’s an exciting time to be involved in nutrition. Over the past decade, increased political attention – and of course funding – has enabled the field to take great strides. Yet there is still some way to go to reach the 2025 targets set by the World Health Assembly, and to ensure the post-2015 sustainable development goals for nutrition are, highly ambitions yet achievable.

The shift in the nutrition discourse from ‘what to do’ to ‘how to do’ has left us with the million-dollar question: how do we scale up nutrition interventions to reach all those who could benefit from them?To address this need, the International Society for Implementation Science in Nutrition (ISISN) has been launched, with the aim to “advance the development and use of systematic methods for effective implementation of nutrition interventions in low-resource settings.”

From prenatal nutrient supplements to treatment for moderate and acute malnutrition, and even efforts to control and reverse the obesity epidemic, one main delivery platform shines through: health systems. The organisations, institutions and individuals that make up the health system are often best placed to deliver nutrition interventions. In theory, the women and children targeted by these interventions should be in contact with their health system, through antenatal and postnatal visits, vaccination campaigns and opportunistic visits. Yet in reality, health systems are often over-burdened and under-resourced, meaning many people – especially disenfranchised and vulnerable groups – find it challenging to access and utilise the care and services they need.

Vitamin A supplementation
Vitamin A supplementation

The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, with 54 countries now enrolled, is bridging some gaps in strengthening nutrition programme delivery platforms, yet there is a need to better align the nutrition agenda with that of health systems’ strengthening and research. The Global Nutrition Report 2014, released last week, identifies the need to advance the evidence base on how health systems can become more nutrition sensitive.

The authors state that more attention will be paid to “social protection, education, health systems, and women’s empowerment programs in future global nutrition reports”

Also last week the WHO and Micronutrient Initiative were holding a symposium on the determinants of access to health and nutrition interventions. One of the major challenges for both health systems and nutrition interventions is making sure that access and utilisation are equitable. It will be interesting to see how the outcomes of this meeting can advance the debate and action on how best to achieve this.

There are some significant challenges for both nutrition implementation science and health systems research to overcome. However, with the increased attention that both health systems and nutrition are getting, along with the ever growing influence and convening power of health systems global and the birth of ISISN, there can be optimism about the pace at which both these fields can advance.

Given the health and economic benefits of scaling up nutrition interventions, coupled with the need for a strongly functioning health system through which to do this, efforts to align these two agendas, where feasible, will ultimately result in a win-win situation for all.

Thanks for reading

Henry @henrymark88

Feeding and nourishing the world: An imperative for humanity

Reposted with Permission from Global Health – Transcending Traditional Boundaries by Henry Mark 

The current system is failing billion

Food, we can’t live without it, and fortunately most of us never have to. Yet every day 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat with 52 million children under the age of 5 suffering from acute malnutrition. In addition to the people who suffer from food shortages are the 2 billion people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies,including the 165 million children under the age of 5 who are stunted (an indication of chronic malnutrition). The majority of these people have enough food to satiate their appetite, but lack the food quality and dietary diversity required to provide all of the essential nutrients required for growth and good health, a condition called hidden hunger. The manifestation and consequences of chronic malnutrition are less striking and visible than those of acute food shortage, nevertheless, the consequences remain severe, no more so than for the 165 million stunted children.
At odds with the picture this paints are the 1.46 billion people on the planet who are overweight and obese. But in fact these are 2 parts of the same puzzle. Malnutrition in all its forms encompasses both over and under nutrition, and in fact many of the 1.46 billion overweight and obese people also make up the 2 billion suffering from hidden hunger. The linkages between under and over nutrition are proving to be far more fundamental than many of us first thought.
We know now low and middle income countries bear the brunt not only of under nutrition, but also over nutrition. The number of overweight and obese people in developing countries is currently around 904 million, and rising rapidly. This phenomenon has given rise to the term ‘double burden of malnutrition’.

So the question is how do we change this? While reducing hunger is often seen as the imperative, I think we need to go much further, and ensure that people not only that people have enough food to eat, but enough of the right foods. As with many things, the first step to action is showing the consequences and cost of inaction.



The consequences of malnutrition

It has been estimated that poor nutrition is the cause of 45% of all deaths in children under the age of 5, that is 3.5 million children annually. Both as a direct result of acute food shortage, but in the majority of cases, as the indirectly result of chronic undernutrition compromising immune function. The impact of chronic malnutrition in childhood has lasting implications for those who survive into adulthood. The effects of stunting are largely irreversible after a child’s second birthday, with implications for their schooling and later earning potential. It has been estimated that malnourished children are at risk of losing 10% of their lifetime earning potential, while at a larger scale it could be costing some nations as much as 3% of their GDP.
The consequences of being overweight and obese are equally vast; resulting in increased risk for many non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and some cancers. The disease burden these NCDs place on many low and middle income countries is now greater than that of the traditional communicable and infectious diseases. The economic impact of obesity and the associated chronic diseases are equally staggering at both an individual, national and global level.

Linking under and over nutrition with chronic disease?

I’m certainly not going to suggest that obesity and overweight are simply a result of poor nutrition in childhood – it is far more complex than that – but there are linkages. With chronic disease being a major health challenge all over the globe, and under nutrition remaining a significant problem in certain areas, it is essential to understand these linkages so to inform prevention strategies that address these issues in conjunction. David Barker was the first to associate low birth weight with chronic disease in later life in the 1990s, something that later became known as the ‘Barker Hypothesis’. We are building our knowledge around this topic, and evidence now suggests that those who are exposed to undernutrition – in there mother womb and throughout childhood – have an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders, hypertension and other NCDs in later life. However, there is currently a lack of understanding of the mechanism for these associations; disciplines such as epigenetics are emerging as central to future advancements in this area. As we develop our understanding of these linkages we will be better able inform policies and have an impact on all aspects of malnutrition.

Solutions: short and long term

I said at the outset that people eat food, and that is certainly true. However, changing a global food system will take time, but there are children and mothers been who suffer the consequences of the current systems failings today. We need to seek both short and long term solutions to tackle these issues.

In the short term

This is where the role of nutrition comes into its own.
Many people have spoken of the landmark series of paper on maternal and child nutrition published in the Lancet in 2008 (And more recently the 2013 series). The 2008 series was a turning point that largely galvanised the nutrition community, movements such as Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) have since provided a platform from which action can be taken. We have a strong evidence base for importance of nutrition from conception to a child’s second birthday – known as the 1000 day window. This is a vital window for both child survival, growth and development and also to reduce the risk of various non-communicable diseases in later life. We also, and just as importantly, have a number of evidence based interventions – such as micronutrients interventions – that when delivered to those in need not only save lives, but also improve quality of life and earning potential. There are equally economic incentives for nations to invest in nutrition, with significant returns on investment to be gained.

In the long term

We should realise that while direct nutrition interventions have massive potential, they should only be seen as a stopgap while the food system develops into one that can feed and nourish the world, how long this will take I’m really not sure.
Top of the list has to be investing in women, it is simply a must. Women produce more than half of the worlds food, yet own a fraction of the land and receive very little investment. Not only does it make sense from an equity perspective, but also an economic and political one. While i say this is a long term solution, I mean it from a sustainability perspective, rather than meaning it is something to consider for the future. We should invest in women now, and reap the rewards this brings.
The other while I was reading  a blog by Richard Smith, there was a fact that I found surprising. In many African countries agricultural yields are similar to those of Roman England. This is striking and speaks volumes of the global inequity. Increasing the yields through sustainable and simple technology could make a major difference, while equally reducing the vast amount of food that is wasted would also go someway to solving the problem.
There are examples of countries that have significantly decreased the burden of under nutrition through the right mix of policy and investment in recent years. Brazil is one example, where economic development and social safety nets have helped to reduce under nutrition. However, this is somewhat of a conundrum, because while economic growth has been shown to reduce undernutrition, it may also increase the prevalence of obesity. Such data warns of the need for careful policy implementation to ensure that economic growth is not a double edged sword for nutrition and health.

Take home message

The global food system is askew, billions of people are impacted by not having enough to eat or the right food to eat, the consequences of which resonate not only at a public health level, but also at an ethical, political and economic one. The solutions are not easy or quick, but the benefits of striving for them are numerous, while the consequences of not are dire. This should make fixing the global food system a priority for all.
Thanks for reading

The Dark Side of “Same Same but Different”

By Nicolas Camara

Anyone who’s been to South East Asia is familiar with the expression Same Same but Different. It’s a phrase that applies to anything that is sold in street markets, as it is almost impossible to find a genuine piece of clothing. The seller will try to sell you a pair of MAPU shoes instead of the PUMAs you were after and exclaim “Same Same but Different”, you’ll both laugh and make the deal because they are dirt cheap. Affordability is what drives these black markets, and Same Same but Different can be applied to any kind of produce no matter where you find yourself in the world. It stops being funny when your health is at risk.

1Through an INTERPOL-Europol global raid (i.e. Operation Opson III), more than 1,200 tonnes of adulterated food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit beverages were seized in raids carried-out through December 2013 and January 2014. Some of the produce included: 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar, 80,000 biscuits and chocolates, 20 tonnes of spices, 186 tonnes of cereals, 45 tonnes of dairy products and 42 litres of honey. It’s surprising to think that the piece of meat you’re about to eat isn’t actually beef, but pork or even rat meat, or that the cookie that you decided to reward yourself despite its over-sugary content is even more unhealthy than you already knew. Often you won’t realise you’re buying an adulterate product since the packaging is so convincing. No one but the producer and distributor knows how these products have been handled. The organized crime networks behind this don’t want to draw attention to themselves as they may lose profits, but the consequences of the poor handling of their product often come to light through health related reports. In 2008, a Chinese milk producer hospitalised 54,000 babies and killed six infants. Many examples can be drawn from China and many developing countries as corruption and weak regulation are common, but Europe’s 2013 horse meat scandal exemplifies the fact that these major health threatening issues are global.


We’ve All Been Fooled

Building public awareness about the shady world that surrounds the consumer is crucial, especially when it comes to already hazardous products such as alcohol (2.5 million people die from alcohol every year). My own naivety led me to some of my worst hangovers whilst living in Vietnam. I came to believe that it was because I was getting old but my taste buds finally made me reason that my Stoli on the rocks wasn’t the drink it pretended to be. In a global scale it’s been played as follows: UK: In 2010, a Polish run factory was producing 24 bottles per minute of fake alcohol, cheating the government from GBP 16 million worth in duties and VAT.  In Scotland, 13,000 litres of vodka were seized in September 2013; Russia: In 2006, it was reported that 42,000 people die each year after consuming counterfeit alcohol. Authorities claim that retailers sold nearly 10 million litres of whiskey that weren’t officially imported. Indonesia: In August and September 2013, 52 people died after consuming fake alcohol. Mexico: 373,880 litres of adulterated alcohol were seized between 2011-2013.


The Alcohol In Your Drink

When I moved to Mexico, I learned about the extent of the illicit alcohol marketand its consequences. Therewere recurrent reports of teenagers dying or ending up in hospital because of alcohol poisoning. I had the experience of working on a project whose purpose was to introduce firm policies for the control of the counterfeit alcohol market. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to follow this investigation and process to the end, many jaw dropping facts were learned regarding the production and distribution of fake alcohol.

While real alcohol contains ethanol, fake alcohol will also include substitutes that range from cleaning fluids to products containing methanol such as antifreeze. In Mexico, an increase in the use of ethyl and methyl alcohol has been seen in the production of illicit alcoholic beverages. The health consequences of ingesting these substances range from headaches and nausea to kidney and liver problems, or even blindness. Moreover, have you thought about the way producers seek the flavour and colour of their products? Raids on production premises have seen the use of food colouring and flavouring fluids that one can find in any supermarket, but other more primitive sites have identified the use of rusty nails for giving the brownish tainted colour to whiskeys and rums. The containers used, range from large barrels to the more homelike type such as bathtubs and toilets. Lab-works on the contents of these preparations have identified the presence of human and animal faeces and other body substances. The modern counterfeit producers will have printing technology to falsify brand tags and duty tags, but otherwise it’s the recycling networks that are the main providers of empty flasks.


Can We Play It Safe?

The consumer can follow different tips to safeguard their health and hinder the activities of counterfeit producers, but this behaviour change may not have as strong an impact as tackling the root of the production chain.

In January of this year, the Mexican regulatory agency (COFEPRIS) published a firm strategy to tackle the illegal production of counterfeit alcohol. By registering and tracing the production, sale and import of ethyl alcohol and methanol and, prohibiting bulk sale to the final consumer of any type of alcohol substance, COFEPRIS seeks to regulate this health threatening black market.

Throughout the year we will witness the impact of this policy, but in the meantime, remember that Same Same but Different applies everywhere in the world. What you can do.

Balancing hunger and obesity – where do we meet?

By Diane Sally Hansen and Arune Keturakyte 

If you were born in one of the Sub-Saharan countries, there would be up to a 45% risk that you would already be malnourished when born. You would be 16 times more likely to die by your fifth birthday, as your immune system could be weakened by malnutrition. You could be malnourished because you would be lacking protein, energy, vitamins A and D, Iodine, Zinc and Iron which all play a crucial role in your development.

Food can be taken for granted. From the time when we are born, we believe that food is accessible and is there to support our physical and mental development to achieve our goals in life.  With time, we find it difficult to maintain a healthy balanced diet. It could lead to being overweight and obese. However, some individuals do not have the opportunity to access the food necessary for survival. For that reason the United Nations have identified hunger as the leading issue that needs to be addressed, and are encouraging countries to recognise the first Millennium Development Goal to reduce hunger by 50% by 2015. As the United Nations predict, the goal is going to be achieved, however, 1 in 8 are still going hungry every day around the world. Therefore, it is essential to discuss nutrition as it is the foundation to support human health and development.

Obesity vs Underweight

People are malnourished if their diet does not provide adequate calories and protein for growth and essential micronutrients to achieve optimal health (UNICEF, 2012).

We all have a relationship with food. Some individuals establish a loving and caring relationship, however, some of us develop so called love-hate pattern to our diets. The choice of food and the comfort we sometimes seek can lead to undesired outcomes. Due to changes in our dietary pattern, some individuals replace nutritious food necessary for a healthy body and mind with foods high in saturated fats and sugars. North America per capita energy supply has increased to 134% of the world average. However, per capita energy supply is still 70% lower in the Sub-Saharan region. We have the right to choose which food we want to consume as we know it will be accessible and available. Individuals living in other regions of the world do not get the choice; the decision is made for them.

The choices and availability of food varies significantly across countries and nations


Availability of food

In order for a population to function, necessary food needs to be available for individuals to obtain nutrients. If the nutrients are not available the population is weakened – fetuses, infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly can be severely affected. Societies can become malnourished if their diet fails to deliver an adequate amount of protein and calories to support everyday energy needs. For these reasons, individuals consuming too much food high in fats and sugars can be as similarly malnourished as individuals consuming food low in nutrients. Findings show that 6.6 million of children under the age of 5 died in 2012. About 45% of those were linked to malnourishment and could have been prevented if appropriate diet was available.

Development effects

Limited access to nutritious food at important life stages limit the potential abilities of the population. Individuals are more susceptible to infectious diseases when their immune systems are already weakened by malnutrition from the birth. Women who are of reproductive age can be lacking nutrients to carry a full-term birth and risk the infant’s and their own lives when in labour. Limited education about the importance of breastfeeding for the first six months of the newborn’s life and inappropriate supplementary foods weaken the immune system of already fragile infants. This affects their physical development, such as the development of the brain, and compromises its future function and intellectual abilities.

To support economic growth of low-income countries we need to look at the foundation of the population. If the population is exposed to mineral shortages due to a low-nutrition diet, Vitamin A, D and Iodine shortages cause retardation, disability and increases morbidity due to lack of support for the development of the brain.


Pregnant women, children and elderly people are at the highest risk of undernutrition as these groups are exposed to its causes and most vulnerable to its consequences. Dr. David Barker found that low birth weight and low weight during infancy increases the risk for coronary heart diseases later in life. Lower birth weight is also associated with a higher risk of hypertension, stroke and type II diabetes.  Studies have shown that a woman who is undernourished during conception and pregnancy passes important health effects on to her child. It is therefore essential for women to have an adequate and nutritious diet in order to send healthy children into the world.

The map shows the proportion of children under 5 years of age that are underweight worldwide


Risks related to malnutrition

Due to compromised immunesystems, children who already suffer from malnutrition have a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia in low-income countries. The lack of vaccinations and medication for treatment show that the death of many children under age of five due to infectious diseases could be prevented if sufficient health-system and food security were to be put in place. It still raises controversy over how supplementation of nutrients should be used in order to increase nutritional status of children.

The importance of providing food for populations worldwide is essential. Economic growth, survival of children and health expenditure depends on our diets. Even though efforts have been put into place to reduce the number of nations starving, today, we are still conscious of children dying from starvation. As a global nation, we stand together to provide nutritious food to more vulnerable countries, including support and finding solutions to overcome obstacles in child nutrition. We all need to be more aware of our own well-being and management of diets that would encourage us and our children to balance the choices of food and the improvement of our own health.

Going Back To My Roots

By Laura Thomas 

Permaculture, as the name suggests, is a system of permanent growing, quite distinct from the traditional growing systems of horti-and agri-culture. Although it was Joseph Russell Smith who first wrote about a ‘permanent agriculture’ system in 1929, it is Bill Mollison who is generally considered the ‘father of permaculture’. In collaboration with David Holmgrem they developed the design philosophy of creating self-perpetuating, integrated, sustainable growing systems.

Permaculture design is based on the concept of maximising production through strategic and efficient use of available resources, whilst minimising inputs from outside the system, such as fertilisers, pesticides and even labour. Beginning with the keen observation of the available land, hot, cold, wet, dry, exposed and sheltered areas are identified and the design is developed, so that plants are placed where they will thrive.

Water is a resource which has a major impact on any growing systems; either due to its abundance or scarcity, and is a key consideration during site analysis and system design.

Proximity of plants to water sources or storage areas is based on their requirements whilst the lie on the land is utilised so that excess water can run-off into ponds or swales, where fish can be kept or trees can be planted. Flood and drought-proofing is integrated into the design and increases the resilience of the system as a whole. Once the macro-design has been developed the process of integrating the various growing systems begins. Natural fertilisers include leguminous plants which fix nitrogen in the soil; green manure crops like mustards and clovers that, once dug into the soil, provide nitrogen and other growth nutrients like potassium and phosphate; and cover crops like strawberries, which have a range of beneficial effects besides improving soil-nutrient availability, through weed suppression, moisture retention and even food production.

So what is nature’s solution to every farmer’s enemy – pests? Many fragrant herbs attract beneficial insects which prey on pests and counteract disease whilst alliums, such as garlic and chives, are well known pest repellents. Permaculture designs exploit the properties of a wide variety of plants, resulting in a fully integrated, biodiverse and resilient growing space. The classic example of a permaculture growing system is the Three Sisters guild, a combination of plants which grow in synergy, which was developed by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. The squash provides shading, thereby cooling the bean and corn roots and aiding water retention. The beans use the corn stem for support as they grow, whilst fixing nitrogen into the soil, thus supporting the growth of the squash and corn in return.

Image Courtesy of Park Seed Co
Image Courtesy of Park Seed Co

Livestock can also be recruited to assist with weed and pest control, whilst providing additional fertiliser as a by-product. The ‘chicken tractor’ is a popular example of Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG). This method ensures that growing systems are only maintained, and not destroyed as the industrious livestock are contained and regularly moved to other areas where their services are required. MIRG has also been implemented with larger grazing animals, such as cattle, to prevent overgrazing and land degeneration, as well as more modest grazers like poultry. Manure is not the only livestock by- product that can be utilised; by building a chicken coop inside a greenhouse the emitted body heat from the livestock contributes not only to plant growth but also allows the chickens to conserve energy during the winter and prolongs egg-production.

The holistic nature of permaculture techniques utilises commonly wasted by-products and builds on naturally occurring, integrated systems to create stable, highly productive and regenerative growing spaces. These resilient, biodiverse systems can withstand changes in temperature and water availability. The soil structure is built on year-by-year undisturbed by disruptive digging or ploughing, which leads to soil erosion and degradation, allowing supportive organisms to thrive and out-compete destructive diseases.

The discovery of such efficient methods of growing, like many other ground-breaking scientific discoveries, came from the keen observation of nature. Just like Mendel’s observations of cross-bred peas, which led to the current understanding of genetic inheritance, it was Smith’s observations of the regenerative and self-maintaining forest system that led to the development of the ‘Food Forest’ as a sustainable form of food production. However, the scientific community has not yet embraced permaculture as a viable alternative to the intensive, monoculture farming practices of today. Perhaps the apparent lack of ‘new technologies’ or the rejection of recent agricultural advances (that have proven to dramatically increase yields) has led to permaculture being deemed by many as a ‘hippy-ideal’ that has no hope of feeding the ever-expanding global population. Or are stronger forces at play here? The global agricultural industry is unlikely support growers who do not need to buy pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers year-in-year-out and who are reliant on natural resources and man-power alone.

Either way, few see permaculture as a viable sustainable agriculture system, particularly on a large-scale. However, as our world warms and the effects of climate change become increasingly pronounced, how long can we continue our current resource-intense, carbon-emitting and environmentally-destructive farming practices? When so many inputs are required to get a reasonable output, how can we expect farmers in developing countries to improve yields when so many of these resources are unattainable?

I believe permaculture design is a valuable tool applicable to many settings. It can revolutionise subsistence farming practices in developing countries as well as improve the yields and sustainability of commercial farms. Its application in industrialised countries will increase production and consumption of native foods, decreasing reliance on imported produce, particularly when the imported goods could in fact be grown locally. Permaculture principles have already shown promising results in the forestry sector, where wide-scale restoration is required to mitigate climate change, as shown in the following video made by WeForest.

So let’s take it back to the roots and build resilient, ecological and fruitful growing systems into the future of climate change mitigation, sustainable agriculture and forestry. Permaculture principles give us the ethical basis to develop future growing systems that will not only feed, but nurture the world.