by Juan Pablo Echeverria

All around the world the search for sustainable lifestyles is something more and more people are attempting to do. Groups of committed thoughtful, talented, individuals from different backgrounds are coming together to promote ideas of sustainability through natural and organic systems. Since the mid-1970s the term Permaculture, coined by a couple of Australian scientists, has proposed a solution to some of the world’s most pressing agricultural, architectural, ecological and also economic problems. *Permaculture is the harmonious integration of all life kingdoms into an agriculturally productive ecosystems and socially just environments producing sound economic outcomes through systems management. It is a regenerative design system that promotes the use of biological solutions for today’s problems allowing for energy efficiency and abundance of yield. All of these ideas are well wrapped around a simple code of ethics: “care of the people, care of the earth and reinvestment in those ends.”

Guatemala, a land of incredible biodiversity and favorable conditions for growing an abundance of food and natural building materials, is now facing an ecological, agricultural and social crisis. Pollution of rivers and lakes, erosion, deforestation, intensive use of pesticides and herbicides and a lack of regard for basic environmental practices have forced us into an urgent need for new innovative solutions. Could that be Permaculture?

Well around Lake Atitlan there are a few examples of organizations and farms that are trying not only to educate people on the principles and practices of permaculture but also becoming living examples of how these systems work.

One of the most promising places is Quixaya, which means Heart of the Water in Kaqchiquel. A community of people who have organized with the support of IMAP, (the Instituto Mesomericano de Permacultura), in San Lucas Toliman, to create a productive ecosystem of terraces and ponds on their spring-fed river. They are organically producing watercress, tilapia, bananas, lemongrass, ginger and turmeric, in a place of amazing beauty and abundance.

Another example is I´jatz, also around the area of San Lucas Toliman. This area of the town would normally suffer from constant flooding during the rainy season, and with the support of IMAP  a portion of the land was turned into a complex system of swales, check dams, and ponds, circulating rain water through the land depositing rocks, sand and top soil in specific areas for later use. What was once a swamp has now been transformed into a luscious garden and food forest with bananas, bamboo, coffee, vegetables, herbs, and medicinal plants.

IMAP with the collaboration of Atitlan Organics in Tzununa, the first permaculture farm on the lake are now offering organic products and Permaculture Design Certifications, a great way to spread the knowledge and begin a change for sustainable lifestyles.

So the next time you are visiting the lake check out these places. You’ll learn you don’t need to be a farmer to be able to put Permaculture into practice: there are small scale solutions in abundance which you adopt, like starting a food garden in your house or simply adopting some of Permaculture’s principles into your lifestyle choices.

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