Everything is process. Fittingly, the 13th International Permaculture Conference begins while the systems of its organization continue taking form. All around are the moving pieces of a complex organism four years in the making—and arriving now are the hundreds of global citizens—representing 63 countries—drawn by the principle of exchange.
One enters the conference via India, a country with a vast history and depth of contribution to environmental design. Here, at the literal doorstep, a river of smooth stone with banks of potted palm, India has invited the world to reflect, discuss, and engage in community.
Climbing the marble steps of the conference auditorium at the Telangana State Agricultural University in Hyderabad, one encounters an intricate arrangement of native seeds in hand-shaped clay bowls set upon the ground to form a mandala of color, shape, and texture. The swinging cloth mops of a latent cleaning crew and the perambulatory feet of new arrivals extend the design outward and into motion, laying tracks across, into, and outside of the building—narrowing and opening in passage like the datura flowers growing densely along streets and edges beyond the hall, into the urban and peri-urban wild.
Within the center of this activity, the display of seeds resting still upon the marble carries the tension of permanent and impermanent things. The hard stone shaped by hands in an image of the illusion of unchanging permanence and contrasts with the profound energy residing within the thousands of seeds carefully laid upon it. It is easy to imagine the right convergence of light, water, and time stirring, germinating, cracking, exposing, rooting, and integrating these distinctive elements into a complex whole—the stone and seed both fractured by the activity of life working independently upon itself.
Such is the metaphor for our conference, reflected in the many diverse faces gazing upon the display this morning. Of these faces, now arranged like so many colorful seeds, smiles brightly a familiar visage. Closing a ceremony of seed-sharing replete with live percussion and a march across the grounds, Vandana Shiva leads a procession into the auditorium and takes the stage to speak to seed sovereignty and "the problems of a violent global patriarchy [where] we are born of mothers and forget them—including Mother Earth."
To great applause, she speaks of the tiny seed that "enfolds the future in permanence"—like the practitioners of permanence who enfold and ensure the future.
Her voice rings in adamance that the machinery of modern life is neither life itself nor its operator—"life is not a machine; life is not invented." With characteristic passion and argument, Vandana refers to a recent German study indicating recent loss of 75% of insect life. She emphasizes the clarified correlations between the ecological havoc wreaked by industrial agriculture and the consequences of civil war and refugee migration in Syria, Africa, and now globally. She says, "[as] the extractive economy leaves five men with the majority of the wealth of the world," the realization of our passage beyond unsustainability is clear. Our work is in the courts—defending our own laws—and in the fields growing our own food and cultivating the seeds that permit our very future.
"Learning from the seed," Vandana says, "I have never underestimated smallness."
She concludes with the call to action that runs through her work—and our present gathering: "love and nonviolence is always more powerful than systems of violence."
As the morning carries on, Vandana's words ring in the minds and hearts of those in attendance—as a din of conversation rises over routine.