Permaculture Finds Fertile Ground in Ukraine

by Joseph Bullock

Last summer, immediately following ISAR's EcoForum '95 in Kyiv, I taught a three-day course introducing Permaculture with my new friend Bogdan Kolitenko. Bogdan is the director of the Center for Permaculture in Kyiv, which has received a grant from ISAR to rent land near Kyiv to establish a public education center and practical testing ground for small-scale sustainable agriculture, environmentally sound design and construction of dachas and country homes, alternative energy systems, and modern application of traditional crafts and trades as part of an environmentally sound local economy. He and his wife, Inna, have already begun the construction of a straw-bale house on the site.

Permaculture is a system of design that mimics nature in its overlapping functions and needs. It seeks to achieve a real harmony between ecology and agriculture. Recognizing that modern, chemical-based agriculture is one of the most destructive agents in man's misguided war on nature, Permaculture fills a much-needed void. It works to create sustainable, highly productive, yet natural-seeming landscapes, where the needs of the various elements are met by other elements within the system, and we serve in the capacity of stewards. There is very little that is actually new in Permaculture; it is a synthesis of traditional wisdom and appropriate modern technology.

Introduction to Permaculture

Bogdan organized the ISAR-sponsored course. A few years ago, having read Permaculture One by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and fired up with Permacultural zeal, he traveled to England and Ireland to work on Permaculture farms and broaden his knowledge and experience. He was then instrumental in bringing Mollison and Scott Pitman, an American Permaculture designer and educator, to Russia; talks were given in Chelyabinsk in 1993 and a one-month course was held in Troitsk in 1994. The particpants in our three-day course in Kyiv were mostly from Ukraine and Belarus. Some, however, had come from as far as Moldova, Georgia, the Russian Far East and the US.

The course was held at the Central Botanic Garden, near the center of Kyiv. The naturalistic, diverse grounds were conducive to many open-air lectures and discussions. The beautiful setting was also rich in natural examples of the concepts being discussed, facilitating the explanation of various principles of Permaculture.

Topics of discussion during the course included:

  1. The design and layout of a homestead, with acknowledgement of slope and solar aspect, soil type, existing vegetation, water, wind and climate.
  2. Modification of natural features to create more diversity in the landscape, such as the planting of windbreaks to create heat pockets and the construction of small ponds in naturally moist sites to provide havens for wildlife and other aquatic species.
  3. How animals can be used wisely in the landscape, so that their food, water, and shelter needs are provided for simply and effectively and their wastes and by-products are efficiently cycled.
  4. The use of nitrogen-fixing plants to provide nutrients and biomass.
  5. The use of attached greenhouses to extend the growing season and to provide passive solar gain to living spaces.
  6. The construction and use of composting toilets to naturally break down human waste, while providing fertilizer and preserving groundwater quality.

Many other relevant concepts were also raised, such as understanding the way in which water and nutrients cycle in natural systems, recognizing plant succession in natural landscapes and examining how so- called "primitive" peoples have modified their environments, for example, with fire or patterns of harvest.

Local Experience

Many of those themes were initially abstract to some of the group, however I was pleasantly surprised when a number of the course participants turned out to be more knowledgeable than I in certain subjects.

I related to the group how once, a couple of years earlier, I was on the train en route from St. Petersburg to Almaty, Kazakstan, and throughout much of the steppe I noticed and appreciated the multi-row mixed-species shelterbelts flanking the tracks, which had been planted years earlier and seemed to be growing well despite the austere environment. These belts provided a welcome relief from the monotony of the steppe. One of the locals with whom I shared my berth confirmed that, "They are wonderful, with birds and berries and mushrooms."

Concluding my tale, I said to the course participants, "You see, even in the harsh environment of the steppe, where we think nothing but grass can grow, trees if planted wisely, can thrive, and create mini-ecologies, rich in species." I continued, "There are probably people still living, who were involved in these plantings and could provide immeasurable help and advice toward future similar endeavors."

A man stepped forward and introduced himself as Vladislav Borisovich Logginov, a dendrologist at the Main Botanic Garden in Kyiv. He said that the shelterbelts along the railways were actually meant to keep snow from drifting over the tracks, but that there were other steppe-forest planting schemes, some initiated 100 years ago, which gained great momentum under Soviet rule. This had been the life work of his father, still alive at the age of 97.

Vladislav proceeded to explain to the group the challenges and ultimate successes of these steppe-forest plantings. Many of the conclusions this program reached are basic to the Permacultural model, such as that clustered, multiple-species plantings are much more successful than single-species, straight-row plantings. Another member of the group, Tatiana Ignatova of Simferopol, Crimea, told me of the ingenious ancient irrigation systems of the Crimean Tatars, and of the seemingly wild fruit orchards that the Tatars had planted long ago, which still thrive with little or no care.

I asked Tatiana to share her observations with the group, and pointed out, once again, what a wealth of knowledge and experience was already theirs. This knowledge needs only to be given its due appreciation, elaborated upon and disseminated.

These are but two examples of the wealth of experience and knowledge in which the states of the former Soviet Union are abundantly rich. It is these people, with their wisdom and varied skills, so undervalued in today's Western-looking, market-oriented society, who give me great hope and inspiration for the future of Permaculture in Eurasia.

Next Steps

How can all this heady theoretical information take root and flourish? Permaculture is all about recognizing and wisely utilizing resources. Without a doubt, one of the greatest underutilized resources we have is human potential. I was constantly impressed and reassured by the motivation and commitment of the many people I met in Eurasia. Their willingness to cast off outdated assumptions and rethink our most basic relationships with the earth and with each other is a cornerstone of Permacultural thought, and essential to sustainable development and existence.

Since returning home, I have received several letters from individuals and organizations in the FSU. All have stated their interest in Permacultural methods, and requested books and other publications about Permaculture, appropriate technology and sustainable living. Bogdan, with the help of a grant from Bill Mollison, has translated Introduction to Permaculture into Russian, and is waiting only for additional funding for printing.

Additionally, Irina Sukhii, an EcoForum participant representing the organization Next Stop-New Life in Minsk, Belarus, is organizing a two-week Permaculture design course in November to be taught by Scott Pitman and me. There are many other projects that are in the seed stage, and lack only support and encouragement. With a strong base of local knowledge and support from abroad, Permaculture has great potential for success in helping to build sustainable local economies in Eurasia.

Center for Permaculture: a/ya 218/2, Kyiv 253099, Ukraine; ph: (044) 446-5579;

© 2003 Joseph Bullock

Joseph Bullock works with Green Island Landscape and Permaculture Design in Deer Harbor, WA.


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