Is Permaculture Pseudoscience?

No, Permaculture is not a pseudoscience. Permaculture was a movement born by Holmgren and Mollison, who brought about a new dimension of agriculture as an alternative to contemporary industrial farming methods.

Back then, there was limited scientific research to back up their methods and their benefits to the environment. Therefore, the permaculture movement evolved independently from mainstream agricultural science over the years.

It is based on different disciplines such as agroforestry, agroecology, water treatment and ecological waste, etc. which are backed by a wealth of scientific literature.

Who invented permaculture?

Permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. They formulated permaculture as an alternative to the industrial methods of agricultural production, which were negatively impacting the environment due to the heavy use of chemicals and unsustainable farming practices.

David Holmgren’s permaculture homestead

They stated that industrial methods were dependent on non-renewable energy sources, polluted land and water sources, reduced biodiversity and affected the fertility of the land.

Mollison and Holmgren argued that permaculture allowed farmers to work with nature by mimicking patterns of natural ecosystems. Permaculture was built on the ethics of: care for the earth, care for the people and setting limits on consumption. Mollison and Holmgren viewed envisioned permaculture to be widely adopted in contemporary agricultural systems to replace the industrial means of production. 

Permaculture can be traced back to the 1920s, when Joseph Russel Smith suggested the growing of tree fruits and food crops together as a way to restore soil health and watersheds.

He proposed a mixed farming system that incorporated trees and understory crops. Later, other scholars identified sustainable farming methods that incorporated natural farming and water management as additions to permanent agriculture. Holmgren and Mollisson coined the term permaculture, which has been used since 1978. 

Scientific studies on the principles of permaculture

Pseudoscience is defined as a claim, practice or belief presented as scientific, but is not backed by any evidence, cannot be reliably tested and does not adhere to a valid scientific method.

Permaculture is not a pseudoscience because the founding principles of permaculture have been extensively researched and backed by scientific evidence. According to a scientific study in 2018, Permaculture has an overall positive impact on soil quality if implemented under the right conditions.

Further, the fact that permaculture produces significantly less waste compared to conventional farming methods has been well documented. And repurposing waste and putting it back into the energy cycle can give higher returns. For instance, a study found that feeding a 10% share of dried grape pomace increases the growth performance and health indicators of lambs.

The use of renewable sources of energy has been researched and found to have a positive impact on the environment. Farmers are able to save a lot on energy costs. According to Ali, S. M., Dash, N., & Pradhan, A. (2012) , small wind generators, ranging from 400 watts to 40 kilowatts or more, can meet the needs of an entire farm or can be targeted to specific applications.

small wind turbine
Photo by Windspot Sonkyo Energy

Therefore, even as permaculture itself lacks significant scientific backing, the principles it presents have a valid experimental background which makes it a legitimate science. 

Criticisms of permaculture.

Critics of permaculture point to the lack of original scientific research data and analysis and the exclusion of modern scientific views in existing permaculture literature.

They believe that permaculture cannot be a viable means of agricultural production until it is supported by hard evidence. The current literature on permaculture is written by practicing individuals for the general public.

There are few peer-reviewed publications and limited texts that incorporate statistical analysis and experimental designs. The critics further claim that the literature does not adequately address the risks and barriers that are faced by farmers in the practical application of permaculture.

The founders of the movement left university to pursue the creation of permaculture design models, claiming that such a radical idea could only work outside the academic setting.

These combined reasons contribute to permaculture being labeled as a pseudoscience. Permaculture has been applied in multiple environments, with evident success.

Permaculture practitioners have used various techniques, combinations of plants and spaces for sustainable food production for themselves and the community. Nonetheless, some scholars criticize the lack of a scientific background as a major limitation to the widespread acceptance of permaculture in modern agriculture. 

The future of permaculture

In order to further the influence of permaculture, it is vital to create educational opportunities and access to design principles. Permaculture skills and ethics should be spread widely to create awareness on its environmental benefits and high productivity.

It is essential for modern scholars to visit existing permaculture sites and conduct scientific research and experiments to validate the legitimacy of permaculture.

Scientific institutions can aid the permaculture movement to gain popularity and reach a wider global audience. The permaculture movement would be able to appeal to more people if it had the backing evidence on its average annual yields, impact on the environment and costs of operation in different environments.

While permaculture has been proven to work by individual farmers, and its advantages and disadvantages identified, it should be supplemented by empirical research conducted on different cultures and how they apply permaculture design principles to achieve high yields and produce food sustainably.

This would serve to reduce the negative criticism of the permaculture movement and identify it as an effective and efficient manner of sustainable food production that can replace contemporary industrial methods. 

Is there a permaculture degree?

Yes. You can attend university or a college that offers permaculture education to learn about the movement. There are articles and journals available for free on the internet that can guide you on permaculture.

However, if you need an in-depth understanding of the design principles, you can take a university course and graduate with a permaculture degree. Permaculture courses offer an opportunity for you to build your basic knowledge on permaculture and ecological design. The following institutions will offer permaculture education in America: 

  • Cornell University
  • Oregon State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Permaculture education is important to reinforce the scientific background for the movement. Academic institutions can help permaculture practitioners connect theory to practice.

Permaculture was built on indigenous knowledge on creative design processes such as companion planting, modification of water flow and how to plant vegetation interacts with soil and local wildlife.

Permaculture has contributed to the validation of indigenous knowledge in avenues where it was ignored before. Permaculture education can therefore help bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary agricultural knowledge to implement design systems that will improve agricultural sustainability. 


Permaculture has been considered by critics as a pseudoscience. However, it is a realistic and practical agricultural production that has been tried and tested in different environments across the globe. Despite the limited original scientific research to back the movement, it is clear that it is a legitimate production method that can be applied widely. Permaculture education is available in many publications, or you can attend a university to gain knowledge.