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Permaculture Timor Leste And A Tropical Permaculture Guidebook

Mong with Yohan on the guitar. Photos by Lachlan McKenzie
Soil and land management training Behedan. Photo by Lachlan McKenzie
Solar dryer training. Photo by Permatil
Solar dryer training. Photo by Permatil

Fifteen years ago, permaculture grew roots in Timor Leste after the Timorese people’s incredible and tragically brutal passage to gain independence from Indonesia.

Permaculture was introduced to Timor Leste by Steve Cran and a group of Australian permies which included Lachlan McKenzie, Julianne Hartmann, Rob Swain and others. They were hoping to help rebuild and renew the country in a sustainable, culturally appropriate way. They teamed up with some of Timor Leste’s student activists from the occupation, led by Eugenio ‘Ego’ Lemos, who had already started an organic farming movement pre-independence.

Permaculture grew and slowly spread through training and demonstration sites. It was already clear that permaculture went hand in hand with community based development work and could help guide growth, livelihood and agricultural development.

It was also clear that permaculture was eagerly accepted by Timorese people, not just because of the techniques, design ideas and common sense approach, but because the focus on community and fair share resonated strongly with Timorese culture and identity. From this initial work a Timorese NGO, Permatil (Permaculture Timor Leste) was born and still thrives today.

Soil and land management training Behedan. Photo by Lachlan McKenzie

Permatil takes a long-term approach to its projects. Results from community consultation are turned into a multi-year program of training, demonstrations and monitoring. All work is based around a permaculture approach with the end goals broken up into bite-size pieces that can be easily absorbed, tested and duplicated.

Permaculture is becoming more popular in development work because its holistic, community-based design and approach is easily integrated into a variety of programs. Permatil train hundreds of future trainers each year from NGOs and government as well as community leaders, cooperative representatives and many farmers. In one project, Permatil trained and supported 200 government extension workers on water and soil conservation, sustainable land management, design and mapping, organic farming and agroforestry.

The promotion of industrial agriculture and the legacy of clearing and burning is still a major challenge, but permaculture is slowly being infused through Timorese food production, land management and culture.

When talking with the Permatil staff they are clearly passionate about permaculture and what it offers them. They enjoy:

  • working in consultation with communities rather than just telling community members what to do
  • creating projects based around local resources
  • that permaculture is actually a mechanism for strengthening culture and tradition
  • looking at the world with
  • ‘permaculture tinted’ glasses – seeing resources where they once saw waste and inter-connected systems and functioning patterns instead of land to be controlled.

They believe permaculture is essential for Timor Leste to be sustainable, resilient and truly independent. Food sovereignty issues are at the core of many Permatil activities.

They are also passionate about bringing permaculture to young people. Ego has created PermaScout Camp, a weeklong gathering of youth from all districts combining scouts with environment, organics and permaculture talks and demonstrations, local food cook-ups, local products expo, theatre and music.

Permatil is also developing a school based permaculture curriculum for school gardens to provide knowledge, skills and food for cooking school lunches. They have an ambitious aim to embed permaculture into the national school curriculum, perhaps the first country to do so.

Tropical Permaculture Guidebook

In 2005, in response to a lack of tropical permaculture literature, Permatil created A Permaculture Guidebook from East Timor (Permatil 2005) working with Lachlan McKenzie, IDEP Foundation (Indonesian Development of Education and Permaculture) and many others.

The project started in late 2002 and after three years a 400-page comprehensive guidebook with over 1500 illustrations came off the press!

The guidebook has helped provide practical permaculture knowledge, backed up by detailed illustrations which can be used by everyone. With climate change and resource shortages biting, it is more relevant than ever as a guide for program development, implementation, training and referencing.

Now Permatil and the original writers Lachlan McKenzie and Ego Lemos have joined with xpand Foundation and Disruptive Media to update, rewrite and generalise the guidebook for all tropical regions. They are hoping to produce a practical educational resource that will provide the same benefits in Africa, SE Asia, Polynesia, Melanesia, the Caribbean and the tropical Americas that have been seen in Timor Leste.

The new guidebook will be available in hard copy and online for free download, chapter by chapter. They strongly believe in free share as a means to enable independence, community strength and resilience.

The guidebook will be online in English and hopefully different language versions will quickly follow.

We still need support to continue this project. We are negotiating for funding with NGOs and private donors and accepting individual or group donations through our website:

Please follow our progress at the website and Tropical Permaculture Guidebook on Facebook.



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