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Decade of Ecological Restoration Series – Episode 2 – Living Agro Ecology with Bunya Halasz of Growing Roots Permaculture

Wren McLean - ZEB's Replant Co ordinator

We met Bunya in his mega diverse, multi-strata successional food forest. A land restoration project that uses an evolving understanding of natural succession. Over the past 6 years a previous monoculture farm paddock has been converted into a successional food forest.  Restoring ecological services by incorporating native plants with a wide diversity of food plants. With each stage of succession we move into a new crop. Initially we break ground with cover crops and soil supplements, minerals and biologically active composts. We plant a variety of compatible food plants with varying times to harvest,  annual crops amongst staples like taro and cassava which are a 9-18 month harvest then bananas kick in at around 18 months, around 3 years pineapples and various fruit trees start producing. So succession develops from a pasture towards a young food forest with pioneer plants and eventually towards a long-term system. “We hope that in a century jackfruits, Indian tamarind trees  and other fruits will still producing along with a thriving soil ecology. We are continually inoculating fungi, including native fungi into the system. We feel like we are using food production and meeting human resource needs as an opportunity to regenerate land”. Bunya told me.

Bunya’s first inspiration came from growing up in a forest and watching ecological response to his disturbance. He went on to study Agroecology under a professor who had spent over a decade in Papua New Guinea working with groups of shifting cultivators within tropical rainforest systems. “His learnings about how natural processes can feedback to inform humans about how to respond, engage and enrich the processes rather than inhibit or destroy them”. Learning how human disturbance can be used strategically within space and time to renew the landscape, that we are a vital part of landscape renewal. 

“Understanding the amazing organic process of natural succession is the key and then finding the balance between that, which can be quite surprising and unpredictable and a streamlined and organised system that can be functional and economically viable for humans”. 

Organic matter is increased using the permaculture chop and drop principle, growing pioneer plants to fix carbon and feed nitrogen into the soil.  By creating disturbance to those rapid growing organisms, nutrients are pulsed through the soil to feed the more delicate or slower growing plants around them. In a 1m2 plot of this food forest Bunya utilises the powerful life force of pigeon pea, to feed the more exquisite finger lime.  The upper strata of the plot contains eucalyptus, banana and a Bunya pine which will eventually tower as the emergent tree. The mid strata contains casuarina, moringa, climbing yams and in time, the finger lime. The understory is pineapple, ginger and all the mystery that happens under the soil. 

“My understanding of carbon sequestration is that it is best when it is locked up in living processes in an evolving system, when it is moving and dynamic not stagnant. We are managing the land so plants can be in peak production and speed up photosynthesis. 

“We create a microclimate that is comfortable to work in. This attracts people to the space and they are then drawn to contribute to the garden and this has many social benefits”. 

“My philosophy is to respect our own ancestors and those of cultures around us and then bring that lineage of knowledge back to places where it might be lost or broken to re-discover the universal foundations that connect us to the web of life”. Bunya is teaching two courses in March 2023, Living Agroecology in the humid subtropics and Advanced Dynamic Agroforestry. Check  https://www.growingrootspermaculture.com/ for details.

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The UN has declared 2021 - 2030 the decade of ecological restoration.  Preventing, halting and reversing loss of nature. Checkout the scope of what needs to be done here and get along to our local Regeneration Festival on March 4th in Mullumbimby.  Tickets are free but limited so book now to avoid missing out.

Are you using your land to fight climate change?  Wren is collecting stories to share that inspire others. Whether you have hundreds of acres or just a balcony you can sequester carbon.  Click on our contact button below if you'd like to share your story.

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