The Application of Biomimicry Design Principles in Sustainable Agriculture Systems: A Permaculture Case Study

Home Institution

University of California, San Diego

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology


Modern conventional agriculture is dominated by a linear system organization with productivity dictated by high synthetic input and short-term efficiency. Due to the intense land and resource use, modern systems of agriculture will quickly become inadequate to sustain the future projections of global food demand. Furthermore, the widespread environmental impacts, including land degradation, loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitats, and public health threats, of conventional agriculture underscore the urgency for an imperative transformative change on the systems-level towards agricultural sustainability. This study advocates for the application of biomimicry design as an appropriate framework for redesigning human food systems to achieve long-term sustainability. Following this framework, productive agriculture systems should mimic the productivity and processes of natural ecosystems. The methodology of permaculture design is aligned with such biomimetic discourse, and serves as a valuable source of insight in evaluating biomimetic techniques. A permaculture case study at Bellbunya Eco-center and Sustainable Community, located in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland region of Australia, was conducted to evaluate the application of biomimicry design principles in a small-scale food production system. Biomimicry design principles were evaluated through four different avenues: soil nutrient management, weed management, pest and disease control, and landscape design. These small-scale biomimetic and permaculture techniques were related to the system-oriented mimicry of natural ecosystems and its functional roles of closed-loop nutrient recycling, biodiversity, and systems resilience. An integration of these functional roles in design through the adoption of systems thinking and the biomimetic framework holds the potential to transform the current position of agriculture as a destructive threat. However, a myriad of global limitations exist as political and economic barriers continue to allow the conventional system dominate and keep transition costs high for alternative systems. This study concludes that biomimicry and permaculture design demonstrates revolutionary potential to redevelop agricultural systems as an embodiment of both sustainable food production and environmental integrity, but the movement will ultimately remain inhibited until global barriers are overcome.


Agriculture | Agronomy and Crop Sciences | Biodiversity

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