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Several folks have asked about the difference between agroecology and permaculture. Great question. Not being an expert in the latter, I reached out to a colleague of mine with a background in urban farming who teaches courses in permaculture. Antonio Roman Alcala, of the International Institute of Social Studies offers this as a helpful explanation:
“The short answer is, although some ‘permies’ (as they call themselves) tout PC as a science of sorts, it’s rather unscientific compared with agroecology. PC is in theory a design process (for farms but also other human artifacts), applied in place and based on the attributes of that place — so in this way it has obvious overlaps with agroecology. But in practice, PC is often taught, discussed, and promoted as a set of farming practices — such as swales, mulching/no-till agriculture, ‘forest gardens’, etc.
So, they share the fact that they are both movements and practices pertaining to more ecologically sustainable, more local, more farmer-knowledge-centered, and more socially-just farming systems — but PC all too often lacking in the scientific approach (i.e. rigorous testing and critical assessment of techniques, systematic sharing of results) that agroecology is supposed to have. (For example, PC is often taught based on a book “The Designers Manual” that hasn’t been updated since 1985; there are concepts taught in PC that are not necessarily true in all conditions but are passed on uncritically by permies).
That said, I bet there are instances of lack of scientific rigor in ‘actually existing’ agroecology projects too!
Longer answer has luckily been provided by Rafter Sass Ferguson, a researcher focusing on PC in the US, and its overlaps with agroecology!
I hope that helps!