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Author: John Raimondo

( Article Type: Opinion )

Ecovillages are urban or rural communities of people who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. To achieve this they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, alternative energy, community building practices, and much more.

Eco-villages typically include the following characteristics:
• Permaculture design
• Buildings constructed from local, natural materials
• Reliance on own (off-grid) power supply
• Utilisation of renewable energy/alternative technology
• Self-sufficiency of food supply using sustainable agriculture and permaculture methods
• Earth-restoration projects
• Being of service to specific populations in need
• Use of local currencies
• On-site cottage industries
• Participatory communal decision-making
• Established processes for conflict resolution
• Established process and communication skills for bonding and connecting the eco-village community.

 Whilst the physical aspects are relatively easy to achieve, often the greater challenge for members of eco-villages is to be able to overcome individual prejudices and ‘personal shadows’ in order to achieve a sustainable, social cohesion of the community. According to Robert Gilman the main steps to creating a sustainable community include:
1. Recognize it will be a journey - and enjoy it!
2. Develop a vision - and keep developing it
3. Build relationships and bonding
4. Make the whole-system challenge explicit
5. Get help - to become more self-reliant
6. Develop clear procedures
7. Maintain balance – sustainably A lack of management or process skills is the primary reason why unsuccessful communities have failed in the past!

Douwe van der Zee has described permaculture as a combination of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’, and was formulated specifically by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to emphasise the difference from traditional agriculture. Traditional agriculture has become increasingly impermanent, in the sense that it relies on huge inputs of external energy, capital and labour, and has often been destructive to the soil. Permaculture systems are self-sufficient and ultimately need few or no external inputs. Mollison and Holmgren had more in mind, however, than just agriculture. What they proposed was nothing less than a radically different way of relating to the environment and to each other. It was meant to counteract the highly unsustainable, anti-nature ‘more, bigger, better’ (consumer) culture approach that has characterised modern society in the recent decades, and has largely been responsible for the serious global environmental, human and economic problems we now face. Permaculture is about using natural principles to ensure the maximum production of food and other human needs locally. This has considerable economic, agricultural, social and other implications.
Some of the basic principles of permaculture include:
1. Maximal retention and minimum waste of water
2. Diversity
3. Multifunctionality
4. No external inputs of harmful substances
5. Self-sufficiency

Self-sufficiency is the basis for most eco-villages as it ties in with everything else. In a cultivated ecosystem different crops ripen throughout the year. A variety of vegetables, eggs, fruits and nuts, cheese, bread, honey and other foods, as well as electricity and energy for cooking, are consistently available. Self-sufficiency is extended to many other spheres of life within an eco-village including buildings. Houses are built of natural materials such as clay, stone, straw and wood – whichever is most easily and locally available. There are a number of eco-villages in South Africa. Here are some useful websites about these eco-villages, as well as global sites concerned with eco-villages and intentional communities.