Sepp Holzer’s “Desert or Paradise”: A Book Review

Desert or Paradise

Sepp Holzer is a rebel farmer, a visionary soul and one of the most exciting players in the entire Permaculture movement. His work is changing the world. I just read his book “Desert or Paradise” and want to share it with you.

So to start off I will just say that the Sahara Desert used to be LUSH grassland. There is growing evidence to suggest that overgrazing by ancient nomadic tribes lead to the desertification of the area. The earth can change in amazing and horrible ways from human influence . Today the biggest detriment to land is most certainly agriculture. In Sepp’s book, he describes how modern “conventional” large farming practice is killing soil and turning fertile land into desert. He tells us that if we continue on this path all areas that were once known to be fertile farmland will soon become lifeless. This book contains the remedy for the earth, it is a How-To guide to return the land to fertility, increase food production, and do so sustainably, for generations to come. He shows how to restore dried up areas to lushness by building lakes and implementing his methods known as “Holzer Permaculture”. Anyone who likes to eat food but doesn’t like to live in scorching wind blasted deserts should read this book.

Desertification has been going on at least since the beginning of large agriculture (plowing, chemical fertilizers, pesticides) and arguably since the beginning of tillage. Sepp teaches that when the topsoil is disrupted, ie: plowing, the soil is exposed to wind and rain, to be eroded away into the skies and oceans. In the natural world plant roots and decaying plant mulch protect the soil from the elements and also perform the amazingly important job of retaining moisture in the soil. Barren fields do not usually occur in nature, they are often the result of unnatural disturbances to soil. According to Sepp if we stop tilling and weeding and start letting organic matter accumulate again we can help nature, rebuild water table levels, and restore dried up areas without irrigation. In this book he illustrates how to repair the damage modern agriculture has done.

Sepp’s knowledge is highly sought after since everywhere he goes he creates lush garden- paradises. Sepp travels the world these days, consulting for various worn out, nearly dead properties.  The book contains three amazing examples where he has created water-scapes that hydrate and feed the land. He does this by first understanding local geology and soil layers, then using machinery to build earthen dams in key places on the properties. Using this method he shows how winter rains, even small amounts can be utilized all year round. Though he uses machines to do the work, the concepts presented are amazingly simple: build a dam, catch the water, feed the landscape. I love how in every example there have been agricultural “experts” that always claim Sepp’s methods will fail, only to be proven wonderfully wrong. It shows though, how backwards our thinking has become on the issue of groundwater and soil fertility.

Perhaps the most impressive of Holzers consultation sites is Tamera, located in Portugal. You can watch a very good video on the process of transforming Tamera Here.

Sepp makes it clear in this book that the single most important thing to do right now in the world is restore the hydro-geologic balance to the landscape. He goes on to say that with this foundation we will have no problem feeding the world’s entire population. If Sepp’s methods were applied worldwide every community could meet it’s own needs. This includes cities and urban populations. He estimates that the world could feed 21 billion people with Holzer Permaculture. He describes many gardening systems in detail that will serve to this end with diagrams and examples of their implementation.

The remainder of this book outlines the hurdles we face to meet this challenge with vast the changes that would need to be adopted to agriculture and society. I particularly enjoy the Sepp Holzer 10 step program to end world hunger:

1.) Restore the Hydrological Balance

2.) Abolish Industrial Livestock Farming

3.) Develop More Cultivated Areas (Transform fallow farmland, and destructive monocultures)

4.) Enlarge / Improve Areas Under Cultivation

5.) Increase Productivity (With living soil, polyculture, and responsible animal husbandry)

6.) Regionalisation Instead of Globalization

7.) Agrarian Reform (every human entitled to farm land somewhere to grow their own food)

8.) Neighborly Help and Community

9.) Conservation and Promotion of Ancient Wisdom / Methods of Preservation

10.) Change our Education System (Learn with experience, learn the natural systems)

Throughout the book philosophy is mingled with practical knowledge to create a whole new system of stewarding the Earth. If this book was required reading in our school systems, the next generation would wake up and see the destruction all around us.  Sepp advocates that we must work with the natural forces, not against them. Those who adopt these ways today will be the teachers of tomorrow and the only hope for this world.

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