John D. Liu is filmmaker and ecologist. He has worked for 25 years in China and on the Chinese Loess plateaus, where he found proof that the principles of permaculture could transform a totally destructed and eroded area into a green and thriving economic zone. Permaculture is the new, old solution. Liu believes that modern technology is finite, and that we should be much more involved in the biotic system.

Restore the earth

Change infertile areas into small paradises

As proven by Liu

Documentary maker John Liu turned to permaculture as an important avenue to save the planet by ensuring that there’s enough food for everyone. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design using the principles, patterns and features present in natural ecosystems.

John is more than just a film producer. The American-Chinese journalist is an ecologist and visionary who, for the last 25 years, has been working on experiments that aim to change infertile areas into small paradises. He’s a well-known speaker on the subject, he’s published articles, and has produced films to inform others about his findings. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, he first visited China in 1979 where he worked as a journalist for CBS, and he started his own organisation in 1997.

John D. Liu

Permaculture is commonly defined as follows: to design and organise the water, land, flowers, trees, and plants on a farm or garden in such a way that the vegetation will grow with as little interference as possible. Some plants break up the ground, others keep away pests, trees allow the ground to hold on to water, and flowers ensure that bees pollinate the vegetables. A system with ponds and canals can regulate water in the dry and rainy seasons. 

Permaculture reduces the need for large machinery like tractors or ploughs because the philosophy is that the ground is disturbed as little as possible; this then results in an intelligent semi-closed system of plants, bacteria, insects, and worms. Permaculture is also the solution for making infertile areas like deserts, steppes, or tundras more fertile. The principles of permaculture can be applied in your garden, but it can also be used to upscale major projects such as the infertile Loess plateau in China.

In this eroded province west of Beijing, all the fertile ground had shifted into the Yellow River

After 10 years of working for the CBS as a producer and cameraman, John became obsessed with the scale of pollution he saw in China. He wondered why nobody was doing anything about the deteriorating situation. At that point, he realized he was the one who had to do something about it. 

He set up a library of films about environmental issues; films that were broadcast in the US, Europe and Japan. He brought thousands of films to Beijing to broadcast on Chinese television.  Liu also started to make documentaries himself. In 1995 he started filming the Loess Plateau. In this eroded province west of Beijing, all the fertile ground had shifted from the mountains into the Yellow River. Liu’s special interest in this area was the scale of the challenge:  this was a project in which the ecosystem had to be restored using human engineering.

The King of the Netherlands visited the Loess Plateau in November 2015

Liu believes that modern technology is finite, and that we should be much more involved in the biotic system. He notes, “We have things like an Airbus A380, it’s an extremely complex machine with lots of parts, but in fact it’s finite. Biotic systems on the other hand are infinite; they’re the evolutionary outcomes of ecology. They represent complex symbiotic relationships between many different systems.  They’re renewable; they don’t result in junk or toxic waste. So, in a sense, our whole industrial experience is primitive because we don’t really understand it.”

This is just the work of the industrial agricultural industry lobby: It’s simply untrue

When asked whether permaculture is of any relevance to the challenge of food security for the world population, Liu answers, “The question has been asked many times, and there’s an assumption that it’s impossible for organic or natural agriculture to feed the same population that is now fed by ‘industrial’ agriculture. This is just the work of the industrial agricultural lobby. It’s simply untrue; there’s no way that degraded landscapes can be more productive than functional ones. It’s completely ridiculous; a big lie! Organic natural agriculture is always more productive in the long run. However, it’s not necessarily as convenient. You don’t have row upon row of identical plants; you don’t necessarily have annual cropping. Instead you have never-ending biocultures. That means that you don’t have to plant, you only harvest. Monocultures were developed by the Neanderthal, who with a sharpened stick invented ploughing and monocultures at the same moment, but they were just ignorant and selfish. That type of behaviour results in vast areas of our planet being destroyed.”

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