Currently, approximately 80% of the food crops grown in the world are annual plants, and it’s been this way for quite some time. Perennial plant food crops are pretty much in the minority in terms of how the human race derives its nutrition.
Permaculture strongly emphasises the importance of using perennial plants in our food production systems. When we consider the permanent agriculture aspect of permaculture, it should be apparent that we would need to utilise perennial plants to construct a permanent system, rather than using annual crops to create temporary systems, which are there one season, and return to bare earth the next.
The preference for perennial plants is stated explicitly in the seventh permaculture design principle — Small Scale Intensive Systems. It describes the use of perennial plants instead of annual plants as one of the features that differentiates permaculture small scale intensive systems from either conventional commercial or peasant farming systems.
To many people, the reason we use perennial plants is simply because they don’t need to be replanted each year, and don’t die down each year, saving us a lot of effort digging, sowing seeds, and cleaning up at the end of the season — and then they simply leave their understanding at that.
There are in fact far more profound ecological and environmental reasons for using perennials rather than annuals in our food production systems, which we will explore in this article.