What’s the difference between permaculture, agroforestry and ecological agriculture?

Bor Borren permaculture

What is exactly the difference between all of the terms we use? The differences are sometimes small and the terms often overlap. To clarify everything, I will discuss the most important differences:


Agroforestry mixes perennial trees and bushes with arable farming, vegetable cultivation or grass grounds on the same area. The trees and bushes are planted for multiple reasons, for example for fruit, nuts or wood. Cattle can also be useful in the system (source: WUR).

When looking at the facts, it is an old system that was applied in Europe. Because, back then, it was already normal to let the animals graze under the fruit trees. Another fact is that the design and structure is really important. The trees and bushes are often planted in strips. Between these strips grass grounds or arable farming are located and they are reachable for machines. This way of farming breaks through the monoculture and also keeps nature in mind.


Permaculture is a more holistic design system in which all of the functional elements are connected. The possible elements are: perennial food production by an edible forest garden; an herb garden; improvement of the garden due to compost techniques; the use of water; a greenhouse and energy supply around the house. The goal is to let nature take over the process so we have minimal work. Planting the design is much work, but in de long term it is more sustainable and productive. Definitely on a small scale it is very effective, also without any machines. On a big scale, you can also combine permaculture with agroforestry.

Edible forest gardens

An edible forest garden fits perfectly in the permaculture system. The original idea is from Bill Mollison, who is also the founder of permaculture. The main thought of an edible forest garden is that the ecological system of a forest is rebuild, but only with edible plants. This is done by using the seven layers of a forest: big trees, small trees, bushes, climbing plants, herbaceous plants, ground cover plants and root crops.

Biological agriculture

Easily said, biological agriculture practices in the ‘famous’ way of agriculture, but without artificial manure and pesticides. In general, it is still a monoculture that ploughs the ground, but it does focus on the environment, humans and health.

Biodynamic agriculture

This is a way of biological farming that is based on the anthroposophical principles of Rudolf Steiner. A holistic vision on nature is present and also the farming life is treated holistically. Everything is connected: farming, climate, fertilization of the soil, water pollution, biodiversity, quality of the air, etc.

Ecological gardening

When applying ecological gardening, you go one step further than biological gardening. The ecological cycle is taken into account, so it is environmentally friendly because there are no burdens for the environment.

Natural gardening

This is an alternative definition of permaculture.