dimanche 13 novembre 2016

93- Farmers, poisoners?


In April 2015, Forum Phyto (an association devoted to phytosanitary protection, defending a reasonable access to chemistry), published a very interesting plea (in French) by Sylvie Brunel (Geographer and writer, professor at Paris-I-Sorbonne) to defend Agriculture. http://www.forumphyto.fr/2015/04/29/un-vibrant-plaidoyer-de-sylvie-brunel-pour-une-agriculture-moderne/
The original article was published on April 28 on the digital edition of the newspaper Le Monde under the title "Farmers are not polluters and poisoners"

With the authorization of Sylvie Brunel, I decided to reproduce the full text, and then add some comments that I think are important.
The text refers to the situation in France, but can be extrapolated to many other countries.

"Anger rages in the French countryside. Confrontations around the Sivens dam, calls to no longer consume meat, denunciation of GMOs and maize cultivation, criticism of the "bad" ("productivist") agriculture against the "good" organic ... Farmers can no more these charges they hear throughout the day.

Picture: http://footage.framepool.com/shotimg/qf/545148634-manure-pile-cigoc-farm-building-barn-fowl.jpg

For many urbanites, the chicken pecking on the manure pile always symbolizes the good old days, the Eden lost of our countryside. They forget the painful agricultural labor of yesterday, the premature aging of peasants, the departure of women, exhausted by ceaseless labor, all food-related illnesses, food dependence and food insecurity. Precisely the situation of all poor countries today.

French farmers now live longer than the rest of the French population. After suffering from hunger and having massively imported food, our country has become, thanks to them, a great power, which not only nourishes its fellow citizens, but also structurally importing countries, where access to food guarantees social peace.

Every time a farm disappears, sustainable development regresses. Our landscapes, which seduce the whole world, are not "natural", they are the product of centuries of careful agrarian development, which have spawned the Camargue, the Poitevin Marsh, the Landes, the Bresse ... A farmer who puts the key under the door is not only a great loss of wealth and know-how, but paths that close, the fallow that invades everything, house estates and car parks as far as the eye can see, concrete to replace the nurturing biodiversity, the risk of fire in the South.

Picture: https://static.panoramio.com.storage.googleapis.com/photos/original/79508943.jpg

The so-called organic

Those who accuse farmers of being "profiteers" because agriculture needs support in order to be able to sell its products at low prices, educate their children and receive free treatment without wondering what they are profiting from and find it normal that their foods are varied and of a quality that China envies us and United States as well. The fierce activist who denounces modern agriculture becomes an uncompromising consumer as soon as he sends his child to the canteen, pushes the door of a restaurant or goes shopping, demanding to eat good for cheap.

The "conversion" to organic - term which belongs to the religious register, and this is not a coincidence - is ultimately better neither for the planet (more CO2 linked to mechanical weeding, or transport, when the so - called organic, often industrial, comes from the end of the world), nor for the wallet - products more expensive because of the cost of labor and generally lower quantities produced - nor for taste, since nobody could prove the organoleptic superiority of organic foods, whose contamination is carefully hidden and norms are changing at the good will of ad hoc bodies.

They also preserve very short time, resulting in a huge waste. It is not a question of imitating the flute players who profess ukases against conventional agriculture by opposing to it examples of success, always carefully chosen and rarely generalizable: organic farming has its place in agriculture, if only because it allows some farmers to be better paid for their work. But let us generalize it, and France will again become a major importer of food - from non-organic countries - instead of its agri-food surpluses, which mitigate the deficit in our trade balance.

To accuse the peasants of being polluters and poisoners is to ignore the immense progress made in the countryside. Using the right dose, very well adjusted, at the right time, producing more with less, our growers have become, for environmental as well as economic reasons, aces of precision agriculture, that any Sunday gardener cheerfully offends with his so good "homemade".

Picture: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/3ayral-121203032202-phpapp01/95/atelier-2-les-technologies-au-service-de-la-nutrition-des-plantes-solutions-de-diagnostic-temps-rel-laide-de-capteurs-de-fuorescence-pour-la-nutrition-des-plantes-5-638.jpg?cb=1354504957

Refusing irrigation is a criminal approach when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that climate change threatens global food security. As cultivated land is increasingly nibbled by cities, the extension of "protected" networks and "green" areas - from whom and for whom the question deserves to be asked - it's imperative to store water when it abounds, to use it when the weather is dry.

Mistaken and stuck in the past vision of campaigns

Irrigation has produced the most brilliant civilizations. And these city-dwellers who rise up against the reservoirs are the first to come to observe their exceptional biodiversity when they finally exist, prized recreation and leisure areas. How dare we talk about waste of water, when France uses a so tiny part of what falls from the sky to go back to the sea?

Stopping consuming meat will not solve hunger in the world. Far from reorienting itself towards the poor and the hungry, the cereals thus "liberated" will disappear because, everywhere, food production adapts to solvent demand. In the absence of markets, breeders, who value low-fertile land, will put the key under the door. More unemployed in the north, more malnourished in the south, is that what we want? It will also be necessary to find a solution for dairy cows of reform, which constitute more than two thirds of the meat consumed in France: retirement homes for cattle?

As for corn, which is so unjustly criticized, if it progresses all over the world, and particularly in Africa, where it tends to replace sorghum, it is because no cereal produces so much per hectare, none captures as much CO2, none is so versatile and universal, nourishing at a time  humans, animals, green chemistry, and the need for renewable energy. And even biodiversity: that those who denounce its monoculture - it does not exhaust the soil - come to admire common cranes in the cornfields of the Landes. Where the plant, as everywhere else, has made possible to fight poverty.

Picture: http://footme.framepool.com/shotimg/qf/344426246-cornfield-corn-maize-common-crane-migratory-bird.jpg

The right to resow? Good seeds are the key to food security. Resow, as in Africa, exposes to meager results. The peasant can do it, but he does not want it: he wants a safe harvest, results, income. Poor countries, which know that they will have to produce one billion tons more of cereals in the forty next years, are looking for all the solutions. Genetic engineering is one of them. To fight pests, agriculture needs to constantly innovate. Here again, ideological fighting is not appropriate.

Many French people refuse to face reality and embrace a mistaken and stuck in the past vision of campaigns. They are discouraging the agricultural world. Yet, without peasants, France would die. Let us stop accusing them unjustly. Let us listen to them, let us respect them. They hold our future in their hands. "

Difficult to add an intelligent comment after that.
Yet, this article has unleashed some spicy, even stormy debates on social networks. The ones I read are actually referring to only one phrase "The so-called bio".
I did not talk about it with Sylvie Brunel, but my interpretation is this:
One of the big problems of organic is its massification. Organic is first and foremost a market with significant economic prospects.
Organic, as it was originally thought, and especially as it is presented to the consumer, is a method of production that tries to respect nature by refusing chemistry. By extension, any polluting action is banned or limited.
But reality is not quite this one. You can buy your organic products at the certified farmer's, on the market in your neighborhood or in a specialty shop.
But the bulk of this market is occupied by supermarkets, with their requirements of volume, preservation, presentation, and price.
There is therefore another organic agriculture, on a larger scale, intended to supply these markets with large volumes. It is organic, true, because, with some exception, scrupulously respects the specifications, but it is "industrial organic", intended to produce massively, controlling costs and optimizing logistical problems. The result is that the biggest organic producers countries are today India, Uganda and Mexico, and the current biggest developments are in China and Oceania (see the Arte dossier, in French or German "Organic, for everyone?" 

Thus, more and more organic food is produced, but the local organic, from the small farmer, idealized by the consumer, is by far only a minority of this production. The biggest comes from far, or from very far, after many kilometers by truck, by boat, or even by plane, in short, by means far removed from sustainable agriculture. At the same time, since many investors, sniffing the good deal, have created large organic farms around the world, organic has become productivist. I don't think it's a crime, but it's a bit messy in an idealized picture.
Can we still call it organic?

Picture: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LGQvLAxEOo0/TtdphZ99oHI/AAAAAAAAAaE/GbILIZxAXOg/s1600/IMG00152-20111130-1632.jpg

I understand that is what Sylvie Brunel alludes to in her text. It is not a questioning of the organic in itself, rather a criticism of this questionable evolution.

If you want to know more about Sylvie Brunel, go for example on http://www.wikiberal.org/wiki/Sylvie_Brunel

You can also re-read what I have written on these subjects in several previous articles, beginning with one of the very first, entitled "metamorphosis"

No, no doubt, farmers are not polluters and poisoners.

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