dimanche 3 avril 2016

74- Agroecology -1- The concept


There are quite a time I want to tell you about that, but it's harder than it seems, since this is more of a concept than a method.

We find a proof of that in a recent text, as published in 2013 by the French Ministry of Agriculture, a sort of founding text, even if the word and the idea are significantly older (1928 for the word, it's a little fuzzier to fix a date for the idea, but can be in the 70s to its current meaning). The lack of precision in the concept is clear in the title of this text: "Agroecology: varied definitions, common principles" http://agriculture.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/Analyse_CEP_59_Agroecologie_definitions_variees_principes_communs_cle051634.pdf

There is, to my knowledge, no protocol, no specification of agroecology, which allows a professional like me to put it into practice in a specific context.
In short, the concept attempts to combine agronomy and ecology for an agriculture better integrated in society at both the productive and environmental levels, and of course in its socio-economic and cultural dimensions.

This is all very nice, but what does that mean?

Designing agriculture in a respectful environment is the foundation of agroecology. In this case, the orchards are isolated from the river by a semi-wild plant fringe, with a minimized maintenance, to let settle a high biodiversity. In the foreground, an uncultivated area, the defense wall which protects the rest of the farm from flooding, is left with significant biodiversity. The orchards are irrigated by drip to save water and fertilizers, while increasing their efficiency. A grass cover is preserved on over 50% of the agricultural area, to help develop soil life and natural soil fertility. The rests of pruning are crushed and left on the ground to increase the level of organic matter of the soil. These are some of the small actions that can be implemented in an orchard to reduce the negative impact of agricultural production.

In fact, reading recently an interview with François Houllier, the current CEO of INRA (French National Institute of Agronomic Investigation), and published by the magazine Le Nouvel Economiste, I found the clearest material on the subject.

By reading this article, I realized, both the scope of the subject, its importance and its complexity.
Depending on the country and local needs, the name may be different, such as EIA (Ecologically Intensive Agriculture), possibly clearer, but less "exciting". But actually everybody is talking about the same thing on the bottom.
This is probably a great agricultural revolution that is underway, likely to change agriculture, improve the environment, to give durability to food production, but also to change the rural landscape, and, let's hope for it, to sweeten the love-hate relationship between the industrialized societies and their agriculture.
You will note that the majority of references are French. This is simply because this is the only country where this concept has been integrated into the policy objectives at national level, with government decisions and laws for its implementation. Therefore, it is also the country where there is more reflection and writings about the subject.
Some countries have made national decisions on changing to organic farming, but no other to date, towards agroecology, which is both more inclusive, more ambitious, and probably more realistic if we integrate to the reflection, all criteria and all consequences of the issue.
From this point of view, France rises as precursory country.

The concept involves several major axes, all in relation to each other, all complexes.
We can talk for example of soil, water, biodiversity, plant protection. This involves issues such as training, research, technological development, information and communication.
It does not exclude anything a priori, there is accepted chemistry for example, provided that its use is well done. The methods and techniques come into play, for their necessity and effectiveness, and for their undesirable side effects too.
So all production protocols may be accepted, that promote good agricultural practices, that is to say the integration of all available criteria in decision making, as well as the side effects of interventions. We are talking about organic and biodynamic farming, permaculture, but also integrated production that accepts the rational use of chemistry.

There is a basic problem for the implementation of agroecology, the diversity of farmers, their level of training, their personal convictions, their motivation, their desires, their socio-economic and cultural environment.
In short, for the establishment of such an ambitious project, the human factor is a basic requirement to be considered.
On the other hand, the farm is considered as a part of a local assembly. A farm of 50 hectares in agroecology in the middle of thousands of hectares of industrial crops will not have the same impact as the overall movement in a region.

This topic is of immense importance, and it is likely that many farmers do not realize it.
I am far from agreeing with many of the actions of the current French government, but I must admit that on this particular point, I think he is right. It is obvious that it will result in more regulations, more constraints, more restrictions. As a farmer, I cannot rejoice, but I think this is the time to do it.

Agroecology is friendly environmentally agriculture, economically efficient, and bearer of human development.

The world is now at a crossroads. The climate changes are worrying. Food requirements are huge. The impact of human activity are enormous. The distribution of wealth and resources is aberrant.
Over the last two centuries, we have learned to produce much, we have learned agronomy, we have learned to defend our crops, we discovered physiology, we have implemented a big number of techniques, technologies, which have always been driven by progress, by performance, by the need to respond to social change, to the increasing population.
But over time, most of these techniques and these technologies have proven problematic in some aspects.
These problems regarding agriculture are often environmental, and in turn motivated the development of ideologies seeking to avoid them, often without technical or scientific basis, but not always.

However, these movements, ecologists and environmentalists are not stood idly by, criticizing without seeking solution, quite the opposite. I've already talked about it, and I gladly recognize the value of the work.
I oppose against the dogma that guide them, and the misleading and destructive communication that has become their specialty and their signature. We find a clear evidence, if one is needed, through a recent survey showing that more than half of the French people think that organic farming does not use pesticides. In a country where the concern for health and environment is so important, how can we reach this level of ignorance, if not by an organized disinformation? http://alerte-environnement.fr/2016/03/23/un-francais-sur-deux-ignore-que-lagriculture-biologique-utilise-des-pesticides/

François Houllier uses a small, quite essential sentence about organic farming: "The challenge is not to feed a minority of the population from a virtuous, but limited system, but to meet the global food challenge with a decrease of inputs expected by the society."
Integrated farming has become the first farming method in the world in 2 or 3 decades, simply because it met the needs of farmers. Organic farming, much older, only has been able to remain marginal, mainly by its lack of realism.
The next step is to make compatible the needs of farmers with the expectations of society, in a global vision of the future of agriculture in its environment.
Agroecology is likely to provide the necessary answers.

It is time to bring all this knowledge and all these technical advances, technological, chemical, biotechnological, ecological, biological, and environmental, to invent a true agricultural revolution.
It is a gentle and silent revolution, but will have a profound impact on the world.
And I hope, but I'm not sure at all, that this revolution will occur without dogmatism, thanks to the simple and true concern for the common good.

I first thought to do of this topic, a simple chapter of my series about production methods, but finally, given the scale and the importance of the subject, I'll do the contrary, a series in itself.
My problem is to find the necessary information, a protocol, and a framework. As I said at the beginning of this article, to my knowledge, it does not yet exist.
That said, if you know something concrete, I'm interested.

I'm going to propose to you, through this series, probably long, a kind of small treaty of agroecology, neither technical nor scientific, I have neither the skills nor the knowledge, even less the claim to be an expert.
Instead, I will present you reflexions, my discoveries (at the time of writing articles) and personal observations on the subject, from my point of view of fruit grower, by tackling it by themes.
It is evident that certain topics will refer to existing series. The classification will be done through the key words.

We'll talk, always from the perspective of agroecology, about such issues they present to the farmer, soil management, water, plant protection, changes in the plant material, the social implications, and so on.

A huge topic, which concerns the whole society, even if most of its implementation will necessarily be in the hands of farmers. Yet, as I said in my last article about biodiversity and rescue of bees, everyone can participate, both in town and country, by small and daily gestures.

Don't think that this conversion of agriculture and society as a whole, is easy and quick.
It is a profound questioning, which will pass through many small changes, sometimes difficult, and at all levels.
There will be reluctance and protests.

But hey, it is necessary, so it will be done anyway.

Then, and if, for once, we could do something great, something useful for the common good, without petty squabbling, without adding an unnecessary and counterproductive dose of ideology?

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