AGROECOLOGY - IS NATURE GOOD?
It is fashionable, in the current stream of "good-thinking", to think that nature is good, and humans are only disturbing it.
Let's take a look at nature on the one hand, and the relationship of humans and other animals to Mother Nature.
Animals have always used nature for their needs.
Birds make their nests, rabbits dig their burrows, squirrels make food supplies, crows make tools to solve their problems, ants raise and defend aphids to feed on the molasses they produce, the big ones felines hunt by gathering herds of antelopes or zebras to isolate an individual, bears destroy wild hives to take honey, cormorants sin, cats play with their victims, tuna hunt randomly in the gigantic benches of herring, killing thousands, some animals even associate to gain efficiency in the hunt.
So see the struggle and the fate of this flying fish fleeing madly in front of a much more powerful predator.
We pity it. Yet it is its destiny. This is the natural cycle. It has to die so that its predators can live and reproduce.
The romanticism of modern humanity makes him lose notions as essential as this one. We are predators.
Crying for the cow that will be slaughtered is absolutely unnatural.
Which does not mean that we have to inflict pain to the animal by killing it.
Many current ideological movements (especially concerning food) are in the background absurd because they are a denial of Nature.
How can one claim to respect nature when one refuses to accept human nature?
Humans have only reproduced and adapted what usually happens in nature. The peculiarity is that a single animal species, thanks to the atypical development of his brain, has succeeded in gathering the majority of capacities of other animals.
Human has always sought to protect himself from nature because it is not good, it is wild, cruel and dangerous for its members.
He invented clothes to protect himself from cold and sun
He invented shoes to protect his feet,
He invented weapons to hunt more powerful animals,
He learned to domesticate fire to heat himself, to scare his own predators and to cook his food,
He built houses to shelter from rain, snow, wind and wild animals,
He invented the lightning rod to protect himself from lightning,
He has tamed and domesticated animals to relieve himself of the most difficult tasks, and to be able to move,
He has domesticated others to defend himself,
He invented agriculture to control the availability of his food.
Inventing all these incredible things developed him intelligence, and he invented techniques to improve and modernize all previous inventions.
But basically, all that for what?
To protect himself.
This fundamental and visceral need for protection allowed him to evolve and develop his intelligence. And he did the same that all living things in nature: he used nature for his own needs.
Now it is fashionable to want to return to an agriculture that does not disturb the balance of nature. This idea is based in particular on the concept that nature is good, and on the other hand, what nature does is perfect.
It's very questionable.
Andrew McGuire, an agronomist at the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, wrote an interesting article in 2014, originally published on the website of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of Washington, under the title "Don't Mimic Nature on the Farm, Improve it", (http://csanr.wsu.edu/dont-mimic-nature-improve- it /).
I take only the conclusion, in my opinion fundamental to understand that our agriculture must continue its evolution:
“If what we see in natural ecosystems is not optimized, but random (stochastic, say the ecologists), we should be able to do just as well or better. We can, with ingenuity, wisdom, and a good dose of humility, purposefully assemble systems that outperform natural ecosystems in providing both products and ecosystem services. By taking advantage of individual species’ properties and processes, and by managing abiotic conditions (soil physical and chemical properties and water levels, etc.) we can create designer agro-ecosystems, successful by criteria that matter in agriculture; productivity, efficiency, and stability. I propose that this is, in fact, what we have been doing all along (more on this my follow-up post), and that the “balance of nature” has only been a distraction from our efforts to improve the sustainability of our agriculture, a distraction that should be decisively cast aside.”
In the second article cited in this article, the same author proposes some lines of thought for a future agriculture under the title "Ecosystems are Not Smart, We Are - Applications on the Farm".
I particularly remember the beginning and the end of this article:
“If nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances, then there is no reason to “follow nature’s lead.” But if we don’t, what are we left with?
We are left with an agriculture based on human ingenuity, consisting of:
Crop rotations, or better yet, dynamic crop sequences;
Residue management and no-till planting to keep the soil covered and control erosion;
Careful use of synthetic fertilizers in conjunction with organic fertilizers;
Cover crops and green manures, including cover crop cocktails; this is where we can study unused and underused species to take advantage of “nature’s wisdom.” Precision crop planting in sequence with cover crops could potentially improve cover cropping benefits by allowing crop roots to advantageously colonize the root channels of the dead cover crops (i.e., sequential root channel colonization).
Integrated pest management including the use of improved pesticides.
GMO crops, including cover crops.
All these practices could be more widely used and more effectively applied.
Another benefit gained by casting aside “the romantic notions of a stable Eden” is that it should make us less susceptible to “silver bullet” solutions, wishful thinking and other such nonsense. In my experience, this is most needed in soil and pest management. There are no quick, easy, and cheap methods to improve soils. It takes bulk organic materials, either grown on-site (less expensive) or imported (more expensive). In the long-term, the nutrients that are harvested in the crop must be replaced; they cannot be produced by “better biology.” For insects, weeds, and disease, no amount of tweaking the system will make them go away.
There are those who will find this whole notion yet another example of arrogant man trying to control nature, and there are plenty of examples of where we have done a poor job at managing the Earth. However, we must realize that farming is controlling nature for our own purposes. We still need nature, and “wild” places, but unless critics can point to a mechanism by which natural ecosystems were consistently improved, we should not use them as blueprints for agriculture, nor should we assume that we cannot improve on them. There is no utopian state of nature, so we can stop trying to restore, recover, or regain any such state in agriculture. There is no way back, but there is a way forward.”
Our agriculture must continue to evolve. We went from a traditional agriculture totally exposed to the vagaries of nature, to a productivist agriculture, conceptually extracted from this same nature. It is obvious to anyone who wants to think about it, that it was a mistake.
But a revolution always goes through extreme phases. The French Revolution, founder of a large part of the modern political ideologies, caused terrible collateral damage, was the scene of all kinds of settling of scores, was the origin of hundreds of thousands of victims, innocent of the misdeeds which they were accused of.
But it was necessary to go through these frightening steps to establish a democracy in which the small gift to politicians is a clear sign of patronage and corruption.
In agriculture, it's the same thing.
We have lived for centuries with a traditional and fragile agriculture, difficult and unproductive, alternating phases of overproduction with phases of famine.
Then, succeeding the Industrial Revolution, arrived the Green Revolution, steeped in good intentions, and catastrophic in many ways. Yet this much-maligned revolution has launched a fundamental movement of research, experimentation and understanding of the phenomena to which our food production is linked.
We are currently in a reverse balance movement, which tends to bring us back to a time when modernity is understood as synonymous with pollution, aberration.
But inevitably, the future will show us that the truth is not there. The production of food has an imperative need of modernity in all points of view.
But the preservation of our environment is also a condition of sustainability, not only of our agriculture, but also of the human species and other living species.
The future is NECESSARILY in a middle ground, both modern and productive, and at the same time respectful of the environment, biodiversity, water and soil.
But organic farming, currently, is not able to propose a proper combination of all these criteria.
It is Integrated Production that allows it, or agroecology, depending on how we want to name it.
Because let's be very clear, recourse to synthetic chemistry is sometimes a necessity, not in any way, of course, but we must protect our agriculture from the aggressions of nature. It's a question of ecology.
Yes, I know, some won't appreciate. However, producing a lot on a small surface is the best way to respect natural areas not devoted to agriculture.
Productivism is not polluting if it's well managed, it's even the opposite.
Humans kill plants and animals that they have previously allowed to live. That's how we feed ourselves.
And I don't see a humanity of 7.5 billion inhabitants, and increasing, of which more than half are city dwellers, return to a hunter-gatherer status.
Nature is not good. It is not bad either. She is just Nature, always divided between life and death. The death of some is the life insurance of others. That's the way it is. It's the law of nature.
What is complicated for farmers is to solve the difficult equation of an optimized production with very small side effects, in order to respect Nature at best.