samedi 21 avril 2018

128- Agroecology -7- Agriculture, always greener


Although the general public, through an incessant media hype, thinks the opposite, the rapprochement of conventional agriculture and organic farming is obvious for those who really care about the issue.

Picture of my own

After World War II, Western agriculture abused synthetic chemistry, gradually dragging many developing countries into its wake. It was not a deliberate will of farmers, but rather a conditioning and a strong political will. It was the time of the Green Revolution, full of good intentions and very basic and sometimes mistaken conceptions.
Agriculture was a major driver of economic development. Productivism was the order of the day. It was necessary to feed a population eager for comfort and good food after years of deprivation. It was also necessary to bring in foreign currency, so to export, and agriculture was one of the most obvious axes.
The need for food and foreign exchange was enormous, as was the lack of knowledge of the risks, at least at the level of users (it was the era of the all-powerful DDT, present even in domestic insecticides and in anti-lice lotions for kids, with the blessing of the health administration). To this it should be added that the level of training of farmers was generally very low.

Gradually, research has done (and done well) its work, making many discoveries, always better understanding the functioning of animals and plants, soils and ecosystems, and gradually disclosing this new knowledge.
In short, progress was in progress.

In parallel with these agronomic advances, technologies have progressed at an even faster pace. At the time of DDT, there was no analysis of pesticide residues on food products. These techniques were developed in the 70s, with advances in electronics, and chemistry. DDT has been banned since the early 1970s.
The first residue analysis equipment was able to measure the presence of a molecule in levels of 1 mg/kg (1 ppm) or 1 gram of chemical molecule in 1 ton of food.
At that time, some products might have had pre-harvest deadlines of 0 days. In other words, it was possible to make a chemical treatment, and to harvest fruits or vegetables the same day. And despite everything, analyzes gave absence of residues.
Nowadays, these same equipment are able of determining the presence of a molecule in levels of 1 mg/ton (1 ppb), in other words 1 gram of chemical molecule in 1000 tons of food, that is to say one accuracy level 1000 times higher.
These technological advances have made possible to detect aberrations in authorized uses, and more generally in legislation.
All legislation concerning authorizations and use of chemical pesticides has been accordingly amended.

Meanwhile, medicine has also made great progress, and it has become clear that certain practices or products, known to be harmless, were not so good. Another source of modifications of uses.

At the same time, the research carried out on the environment, and on the impact of these same practices, made it possible to measure their effects, positive, and especially negative.

During the same period, agricultural education has increased considerably, and the level of training of farmers, today is good, at least in the industrialized countries. With this training came the reflection, the reasoning, the integration of agricultural activity in its environment.

Finally, technological progress has also affected information very directly, giving access to all actors in society, to an immense source of information. Unfortunately, the Internet, real revolution in the availability of information, has also become a gigantic forum in which anyone can say anything, without giving proof of what he says, while receiving a large audience.

All these advances, made in parallel, but without consultation with each other, have led to many changes in legislation, in concerns, in behavior.

However, despite all the problems detected a posteriori thanks to technological and scientific developments, despite the proven toxicity of certain products in common use, life expectancy has steadily increased in the industrialized countries. The quality and diversity of available food counterbalanced the problems caused. This does not mean that we should not change anything, on the contrary. But we have to relativize the seriousness of certain problems.
It must also be remembered, particularly with regard to soil and groundwater pollution, that we continue to pay, even today, the consequences of certain decades-old mistakes. Thus, some soils still contain DDT residues, more than 40 years after its prohibition, but decomposed as DDD and DDE. It will take several more decades to disappear.
This is why current assessments are so strict, especially concerning the degradation of new molecules in soils and water.

Going back to the subject of the day, all these changes have had a series of important consequences on agriculture:
-       Farmers are currently well trained and concerned about their health, the health of consumers and their environment.
-       Ecological movements have developed strongly and, by their often questionable action, have largely participated in this awareness, now widespread throughout society.
-       Governments have taken the measure of the problem and have legislated, both on authorizations of chemicals, and control of their use.
-       The number of authorized molecules has been drastically reduced, with the elimination of all the most dangerous products, and the authorized residue levels have all been sharply revised downwards. Currently, European legislation is the most restrictive in the world by far.
-       Chemical companies have radically changed their research orientations, in order to respond to these evolutions, with the result of the apparition of products that are ever more respectful of the environment, the user and the consumer. Even the biggest chemistry companies have started looking for organic products.
-       Most conventional farmers are integrating into their methods and production techniques, elements, always more numerous, compatible with organic farming.
-       Some points remain unresolved, in particular measures of the real impact of non-chemical pesticides, authorized in organic farming, on the environment, on the user and on the consumer. This is where the media pressure does not work well.

In fact, if we look closely, we realize that conventional agriculture has largely evolved towards an integrated production for woody crops (fruit production, vine, olive, citrus, etc.) and for many annual crops, such as horticulture. For other crops (cereals, cotton, forages, etc.), conservation agriculture goes in the same direction. These two methods and their variants have incorporated in cultivation practices, many more environmentally friendly techniques, have reduced the use of pesticides and fertilizers, the doses and times of application have been greatly improved thanks to the knowledge gained on the biology of crops, soils and the environment. See for example

At the same time, organic farming has also evolved, especially with the arrival of new solutions to the health and nutritional problems of crops. It must be said that there is a great deal of public and private research on plant protection techniques and non-chemical pesticides.

Crop protection remains a major challenge for farmers, regardless of the production method. It must be recognized that the profitability of the crop remains the first concern for the farmer who is, above all, a business leader, whose activity must not only be profitable, but in addition it must allow him to generate sufficient income for himself in order to live worthily his family.

Picture of my own

In fact the rapprochement between these two great currents is rapid, and inescapable. I don't believe that we are coming to a fusion, because organic farming refuses certain orientations, such as biotechnologies, although they are undoubtedly the most direct and rapid way towards a disappearance of pesticide needs, be they chemical, or non-chemical.

The organic tends to stagnate in the evolution of its techniques (except on the phytosanitary protection), keeps many zones of shadows (especially in its communication), and survives with many currently insoluble problems, by accepting sometimes the use of certain synthetic pesticides, under controlled conditions. Public aid, much more important in organic than in conventional, also contributes to its development. But it is industrializing by necessity, to meet the needs of a market increasingly dominated by supermarkets.
Conventional is reforming in depth, is becoming every day a little more respectful of the environment, soil, groundwater, consumers, in short, is becoming greener and greener.
The consumer, so courted by everyone, and largely intoxicated by a politically correct and carefully orchestrated disinformation, will eventually get lost. There are signs that it's increasingly difficult to tell the difference.

And not everybody likes that.
Who among the many profiteers of organic, really wants that organic farming takes a large scale? Who wants this rapprochement and the virtual disappearance of differences?
It would be the death of the golden goose.
Would not this be one of the main causes of the ever more numerous and virulent attacks against conventional agriculture?
Who knows?

It is a short-term vision, capitalist, pure economic management but in the meantime, the benefits will be better, whether economic or political.

If particular and political interests do not take precedence over the public interest, one should actually witness a collaboration between the two tendencies. Yet, in reality, there is a clash.

So, dare I say, who benefits from the crime?
Neither the farmer nor the consumer, anyway.


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