Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Organic agriculture: Sowing the seeds for a better world

Trying to nail down what organic farming really is and what it really means is much more difficult than any one could have imagined. As soon as we leave behind the no-no definition (no chemical fertilizers, no chemical pesticides) it gets hard. IFOAM’s definition says "Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects." 

Slowly growing, my view is that organic agriculture should be defined as regenerative agriculture in the widest sense. It is a farming system that regenerates its own production capacity and potential (credit to Jules Pretty who wrote a book called Regenerative Agriculture and also to the Rodale Institute which often uses the term, even if not in exactly the same sense as I mean here). This term highlights that regeneration and reproduction are as essential in the farming system as production; that it is just as important to regenerate the conditions for farming as it is to farm. This perspective makes it quite obvious that crop rotations and bio-diversity are more desirable on your farm than buying ‘Fertility Bags’ of chemical fertilisers or ‘Pest Control’ in the shape of plastic drums full of poison. From this perspective, it doesn't really matter much whether a particular input is good or bad, or even if it is natural or synthetic; what matters is whether it assists you in regenerating the farming system. It also becomes clear why a farm has to be a living place that is part of a living rural society, because that is the only way to maintain people on farms and, without people and thriving communities there is no regeneration. It also explains why organic farms should have good working conditions, because without that there is no future for the farms.

Regenerating the people who work on the farm, the community of which the farm is a part, the fertility of the soil, the water used and the biological diversity – ultimately relies on just one external input - the sun. This brings us very close to the principles that, for millennia, have guided peasant farming all over the world. Peasants have avoided all kinds of "purchased" inputs, be they credits, salaried labour or pesticides and fertilisers. Instead, they prefer to rely on their own capacity, and the capacity of local communities and local eco-systems, to regenerate their systems. This is also the way that peasants try to keep their autonomy from the market and from loan sharks. There is nothing inherently wrong in being dependent on other people, so the idea of autonomy and self-regeneration should not be taken too far. The idea should work at a scale that embraces and regenerates whole communities. In this way. sowing organic seeds can also contribute to growing a new and better world. 

No comments:

Post a Comment