Biological. regenerative, organic and sustainable agriculture all stand in some tension towards “conventional” farming. Dr Naudé Malan argues that “conventional” farming creates industrial systems by the exclusion of nature from production cycles. He believes this is a false approach as the productivity of nature, particularly if enhanced by modern biotechnology, will outperform any industrial system.
We are moving into an era where nature’s abilities are being enhanced by new scientific approaches. A high-technology agro-ecology could combine the best of the natural and the scientific world and lead to a new revolution in agriculture.
This will not only feed us, but protect the ability of Earth to feed us forever into the future. We have to build upon nature in agriculture, and the distinction between nature and agriculture is false and misleading.
All agricultural processes are natural, and the point of agricultural development should not be the exclusion of nature in our farming systems, but the selective incorporation and blending of natural processes with science, art and ingenuity.
Agriculture and nature
It is important to farm with nature as agriculture disrupts ecological processes which endangers life on earth. However, there are additional reasons why we should practice a biological agriculture.
Farmers have to blend all advice with the conditions their farms, and we should enable them to make the best possible decisions in this regard.
Biological processes are cheaper than conventional processes. Farmers can manufacture their own inputs, from compost to liquid manure to biodiesel, and this is really a form of in-situ technology development.
These are as effective as chemical fertilisers. Making your own compost generally sets you up to repair equipment much better. However, delinking from expensive financial systems has very clear benefits.
The financialisation of agriculture puts money into the pockets of corporations. Finance is a very costly expenditure and the ability to save in this way could make or break a farmer.
New revenue streams
Biological processes are also compatible with conventional processes, and this is the whole point of thinking about them. Due to this, it enhances the options open for farmers.
This gives farmers space to create new revenue streams and opens up more markets for farmers.
We know “conventional” traders have no scruples about what they trade, but a diligent farmers could find market niches for speciality and organically grown crops. This, once again, could make or break a farmer.
However, when a farmer uses biological systems, she will be harvesting inputs from the local area. This creates a local market for input manufacture, and this will activate others who can manufacture this.
A larger self-sufficient system will result.
Compost is a wonderful fail-safe product! You will always harvest.
This compost reprocesses what was previously considered waste. Now have a product, value and potential revenue.
Whole landscapes and the systems in them are thus improved and new livelihoods are created near the farm and not in a distant fertiliser factory. Workers can now buy what farmers produce.
‘Farmers are poorer’
Biological processes are also more labour intensive. This is certainly good for the country, but has indirect benefits for the farmer as well. Farmers are under the yoke of a food system that buys food in local areas, processes it in distant pack houses, and ships the same or similar products back to the local area.
This is why farmers are poorer than food retailers and processors.
Labour intensive and local production systems will create a “Fordism” for local produce, as labourers will have the money to buy the produce they themselves produce. Note that they have to buy their own food anyway.
In such a system, it will be viable to market produce locally in alternative streams like informal and independent markets.
Basing agriculture once again on biological processes will contribute greatly to the development of a new agro-ecology.
Agro-ecology will benefit greatly from greater scientific measurements and scrutiny, but its compatibility with local economic processes, and how it enhances those is an important issue.
We will learn once again how agriculture becomes the node around which all kinds of ancillary enterprises are created, from inputs manufacture to tourism and local industry.
On the farm…
Agro-ecology may have a bias towards smaller scale farming. The elaboration of this system will enable smaller producers to be more competitive and enable greater diversity in farming systems with enhanced resilience.
We may see the emergence of new enterprise forms, with circular production systems that harvest waste from the area and community, and in this way decrease production costs and create competitive products.
This new approach to agricultural development will enhance the flows of water, nutrients, and capital.
Instead of thinking of enhancing production processes, a farmer will think of creating feedback loops from the community (food and biological waste for compost).
Such an approach will enhance the ecosystem, and, water savings say, will enable ancillary activities like aquaculture.
This approach will move simple linear production regimes to an understanding of the complex interactions amongst animals and plants, which could lead to savings in feed, pest control and the general enhancement of ecological processes on the farm.
Let your chickens follow your cattle and feed off the parasites in their manure.
Such a biological system will build tight relationships with the surrounding communities and symbiotic economic relationships will result.
Farmers can sell directly to larger buyers, like local shops, and capture the value the distributors, processors and retailers take at the moment.
These local relationships will spill over into local politics, and farmers can now exert their social leadership as food producers and make their voices heard. People will look up to farmers, and they will understand the part they themselves play in the production of their own food.
We will establish a food democracy if we enable farmers to build production systems that feed off and contribute to the greater wealth of society and the ecosystem.
Dr Naudé Malan is a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg and founder of iZindaba Zokudla, a Soweto-based farmers’ lab.
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