“The Tree, a fellow traveller in the journey of life.” (Daaji)

“When any tree is planted, the people who have done the planting sit and meditate with the tree to offer live-giving love. The tree is treated as a living being with a soul and consciousness as well as a physical body. A relationship is built from the beginning with that being, a fellow traveller in this journey of life.”

This wonderful testimonial is an extract from the new foreword written by Daaji for the Indian edition of the book Farmers have the Earth in Their Hands written by Paul Luu, Executive Secretary of the International Initiative “4 by 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate”.

Here you can read a long extract from the book written by Paul Luu, which sums up his benevolent and inclusive vision, far removed from the divisions and conflicts that often trouble us.

Chapter Ten – No single agriculture, but a single role: one of male and female farmers

“None of the forms of agriculture we have presented, whether conservation, organic, regenerative or agroforestry, are completely satisfactory in isolation, but they all represent positive developments and opportunities for progress. This is particularly true if we recall the shortcomings of conventional agriculture that currently dominates the world. Some of these alternative systems can be a step on the way towards the “ideal” agriculture. For example, it would seem wise to move as quickly as possible towards conservation agriculture to improve soil health while maintaining yields close to those of conventional agriculture. Then to move, where possible, towards other forms of agriculture. All of these systems within agroecology will constitute the “ideal” agriculture in different contexts, characterised by a given production system in a particular agro-pedo-climatic and socio-economic context.

Agroecology should thus be seen as a continuum of several types of agriculture with different possible evolutions. The ideal would be to have, throughout the world, farming methods best adapted to each agronomic, pedological and climatic condition in order to store as much carbon as possible, to combat climate change and protect biodiversity. Those farming methods should also be best adapted to the socio-economic conditions of farmers, in order to improve food security for the populations which depend on them.

It seems impossible to have just one “universal” type of agriculture that can be adapted to the whole planet and to all existing production systems.

For field crops like wheat, barley, maize, soya and sunflower, a switch to conservation agriculture wherever possible and as soon as possible would be an enormous step forward. Soil carbon levels would increase, fewer chemical inputs would be used, greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced, and the overall quality of the environment – including biodiversity – and crops would be improved.

For fruit and vegetables, organic, biodynamic or even better regenerative farming is well suited. The same applies to small livestock (small ruminants, poultry, pigs), while cattle could be raised according to the rules of dynamic rotational grazing, both for milk and meat production.

In addition, rather than growing large quantities of soya and maize to feed pigs and poultry, there are now solutions involving farmed insects. The larvae are fed with residues from food processing from starch or sugar mills and so produce protein meal and oils. These breeding units are an example of a circular economy, developing relationships with industrial processors. They also have the capacity to supply fertilisers rich in organic matter (frass, i.e. the larvae’s dejecta) to local farmers who, in turn, supply raw materials to these processors. France is the world leader in insect farming with companies such as InnovaFeed and Ynsect, both of which are Partners of the “4 per 1000” Initiative.

Finally, agroforestry could be applied to a variety of situations (fruit, spice and aromatic plants, coffee, cocoa and tea, sylvo-pasture, et cetera) in many regions of the world.

There is no single and miracle solution, but there are multiple opportunities to improve things compared to conventional agriculture. We can talk about the importance of agricultural diversity as well as biological diversity.

It is important to understand that we must change the current system as quickly as possible; conventional agriculture only accelerates the erosion of soil and the loss of carbon.

To do this, we must favour agroecological systems to restore life to the soil, by storing carbon and contributing to the fight against climate change, food insecurity, and the loss of biodiversity.

By aggregating both statistical data and estimates made by scientists, we can obtain a rough picture of the state of agroecology in 2020. Here are the figures and their source on the scale of the planet and of a country like France. It should be noted that, as the concept of regenerative agriculture is still recent and not homogeneous, there is no baseline against which to measure change. Thus, we will limit ourselves to those types of agriculture for which figures are available. As far as agroforestry is concerned, these are estimates from a scientific study on the place of trees in agriculture with tree cover of over 10% of cultivated areas. It is clear that this data is only an approximation of the areas, but it is extremely difficult to obtain statistics on practices that range from the presence of trees in hedges or rows in the plots to very complex multi-stratum systems that are close to the architecture of a natural forest. Nevertheless, this information provides valuable insights.

Based on this information, it can be estimated that agroecology now covers more than 24% of the world’s agricultural land, or 1,213 million hectares. This is probably a low figure as many family farms in developing countries are de facto organic, as they cannot buy mineral fertilisers or phytosanitary products – unless they are subsidised.

In France, agroecology represents only 14.4% of useful agricultural land, i.e. 4.03 million hectares, with organic farming clearly dominating.

Farmers who need to be supported

While there are different forms of agroecological agriculture, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, today there are fewer, larger, farmers, subject to great pressure from numerous stakeholder; scientists, decision-makers and industrialists all connected by the expectations of consumers.

Criticism is sometimes aggressive, direct, often unjustified and above all ignores the major role played by these women and men in our daily diet. It is easily forgotten that, thanks to them, we do not have to worry every morning about how to find food like our distant ancestors.

Beyond the nurturing and landscaping roles that they offer to society, we must ask ourselves what farmers should expect from society. It is essential to recognise their free will and to respect their choice of a particular practice or form of agriculture. To make the correct choices, farmers must have access to relevant technical and economic information in order to make the right decisions and decide freely on their practices.

They know their business, but they are often committed to a particular practice, or locked into major investments, under the influence of various actors in the agricultural world and civil society. Many of them cannot change their situation. They can fall into a vicious circle of loss not only of economic profitability but also of productive capital, starting with the soil on their farm.

We must try to help them out of this situation, taking into account the fact that not everyone is equally aware of environmental issues around the world or of the issues related to soil carbon storage. We must identify their needs, whether in terms of information, advice or financial support, so that they can commit to this agroecological transition.

One of the objectives of the International “4 per 1000” Initiative is to build databases of good agricultural practices in all the world’s agro-pedo-climatic zones and socio-economic circumstances. The aim is to help farmers identify relevant and appropriate practices that are for their conditions, and to make the right decisions.

It is a question of proposing different solutions according to the production systems, of orienting each system towards practices which could be solutions for change, by explaining the implications, in terms of workload, investment (particularly in equipment) and economic results.

There are different types of agriculture and different environments in the world. It is therefore necessary to develop appropriate tools to support farmers in their transition towards an agriculture adapted to their needs and those of humanity.”