Agroecology

Sriman Bhaskar H. Save is a farmer in Gujarat, India. He has been practicing organic and natural farming since 1960 and revered as the Guru of natural farming. IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) of Bonn, Germany conferred on him the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. The questions he asks regarding nature and humans greatly interest me.

  1. Is there any creature that starves like we humans do?
  2. Do any of them do business? Or even social work? Yet, they live disease free and depart when nature calls.
  3. So, when all the creatures around us are living happily, why do we have to struggle so much?
  4. Are we trying to beat nature in some race?

Quite naturally he has got the answer. So, he says nature is divine. Bond with nature, and leave the rest to it. That’s probably the quickest guide to Agroecology. Not surprisingly, Sri. Bhaskar Save has been an ardent follower of 5 Gandhian principles of farming. The following are those principles that he himself dictates .

  1. Harmonious coexistence for mutual benefit: Do not use artificial means to kill micro-organisms
  2. Nothing borne out of Mother Earth is waste.
  3. Farming is not man’s business. It is his moral duty.
  4. All is nature’s will. We are mere laborers. Our rights are limited. Extract only as per your needs.
  5. Do not hurry. Nature herself does not. Land is a living being. Converse with the farm.

I would describe Agroecology by quoting from Sri. Bhaskar Save’s open letter to the Indian Ministry of Agriculture in 2006. Agroecology is about achieving food and water security by organically growing mixed, locally suitable crops, plants and trees, following the laws of nature. This, I believe easily and precisely explains Agroecology. The opposite of Agroecology is Industrial Agriculture or Factory Farming. Here is a comparison chart (src. https://www.christensenfund.org).

Agroecological approach to farming is a fusion of farming activities and the local environment. It minimizes the use of resources and even promotes conservation of resources such as water. It strongly discourages the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, commercial seeds, use of processed animal feed, forced over dose of antibiotics, steroids and anything that is inhumane, environmentally damaging and destroys sustainability of a farm. It’s about working with the environment and not against it.

Industrial Agriculture, on the other hand, requires costly inputs of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, water and other resources to maximize output of monocrops. The practice of Industrial Agriculture has little concern over it’s effects on the environment which in turn affects agriculture. It contaminates the soil to the point where it turns into toxic wasteland which will require even more chemicals to grow crops. The soil looses the life forms that enrich it within and also insects, bees and frogs above it damaging biodiversity of the local environment. The soil also looses it’s water retention capacity that leads to erosion and scarcity of water. The negative impacts continue up to the dinner plate of consumers where the food carries some of the contamination added to the food system.

Agroecology has been proven to provide methods to grow enough food without harmful chemicals. It seems to be capable of reducing green house gas emissions up to one third of emissions from Industrial Agriculture. It’s considered a promising option for future food security and conservation of environment. Economically it reduces cost of inputs for farming by reducing dependence on expensive seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment and water resources. Agriculturally it is able to supply diverse, local foods to communities, support smallholders, sustain soil and water resources, maintain healthy food system while improving food security.

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