“We don’t worry too much about the crop itself – we take care of the whole ecosystem… our production system now achieves 20% higher productivity than conventional sugarcane production, with genuine concern for environmental, social, and economic factors.” Leontino Balbo Junior, Executive Vice President, Grupo Balbo (Native)
It is complicated, but in agriculture today, farmers are very much dependent on advice either directly or indirectly from their suppliers whose dominant approach to finding solutions to the problems they face revolves around technologies which benefit the status quo and none have any incentive to move away from an input intensive system. Their goal is to continue to dominate nature. Biotech investment flows to genetic modification of monoculture crops, better weed-, insect- and fungus-killing applications, super-growth hormones for animals etc. and these companies have enormous information leverage.
Despite this huge influence, some people have followed their instincts and thoughtfully experimented with new ways of doing things aligned with nature. There is now the proof of those instincts producing successful outcomes and we have been able to understand increasingly why some succeed and others fail. For example, not using pesticides while still practising tillage-based monoculture can result in higher costs, lower yields and a need for a price premium or a subsidy to make the financials add up.
At the individual farming enterprise level, the problem is that we are talking about a complete change in thinking and approach where the real benefits flow from commitment to total change. However total change is what is urgently needed and many farmers are now becoming aware of the need to reduce or stop the costly damage that they are doing to their soil health.
How do we make the transition happen at the pace and at the scale needed?
Systemic change is about creating a flywheel and needs both a rock-solid framework for change at the individual enterprise level applicable to any farming enterprise irrespective of what it produces or where it is located and a systematic programme to accelerate and scale change across the entire system.
Adopting global best practice means transforming all agricultural systems to a symbiotic relationship between ecology and economy requires three things:
1. The latest insights from soil science which have only recently changed our understanding of soil o being understood as a complex living system.
2. Agroecological tools and techniques which includes no-till, diverse cover crops, in-farm fertility (no external nutrients), no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and multiple crop rotations.
3. A comprehensive systematic, complexity aware design, management and measurement system which can optimise economic and ecological outcomes simultaneously and measure performance in both; often the missing link. Combining these three elements creates the potential for a fast, viable and productive transition from resource intensive chemical-based soil mining to a knowledge-intensive industry which profitably harnesses natural processes and provides a rich habitat for a thriving biologically-diverse web of life.