By Ibrahima Seck, Senegal

 

THE logic behind peasant farming is the best argument in favour of ecological organic agriculture.

This argument is based on a farming system originally intended for a long-term equilibrium of multi-storied agriculture in which there was a strong synergy between plant and animal speculation. The cultural structure was associative using a diversity of species with different perennial or semi-perennial, seasonal or multi-seasonal characteristics.

A farmer could produce a variety of crops throughout the year without depleting the soil or destroying forest resources. Peasant agriculture has several ecological, economic and social advantages which include defence against the erosive impact of the first rains, permanent occupation of the soil which favors a decrease of high temperatures, reduced water evaporation and a more important active biomass resulting in a more effective photosynthetic activity.

Other advantages involve mineralization of organic matter which becomes slower and enhances maintenance of soil fertility and diversity which leads to a better use of water.

Soil fertility management is more effective with fallows, crop rotations, the combination of crops (like legumes and cereals), agriculture-livestock integration and the use of organic manure for soil fertility.

The natural and mechanical fight against pests preserves the environment and health, the natural conservation and the use of seed varieties adapted to the ecological conditions of the environment secures overall production. In addition, farmers’ seeds contribute to the preservation of biodiversity and finally the production costs are lower and products are of a better quality, etc.

The peasant farming methods were based on the “possibilities and constraints of the environment”, but also on the possibilities and constraints of the farmers.

Traditional systems of agricultural production made responsible and sustainable use of natural resources (soils, vegetation, light, water, nutrients, biomass, etc.). Harvests were guaranteed and the risk of loss was reduced to a minimum. Traditional agricultural systems also had a strong cultural concept based on norms and customs, social hierarchies, solidarity economy (mutual aid and solidarity systems, fair prices, etc.).

But peasant agriculture was quickly affected by the wind of “modernity” and the market economy, which gradually made it lose its cultural foundations and good farming practices that are concerned with sustainability.

Conventional (modern) agriculture is characterized by its focus on only one aspect of the agricultural system, namely increasing the productivity and production of a given species through the massive use of chemical inputs.

Colonization introduced monocultures of commercial speculation (peanuts, cotton). Post-independence agricultural policies have reinforced this logic and developed harnessed culture and chemical inputs.

The current agricultural policies are part of the same conventional agricultural logic underpinned by the liberalization of the world economy and trade policies that are not conducive to the preservation of our productive resources. All this has led to a massive destruction of our forest resources, land degradation, water pollution from chemical inputs.

Man develops at the expense of nature and this is not sustainable. Paradoxically, man knows that he cannot live without nature, without its resources. Modern agriculture has shown its limits enough to feed people while preserving their health and productive resources for future generations.

A multisectoral, holistic approach is needed, and Ecological Organic Agriculture is an initiative that brings the dimensions of sustainability, biodiversity and undisturbed ecosystems to agriculture while producing food for people.

Ecological organic agriculture is the relevant alternative of sustainable development to face the current challenges of food and nutritional security, adaptation to climate change, fairness in trade relations and social cohesion. Sustainable development implies the right of use but also the duty to foresee future users. Its implication is the transition from the exploitation of natural resources to the management of natural resources. The peasant movement is aware of this and is committed to promoting this form of agriculture.

Ecological organic agriculture is an improved and affordable way to produce good quality agricultural products in harmony with nature. It combines traditional best production practices with modern sustainable farming methods. Ecological organic farming is defined as “a set of agricultural practices that respect the ecological equilibrium and the autonomy of farmers”.

The originality of organic farming is the use of cultural and livestock practices that care about natural balances. Across the world, only 12 per cent of agricultural land is currently being exploited environmentally.

Ecological organic agriculture is a new way of thinking about agriculture. Ecological organic agriculture focuses on the intensification of biological processes whereas current agriculture is based on the intensification of factors of production.

Ecological organic agriculture adopts the principles of organic agriculture which is based on the following principles:

Principle of Health: Ecological organic agriculture should support and improve the health of soils, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.

Principle of Ecology: Ecological organic agriculture should be based on living ecological cycles and systems, agreeing with them, imitating them and helping them to maintain themselves.

Principle of Equity: Ecological organic agriculture should build relationships of equity in relation to the common environment and the opportunities of life.

Precautionary Principle: Ecological organic agriculture should be conducted in a prudent and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Ecological organic agriculture is an innovative way of designing production systems that rely on the functionality offered by ecosystems. It amplifies them while aiming at reducing the pressures on the environment (e.g. reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting as much as possible the use of synthetic fertilizers and phytosanitary products) and preserving natural resources like water, energy, mineral elements. It is a question of making maximum use of nature as a factor of production by maintaining its renewal capacities.

Ecological organic agriculture is an agricultural system that focuses on the rational management of natural resources (use, conservation, renewal of soil, water, forests, biomass, fish and animal resources). It seeks to collaborate with nature, instead of trying to dominate it.

Organic ecological agriculture encourages a strong intensification of the biological processes of agricultural systems, combined with a good diversification of plant and animal productions. In organic ecological agriculture, the role of biodiversity as a factor of production is also strengthened or restored.

Ecological organic agriculture adopts a systemic approach in the plot, in the family farm and at the terroir level. Ecological organic agriculture relies on the traditional knowledge of populations, but is also enriched with modern technologies and technologies that limit external inputs including polluting and harmful chemical inputs.

Instead of fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides, organic ecological agriculture uses all renewable energies and biodegradable materials available in the environment, for soil fertilization and uses natural and integrated pest control. It develops the biodiversity and allows the farmers to put on the market, at any period of the year, vegetable and animal productions at profitable and fair prices.

Ecological organic farming is centered on the family farm which is a set of production system composed of various elements in permanent relationship: the family group, the natural resources on which the family acts, the agricultural equipment, the other factors of production, non-agricultural activities, the transmission of values (ethics, solidarity, work culture, etc.).

Ecological organic farming is therefore a sustainable family farming which is a powerful means of use and intensification of the labor force, hence of jobs in rural areas and the fight against poverty.

The limits of intensive production methods based on chemical inputs are real. Alternative agriculture is needed because unsustainable development does not benefit anyone or any country. Models of agricultural alternatives exist and aim at enhancing the productive potential of ecosystems. To promote them requires political will, commitment to research, and strong citizen engagement.

We can produce better and more with less negative effects on the environment, the climate. This is the challenge of 21st century agriculture.

Ibrahima Seck is coordinator for the Federation Nationale Pour L’Agriculture Biologique (FANAB) and can be reached through: iseck@yahoo.fr

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