This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 15th of July 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Today I’m looking at some variations on the regenerative model. Agroecology and a thing called SALT, sloping agricultural land technology or Simple Agro-Livestock Land Technology.
Firstly to agroecology:
From the site: Common Dreams comes the piece: Agroecology as Innovation.
Agroecological sciences offer just the kinds of innovations small-scale farmers need to increase soil fertility, raise productivity, improve food and nutrition security, and build climate resilience.
The key to this is the ecology part of agroecology. We all have a vision of what agriculture might look like or even what it looks like now. The addition of an ecological approach makes much sense. Especially for small scale farmers. The “get big or get out” idea of industrialised agriculture comes with too many costs.
The current glyphosate legal actions are but the tip of the iceberg. Imagine a township or city taking legal action against those who advocated, promoted and subsidised the industrial systems which wrecked a local water supply. This sort of legal action would make the Monsanto/Bayer legal issues look like a Sunday School picnic.
The answer, as I’m sure we’re all onboard with, is to farm in a manner that utilised natural systems rather than brute force attempts to meld Nature to our ways. The latter works for a little while, in geological terms but the costs are enormous.
It appears the UN, of all institutions, is on board with this.
Recently, the High Level Panel of Experts of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its much-anticipated report on agroecology. The report signals the continuing shift in emphasis in the UN agency’s approach to agricultural development. As outgoing FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva has indicated, “We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer healthy and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment. Agroecology can offer several contributions to this process.”
Apart from the older idea of sustainability which is now no longer an option, we need to regenerate natural, life sustaining systems, the quote points to some hopeful options.
The basis of agroecology is agriculture which utilises those natural systems I have been banging on about for years now. This means utilising what is on hand right now. It means planting and grazing with appropriate plants and animals to increase the biological activity within the soils.
As an aside, this used to be fairly common knowledge and practice. Despite the fact that he was preparing native Australian soils for an evolved fertile crescent grain, James Ruse, the first colonial settler to be given both land and a commission to grow wheat in the colony of NSW went through a process of adding organic matter to our thin old soils. He planted, grew and ploughed into the soil, six or seven wheat crops before he actually harvested any grains. The soil simply could not support the crop until the organic matter content was sufficient.
We have vast areas of agricultural land with diminished soil biology requiring attention.
Some of the techniques of agroecology, this in an African setting are:
- Biological pest control – Scientist Hans Herren won a World Food Prize for halting the spread of a cassava pest in Africa by introducing a wasp that naturally controlled the infestation.
- Push-pull technology – Using a scientifically proven mix of crops to push pests away from food crops and pull them out of the field, farmers have been able to reduce pesticide use while increasing productivity.
- Participatory plant breeding – Agronomists work with farmers to identify the most productive and desirable seed varieties and improve them through careful seed selection and farm management. In the process, degraded local varieties can be improved or replaced with locally adapted alternatives.
- Agro-forestry – A wide range of scientists has demonstrated the soil-building potential of incorporating trees and cover crops onto small-scale farms. Carefully selected tree varieties can fix nitrogen in the soil, reduce erosion, and give farmers a much-needed cash crop while restoring degraded land.
- Small livestock – Reintroducing goats or other small livestock onto farms has been shown to provide farmers with a sustainable source of manure while adding needed protein to local diets. Science-driven production of compost can dramatically improve soil quality.
It all seems so obvious, especially when contrasted with the high input, read high cost, alternative of industrialised ag. I’d recommend a full read of the article. It is an inspiring piece.
Now to the SALT systems. When I first encountered this technology I was looking at two things: alley farming and a block of land that was far from level. The SALT system, as it was originally developed, was implemented in the Philippines. It is a system well suited to the 60% of agricultural land in that country described as “uplands”.
First hillsides are marked out along contours. Quick growing trees are established along these contours to produce alleys running across the slopes. These slow water run off, reduce soil erosion and produce a number of products: fire wood, fruits, fodder. Once the soils are stabilised the alleys can be planted out to crops or run as pastures with supplemental feeds coming from the alley ways. The hedge rows on the contours can be become a chop and drop operation where the contour lines of trees can be increased in size to become bunds. These further slow the pace of water across the landscape while being able to support larger tree communities.
This system is a quite remarkable response based on local knowledge and with very little outside inputs. There’s a link in the show notes to a great seven page pdf explaining why and how. Highly recommended.
SALT 2 is but a variation on the SALT system but it more fully integrates livestock into the system. Predominating small ruminants, sheep and goats but with room for swine, I’m sure.
The link in the show notes is to a goat specific approach which would be a good option too. I would recommend a full read of this too.
I’m firmly of the opinion this sort of alley farming would bring great benefits to not just sloping land but all degraded landscapes. The distance between tree rows would, possibly, have to be a little wider on flatish land but necessarily.
The whole idea seems to be a great way to introduce biodiversity, plant and animal, to farming systems. With the right choice of trees, the options mentioned before: fruit, firewood, fodder and “chop and drop” mulch, a smallish farm could become nearly self sufficient in these areas. Even in larger backyards smallish contour following low hedgerows, of say dwarf fruit trees, could work.
We are simply limited by our ingenuity in this matters. We are the thinking ape, so let’s stop thinking we have all the answers and start thinking about how we can incorporate the systems of Nature with a few billions head start on us, into our food systems. It is not that hard, really, it takes a little internal fortitude and decision to make a change for the better.
So if you’re interested in finding a way of bringing some regeneration to where you live, may I suggest you have a look at our upcoming online conference Living Soils ~ Backyard Regen, running from the 16th to the 18th of September. For AUD$67 you receive access to over 6 hours of material from people who have had their hands in the soil, PDF summaries of the presentations and access to the closed Facebook Group where you can discuss the topics covered by the conference and interact with like minded people out to change the world for the better.
And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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Agroecology as Innovation
SLOPING AGRO-LIVESTOCK TECHNOLOGY (SALT-2): A GUIDE ON HOW TO RAISE GOATS UNDER THE SALT SYSTEM