Biological Agriculture: a third way?

Dr Maarten Stapper presented this talk for the 10th International Permaculture Convergence in September 2011 at Wadi Rum, Jordan. It gives an overview of emerging regenerative farming practices, away from high-input industrial farming. Biological Farming is a regenerative, agroecological practice between the opposites of industrial and organic farming. This 3rd way of farming takes the best practices from both while maximizing soil health, and water and nutrient use efficiencies.

Soils, the foundation of life on Earth, are degrading to lower and lower fertility under current practices, but it is the resulting outcomes of food (in)security, biodiversity loss and climate change that receive all the attention. Biological agriculture can regenerate soils, rehabilitate landscapes, feed the world and slow global warming. Biological agriculture is the management of agroecosystems, following principles that align with permaculture. It seems the quickest way to achieve the required implementation of healthy soils across whole landscapes and regions as it can be progressively achieved step-by-step from industrial farming practices. The capacity to be biosensitive is then important for farmers to develop, to trust in and be guided by natural processes.

Biological and organic agriculture are regenerative, agroecological methods to regain soil health with improved soil organic carbon and activated soil biology. Both draw on local resources, knowledge and skills. United Nations agencies have supported this direction for farming in three major reports since 2006 dealing with world food production and poverty. Biological agriculture is a third way of farming and sits between the opposites of industrial agriculture with large scale use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, and organic agriculture with no use of these. Biological agriculture makes use of the best of both worlds. The allowed use of small amounts of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides keeps a productive and profitable system operational without breaching critical thresholds. Efficiencies of effectiveness of water and mineral cycles are greatly improved.

Biological agriculture gives industrial farmers tools for a profitable, successful transition to healthy soils and landscapes while they are learning to see and experience the living soil-plant system by “doing.” This facilitates understanding and improves the capacity for biosensitivity. Practice is way ahead of science. Nature confronts us with complex systems, with intricate foodwebs, and with a myriad of dynamic, visible and invisible interdependencies, confirming the need for agricultural research to move to a holistic approach.

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