English

Biodynamics

Voodoo is a real religion that many mistakenly regard as mere sorcery. We have been present at Voodoo rituals in Haiti. We were once invited to attend, as “special” guests, a propitiatory ceremony for the harvest season. In a quiet moment, we asked the celebrant the reason behind the dance – strange to our eyes – that he was performing in front of a small saucepan on the stove. “It’s not a dance”, he replied. “It’s steps, and by counting them I calculate the time needed for the oil to boil”. Nothing could be more rational.

On another occasion, in Thailand, our attention was caught by a humming noise coming from a Pagoda, so we moved closer to one of the open doors so we could hear and understand. Inside, Buddhist monks were chanting and praying. Our ears could only hear “ohmmm” but our whole bodies – especially the skin – were suffused with the vibrations. We had a similar experience in a remote Tuscan monastery when Fransiscan friars were singing Gregorian chant.

In Algeria, during Ramadan, we were talking to Muslim friends about the Muezzin who sang early in the morning and then 5 more times during the day. They pointed out gently that the Muezzin in his minaret high above the mosque was not singing but praying.

Again: have you ever looked at Chinese paintings produced between 1600 – 1900? And if so, could you detect the Empty / Full dimension in which the artist reaches the highest point of expression, where their work is comparable to that of the Creator? It’s hard to understand. The images that relate to Yin / Yang or to Mountain / Water, with their poems in Chinese script, are symbolic and can really be understood only by those of Chinese culture.

This is all leading up to a reference to the “indignation” expressed by a number of scientists and researchers about the inclusion of “biodynamics” in the Italian law on organic farming, which was recently approved by the Senate.

In May 2021, an open letter was sent to the Senators by more than 20 distinguished Italian scientists, from the physicists Ugo Amaldi and Luciano Maiani to the stem cell expert Giulio Cossu and the biotechnologist Roberto Defez. Some of them, including the pharmacologist, biologist, academician and senator Elena Cattaneo and the recent winner of the Nobel prize in physics Giorgio Parisi, expressed themselves in intemperate language.

We are puzzled by their indignation and find their vehemence somewhat strange. These are distinguished, globally renowned researchers, but how many of them cultivate a piece of land and/or have direct connections with farming? Given the interest they have shown in biodynamic farming, why were they not equally vocal in their opposition to glyphosate, a carcinogenic herbicide that is poisoning the whole world and seriously damaging human health? (We take a moment to note that the permitted use of glyphosate in the EU has been extended to the end of this year and that “taking advantage” of the war, some are trying to extend its use even further, despite the fact that some European States have already prohibited its use and sale).

All research laboratories are the scene of contradictions produced by misunderstandings that circulate even among scientists working in the same field. For laypeople like us, these labs are real “sorcerors’ workshops”.

We are pleased that these academics are taking an interest in farming and the soil. We would, however, invite them to adopt a more open-minded approach, a greater willingness to engage in dialogue. Like us, they might humbly discover that “the steps were not a dance“, that “the prayer was not a song“, that “full and empty means something very particular in Chinese painting”. The lack of the tools to understand the cultures and societies with which we come into contact, like the lack of specific competence in the subjects of research, should prevent us from ever expressing such trenchant judgments.

We believe it is correct to say that we have never heard of farmers’ associations or food producers crying scandal or putting up the barricades in relation to biodynamic farming practices. On the contrary, organisations in the sector – including the farmers’ association Coldiretti – and environmental groups have expressed satisfaction at the passage of the new law. Perhaps because all farming activities one way or another come close to “sorcery” that is incomprehensible to most of those who have never participated in them.

Showing a willingness to engage in dialogue and mutual understanding, without attacking anyone, the writer and agronomist Giacomo Sartori has expressed much the same views. Since we believe that he sets out a possible way forward, we invite you to read what he wrote to Nobel laureate Giorgio Parisi.