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At the heart of the soil – APAD (France)

Founded in 1998 the Association for the promotion of sustainable agriculture (APAD) brings together farmers, technical experts and regional associations from all over France. The group promotes sustainable farming through over 1000 “farmers and technicians, who identify, develop, master, reproduce and promote farming techniques that lead to the protection of the soil “.

APAD has three main aims: i) Contribute to increased awareness of the problems associated with soil conservation; ii) Establish an agriculture that conserves the soil as well as an agriculture that serves citizens, guaranteeing high-quality production at reasonable cost while preserving the environment; iii) Support farmers to progress in their farming practice that conserves the soil.

Their important and interesting debate held on 4 September 2020 with the title

Au coeur du sol” is well worth a watch (1h:15′, in French):

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Common Agricultural Policy

The EU has often been criticised for slow decisionmaking. Seen from outside it seems incomprehensible. Seen from within, however, it looks like fights between members of the same family. We are paying the price for the mistake that was made in not organising the Union with decision-making rules that were capable of advancing as new member states joined.

This premise enables us to understand what is happening with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). On one side of the “family quarrel” stand the young people who have been protesting in recent years, environmental associations, new MEPs and even the Environment Commissioner. On the other, the farming lobbies, the industrial food producers and the Agriculture Commissioner. We wrote about this in a previous newsletter.

The result of this clash is not painless. We can see this in the reaction of the environmentalist world which, when the Green Deal for Europe was approved, had imagined an immediate change in EU policies, including the CAP. Disappointment came on 23 October when the European Parliament approved the new CAP which, if applied, will make it impossible to respect the Paris accords and avoid climate collapse.

This means the continuation of a scheme that leads to the degradation of the environment and human health. Additional evidence for this is the EC’s authorization for the next ten years of the import of Bayer’s XtendFlex genetically modified soya. This soya has been developed to resist three major herbicides: dicamba, glufosinate-ammonium and glyphosate. In Europe production of this soya is banned, but it is allowed in Brazil, Argentina and Canada, which are growing it to supply the European market. In other words, others are allowed to use pesticides which have a negative impact on the environment and on biodiversity, provided it happens outside our borders.

Returning to the CAP, the agriculture ministers of the EU State Members, including the Italian minister, are “satisfied”, at least according to the assessment the minister presented to the Italian Parliament’s agriculture committee which stressed the creation of naturally flexible eco-schemes (!), excluding rice (!). This continues the old approach of protecting the economic interests of some while damaging health and the environment. Exactly the same as what is happening throughout the EU with Covid-19.

Continua a leggere “Common Agricultural Policy”
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Farming without soil

News stories about growing crops without soil lead us to a series of reflections. Many consider this so-called “vertical farming” the future of food production. In Paris there is a 15,000 square metre production area on the roof of one of the fair pavilions in the Défense quarter, whose aim is to produce 100s of kilos of fruit and vegetables using aeroponics, a soilless technique where the plants are fed with liquid nutrients. It is the biggest rooftop  aeroponic farm in the world.

As “classical” agronomists, we are somewhat puzzled by this type of project. We have nothing against it, but we do wonder if it is possible to put control of all the parameters of Nature in the hands of human beings. Here’s an example: a few years ago in Piedmont,  pesticide residues were found in 91.5% of sampling points for surface water and in 65.9% of those in deep water. In addition, both surface and deep water in the region register the presence of, among others, the herbicides Atrazine (and its metabolites), Terbutilazine (and metabolites), Glyphosate (and metabolites), Metolaclor, and so on, and on. The use of atrazine has been banned since 1994, and since 1990 in Piedmont: after 30 years it is still there, in both surface water and in aquifers. As recently as 2016, DDT (which has been banned in Italy for 42 years) was found in both underground and surface water samples in Piedmont in quantities that breached European limits.

In the past we were bad, but now we’re good: aeroponic food production will be controlled by computers using AI. This means there will be no possibility of mistakes and the correct feed will be given at the moment when the plants need it … and what about root exudates which are the vital essence for bacteria, fungi, micro and macro fauna? They will be washed away and expelled.

In this way the belief is perpetuated that the only thing that matters is the production of the plant. So let’s open the windows and look outside: we see rivers bursting their banks, bridges collapsing, landslips and landslides, cities under water … No! in these conditions we cannot consider ourselves “good”. So let’s carry on defending the soil which, as our cover image shows, is the fulcrum on which the Italian and European recovery pivots.

And why not go and visit that pavilion at the Défense: observe the plants, touch them, stroke them, and maybe they will realize that you at least understand the importance of the soil.

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Agriculture on a small scale: Terra Bene Comune (The Land is a Common Good) Document

The acronym GAS stands for Gruppo di acquisto solidale [Fairtrade purchasing group]. It refers to groups of people who get together in order to buy products, generally food, on the basis of the sustainability and equitability of those products. We present an initiative taken by a series of GAS in the Marche region who decided to apply to the regional authorities for formal approval of a law to recognize and promote small-scale local farming.

This is their petition.

Given that

– farming, a primary and substantial sector in the lives of everybody cannot be considered simply the production of “goods” because the act of eating well is the basis of health,

– the land is a “common good” to be protected and preserved to ensure the survival of future generations,

We strongly desire,

– to take care of our environment, supporting small-scale agriculture, an agriculture that is “resident”, resilient and that protects and safeguards our land;

– an agriculture that “saves” and protects natural and water reserves;

– an agriculture that is diversified and maintains biodiversity while preserving the beauty of the landscape;

– an agriculture that is aware of the climate change that is underway, and is capable of developing measures to mitigate and adapt to it;

– an agriculture that does not use artificial pesticides, that follows the principles of organic farming and agroecology more generally;

– an agriculture that is based on families and communities and that creates bonds and sociality, while passing on traditions and knowledge;

– sustainable livestock farming that takes account of animal welfare;

– healthy food whose place of production is known and familiar, and that brings with it as added value a solid relationship of trust between the farmer and consumers;

– an agriculture that favours direct local sales;

– production that restores the dignity of agriculture also through fair pricing that takes into account the quality of the processing, as well as the labour and rights of farmers;

– an agriculture that is more simply regulated, and in particular adaptable to mountainous and disadvantaged areas, in order to create opportunities for work and local wellbeing.

Small-scale agriculture must be regulated by a correspondingly small-scale bureaucracy, because the removal and simplification of bureaucratic regulations are necessary for the production, processing and sale of agricultural products.

 For this reason we request the adoption of a specific law.

Art. 44 – Italian Constitution

“In order to obtain a rational use of the soil and establish equitable social relationships, the law imposes obligations and restrictions on private land ownership, sets limits to its extent according to regions and farming zones, promotes and imposes decontamination of the land, transformation of large estates and the re-establishment of productive units; helps small and medium landownership. The law will make provisions to favour mountainous areas.”

It would be hard for them to be clearer or more determined, but to understand their level of commitment we would like to introduce you to the promoters of the law by watching the video they produced to accompany the campaign to collect signatures .

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Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture has become the darling of many policymakers, food companies and farmers. Advocates claim a triple win: climate change mitigation, increased profit for farmers and greater resilience to a changing climate. It is not so clear: the practices grouped as regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits, but are unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions. This is the main message of a report of the World Research Institute (WRI).

Although regenerative agriculture has no universal definition, the term is often used to describe practices aimed at promoting soil health by restoring soil’s organic carbon. The world’s soils store several times the amount carbon as the atmosphere, acting as a natural “carbon sink.” But globally, soil carbon stocks have been declining as a result of factors such as the conversion of native landscapes to croplands and overgrazing. One goal of regenerative practices is to use some of the carbon that plants have absorbed from the atmosphere to help restore soil carbon.

There is broad agreement that most regenerative agriculture practices are good for soil health and have other environmental benefits. No-till reduces soil erosion and encourages water to infiltrate soils (although it can require greater use of herbicides). Cover crops do the same, and can also reduce water pollution. Diverse crop rotations can lower pesticide use. And good grazing practices — such as moving cattle around frequently, adding legumes or fertilizers, and avoiding overgrazing — can increase vegetation and protect water sources.

A scientific report from the World Research Institute analysing mitigation options in the food and land sector concluded that the practical potential was at best modest due to several challenges. Thus, it indicates several solutions organized into a five-course menu:

(1) reduce growth in demand for food and other agricultural products;

(2) increase food production without expanding agricultural land;

(3) protect and restore natural ecosystems;

(4) sustainably increase fish supply;

(5) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production (with a limited role for soil carbon sequestration and a much larger role for reducing emissions from cattle, manure, fertilizers, rice cultivation and energy use).

Many of these solutions are ready for scaling and come with co-benefits for farmers, consumers, food security and the environment. As governments seek to build back economies and food companies chart ambitious climate strategies, we recommend decision-makers select from the above five thematics to close the agricultural emissions gap and contribute to a sustainable food future.

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Recognizing the importance of farmworkers in protecting the land

Protecting the citizens and the land by protecting the soil and safeguarding the environment while caring for the health and safety of workers.” These are the words with which the North Tuscany Consortium No. 1 was introduced by its chair.

What characterizes this territorial consortium? Involvement of farmers, or rather farmworkers, in the conservation of the land. It is already the consortium’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the land and to this end it carries out hydraulic and maintenance work. But protection of the land cannot be separated from the direct participation of those who live on it, especially in rural areas.

Let’s take a step back.

Italy has signed up to the EU’s territorial cohesion programme and has an Agency whose mandate is to promote “economic development and social cohesion, facilitating cooperation between institutions and the establishment of strategic partnerships among those involved in order to bridge the territorial gap within the country and strengthen the administrative capacity of local and regional government”.

The Agency organized “A strategy for Internal Areas in Italy” with the aim of preserving the  more  remote  rural  areas,  which have  historically  been deprived  of  many  public services (healthcare, schools, transport…),  and experienced  a  lengthy  and  steady  period  of  abandonment  in  favour  of  urban  areas,  with  high  social  costs  in  terms  of  hydro-geological  instability,  decay  and  soil  consumption. Continua a leggere “Recognizing the importance of farmworkers in protecting the land”

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Experiences from other European States: Open Letter from the Farmworkers’ Confederation (France)

The Farmworkers’ Confederation is a French agricultural trade union whose purpose is to defend all kinds of farmworkers. The union, which has a national regional and local presence in the country, is a founder member of the European section of Via Campesina.  In this period of crisis for the whole farming sector caused by Covid19, on 20 March the union published a letter with the unambiguous title: «Coronavirus: The need to reinvent our farming and food systems».

The letter is highly significant and the analysis it puts forward enables us to reflect profoundly on our future, and not just in farming. We reproduce some important passages below.

The coronavirus crisis has shown that many areas of our daily lives must be removed from the logic of global competition, the search for profit at any cost, the financialization of the real economy and the specialization of land use.

If we continue to pillage natural resources, and to consider the earth, its fertility and its workforce like any other product, to produce food as if it were a standardized industrial product that can be traded all over the world, how are we going to live in the face of the collapse of biodiversity, and the health and agronomic impacts of climate change? […]

If we continue to patent living things and hand over the production of seeds to multinationals, what will happen in times of crisis if we don’t have control over the basis of our food supplies?

If we continue to build internationalized supply chains, where the smallest economic, health and climatic shock generates catastrophic market volatility, how can we guarantee fair, stable and secure prices for the farmworkers who supply our food here and elsewhere? Continua a leggere “Experiences from other European States: Open Letter from the Farmworkers’ Confederation (France)”

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Compost + cultivation = increased storage of organic C in the soil

An interesting and important study conducted for 19 years by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, found that practices that increase soil organic carbon, such as the use of compost, help increase long-term soil carbon storage.

By moving beyond the surface level and literally digging deep, scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that compost is a key to storing carbon in semi-arid cropland soils, a strategy for offsetting CO2 emissions.

Briefly:cerchio carbonio suolo

  1. Conventional soils neither release nor store much carbon.
  2. Cover cropping conventional soils, while increasing carbon in the surface 12 inches, can actually lose significant amounts of carbon below that depth.
  3. When both compost and cover-crops were added in the organic-certified system, soil carbon content increased 12.6 percent over the length of the study, or about 0.07 percent annually.

That is more than the international “4 per 1000” initiative, which calls for an increase of 0.04 percent of soil carbon per year. It is also far more carbon stored than would be calculated if only the surface layer was measured. Continua a leggere “Compost + cultivation = increased storage of organic C in the soil”