Farming with nature
Article Moonatic Agency
This article is part of The Care Revolution issue #2, written for Mustardseed Trust.
One thing is for sure: in the long run, farming with nature is easier and cheaper than farming against nature – especially with the skyrocketing prices of energy, fertilizer and pesticides. Farming with nature eventually catapults us into a virtuous cycle, in which a healthy biodiverse soil with more organic matter and more soil life, manages nutrients and water better. And so, nature itself produces what we need at a lower cost. We could argue that in the conventional business model, you maximize profits by lowering the production cost per unit, and off-loading certain production costs on society. But according to Boudewijn Tooren from Creabitat, farming with nature is all about maximizing multiple benefits at the same time: “Birds like cherries too. So why not plant more cherry trees and focus on the low-hanging fruit? You share the rest with the birds, the pigs, and the soil. If too many worms eat our cabbage, we plant extra cherry trees around the cabbage plot. More cherries for us, and the birds have cabbage worms as dessert.”
Taking farming into our own hands
Will Ruddick, the founder of Grassroots Economics, focuses on creating community-based currencies on the African continent. The system allows participants to trade independently of their national currency. Part of the community credits go to building and maintaining food forests. This farming method is inspired by the way natural forest ecosystems operate. Will Ruddick explains: “Syntropic agroforestry takes the basic techniques of permaculture and conservation agriculture.”
The crucial trick in agroforestry is to optimise a diverse and stratified community of annual crops and perennial bushes and trees.
Ecosystem restoration fun
The principle applies above and underneath the ground. Underground, the system allows different plant and tree species to pull water and nutrients from different soil layers. Above the ground, the system creates different canopy strata that produce light in strength and spectra ideal for the different species to grow and produce. “In addition, we use things like in situ tree litter and mulch to protect the soil against erosion, increase soil organic matter, and improve its water retention capacity. The benefits are not only for the health of the ecosystems. It also stabilises the food security of the community. We can tell traditional maize farmers that they can not only increase their maize production but grow many other crops as well.”
Similar to our guts, maintaining soil health means creating a space for the microbiome to do its work effectively without being disrupted. Biodiversity is key. It is the variety and interaction of plants, trees, animals, insects, fungi and bacteria that stabilises the system as a whole. The less we disrupt the natural processes in the soil, the more it will work with us to produce what we need.
”I think I understand why we call it mother earth. She is feeding us, she keeps us healthy and sustains us.”
– Dr Mwalimu Musheshe
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