Our involvement

Toward an AEI

 Manifesto, August 2009

The expression AEI  (ecologically intensive agriculture) or high-performance agriculture was created during the Grenelle environment forum in august 2008. It expresses that, for the future, French, and global, agriculture needs to be capable of satisfying great production needs, without endangering human health and the equilibrium of ecosystems. This change towards a new way of producing is global. Not only does it concern highly productive conventional agriculture, like in France, but also, on a smaller scale, poor family farm agriculture in developing countries. Besides, arable crops, stock-rearing, arboriculture and forestry, horticulture and market gardening are important sectors which produce from ecosystems, therefore they are also directly concerned by AEI.


The association is composed of individual members who wish to participate actively and independently to the definition and orientation of this movement. Its origin stems from the thoughts of agronomists and agricultural professionals.  It is essential that there be no attempt of use for personal gain and that, where possible, work be completed in association with similar initiatives in other countries.
 
The idea of sustainable intensive agriculture, with very high environmental standards, originates from ideas and practices such as: Conservation Agriculture, simplified cultural farming techniques and no- till farming, direct seeding, and more generally, the Dual Green Revolution, Integrated Production and Reasoned Agriculture.  It can be seen as an amplified evolution of such practises. Precision Agriculture,Organic Farming, Peasant Agriculture and other ad-hoc references.
Old disputes, between those wishing to produce 'better' (and often producing less) and those wishing to produce 'more' (often over-exploiting the planet's resources), should be put to rest.
The association intends to contribute to a new social contract between farmers and the society, and especially to encourage young farmers to participate to a conciliation movement between productive functions and ecological services.

The idea of organic intensity refers to several notions:

  • The growing and integrated use of natural functions of ecosystems, such as prey-predator systems, which were seldom previously used, to encourage automatic regulation of pest overpopulation.
  • The management of energy cycles and assessments, concerning water and nutrients, to reduce costs, limit loss and risk.
  • The use of biodiversity as a way for productive systems to resist environmental change.
  • A balance between optimised management of agricultural ecosystems and the use of genetic improvement of plants and animals.
  • Bio-inspiration, meaning the use of natural phenomena as a source of inspiration in creating new processes, such as  isolating natural insecticide molecules for industrial production.
  • The production of organic services coupled with production activities to improve the condition of the environment and the biosphere.

These new technologies are expected to reduce inputs and damage to the environment and allow higher productive performance. While this technology is based on the use of ecological functions, it doesn't reject conventional techniques.  It will however only use them as a second choice, when truly necessary. 

How do we reach this conclusion?
To confront the constant population growth and changes in diet, with an increasing demand for meat, agriculture will have to increase crop production. Furthermore, on a smaller scale, the production of fuels and alternatives for oil will require the dedicated application of agriculture.     

Even though several areas require further thought (such as: limiting population growth, balancing the food consumption of the world's wealthiest populations and the priority of food production on the best land), it doesn't mean that global agriculture won't be faced with a huge problem of quantity.

 This increase in production is going to require bigger cultivated areas, at the expense of tropical forests, with large scale deforestation provoking ecosystem damage, a change of hydric regimes and a serious loss of biodiversity. Therefore, the extension of cultivated areas should be limited, and new techniques developed, to increase yield.


The technical process used for the past five decades to increase yields has been extremely efficient. It has been based on the use of higher yielding crop varieties adapted to monoculture and on the intensive use of fertilizers and phytosanitary products. At the core of this process was tillage, to prepare soils and get rid of weeds, and meticulous seedbed preparation. Irrigation has been used to compensate for climate changes, or simply to ensure very high yields. In the cash crop regions of industrialised countries, powered machinery and mechanisation have reached extremely high standards. In developing countries, agriculture has hardly been mechanised at all due to a great availability of labour resources.  They have managed, however, to reach high yields.  Unfortunately this general production process generates many downfalls. Powered machinery and tillage require great quantities of fossil fuel. Dwindling oil reserves and policies reducing greenhouse gas emissions will increase costs. Nitrogen fertilizers, which are produced with limited fossil fuel resources, as well as phosphate and potassium, will progressively increase in cost. Increases might be slow and over a long term, but could be expected to be on a higher level than in the past, depending on oil scarcity. Tillage will be costly and will be replaced by other soil preparation and weeding techniques.  Therefore necessitating a re-think of the whole soil fertility process.

 

Conventional agricultural techniques use herbicides, fungicides and insecticides extensively. These products are dangerous for the health of farmers and consumers.  They are damaging to the environment and their use generates more and more protest. The Grenelle environment forum conceded to a very limited use of pesticides.  It is with this in mind that our future ought to be considered.

Irrigation water has been a main factor of global yield increase, but its extensive use means that supply is depleting.  Deforestation results in water run-off, instead of infiltration, which has repercussions on water tables. Water needs to be saved. Throughout the 20th century, 200 million hectares of irrigation were set up, but a large part of this was wasted by salinisation.  This cannnot be repeated in the 21st century.

The need for a new technological evolution
These new requirements, call for new technologies. Some have considered taking conventional intensification further, to icrease yields. But this doesn't take into account future scarcity and high cost. The trend, which suggests the creation of seeds through transgenesis to include necessary characteristics to optimise fertility resources, pest and disease resistance, resistence of drought or other climate extremes, protein, vitamin or antioxidant production and so forth..., is very prominent at the moment. Some firms are encouraging this, following the North-American liberal system. It remains a futuristic path with numerous challenges: biological disease and pest resistance, supposed risks for the environment and human health, the monopoly of a handful of firms...  GMOs generate fierce opposition from European environmental movements. For the time being, they can't fully answer these new requirements. Moreover, they're likely to not be used for quite a while in Europe. 

 

Organic agriculture, created to avoid pollution and damage to the environment, cannot, as it is now, generate sufficient yield to satisfy future production needs (production is of a higher quality but insufficient quantity). However, difficulties encountered in production compel producers to constant creativity, leading naturally and progressively towards improvements, to the benefit of all. 

 

An efficient solution needs to be found. There is great risk that, in the following decades, demand will dramatically outbalance supply with the probability of permanent scarcity, and a food price crisis similar to 2008. Both developing and industrialised countries would suffer greatly, generating serious social turmoil. A new type of colonisation, from rich and overpopulated or rich and arid countries, might develop through attempts to obtain vast areas of land ensuing in serious global tension. In the words of Edgard Pisani, in order to feed the world, all techniques must be employed, whether from large farming companies, family farms or struggling homesteads. 

Produce more and better with less
It's a simple equation: produce more while reducing fossil-based energy inputs and pesticides, while saving water and managing it more efficiently, while limiting damage to the environment (air and water pollution, biodiversity decrease) and, where  possible maintaining the landscape.

European agriculture, with it's geographgical advantages will be particularly cited to supply those regions with limiting water and climatic factors: North Africa and the Middle East. European agriculture is developing on a chronically deficient continent, in terms of fossil energy and nuclear fissile material deposits. Other parts of the world will be solicited, North and South America and Russia, especially if climate change allows the cultivation of Northern regions. Heavily populated, Asia will have to work hard to increase yields, which might prove difficult following the exceptionally high achievements of the 70's green revolution. Tropical Africa will have to drastically increase its production capacity to satisfy massive population growth, as it clearly won't have the means or necessary infrastructure to import.

Therefore, while adventurous, ecologically intensive production seems the best adapted and realistic path. It meets all future demands. What has been successfully achieved so far allows us to believe that good results can be expected, especially considering that it's just the beginning of the research and development of this new technology.

As far as soil fertility is concerned,available techniques use intensive recycling of plant residue and organic matter supplements supplied by  intercropping cultivation.  Growth is possible whenever climate allows.

Simpler solutions like the systematic use of pulse rotations can also be used. But we can aslo look forward to and count on futuristic ideas: improved biomass decay and mineralisation yield, better efficiency of soil microorganisms, control over symbiotic nitrogen fixation on crops, pulse diversification as food plants, etc.


Regarding disease and pest control, several possibilities are available such as crop rotations, crop diversity in different plots, use of mixed crop on the same plot etc. Biological and integrated pest control have great potential. Other, futuristic, solutions could be considered: creation of new pesticide molecules using naturally occuring molecules, use of plants as natural defense mechanisms, etc.


The genetic improvement of plants and animals will naturally continue to play a major role, especially in terms of adaptation to climate change and disease and pest resistance.

Agricultural mechanisation will have to adapt to emerging farming techniques and paths, the need to save energy and a necessary evolution towards high-precision techniques.

New agricultural practices could significantly improve the quality of the environment: hedges and fallows encouraging the  biodiversity of insects, including beneficial insects; landscape ruggedness to encourage the filling of water tables, especially in water catchment areas, and limit water runoffs; landscape design destined at improving tourism and enhancing local economic spin-off.

Agriculture will also be solicited to play a part in soil carbon sequestration. In the long term it could have a positive role in reducing climate change. Concerning stock-rearing, research into increasing plant diversity in pastures and animal feed and the systematic implementation of quality strategies regarding animal rearing products, would follow the same logic.



General mobilisation and redefinition of the environment
The great agricultural modernisation in the 60's was only possible with the support of substantial public financing and an agricultural policy based on active support. The same will happen in the deveopment of agriculture founded on ecological, scientific reasoning.  It will require significant effort.


 Therefore a large spectrum of solutions is necessary, existing or futuristic. Agronomists and ecologists will have to work together, even if they have their intellectual differences. A large number of farmers are willing to experiment with integrated agricultural systems without waiting for research results. New ways of research should result, directly associating professionals' experience with research work. Highly diverse production systems which correspond directly to local ecological realities are required. Farmers will play a key role in defining these systems. They know, better than anyone, the characteristics and the potential of their land and the way to harmonise productivity, ecological service and respect of the environment. They will also need to use information and techniques from research. A new working relationship needs to be created between producers, consultants and researchers.

 Big changes are needed regarding information and training. AEI is intense in knowledge and expertise. Training is essential, so consulting systems need to be adapted. 

Significant  investments will be required in order to restore landscape infrastructures, also known as 'green corridors' and 'blue corridors' by the Grenelle environment forum. These 'corridors' will need to be be created and maintained and the ecological service, provided by farmers, needs to be acknowledged.

Finally, greater thought about agricultural and environmental policies is needed. Global productive effort isn't compatible with competitiveness.  It engenders poverty and enhances stagnation, whilst clearly favoring those benefitting from socio-geographic advantages. New commercial policies should promote and stimulate agricultural growth wherever necessary. Food security must be assured in all geographic areas for the next three decades. New ways must be found to facilitate export between zones with very different production costs. A reduction of ecological, social and financal dumping is certainly called for.

In France, agricultural policies will have to favorise a movement towards integrated, sustainable intensive agriculture with high environmental concern, while securing the necessary financial ressources to remunerate those environmental services from which the whole society will benefit.