Life in Syntropy

New Challenges Require New Solutions

Anyone who tries to implement a truly sustainable and regenerative form of agriculture faces a fundamental technological challenge: we don’t have machinery! It couldn’t be any other way. Today’s modern agricultural machinery are fruits of the current agricultural paradigm. If we wish to create a new way to do agriculture, we need new technology to accompany it.

Area inspired by Götsch's desing in Martinique. The farmers are good partners in finding solutions for medium and large scale challenges.

The objective of this text is to reach those who are knowledgeable enough to propose solutions and innovations to surmount these technical challenges.

Agriculture needs to change. We already have enough evidence to support the urgent need for this change. If we continue down the path we are on, we will be abdicating our responsibility to future generations. The gravity of our current situation demands a joint and immediate effort for change, yet instead we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.

There is no use in beating record yields in grain harvest in 2016/17 if 1/3 becomes food waste. It doesn’t matter that we have the largest stocks of food in history, if almost one billion people continue to live in hunger. What is the point of a civilization which knowingly supports a food production model that has no future. If a country uses synthetic fertilizers originating from non-renewable sources, an imbalance of energy occurs.
 

In the United States, nine calories are burned to create one. In Brazil, the difference is three to one. Monocultures consume 70% of the fresh water in the world, and 75 billion tons of soil are lost through erosion each year in modern mechanized agriculture. Feeding the hungry has become the excuse for hiding flaws and, shielding agribusiness’s failing system making them one of the wealthiest industries on the planet.

Photo: Felipe Pasini

Monocultures consume 70% of the fresh water in the world

A good harvest doesn’t mean good agriculture. A good farmer should be a good steward of our natural resources. Yet, we have become masters at creating products which destroy all forms of life (herbicides, fungicides, bactericides, insecticides, etc.). Our high yield crops are momentary illusions of abundance in a ten-thousand-year history of environmental subjugation. The farmer has become more efficient at pillaging natural resources with each step forward. Without anyone to stop him, only exhaustion of the resources on which he survives and makes a living will end our ignorance. The behavior of agricultural societies was created in absolute opposition of the way life functions on our planet. It was the failing of agricultural systems which lead directly or indirectly to the extinction of civilizations throughout history. We are on the same path today. The evidence, outside of its victories in high yield single crop production, has shown the environmental, climactic and social implications that create insurmountable barriers for its continued existence.

Photo: Felipe Pasini

new mindset:  reconciliation between agriculture and the environment

After decades of research, Ernst Götsch created what we know today as Syntropic Agriculture. After proving this new system beneficial in medium and small scale environments, Göstch brought a promising new perspective for a reconciliation between agriculture and the environment. Yet, Ernst had yet to overcome the bottleneck of adapting his methods to a large-scale model. First, in Nova Xavantina with José Cristóvão, and later with Pedro Paulo Diniz at Fazenda da Toca, Ernst developed his first large scale Syntropic systems. Since then, it’s been almost ten years accumulating experience in developing technology capable of managing his biodiverse systems with minimum impact on a large scale. Contrary to a trend towards ever bigger and more powerful machines, Ernst proposes a mixture of light and simple implements that function in favor of life processes instead of combating them. At  Fazenda da Toca, he has already modified some machines by equipping them with subsoiling rods which can be attached to the same axis of a rotary hoe. This modification, brings great efficiency and economy in creating planting beds, while at the same time serving as an elevated platform for simultaneous tree pruning.

In 2016, with personal resources, Ernst started the construction of a combine harvester and tiller which, in just one operation, cuts and organizes grass into lines beneath the tree beds. This combine aims to increase biomass production, pruning and organization by means of the system itself. In this way, Göstch has opened a new field of innovation in sustainability. Instead of working around or eliminating inherent complexity of living systems, these and future tools incorporate the logic of natural dynamics. We could not be in a better moment to make this transition because (1) we have the largest food stocks in history, (2) an unquestionable body of evidence proving the unsustainability of the current model, and (3) existing technology for the transition (drones for pruning, lasers, superlight materials, electric motors etc.). When put together, these factors make a highly conducive environment for innovation. Our social and environmental needs must determine our models for world production and distribution of food.

“we do not fight weed, we grow weed” E. Götsch

Original blueprints

What the manuscripts that Ernst sent us to briefly explain his list of technological aspirations dont outwardly address, and which is most important of all, is that we face new problems and new questions. The confrontation with these challenges makes us look at agriculture and living systems in a different way. The creation of these new machines brings the possibility of the end of agrochemicals. For the first time, we can glimpse a future without herbicides simply because of the disappearance of the motives that have caused us to create them. This technological revolution makes us realize that instead of creating legislation and inspections to control the use of agro-toxins (conventional or organic) we need to make agro-toxins obsolete all together, just as has already occurred in areas practicing Syntropic agriculture.

Translation: Michael Grueter

References

SOUZA, J. L. de. Balanço energético em cultivos orgânicos de hortaliças. 2006. 207 f. Tese (Doutorado em Agronomia/Fitotecnia) – Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Viçosa, MG , 2006.YOUNGBERG, G.; DEMUTH, S. P. Organic agriculture in the United States: A 30-year retrospective. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 2013.

PIMENTEL, D.; BURGESS, M. Soil Erosion Threatens Food Production. Agriculture, v. 3, n. 3, p. 443–463, 2013.

LEADLEY, P. W. et al. Progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets : An assessment of biodiversity trends, policy scenarios and key actions (Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4) – Technical Report). 2013. v. 78

GODFRAY, H. C. J. et al. Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Science, v. 327, n. 5967, p. 812–818, 2010.

Felipe Pasini

Felipe Pasini

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