Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  10 / 22 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 10 / 22 Next Page
Page Background


Why soils matters

- A european perspective

As special rapporteur I have been promoting

agroecology, but when I met with governments I was

confronted with 4 obstacles, mostly of political nature.

And I don’t think that the obstacles faced at EU level

are much different from those with which we are faced


- We are in a situation where agriculture is asked to

produce not only food but also biomass, particularly

for energy, whereas any biomass we use should

be reinjected into the soil, in order to contribute to

building up the organic matter. E.g in Belgium, you have

very weak soil, with around 1.5 to 2% organic matter in

the soil, whereas a good soil would have normally 4%.

So when we move waste/biomass from the soil, instead

of using it to regenerate the soil, it can no longer help

to rebuild the organic matter that soil needs to become

fertile again and to sink carbon.

- We have increasingly moved towards market-led

agriculture, which does not respond to the ecological

logic of how to respect the soil and how to rebuild

ecosystems, but rather how to cultivate according to

the evolution of market prices. This is typically the case

for export-led agriculture - the sub-part of market-led

agriculture in which large volumes of single products

(coffee, cocoa, sorghum, cardamom...) are produced

for the markets, using monoculture techniques that

are problematic for the soil. Monocultures lead to soil

erosion and rob the soils of the nutrients necessary

to rebuild itself.

Increasingly, agriculture thus

conceived resembles mining, with agriculture as a

sector resembling the extractive industry.

This connects with the debt burden that these countries

have to pay back, and from an ecological point of view it

is a very difficult problem.


There is a mismatch between productivity and


Agroecological methods can be

highly productive if you consider the total output of

various products per hectare. Various studies, including

from the

World Bank ,

explain how small farms can be

highly productive thanks to agroecological techniques.

But these farms are generally not competitive in

markets, in part because

the environmental costs

imposed collectively on the tax payer by large

monocultures are not internalised into the price

of food, but are instead billed to the tax payer,

to be compensated for by public money.

So this

mismatch is a major difficulty in making the transition to


- Disbelief amongst elites about the virtues of

agroecological approaches to farming and about

the ability for agroecology to meet the challenges of

tomorrow. This disbelief is to a large extent a self-

fulfilling prophecy: because we don’t believe enough

in the alternative of agroecology, we do not invest

in those techniques, we do not invest in training

farmers in those techniques. We continue to subsidise

access to fossil fuels and energy for farmers, and we

delay the moment when that transition will become

inevitable. As a result we don’t give agroecology the

chance to prove itself and to develop as an alternative

on a large scale. Linked to this disbelief is the power

exercised upon decision-making by large players,

particularly agrochemical companies, who do not have

much interest in promoting this transition towards

agroecology and who sometimes exercise de facto veto

power on political decisions. In the current context

we hear increasingly neo-Malthusian discourses

on the need to increase production by 60 or 70%

by 2050, to meet the need of 9 billion people; this

is not wrong but it oversimplifies the issue.


does not take into account the need to examine our

consumption practices and the waste of agricultural

products, nor the need to question our lifestyle and

how we overuse the limited resources of our planet.

Proceedings of the Conference