The Palais Brongniart is not only the temple of finance and high-frequency trading. It can accommodate the world of agriculture, as it was in its origin where the sculptor Charles Seurre camped his statue carrying cob, blueberries, poppies and a plow at the back of the monument. This is the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (IAD) who took over the premises on January 29th.
A signal? Yes, undoubtedly the demonstration that agricultural activity holds the keys to finding integrated responses to economic, ecological and social expectations. "We have no choice"said Jean-François Sarreau, President of the IAD, in opening remarks: "... IAD's main objective is to promote the development of the European economy. We will have to feed 9 billion people, i.e. produce more with less, and this will only be possible by relying on biodiversity. Adaptation to sustainable and socially responsible farming methods will be done by forced march, because the world will impose itself on us".. A direct echo to all those who claim that the "economy will be made with the living", otherwise it will collapse by plundering natural capital and thus sawing off the branch on which it sits.
The stakes are not only food-related but also economic for France, where the food industry represents 12 billion euros in exports. "You have to realize that the grain we sell is worth 135 gusting aircraft, insisted Sébastien Abis, administrator at the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies. This timeless sector can be driven by a political ambition combining economic, ecological and ethical performance".. This specialist in international and strategic relations highlighted the opportune moment when we are with the International Year of the Family Farming, the law on the future of agriculture under discussion in France, the revision of the millennium goals, and finally the prospect of the 2015 Milan World Fair on the theme "The future of agriculture". Feeding the planet ".
Assessing to evolve
Faced with these challenges, farmers are experimenting with new practices (conservation agriculture, agroecology, agroforestry...) whose performance they measure with indicators that probe much more than just yield. Thus, the IAD's Indiciades platform considers energy savings, soil protection, food safety, environmental protection of the farm and biodiversity, impacts on water, climate and society... 300 farms have thus entered this platform, which makes it possible to assess progress from year to year. "We see that good practices such as no-till and permanent soil cover produce biodiversity, demonstrated Konrad Schreiber, a farmer in Brittany and responsible for the development of the platform. Indiciades. Biodiversity does not protect itself: it is either produced or destroyed".
Having become the guardians of fertility, farmers also come to value their involvement in feeding pollinators. The French agroforestry association has thus proposed adding an indicator to estimate the nutritional potential of bees on plots of land.
In the same vein, Franck Coste, Deputy Managing Director of Vivescia presented an initiative to reconcile farmers and consumers. The agri-industrial cooperative group surveyed consumers to identify their expectations. "We want to know if you are taking steps to limit pollution and improve the quality of your production, s have emphasized the need for stakeholders to achieve concrete results.
Once this horizon had been established, Vivescia developed a set of specifications based on obligations of results and not of means. With the involvement of two hundred farmers, the Group was thus able to launch the brand Respect'IN® which provides information on eight points of crop vigilance (climate, energy, water, soil, biodiversity, sanitary quality, environmental protection, society) thus marking the concrete transition towards responsible agriculture.
The site associated with this brand is a community with 110,000 subscribers, 300,000 page views per month and 21,500 fans. This makes Franck Coste say that "Charting the veracity of change responds to a strong societal demand.".
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The keys to innovation: networking to articulate techniques and practices
The private sector thus seems to be willing to invent the tools of a social contract to promote the new face of sustainable agriculture. For his part, Christian Huygue, deputy scientific director of INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research) has focused on innovation, which "Etymologically means to graft new onto old to keep it alive.". An art that is going to become difficult as the economy undermines the capacity for renewal of resources that it erodes in a logic above ground. And to name all the locking points: risk aversion, unknown, fixation on a personal logic... to conclude on this perspective that Europe is promoting with public-private partnerships : "The key to innovation is in the organization of networks around creative people.
The sharing of experiences is essential to bring about this movement of "crystallization". As did Marc Lefebvre, a farmer in Guines in the Pas-de-Calais, who abandoned ploughing and conventional fertilization and launched the Agricobio project to quantify the recolonisation of agricultural areas through functional biodiversity (thanks to intra-plot flower strips).
Serge Augier, a specialist in direct seeding (without ploughing) in Franche-Comté, has also been heard to say that there are no desperate situations: "when a soil seems dead, in two years you can get it to recolonize and see it teeming with life".
Testimonies of two Amerindian officials, César Belloso, president of the Argentinean Association of No-tillage Producers (AAPRESID) and Ricardo Sanchez Lopez, Colombia's Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Local Development, reinforced the idea that a diversity of constraints must be taken into account: "When promoting zero-tillage, good agricultural practices (water- and input-efficient) should also be promoted".hammered the first one, leaving the second one to conclude: "We urgently need to protect the earth's skin, i.e. the soil, because Latin America has one of the greatest productive potentials since it already generates 60% of world soybeans, 33% of corn, 70 % of bananas, 45% of coffee and cocoa, and 44% of meat.
While the IAD symposium on farmers' best ally biodiversity was being held in Paris, the FAO published a priority area of its global policy: standards for plant genetic resource genebanks. For better conservation of agricultural diversity to meet the world's food needs. An important point without forgetting that gene or seed banks such as the one in Svalbald, Norway is not a panacea: frozen seeds need farmers, regularly to keep their vigour! Complementary approaches. Always.
Dorothy Browaeys, Deputy Editor-in-Chief UP' Magazine / Bio-innovations
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