This is the first article of a series of articles on Neayi. We want to explain the context of agriculture as we see, in France and in the world. This is the reason why we decided to create Neayi, to provide an initial response to the formidable challenges that we see.
Update (June 24, 2019) — The second article of this series is here!
Agriculture is going through a multi-form crisis
Pollution, confidence crisis, health risks, debt, standards, species extinction, limited resources of this world... The solutions to these problems intersect in clashing. For example, the mad cow crisis has halted net feeding cattle in animal meals, generating a huge demand for soy and in maize (two plants with the most energy per kg), leading to a massive deforestation of primary forests of South America.
Deforestation, which is the origin ofan increase in CO2 emissionsin addition to those of methane (ruminants, rice), and nitrous oxide (fertilizer), respectively, 30 and 300 times more powerful than CO2 in terms of their warming power. In total, the world's agriculture is at the origin of 24% of total emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.
This warming, it is now known, is expected to carry a serious threat back to our agriculture : drought, floods, hail, early spring followed by frost, migration of pests, emerging diseases. Each additional degree decreasing yields 7% worldwide.
A decrease in yield, with in parallel an increase of the population of the world (7 billion today vs 9 billion by 2030), requiring an increase in the production of at least 30% to 50%. In addition, some countries, such as China, because of the increase of their wealth, radically change their diet, turning to protein rich ingredients (inc. more meat).
It is predicted that by 2030 the melting glaciers in the Himalayas put to dry for several months each year 10 of the largest rivers in the world (including the Ganges, the Indus, the Yellow River, the Mekong river), which supply all at once food and hydro-electric power to several billion people.
As between the hammer and the anvil, the people who will not be affected by the droughts will be by the flood. For example, in Bangladesh, the rising water will remove 20% of the territory, leading to mass migration of its inhabitants to the neighboring countries.
Threats not only come from global warming. Peak oil, signalling the beginning of the end of oil, took place in 2006 in Europe for conventional oil and is expected to be reached by 2030 for all hydrocarbons. The agricultural industry is highly dependent on the use of fossil fuels, for production and application of fertilizers and pesticides, for soil work, storage and transportation of raw materials. It takes about 1 500 litres of oil to produce a cow of 500 kg. Without oil, or even simply with an oil whose price would have doubled, we absolutely ignore how to maintain our food system.
Beyond peak oil, the phosphorus peak tips his nose. Phosphorus is part of the three essential molecules for growing plants (along with nitrogen and potassium). No phosphorus, no agriculture. But phosphorus has no equivalent in “renewable”. If we don't find a solution to optimize its use (today only 15% of the phosphate applied on agricultural land end up in the plants, the rest goes in the rivers and lakes, at the origin in particular of the blue-green algae new pollutions), our system of food production will be condemned.
Finally, the lack of water, for which the level of groundwater continues to declineconstitutes a threat of even greater concern, particularly in countries whose population are the most galloping.
Faced with these findings, farmers in France are divided
Conventional agriculture, faithful to the model imposed by the european policy after the war, continues to fulfill its contract : to produce a maximum. But it works in an increasingly regulated, limiting the options in terms of treatments available, the other options of innovation, largely dependent of the debt and of the specific aid that can be granted. Defiance widespread of consumers in the agri-food industry, as well as the lack of support and understanding of the issues facing policymakers, lead to a poisonous climate in which no one is listening.
Organic farming, child abuse industry, agro-chemical, to attempt to define a new model in opposition to the first. However, the limited returns, the susceptibility to pests and climatic conditions, the immense complexity of the struggle with natural products, but also less precise and less effective, shall depend on the agriculture grants and subsidies. When such aid is slow in coming, as is the case for several years nowthe system no longer works.
Whether conventional or organic, agriculture is faced with an international competition sometimes unfair. The conventional among our neighbors do not suffer from limitations on the GMO or the use of certain products. The bio does not follow the same specifications in eastern Europe and France. In parallel to the prohibition programmed glyphosate herbicide, the import of soybeans and cornincreases through free trade agreements. Soy and corn from GMO plants on which glyphosate is sprayed directly (increasing the amount of residues), on land from deforestation.
The expectations of consumers on these issues are not always accompanied by changes in behaviour in consistency. Habits are created over the last forty years (have fruits and vegetables of all countries, in all seasons, with a colour look and a flawless, for a price that is always lower) are complicated to change. As was the case of vaccines, the safety that we take for granted makes us question the relevance of certain additives (e.g. nitrites, which are added to avoid bacteria, botulism, of the listeria or salmonella).
A necessary evolution of agricultural practices will have to take place
It is said the agricultural sector is slow to change. It is a mistake, however, about the causes of this slowness. It is not the lack of will or entrepreneurship of farmers. Those were not waiting for the recommendations of the government to adapt, find new ways of doing things, evidenced by the initiatives of the systems organic, agro-ecological, permacoles or agroforestry.
What is slow to change, it is the soil and the cropping system. It is necessary to several years to change a floor, or to switch from one system to another. Similarly, it takes several seasons to test a new practice and to know if it is effective. In fact, between the learning in the implementation and climatic conditions (drought one year, flooding the next), we can't complete the practice on a single year.
Moreover, when a company is in debt, supporting financial charges lourdes (wages, machinery, plant protection products, fertilizers, energy), it is normal for the first character trait that is expressed is the caution.
We dream of the technological solutions that would miraculously solve each of the problems. In fact, the digital innovation, agronomic or economic, is not missing. For example, faced with the problem of phosphorus, the use of mycorrhiza can be view with reason as a miracle solution.
However, it would be naive to believe that technology alone will solve all the problems, without changing the behavior of consumers, regulation, and agricultural practices.
What practices promote ?
It is complex to define what characterizes a good practice. Does this sound ecological character ? Is this the nature of economics, the performance improved ? Is this the character of sanitation ? The consumption of water, energy ?
Moreover, it is clear that in 10 or 20 years, very few people know in what context we will need to feed. Resilience, the ability to adapt to changes in production conditions (climate, pests, ...), to become a master password. It is usually a synonym for variety of crops, but also of systems), and simplicity. Resilient agriculture will necessarily be the result of many leading practices in certain contexts, and losing in others, but overall able to feed us.
We believe that the agriculture of the future will be composed of multiple systems, as for the shape, each one will put his paw, and its innovationweeding between the vines with sheep or chickens ? What kind of hurdles for any size of plot ? Transplanting the rice seedlings at the end of 8 days rather than 30 ? Put walnuts on the top of the apple ?).
We believe above all that through the collaboration, the exchange of techniques and on the returns to experience, new powerful ideas can germinate.
We are convinced that the agricultural industry is ready to meet this challenge, and that there are no more passionate than a farmer when he comes to think of new ways to do his job.
We are certain that the agricultural world is ready to change, to witness, learn and exchange, as soon as one gives them the means to do so, on a background of trust and goodwill, rather than from preconceived ideas and mistrust.
We believe that the technical solutions, regardless of its nature, are only tools. What matters is the purpose and how to use these solutions.
Our goal is to facilitate the sharing of all practices, and innovations that allow and enable agriculture more efficient and more respectful of nature and its resources, which are inherently limited.
Update (June 24, 2019) — The second article of this series is here!