With this post, we want to address one common misconception that a lot of people have about sustainable agriculture. There is a common complaint people have with the ones who are trying to achieve self sufficient (in food, water, shelter, energy) lifestyles by building resilient communities, food forests and farm. It is that – we intend to take people backwards by a few thousand years to a hunter gatherer lifestyle or stone age or to the time of the agricultural revolution. It is definitely not so; and here’s why…
Before the population explosion in the 20th century, there was ample land available to feed the entire human species. So, most of human species practiced shifting forms of cultivation such as slash and burn agriculture. In this form, people didn’t need to restore the fertility of the soil they cultivated, they merely had to shift to newer pastures once the yields of the land started plumetting significantly. Even though settled agriculture was practiced in certain places for limited periods of time, a lot of civilizations also collapsed because of loss of soil fertility, unpreparedness to natural calamities, wars. So, it was not really permanent settlement, that the agricultural revolution ensured – settlements lasted only a few centuries in the same place. We don’t really have that luxury any more. The population of our species has now exploded. Settled agriculture that the industrial revolution has enabled also will not be able to provide food for centuries together because it relies on sucking the life out of the soil.
Now, natural / organic / regenerative / sustainable forms have gained prominence in recent years because we have learned that it is possible to cultivate crops in the same land repeatedly with minimum human interference by applying appropriate strategies such as mulching, minimum tilling, agro forestry, regenerative grazing, composting animal manure to make soil rich, intercropping, crop rotation. These techniques have been adopted by learning from nature viz. biomimicry. These practices were prevalent in olden times in small pockets but couldn’t be propagated to widespread areas. Modern forms of communication have made these practices available for everyone to use.
The cumulative learnings from our history can enable us to build a brighter future for our species. It is even easier now because technology has made available to us modern ways of collaboration and communication.
Centralised authoritarian forms of government that have accompanied large scale industrialization have not done justice to the wisdom, knowledge, experience gathered by our ancestors. The movement of sustainability is not about going back to basics, it is about learning from best practices in history and propagating it to provide the human population with assured diverse healthy food for as long as we exist on this tiny beautiful pale blue dot – Planet Earth!