Lin Bautze Recently the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on “Climate Change and Land” was published. Since 1992 several hundred scientists in this body have been gathering the most up-to-date research results on climate change on behalf of the United Nations. The report summarizes four core aspects in relation to our food system and agriculture:
- Humanity is dependent on land resources and agriculture. With all the climate change scenarios calculated, our food security world-wide is being negatively influenced by climate change. The degree of impact varies according to the geographical location as well as social, economic and ecological resilience.
- Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors and thus particularly affected by the effects of climate change. Soil quality and quantity are here explicitly seen as threatened. The current rate of soil erosion in the conventional way of farming is up to 100 times higher than the parallel rate of building up the soil. In the long term, this situation massively threatens the agricultural basis of production.
- Agriculture can either produce further emissions or else contribute towards preventing or compensating for these. Biodynamic and organic ways of farming are expressly recommended in order to reduce emissions in future and at the same time to improve the resilience of agricultural practice.
- So as to have a sustainable future the IPCC recommends actions to protect the climate that are quick to implement and suitable locally. It should be possible to realise these through the wealth of experience of local protagonists from all parts of the value creation process and thus enacted in co-operation.
Ueli Hurter Agriculture is never climate neutral. There are historical and current examples of where it improves the climate (Timbuktu Collective, Agricultural Conference 2019), and there are numerous examples of where it is harmful to the climate. What is new to the situation in 2019 is ‘just’ that we have a global awareness and the data are available too in order to draw up a balance sheet for the global climate. How come agriculture has such a strong effect on the climate? Because it is intrinsic to its very being that it permeates what is below with what is above and what is above with what is below. The inauguration of agriculture in the Old Persian culture consisted in tearing up the earth with the plough. That was an incredible deed! Striking down into the depths of darkness, a step into Ahriman’s realm. However, the upper, light and warmth, - symbolised in the Persian culture in the sun being, Ahura Mazdao – was thus able to penetrate the lower. Through this, food grew in quantity and quality in the field and in the garden, something that enabled a tremendous step forward in human evolution: the step of becoming settled, also known as the Neolithic Revolution. Thus mankind became citizens of the earth; now no longer “the splendid stranger” (Novalis), but “mankind is called upon to fashion the earth” (Novalis). From this time on, agriculture as the basis of a settled existence is opportunity and danger for the soil, the water and the atmosphere. What the IPCC report shows with current data is that agriculture is part of the problem but also at the same time part of the solution, which is also right from a deeper understanding of the inner nature of agriculture.
If we take it a step further, it becomes evident that the ‘lower’, which opens itself to ‘above’, means in particular carbon and nitrogen in the organic realm. In fact, CO2, CH4 and N2H are the most important climate gases. In the troposphere, 8,000 to 18,000 metres above the earth’s firm surface, they form an umbrella (a surface in the atmosphere), which reflects the sun’s warmth that is radiated from the earth and sends it back to the earth (greenhouse effect). This results in a global rise of temperature in the atmosphere. Through various forms of feedback this process is strengthened and accelerated. So much for atmospheric physics. Is there such a thing as atmospheric biology? Or even biodynamics of the atmosphere?
Potential of biodynamic agriculture
LB For farming practice these results can be interpreted in two extreme ways. We can deny climate change, ignore it and hope that nothing more will happen or that the whole body of scientists has made a mistake after all. That would mean maintaining the status quo, not cutting back on emissions and hoping for people who are adaptable and technically adept. The other extreme would be a radical change: renouncing further emissions and acting aggressively. The special report opts for acting decisively, and in our society, at least since Greta Thunberg and the Fridays-for-the Future demonstrations, the will to take action appears to have taken hold.
The report emphasises in addition that agriculture has to develop resilience, its inner robustness, as quickly as possible. This demands of us, above all, that we accept the new inevitable conditions, such as developing trust in our own ability to act, to rise up above the crisis. It means reflecting on our own farm, having a holistic overview and adjusting in good time. This requires a trained eye, having a knowledge of various options for action and the will to realize the reality of our own situation. If we now consider the possibilities quite rationally which biodynamic agriculture offers for protecting the climate and resilience, we will realise that this form of agriculture:
- does without chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides with their emission intensive and costly production and instead uses its own local, organic fertilisers.
- invests in improving the soil through keeping a balanced number of livestock in the fields, composting and diversity in crop rotation.
- develops a certain sovereignty, for instance, through thinking in closed farm cycles; whereby for example, it is possible to do without soya imports from Brazil.
- attends intensively and conscientiously to its own soils, plants, animals, human beings and interactions on the farm and in the world, time and again.
You can find further information about the project on:
Youtube: Sektion für Landwirtschaft
Expressed in figures, this means that, if we in the EU convert 50 % of agricultural land to organic and biodynamic farming, by 2030, we would be able to save or compensate for up to 30 % of farm emissions. Concomitantly, in long-term trials it has been shown that organic and biodynamic agriculture can deal with climate fluctuations and extremes. The crop losses turn out to be less with a good soil structure, when facing extreme weather events and droughts than with conventional farms. Parallel to this, the diversity in the fields, in livestock keeping and the branches of the farm practised on biodynamic farms protects them economically. Thus, the people on the farm will remain more capable of acting in the future too. We then have the possibility in agriculture of taking a course that uses the already present, practised potential of biodynamic agriculture. This must be considered according to the place and the possibilities for acting of each individual. In some regions or branches of the farms actions can be taken more rapidly and be more effective than in others. Thus I may realise, when I consider my farm, that, for example, composting or the strategic planting of trees or hedges are easier to carry out and take less time than improving the humus of the soil.
UH In the Agriculture Course in 1924 Rudolf Steiner did not speak in a Persian mystery language, but accommodated his audience to such an extent that he used a highly topical agronomists’ language. He spoke about sulphur, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen – precisely the elements that people are dealing with at present. Carbon (C) is the substance that forms the basic structure in the organic realm. A plant forms its body from carbon; it germinates, grows, blossoms, bears fruit and dies away. What is left over is the seed of this specific plant and the humus, which is like a universal seed. Carbon lives dynamically in the life cycle within the individual plant, in the whole field of plants, in the whole landscape with over a hundred years’ cycle, if we think of the trees. If we manage to keep carbon in life’s cycle, then we not only refrain from damaging the climate, but contribute positively to a healthy climate. With nitrogen it is such that it has difficulty entering organic life from out of the air where, in its atomic form N2, it is present on a huge scale. Something on a soul level needs to form a body for itself in order for nitrogen to enter earthly life. That is the case with animals and with the plant family of the legumes. With these two sources it is possible to have nitrogen on the farm in sufficient quality and quantity. The synthetic, industrially produced nitrate fertiliser – which escapes into the atmosphere as laughing gas (N2H) and has a global warming potential 265 times of the CO2 – is not necessary! Though, for a farm’s own nitrogen management a level of livestock keeping, in particular, ruminants, is necessary. This principle is realised in biodynamic cultivation, right through to the Demeter guidelines, which stipulate the inclusion of animals as mandatory.
In practice people do not work with the chemical substances, but the concepts people have of them have a lot of influence on the how and the what in farming. With the knowledge outlined above of the substances as the bearers of life, soul and spirit in nature’s household I work differently from thinking of them as dead chemical atoms. Consequently, in biodynamic cultivation the unit which enables the living flow of substances in a closed cycle and can carry it, the basic unit, with which we work practically, is the individual farm. It is really a “farm individuality”, which forms its body in the farm organism. All the efforts of the practitioner are directed primarily towards this whole and only secondarily towards the particular branches of the farm, which may be seen as organs in the sense of the farm organism. With this approach of always thinking, feeling and acting out of the whole, the biodynamic farmer has the nature of a bit of a dreamer. For the whole is not concretely graspable, it has to be conceived or “imagined”. This can lead to astonishing ways of proceeding. I once came to a farm which had to wrestle with a high rate of calf deaths. The measure taken by the farmer was – among other things - to plant lots of hedges. Now you could say, he is a dreamer or he is crazy! However, it was clear to him that, if he wanted to strengthen the lack of structural forces, which were causing the disastrous diarrhoea among the calves, then they needed to be improved with hedges in the landscape so that they will reach the calves through the feed and the milk of their mothers. Is that not like working atmospherically? You go with a phenomenon, weighing it up inwardly, right out to the periphery and from there comes a flash of inspiration, which allows you to act at a particular point, apparently far removed from the cause. In other words, biodynamics always acts out of the periphery, from its approach it is climate agriculture.
Making the available potential visible
LB If we return to the large picture of climate change at the moment, the question arises as to why not more farms are converting to biodynamic agriculture and climate-friendly agriculture at present. For such a conversion knowledge, role models and options for acting are required. Every farm is individual, unique and consists in specific interactions between people, animals, landscape and the global environment. If we want to enable conventional, organic and biodynamic farms to act on the same basis, it requires the portfolio of knowledge, from which practicable and ecologically, socially meaningful solutions can be created. It requires the inspiration of people who have already put solutions into practice and their readiness to share their own experience with others. Then farms can act locally and at the same time keep an eye on the global picture.
In order to fill this gap, a new research project has been started at the Agriculture Section. In the project “Living Farms: potential of biodynamic places in times of global change” 15 to 20 farms world-wide are being visited, researched and portrayed. In short videos their strategies, thoughts and options for acting are shown. Thus farmers, advisors and also consumers can have access to the world-wide repertoire of possibilities of biodynamic places. This access will enable people to grow together with the challenges of global change.
UH Climate change concerns us all; it affects us all. It calls for lots of insights, lots of prototypes, lots of ways of resolving it. Biodynamics are not THE solution. They can make a contribution. For, as we have seen, in its very being it has its focus on, and its actions are directed from, the whole to the particular – and this is just the call of the climate crisis: the earth is a whole, the earth is a living being and wants to be treated by us humans as such. Our contribution is actually the farms; it is not the science (anthroposophy, the “Agriculture Course”) and also not only the (Demeter) produce, which can be so inspiring for many people. However, we think our farms could have the impact on lots of people of their finding inspiration and encouragement for their own actions. For, the farm is concrete, soil, plants and animals are actually there, the people and the community are not thought of in an ideal sense, but with 100 % of their difficulties they are part of the whole. The farms are also social laboratories, where, for instance, new forms of ownership are being tried out. Farms are food workshops as well, where neither fast food nor slow food is being produced but true food. In this way we want to show people our farms in all modesty. So that people in Nepal, on the Philippines and in Iceland can see them, we are putting these portraits into video films. Thus we are back with Ahriman, the circle is completed, agriculture arises from the dynamics of the encounter between sun and earth.