For many people in poorer regions and countries, the pandemic policies of governments have simply created a new hunger crisis, as there are many countries where 30 to 50 per cent of people live and work in the so- called informal sector. This means that they have to look for a new job every day and their families survive on their daily incomes. The freezing of social life meant a complete economic catastrophe for these people.
They have no work and they have no food. In Colombia, for example, there is now a rule that people who are hungry should hang a red cloth in front of their windows so that aid organisations can come to them. There are neighbourhoods where every second house has a red flag. There is talk of 20 million people not having enough to eat. In Pretoria (South Africa), a queue of people stretching four kilometres long formed for food parcels. In Geneva, one of the richest cities in prosperous Switzerland, food is being distributed to the needy because they simply have nothing to eat.
Consequences of the lockdown
The general, worldwide lockdown led a return to essential basic needs. Food and eating are at the forefront of this. Locked up at home within four walls, eating has become an essential part of daily rhythms. Many families have rediscovered cooking and eating together. Demand for oganic and regional products has increased. These respective markets have been completely overwhelmed, especially in the early days, certainly also due to panic buying.
One aspect of this is that COVID-19 poses no danger to animals, plants or the earth. This means that nature, and therefore also agriculture and basic food, has not been endangered at any time. During the many weeks of global uncertainty that has gripped so many dimensions of life, nature and uncontaminated food provided a secure basis for life and became a way of life for many.
This led to a new discovery and appreciation of gardens and the immediate local environment, especially in countries such as France, where leaving home was limited to one hour a day and only within a radius of one kilometre around the home. Being in nature as an essential part for the quality of life, has been rediscovered. With closed borders and the interruption of many global supply chains, regional economies have been rediscovered and appreciated, especially in the food sector.
Many new contacts between producers and consumers have been established. Producers feel they are being seen in a new light and are enjoying greater appreciation.
Before the Corona crisis, much revolved around the climate crisis. Since agriculture is responsible for many environmental and climate sins, it was under heavy fire. Concerns centred more around ecology with less focus on productivity. In the Corona crisis, the focus has been on the production of food, and climatic ecology has faded into the background. That will change again, but ecology on its own terms – without sensible food production, also in quantitative terms – will suffer.
In the marketplace, organic food and the Demeter brand (biodynamic food) will certainly gain ground, because food in general has been more appreciated. This is a great opportunity for the organic sector. For Demeter, the challenge remains to provide food quality that includes, on the one hand, the whole process from ‘the field to the plate’, and on the other, ensures that the vitality and ripeness of the products are traceable, recognisable and of good quality.
New diseases demand an ecological turnaround
The disease associated with COVID-19 only affects humans. But the Corona crisis has revealed a growing threat which many biologists, ecologists and agronomists have been warning about for some time – the alarming increase in emerging diseases in humans, animals and even plants. A series of serious changes in our environment, in agriculture and in the way we treat nature, have precipitated the appearance of these viral and bacterial diseases. Factors include global warming, which is driven by the displacement of species from their original environment, the increasing globalization of trade in agricultural products, the worrying decline of biodiversity at a global level and economically- induced industrial agricultural practices such as monoculture and mass livestock farming. For example, a meta-analysis published in 2010 (Le Monde, 15.12.2010) shows that the decline in biodiversity is accompanied by an increase in infectious diseases around the world. Other studies established the link between the destruction of the natural environment and the increase in emerging diseases (Le Monde diplomatique, 3/2020). The coronavirus is just one example of the dramatic consequences that such emerging diseases can have at a global level. Another equally great, if not even greater threat to health is the rapid development of multi-resistant bacteria against antibiotics, caused by the systematic and prophylactic use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and their misuse in human medicine (Die Zeit, 20.11.2014).
There is an urgent need to educate the public about how our current economic and civilised lifestyles, in the interplay of the various contributing factors, promote the development of these plant and animal diseases, increasingly endangering and destroying the very foundations of our life on earth. For almost 100 years, biodynamic agriculture has developed a systemic life-enhancing approach to disease resistance and has developed principles for agricultural practice that make it possible to produce food for humans in harmony with and in support of nature.
However, approaches to solving the problem supported by the major pesticide manufacturers – who use a diametrically opposite approach – are completely different. Instead of integrating arable and livestock farming into agricultural areas and creating self-contained natural environments, they offer the ‘hygienic’ approach, limiting any contact between farm animals and nature and thereby also with viruses and bacteria. This would lead to an increase in factory farming. The fact that recent health problems have rarely been blamed on factory farms, but rather on small open-air farms, is symptomatic of the power of the industrial chemical farming lobby. In view of this fact, it is essential to strive for and achieve an ‘alliance for life’ with many like-minded partners.
The resilient farm and respective food systems
The biodynamic impulse for agriculture and food is based on a few core principles, one of which is the closed, inherently diverse farm. This principle can work in a traditional way and can be understood – especially in contrast to the ‘modern’ farm, which is set up purely according to economic criteria. Furthermore, all profitability calculations lead to specialization of farms, which in turn therefore also requires the use of fertilizers, pesticides and industrial feed.
In stark contrast, the building principle of a biodynamic farm is the internal interaction of the different animals and cultural species. In other words, an agricultural organism is divided into different organs which together form a whole and which are more than the sum of its parts.
There are several reasons to set up and run a farm in this way; one of them is resilience. The term stands for the ability to deal flexibly with external influences, to be able to absorb them, to be stress tolerant and not to lose health and performance suddenly, even when rough winds blow. In this sense, a biodynamic farm strives for a high degree of resilience.
Until now, we have understood this resilience primarily from an agronomic point of view, and we have focused on the changes associated with climate change. The socio-economic stress situation caused by the Corona crisis, however, also allows us to discover this resilience in its social and economic dimensions. Thus, a diverse farm is also socially and economically resilient. And that is worth a lot when the whole economic structure becomes insecure.
How can our current economies be stabilized again? Gigantic financial injections by the state alone will not do the trick. It takes trust – and any business that can handle such a stressful situation is part of the solution. It creates potential trust– it does not draw forces out of the system, but feeds forces into it. Many biodynamic farms are like prototypes of resilient farms. Moreover, what at first glance seems traditional becomes, on closer inspection, an empowerment coming from the future.
No company stands alone in today’s economy. Not even the agronomically-closed agricultural enterprise, because it is productive and the products have to go from the farm to surrounding society. In highly developed economies, only one to three per cent of the working population is still employed in agriculture. All others have to be fed by these few, who are involved in primary production. Production, processing, trade and consumption together form the economic system of an industry. Accordingly, one speaks of a ‘food system’. The unprotected, open, specialized business tends to be linked to the global food system, for which it produces the raw products, which are then put on the table via industrial processing and supermarkets, supported by TV advertising, and reflected in the fast food culture. The biodynamic farm, on the other hand, in accordance with its internal building principles, also forms its external network – we use direct sales, contract farming, regional supply chains with manual processing, etc., with a kind of inner culture of the economic interrelationship, which results in many personal connections.
Resilient food systems are based on genuine and honest handling of soil, plants and animals, and manageable as well as long-term personal trade relations, which do not break up in times of crisis, but rather endure and thus offer confidence. One effect of the Corona era will certainly be the increased search for economic forms that are not merely anonymous and price-driven. The agricultural and food industry is one of the most important sectors in this search and we can only hope that the many approaches to associative food systems, which are based on biodynamic farms, can contribute to this ‘humane’ economy.
Agriculture, soil and nationalism
It is already clear that the Corona crisis and climate change will have a strong impact on agriculture and the food industry. We can expect further polarizations: on the one hand, a strengthening of the organic, regional, multifunctional agriculture and food economy, and on the other, intensive production based on national food security, which will receive a new boost. Nevertheless, agriculture is not merely just about chemistry, that is, the ecological question. It is also about the social question of how people’s relationship with the earth is shaped. Here it is important to be attentiveness, because ‘regional’ quickly becomes ‘national’, and ‘ecological’ can be instrumentalized by a sentiment of ‘healthy home soil’. ‘America first’ means, among other things, America for Americans – and corresponding slogans and movements exist in many other countries.
The paradox here is that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of borders and thus de facto to national activity. We have now been living for weeks and months in a national context – whether willingly or unwillingly, remains to be determined. It is, in fact, our reality. This has not only been perceived as a handicap, but also as an experience of a new sense of ‘being at home’ in ‘my’ country. Many countries have carried out large and costly repatriation programmes because in these uncertain times, you are really only safe at home. This new sense of ‘being at home’ will not simply disappear with the easing of restrictions. There may be positive aspects to this, but in the agricultural sector in particular, we who deal with the earth on a daily basis must also recognize the danger that this may lead to a new collective attachment to the earth. Biodynamics is also at risk here because it likes to subsume the farmer, the person working on the farm, into a lofty image of the agricultural organism. It must be made clear here that, No, man is not part of the earth, but the earth is part of man!
It is precisely one of the achievements of modern individualism that the individual becomes emancipated from the collective and thus potentially free. This individually accessible freedom is a decisive fundamental of anthroposophy and thus of biodynamic farming. It is from this basic principle only – and not from old collective bonds – that it is ‘permissible’ to connect with the earth and the natural environment as intensively as is customary in biodynamics and to some extent also in organic farming.
Biodynamic farms and other settings live from the strength of free individual initiative and the responsible attitude of its active people. Furthermore, the biodynamic movement lives and benefits from its cosmopolitan character, which connects us all across the earth in a spiritual sense.
New relationships with the living world
In addition to the climate crisis and the decline in biodiversity, the Corona crisis has caused many people to rethink their own relationship with the living environment and to become more aware of our current remoteness from nature and the fundamental importance of agriculture for our daily lives and food. Numerous articles, radio broadcasts and so on, bear witness to this. A growing awareness of the importance of a peaceful and cooperative relationship with nature is emerging, especially among young people.
This opens up new functions and possibilities for organic and biodynamic farms: information and training activities such as the creation of school gardens or other forms of participatory and innovative spaces for developing a different consciousness and a new relationship with the living environment that surrounds us. It is possible that more young people or young couples in the future will feel a stronger urge to return to the land, experiencing it more as a global task – perhaps even if, as in Peru, it simply ensures the daily survival of their family, i.e. subsistence farming. This took place already in Greece and other Southern European countries after the economic crisis of 2008, and the challenge will be to accompany these processes in order to enable a good integration of these people into growing communities or into existing communities.
Future tasks of the biodynamic movement
What can we, as a biodynamic movement, contribute so that everyone has food to eat? Don’t we have to reinvent ourselves completely?
Biodynamics should mean an assurance that for every human being there is a piece of land on this earth where food is growing – for me. I am responsible for this earth, I am responsible for my food. Do I want to cultivate my own land? Do I want to delegate this task? How can we organize this together?
The earth is mine as long as I am on earth. Afterwards, the following generations will be here – they too will need to eat. We have to cultivate the earth so that they too can live. Biodynamics could be newly defined as follows: The earth is a living being, it carries us and it can be so cultivated that it feeds everyone from generation to generation.
Article from the book:
Perspectives and Initiatives in the Times of Coronavirus, ISBN 978 1 85584 580 0