An Eco-sustainable World
Planet Agriculture

Specialized agriculture contradicts nature

Specialized agriculture contradicts nature

For years we have attributed a positive value to the term specialized, at least in the agricultural sector. The word specialized, in dictionaries, indicates the quality of someone who is endowed with particular competence and ability in a specific professional sector or activity.
Therefore, since the Italian language must indicate a correspondence for every word, we are led to attribute to this term, in the agricultural field, a positive value: of agriculture done with the quality of particular competence.
Well, words do not always contain a truthful meaning; one example is that of rampant greenwashing (a term that indicates when a statement on sustainability contains false information or information capable of deceiving consumers, investors and other market participants, or when information relevant to their decisions is omitted).
Thus, for decades, this type of agriculture was seen as a goal to be achieved; a goal to emulate or imitate.
We clarify that, even by consulting a dictionary, by specialized agriculture we mean that model of cultivation of arboreal plants (olive groves, citrus groves, vineyards, etc.) or herbaceous plants (arable land, vegetable gardens, etc.) in which only one species is cultivated, in contrast to promiscuous cultivation, in which tree species and herbaceous plants are combined. In this type of agriculture, specialization would have served (also according to the first CAP) to improve production yields as well as farmers’ income.
This is both incorrect information, both from an energetic point of view (Prigogine I. 1982), as biodiverse ecological structures dissipate energy better, and from an ecological point of view (Tamburini G. et al. 2000) in how crops with greater biodiversity (in intercropping and rotation) contribute to an increase in the biomass of production systems and to better ecosystem services.
Recent meta-analyses, conducted in various parts of the world, demonstrate that not only is the current trend still, and unfortunately, the simplification of the main cropping systems throughout the world, but that the results of this research indicate that diversification can reverse the negative impacts that are observed in simplified forms of cultivation both on the environment and on production itself (Tamburini G. et al. 2020).
Furthermore, further research has shown that the primary productivity (which is the real parameter to refer to) of a more biodiverse natural or agricultural system is always higher.
Furthermore, biodiversity significantly reduces the production of negative feedback by the system to overcome excessive “specialization”. Negative feedback is typically the proliferation of phytophagous insects, phytophagous diseases (downy mildew, powdery mildew, etc.), weeds and so on.
Nature always tries to restore more advantageous energy conditions, i.e. with greater efficiency, ensuring greater primary productivity (better accumulation of organic substance through photosynthesis).
Not only that, each activated feedback involves further energy expenditure so that, the more it specializes, not only does the dissipative system work worse, but in addition it must draw on additional energy to activate the control or feedback systems.
But there is a further question that must be clarified once and for all. This issue concerns agri-food systems and their healthiness.
It should be noted that when we eat food with it we take in external substances; these substances contain (in accordance with what emerged from quantum mechanics) energy, information and matter.
Until now we have been accustomed to seeing a food as made of matter (its consistency) and energy (its caloric and element intake). However, foods convey this third form of the substance of the reality that surrounds us, which is information.
Biodiverse thermodynamic models (Nielsen S.N. et al. 2020) are vehicles of greater information. Translated into simple terms it means that foods produced in conditions of greater biodiversity provide us with more information.
Someone might observe or ask the question: but what do we do with more information? The answer is that all living beings need the three forms of substance in an adequate manner to be able to live and reproduce: energy, information and matter. These three forms mean that, in optimal conditions, living beings (including humans) are allowed to benefit more from this wealth.
In short, the more information we take in from outside (food, intellectual, etc.), the more well-being we gain from it. We can say that living beings that take in little information are organisms that suffer more, are more depressed, less capable of facing difficulties, challenges, etc. In short, living beings that take in more information are more resilient.
There is therefore a perfect link between the level of biodiversity of a territory (which is also the small portion of the company where you buy, for example, your tomatoes) and the social ecosystem.
Biodiverse territories not only give greater ecological and economic guarantees to its inhabitants (even to the individual farmer within the company) but greater well-being; a term which is more complete than that on economic wealth, as all aspects of the human being are involved in it, characterizing the quality of life of every single person within a community of people.
Well-being therefore consists in the best possible balance between the biological level, the psychic level and the social level of the individual.
This article is, in fact, one of the summaries that emerge from the forthcoming book on agroecology (spring 2024) signed by the undersigned and the other researchers: Giovanni Dara Guccione (CREA-PB), Barbara Manachini (UNIPA) and Paola Quatrini (UNIPA) and with the preface by Luca Mercalli (president of the Italian Meteorological Society).

Guido Bissanti

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