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Bioeconomy and Agroecology

Bioeconomy and Agroecology

The approach to the efficiency of a system, such as an agricultural company, must be operated with a much more complex criterion than that followed up to the present day.
To implement resilient agricultural systems, it is necessary to take into account the aspects linked to the efficiency of ecological systems and their delicate balances; it is therefore necessary to abandon most of the assumptions on which intensive and industrial agricultural models are based, inserting a series of considerations and functions that are all too neglected into the design algorithm.
For this reason, even before organizing a production system, it is necessary to preliminarily carry out a study of the ecosystems (habitats) where the company is located, consequently identifying the best solutions.
Habitats, in fact, are subject to changes and alterations which lead to variations in their balance, in their dynamics and in their impact on the overall matrix of the earth system. These changes are caused by alterations in agricultural practices, tourism, pollution, fragmentation and climate change (Miller G. T., Spoolman S. 1999).
Indeed, agricultural practices, due to their notable impact on ecosystems, in terms of occupied surface area and external inputs, are among the factors causing the greatest transformation of natural balances at a global level.
It is in this direction that, in order to make suitable choices for maximum habitat protection, it is necessary to delve deeper into some concepts, set out above, linked to the study of energy systems applied to ecological systems, such as agricultural companies.
When we design a company, with its production system and its organisation, we make choices which, up to now, have frequently not been supported by a careful connection between ecological and energy principles but only by other criteria; these criteria generally correspond to various needs which we can summarize in order as follows:
– of a commercial nature, as the farmer tends to cultivate or breed species required by the reference market;
– for personal knowledge or experience on their cultivation or breeding;
– by territorial tradition;
– for other reasons, such as curiosity, hearsay, etc.
The analyzes and opportunities evaluated therefore often do not include the criteria and concern for designing a system that responds more efficiently to the transformation of energies and dynamics present in a given habitat.
Designing according to this criterion, however, does not respond to mere applications of the laws of physics but also to concrete ecological and economic evaluations.
Too often we have separated, both at a macroscopic and microscopic level, the laws of economics from the laws of physics, with the visible and tangible consequences of an economic system that negatively interferes with nature and humanity, impoverishing them more and more.
To our aid, and in favor of a more real and concrete economy, the Romanian-born economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen came to us with his essay on the links between physics and economics (The Entropy Law and the Economic Process of 1971 ).
This essay highlights how the second law of thermodynamics also concerns economic processes; in this sense, when economic systems are not put in relation to the needs of thermodynamics, these lead to a negative alteration of energy availability, with potentially destructive environmental consequences: in fact, the greater the consequent energy dispersion (dispersion which has an irreversible character), the greater it is the amount of energy that is taken away from the system and therefore also from future generations, as well as the disorder that is poured into the ecosystem.
Georgescu-Roegen, in the aforementioned essay, demonstrated how infinite economic growth (both at the small company and macrosystem level) is not only economically unsustainable, but also physically impossible.
It is therefore necessary to review and reconvert economic theory taking into account the second law of thermodynamics, creating a hybrid theory that Georgescu-Roegen calls “bioeconomic theory”, which deals with the problem of the distribution of goods and resources and the satisfaction of human needs. in a context of economic decline.
Again according to the author of the essay, the original sin of neoclassical theory is “ignoring the natural environment in its representation of economic processes”. He states that this conception is a true “economic myth”, devoid of any scientific confirmation; a legacy of nineteenth-century positivism that sees man as capable of solving any problem that arises thanks to his genius and technological progress. Furthermore, as the economist Robert Merton Solow suggests, it is not possible to do without natural resources in the production process (Solow R.M. 1955).
This assumption was developed by Solow in his well-known work concerning the field of growth theory in economics, the so-called Solow model, or Solow-Swan model or even neoclassical growth model.
Georgescu-Roegen states, among other things, that even the possibility of converting some resources into other, more usable ones only postpones the problem. This conversion requires additional energy, increasing the entropy of the system. In reality, in fact, “the economic process, like all other living processes, is irreversible (and it is irrevocable): consequently it cannot be described solely in mechanical terms. It is thermodynamics, via the law of entropy, that recognizes the qualitative distinction, which economists should have made from the beginning, between inputs in the form of valuable resources (low entropy) and outputs in the form of worthless waste ( high entropy).
Furthermore, starting from the scientific evidence of the second law of thermodynamics, which implies the existence of intrinsic limits to development that can simply be postponed (and not avoided) by trying to limit the entropic degradation of resources as much as possible, he arrives at a new economic vision which he calls, precisely, “bioeconomic theory”, in which the limits imposed by physics and the environmental problem are resolved through a re-introduction of the ethical problem into the discipline.
If the ultimate goal of the economy is in fact not so much material production, but the enjoyment of the necessities of life, it is necessary to convert the current model aimed at unbridled production (and outside of scientific assumptions) into a model that responds to real logic of human needs, freed from external impositions such as those of the induction of needs.
By orienting economic production according to more rational criteria and a humanist logic, it will thus be possible to produce less and escape the imperative of growth, without necessarily creating a worsening of humanity’s living conditions. Indeed, freeing humanity and the environment from the heavy burden of excessive entropic repercussions.
Going down from the level of macroeconomic concepts to that of the microeconomic choices to be made in the design of a business cell is a short step.
We cannot make energy transformations into production and, therefore, into money without taking into account the inevitable principles of thermodynamics.
We cannot therefore create a production system without taking into account the rules that underlie the performance of a process.
If we do not make choices in this sense, we will still burden the system, impoverishing it, deteriorating it, and even if the PLV of our company increases for a certain period, the external (requirement of raw materials, etc.) and internal (fertility, biodiversity, etc.) will be negative, so much so as to also inconvenience the ethical responsibility of the entrepreneur.
The link between our choices and what surrounds us must involve us ethically, so much so that it can be stated, without the possibility of contradiction, that any choice made outside the principles of thermodynamics is ethically inappropriate.
In this sense, it is clear that a good starting point for building a company that corresponds to all production, ethical and economic needs is knowledge of the energy mechanisms that underlie biological systems.
In order to undertake a study of agroecology that has a solid link with economic systems, we must therefore change our point of view, our perception of reality, our approach to things and the relationships between them.
We must substantially change our perceptive system, without which every future operation and every choice risks always being tainted by that “original sin” which has characterized a long phase in the history of the economy and the customs related to it.
In this we are helped, once again, by the great innovation that is taking place in the understanding of the laws of physics, especially of quantum mechanics which, like the advent of the discovery of the sphericity of the world, following C. Colombo’s discovery, is changing our ability to perceive nature and the reality in which we live.
In this sense we can say that intensive agriculture is to classical physics what agroecology is to quantum physics. The point of view becomes more complex and interactive and the way we behave is consequential.
In classical physics, and in all related disciplines, not least agricultural sciences, processes were often seen in a linear, punctual, unconnected manner.
In quantum physics there is the concept of “everything is one”, that is, of a continuum that involves every single element of the system in a correlated manner and without ever being able to separate, as Leibniz G.W. stated in 1714, one monad from another.
Ecosystems respond, without a shadow of a doubt, to the laws of physics and they always tend towards a stage of greater balance.
Thus, since it is not possible to alienate the planning of agricultural companies from these concepts, it is clear that the same rules must be followed in their organization, as we will see later.
We understand, therefore, how bioeconomy and agroecology are two interconnected concepts that focus on the sustainability and optimization of natural resources in the agricultural and agri-food sector.
In summary, bioeconomy and agroecology converge, with their related areas of application, in the vision of sustainable and responsible agricultural and agri-food development, based on the valorisation of biological resources, respect for the environment and the protection of biodiversity. Their integration can provide innovative and synergistic solutions to address global challenges related to food production and natural resource management.

Guido Bissanti

This article is one of the summaries emerging from the forthcoming book on agroecology (spring 2024) signed by the undersigned and the other researchers: Giovanni Dara Guccione (CREA-PB), Barbara Manachini (UNIPA), Paola Quatrini (UNIPA) and with the preface by Luca Mercalli (president of the Italian Meteorological Society).

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