Circulaire of kringloop-landbouw

We zijn druk bezig met de transitie naar een circulaire economie. Gebaseerd op het Cradle2Cradle principe afval=voedsel willen we in een circulaire economie vooral grondstoffen en biomassa hergebruiken en terugbrengen in de economie. Met het idee dat we daarmee economsich en ecologisch duurzaam bezig zijn.  Maar hoe kan landbouw circulair worden? 

In een circuaire economie is het idee dat economische activiteiten bijdragen aan de algemene gezondheid van het (productie en consumptie) systeem. Dat is dus een ander doel dan toename van het BNP. Het is daarbij belangrijk dat die economie van kringlopen op alle schaalniveaus effectief is.  Het moet werken voor grote en kleine bedrijven, voor organisaties en voor indviduen, lokaal en internationaal.  (tekst overgenomen van de  Ellen Mcarthur Foundation; vertaald door JdN) 

Bij transitie naar een circulaire economie gaat het niet om aanpassingen om de negatieve effecten van de lineaire economie te verzachten.  Het is een systeem-verschuiving, die op de lange termijn een veerkrachtige samenleving oplevert.  Het moet nieuwe economische mogelijkheden opleveren en tegelijkertijd ecologische en maatschappelijk voordelen brengen. 

Onlangs introduceerde Kate Raworth haar Donut economie. Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century. Agriculture should also adhere to using the complex nartural systems as a guide for agricultural practices.

The idea of circularity, feedback, of cycles in real-world systems, has echoes in various schools of philosophy.  The advent of computer-based studies of non-linear systems unambiguously revealed the complex, interrelated, and therefore unpredictable nature of the world we live in – more akin to a metabolism than a machine. Note, in the Spiral Dynamics concept we transition from the industrial/ hierachical meme, which regards the world as a machine, to the Yellow meme , where we regard the world as a complex system, more like a metabolism.  

The circular economy model synthesises several major schools of thought. They include the functional service economy (performance economy) of Walter Stahel; the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy of William McDonough and Michael Braungart; biomimicry as articulated by Janine Benyus; the industrial ecology of Reid Lifset and Thomas Graedel; natural capitalism by Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken; and the blue economy systems approach described by Gunter Pauli.

So for agriculture it means that we need to manage farming systems as complex natural systems again.  We need to find and restore feed back mechanisms, and we allow the system to restore itself. That means we need to study again how nature, all along, manages this in a variety of ecosystems, based on biodiversity. 

In agriculture, we see roughly three developments in making it circular, with feed back mechanisms:

1. Learning from natural ecosystems and copying the principles: permaculture, agro-forestry, agro-ecology, natural grazing. Here the farmer or organisation needs to be open to learn from nature (and from others) and to trust the process, adapting on the way. These developemnts are now widespread and thake a great flight. Look at the Yellow Pages for agroecology to get and idea. 

2. More technical, we see (1) a development in smart / precision agriculture; with help of satellites waste is reduced by very effective application of seed, fertilizer, water. Another technical approach is (2) measuring inputs and outputs of a system, recycling the waste and re-using waste as input again. Calculate losses and replenish them. That is relatively easy for measurable nutrients like phosphor, nitrogen. More difficult for organic carbon, and even more dufficult when it comes to plants and soils sequestering carbon from the air.  Obviously, this approach is more appreciated by managers and policymakers who are used to technical solutions. The questions that arise are on which scale the loops need to be closed, local, regional or even international (e.g. recycle the waste -in varous countries - from Brazilian grown soy, and return that as manure to Brasil?). The non-renewable nutrient phospor, used in chemical fertilizer, and found as waste in urine, can be retrieved if we would redesign our toilets to separate urine from faeces. We should also return to another type of stables where the urine and faeces (manure) of cows is seprately collected. 

3. A return to well known, culturally divers, experientially developed closed loop systems of agriculture. Like the 3000 year old Chinese farming system where chicken are kept above a pond with fish. Or the Swiss and other mountain area system where sheep and cows are kept in summer meadows. Their dung warms the soil with only 1 or 2 degrees, which makes the soil suitable to grow winter grain.