Making the agro-ecological transition happen using collective innovation and a digital toolbox dedicated to knowledge compilation & transfer
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
The Seine-Normandy water basin, a diverse territory between urban (Paris) and rural areas, concentrates all the contradictions and challenges of modern societies (urban sprawl, intensive agriculture, environmental pressures, etc.) and, at the same time, is holding great hope and potential for renewing urban-rural ties: very early in the life of AFAF, farmers and stakeholders of the basin came to us to "move together on the path of agro-ecology", inspired by the project of finding a common path towards an agriculture which produces a healthy and sustainable food, in a healthy environment.
We have worked with these pioneers to help them develop new practices - from soil, to landscape management - and they are now trendsetters with sufficient experience to help others engage the transition. Our team has been developing and testing a methodology to make people exchange from a core of 200 pioneers to a large-scale community and enable up scaling of agro-ecology. Below are selected examples of some key local partners contributing every day to a change in agricultural practices on the field: the core of our vision.
The farmers’ association Sol en Caux, aims to encourage a local move towards an agriculture that has less impact on soils and the environment, while maintaining the economic profitability. They are involved in participatory research programs directly addressing farmers’ needs. https://cutt.ly/0rY1otI
The farmers’ association Sol Agronomy and Innovation brings together over 100 members, to develop conservation agriculture practices. https://cutt.ly/JrY1iml
The Ferme des Sables, a school farm managed by Claire Bertrand (a member of the project team) at the East of the Parisian Basin (see above section). https://cutt.ly/DrY1oK1
AFAF, in partnership with the PNR du Gatinais (Natural Regional Park at the south of Paris), supported the Courance farm in carrying out its agroforestry project, which ultimately aims to “feed Paris”. https://cutt.ly/ErY1pRy
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Paris seen from sky : contrasts with the rural area.
Beauce seen from sky : no trees no fertility = looking like a desert
Seine-Normandy seen from sky
More than 60% of the basin's surface is occupied by agriculture, with 79,500 farms - 16% of French farms. These farms are mainly managed on a tenant basis, and represent 22% of national production. The north of the basin has followed a specialization towards large industrial crops with high added value since 1970 (beet, rapeseed, potato). The southwest of the basin concentrates cereal activities, while livestock activities and vineyards are present mainly in the periphery. The productions are therefore highly regionalized according to the pedoclimatic contexts.
Farms are large and are among the ones that consume the highest quantities of pesticides in France, while they use expensive and consuming irrigation systems. Most of the farmers are between 50 and 55.
In Seine-Normandy, agricultural landscapes have suffered the full force of the "modernization" of post-war agriculture, bringing with it the standardization / specialization of agricultural production systems. These dynamics have led simultaneously to a misappropriation of the knowledge attached to these systems, as well as to a loss of control over the factors of production.
Contrasting with this rural landscape and economy, the basin surrounds the Ile-de-France Region, which is 12% of the surface but concentrates 64% of the population, and includes the capital city. Ile-de-France has the highest population density in the country, and is richer and more urbanized than the average. It is also where people have the highest organic food consumption, and more expectations on food : they want local, healthy food. People living in urbanized areas are more and more seeking better living conditions elsewhere : among the executives, 8 out of 10 dream about leaving Paris. Consequently, the natality is decreasing, as couples don’t want their children to live in such a harsh context.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The food system in the Seine Normandie basin is currently suffering from the intensive industrialized farming that has been deeply established in the area.
The whole value chain is mainly centered around production dedicated to national market with high added value. These vulnerable and high emitting systems no longer meet people’s need for local, diverse and healthy food. Practices are not evolving fast enough to tackle climate change challenges, and the decline of biodiversity.
In addition, farmers face many problems. The soils lose their chemical, physical and biological fertility, (Figure 1) suffer more and more from erosion phenomena (Figure 2). Consequently, the water resource loses in quality (Figure 3) and its scarcity is increasing (Figure 4). Economically, the situation is not much more promising: yields are stagnating, and incomes too. The production costs and the investment are not increasing but more and more often, the weather hazards generate dramatic consequences on farms but also on territories. In addition there are significant social issues: being a farmer is a job with difficult working conditions. Farmers' know-how and common sense are lost and farmers feel that they lose independence in their decisions, with very few young people engaging in the farming sector.
In 2050, the farmers would have had changed their practices radically : the water needs will increase by 50 to 60% and dry out the groundwater, consuming local and organic food will be normalized in all spheres of society. The competition with bioenergy and urbanization will increase the land pressure on agriculture. The 6th biodiversity mass extinction will endanger the agro-ecosystem and the farmers will need to protect it at all costs to enable the ecosystem to work correctly. The change in diet (more healthy and local food) will imply a change in productions. The value chain will have to be local, and smaller to adapt to the market and meet the consumer’s needs. Most of the current farmers will be retired and this will have generated a pressing need for new farmers. This need will have been met by robots and young farmers coming from rural areas and “Neocountry people” coming from urban areas and willing to “do their share” for a more sustainable world. In all cases, these new farmers will have to provide returns on the huge investments made to buy the lands. These new farmers will have to work collectively to move faster and rapidly gain experience. Subventions from Europe will have decreased drastically and be dedicated to resilient and agro-ecological systems. Farmers will need to have access to technological tools to get precise environmental diagnostics from their farms to apply for grant, and have a continuous follow-up of their practices.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Facing all these difficulties some pioneers farmers have changed radically their practices. Some have been practicing agro-ecology for more than 15 years and have gathered around them other farmers that have been inspired to switch as well. As a group they move on and innovate together. Our vision allows the upscaling of those agro-ecological practices thanks to collective experimentation and knowledge sharing, and the creation of daily and reciprocal bonds with other stakeholders in the food system (citizens, consumers, processing industries, advisors, restaurants).
According to a scenario made with the Parcel tool, replicating and adapting the practices of our pioneers farmers will be able to feed more than 8 000 000 people (25% less industrialized meat, more grass feed animals, diverse crops with better yields, and less waste on the food chain). These systems protect the biodiversity (trees, hedges and diverse crops all year long), the water resources (better infiltration and storage and no more erosion), store carbon, and temper the micro-climate (Figure 6)
Our community will work in tight relation with the food industry to give them tools and encourage their farmers to change practices and follow their progress. We will set up business models with them to be able to pay the farmers a higher price while maintaining a reasonable selling price so that healthy food remain affordable to the wider population.The local authorities and cities will be able to promote the local farmers networks, and involve collective catering.
The farm size will be around 100 ha, and their economy will be based on the maximization of biomass production and a sharp drop in charges due to less input consumption and equipment sharing. There will be more and more local small processing industries (selling local bread, pasta, meat), with employment opportunities and added value generation across the territory.
In our food system, the food produced has more nutrients than it has now (17 more for an egg), more Omega 3 and better omega3/omega 6 ratio. The farmers will use old varieties of crops that taste different from the current regular food. More and more chefs will be eager to work with products which value local flavor, « le terroir » as we call it.
Our up scaling methodology is based on the connexion between technology and social sciences. A social network with data capitalization, and algorithms to enhance successes, analyse failures and diagnose farms practices, intertwining with territorial communities facilitation is the key to address those challenges.
Our vision is based on the collective power. We work with research organisations that are specializing in the measurement of one data (AgroTransfert for carbon storage, IDELE for CO2 emissions from livestock farming CESbio to collect satellite images to know more about erosion and soil) : the future way of collecting data on farms and applying and adapting policies.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Imagine being able to select your food based on the relationships that exist between the shops, restaurants and producers in a region. Imagine regional platforms that are simple to administer by producers where everyone can find new products, new dishes or menus displayed by restaurants every day, and in each case you could navigate to the local producers' page to find out where the products come from.
We have the software bricks that allow each stakeholder to easily configure a website and feed it in real time from the social network Landfiles, in order to make visible to consumers the relationships between restaurants, shops and producers, with the aim of supporting local ecosystems and quality products. This would multiply the impact of regional dynamics and strengthen sustainable partnerships with the producers of a region.
Imagine living in a territory where farmers are progressing on the path to agro-ecology, helped by a large community of citizens, farmers, schools, scientists, and sharing their successes and failures on an innovative social network fully dedicated to bringing a new way of farming and consuming.
Our innovation greatly simplifies communication for producers, providing a simple and powerful tool that intelligently uses the communication power all the food chain stakeholders and bring consumers new and constantly updated information.
At the same time, we are deploying a methodology on several lines of work:
- We deploy a communication strategy to make consumers aware of the importance of agro-ecological practices. The objective is to create a dynamic of access to these products and to modify consumption practices in order to bring about a change in production practices.
- We set up the dynamics of sharing practices by each farmer and advisor in a participatory experimentation process allowing the dissemination and transformation at scale towards agro-ecological practices.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our vision of food system
Food system as it is now
A 3-fold vision to rebuild agriculture and food, territory by territory:
1) "Integrated" agroforestry: a paradigm shift to reconnect the soil to the landscape
The forest model in agriculture
Any ground surface left to itself always leads - unless there is an “accident” - to the forest. It is this natural plant succession (from lichen to trees) at the basis of ecosystem functioning that agroforestry proposes to apply in agricultural environments. Letting nature "do its work", while allowing the production of a diversity of resources, food, energy, medicine, building materials... In fact, the forest - and the dynamics that lead to it - show us the way to one of the most productive and sustainable systems, without any human intervention (no need for inputs, irrigation, tillage, etc.). This dynamics is also the one that builds soil and fertility... unlike "modern" agriculture, which tends to go against the way paved by nature.
An evergreen agriculture: vegetative cover as the keystone of sustainable... and profitable production systems
Pioneer farmers work every day to develop this agriculture that maximizes photosynthesis and the biomass produced. An "evergreen" agriculture that piles up plants and makes better use of water resources, stores carbon at all levels (and in the soil!) while protecting the environment. Soils are covered every day of the year and little or no cultivation is done (giving priority to innovative practices such as direct seeding into living mulches, crop associations, etc.) and a tree network is gradually built up to rebuild fertility "from the soil to the landscape". Energy and economic balances are also improved by simplifying crop operations and reducing the use of machinery and inputs.
The Agr’eau initiative: a transition in time and space bringing together landscape stakeholders… around innovative farmers
The transition towards a more sustainable agriculture has to be implemented at multiple geographical scales so as to embrace all challenges from soil fertility through natural resource conservation (including biodiversity) and climate change adaptation and mitigation. In practice this requires strong collaboration from a diversity of stakeholders and “landscape users” (farmers, foresters, beekeepers, river conservationists, etc). This is the high-level objective of the Agr’eau (“agriculture and water”) development programme, a grassroots farmer-led initiative implemented on the Adour-Garonne water basin of South France (117 650 km2) since 2013. Over the last 6 years, an advanced methodology for field facilitation but also dedicated tools for participatory knowledge creation and transfer were gradually developed and tested, in partnership with the local Water Agency. This has allowed creating a collaborative momentum on the field that has greatly changed the way of farming, improving performances of agricultural systems and creating a greener landscape in the area. Today, the upscaling and outsaling of this initiative is a necessity for the whole of France and beyond.
2) Health: the common denominator between agriculture, environment and food
Where do these molecules come from?
Let's start at the beginning: when we eat an egg, we consume nutrients, which are themselves composed of the molecules that make up the egg. But where do these molecules come from? Yes, they come from the chicken, but they come mainly from what the chicken has eaten, for example wheat. The molecules that make up these wheat grains themselves come from the soil on which the wheat grew, and so on. That's how we realize the incredible cycle that we are part of, and that our health depends on a succession of other “healths” at different scales, from the soil to the landscape. Because yes, molecules hidden in the corners of the soil, at the turn of a bacterium or an earthworm, end up constituting our organs, our brain... and maybe even a fare share of our way of thinking...
Interdependence of health (plants, animals, humans and ecosystems)
The objective of the concept of "unique health" is to recall the link between the functioning of our bodies and that of the ecosystems of which we are a part, by analysing the state of agricultural ecosystems in a comprehensive manner and taking into account their complexity. It is a unifying concept to foster communication between stakeholders in agriculture and agribusiness, decision-makers and consumers; and thus build a consensus on the real paradigm shift to be made, making it possible to engage territories towards more effective transition scenarios and public policies.
The theme of health is often approached through illness, i.e. the opposite: we often talk about health when things are not going well. Our vision focuses on what directs and determines the good health of a soil, a plant, an animal or a human being and then identifies the practices that promote it.
For example, it has been shown that a balanced diet allowing access in sufficient quantities to secondary plant metabolites (molecules made by plants such as antioxidants), long-chain fatty acids
(the famous Omega 3), vitamins etc. helps reduce chronic diseases. And in practice, these Omega 3 and secondary metabolites are more easily produced by healthy animals and plants, evolving in a system that is itself healthy.
Concretely, this means that, by choosing our diet, we also have an impact on production systems and therefore on the health of the underlying agro-ecosystems. For example, by eating agroforestry chicken (raised outdoors under trees), I am promoting the development of this type of farming in the landscape. By eating, we are shaping our landscape!
3) Implement collective change and build communities of connected stakeholders in each territory (and between them) to create and disseminate solutions for the future
The necessity of a change: inventing the future of farming
Among farmers, the desire to move towards more sustainable systems is taking shape through the emergence of a diversity of innovative practices. This requires practitioners to reconsider their knowledge and perceptions of an agrosystem, and thus the role they can play. This requires a high level of technical expertise, and for this reason our farmers need support, both from technical experts and, above all, mutual assistance and exchange of experience between peers. For this reason, bringing farmers together within thematic groups is essential to enable them to innovate, learn and move forward as a community.
Sustainable agriculture is a dynamic of continuous improvement, which requires the pooling of skills and the convergence of individual transition pathways at the territorial level.
The Landfiles toolbox: participatory innovation by and for farmers in the 21st century
To complete and strengthen the field dynamic created within the Agr’eau development programme across the Adour-Garonne water basin of south west France (see earlier), the need for digital tools adapted to the agricultural world has clearly emerged from groups of pioneer farmers, while the usual tools (WhatsApp, Facebook) do not allow to capitalize information and knowledge over time.
Landfiles (and the prototype we have developed and tested) brings a collaborative system to the agricultural world, allowing the dissemination of knowledge and the implementation of participatory experimentation processes, so as to accelerate the identification of solutions to fight climate change and introduce greater sustainability in agricultural practices and systems. It brings a methodology of participatory experimentation and animation of groups in order to collect experiences and know-how, organize technical exchanges, identify trends and priorities, draw perspectives and organize new experiments on each farm.
At the same time, Landfiles uses the social network between producers to make the farms more visible to consumers and to regularly offer updated content to meet the instantaneity needs of website visitors, while using traceability data in an innovative way to link producers to the restaurants and shops that distribute their products. In the future, it will therefore be possible to choose a restaurant according to the quality of the products that are used in the kitchen, which may revolutionize the way we choose restaurants, and which may trigger a regional dynamic of using local products in restaurants.
Our innovation works with following technologies:
- Digital platform:
o Visibility of initiatives undertaken by producers to make consumers aware of the benefits of agro-ecological practices.
o Collaborative platform and a cooperative working method to share data, to meet digitally, to save the history of trials and innovations in order to share them as part of a collaborative research process, and to co-create new solutions to combat climate change and increase the sustainability of farms
- Data analytics and big data
o Smart farming: Biomass development data, data on fertilization status of crops, Sophisticated farm management
o Resource efficient consumption: Display of food’s environmental impact, product origin, characteristics
- AI & machine learning
o Farmers can access to information and farms within the social network that are close to his cultural background and interests