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AGRICOLTURA / Guarire il Terreno
Arafang Canutet (Gambia)
Gambia is a developing country, so has it different problems from developed countries. The study of the land in Gambia began about 30 years ago. Commercial fertilizers were not in use then and was looked at with suspicion. Farmers strongly believe in a natural way of caring for the land. Fertilizers were natural, coming from trees, animals and vegetation. Climate was very good for the regeneration of the ecology, and soil was rich in macro and microorganisms, such as earthworms, for soil enrichment. There was less interference in the way man cultivated the land. There was adequate land, that met production needs, without causing any degradation; they were shifting cultivations that were adequately environment friendly. Cliimate conditions also declined, thus creating a very negative impact on the flourishing fauna and flora. Thick, bush forests gave way to open woodlands, converted from traditional to mechanized systems. Unguarded land use practiced by man has significantly contributed to land degradation in the Gambia. Animal husbandry practices which include free range grazing are not as environmentally friendly as the browsing animals would total graze the whole vegetation exposing it to wind and water erosion. What do we need to do to restore this? There are several ways to improve self-fertility other than the use of chemical fertilizers. Proper land-use practice: is less likely to cause degradation. That is, land use for capability and stability, so economic production can continue without causing significant damage to the land as well an insignificant input of chemical fertilizers. Biologically, to ensure soil organic improvement, a conducive environment must be created that would provide the basic requirements for the organism’s survival, such as soil moisture, with earthworms for example, who will always work along the depth of moisture. Organic matter enhances the growth of organisms and encourages nutrient cycling. Highly mechanized countries should maintain the soil management. The understanding of the soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties is a prerequisite to proper use of farm machinery to ensure centuries use without causing degradation. A soil survey is crucial in such ventures and should examine and inform the land user as well as the machine operator as to the soil’s texture, structure, organic matter content and all other chemical and physical properties. Knowing this helps to provide appropriate guidelines as to which kind of machinery could apply on the land, the plowing depth, the tendency to create plow pan. The survey could also help the look of the land, its configuration. This provides you with valuable information on how to plow the land, along the slope, across the slope or sideways. With this guideline, plowing can be done according to contour to make the land less vulnerable to forces of degradation. Uses of machines can bring about increase in agricultural production in the following ways. Large areas can be cultivated in a very short period. Drudgeries can be removed in the process. Helps to break down the soil to enhance aeration, water infiltration, and crop root development. Some of the negative aspects of this will be more and more vulnerability to erosion if not handled properly.

Samuel K. Muhunyu (Kenya)
My presentation is on bio-intensive soil fertility management for sustainable food production. I work for company called Network for Eco Farming in Africa (or NECOFA). It is a membership organization bringing together community members, researchers, agriculture trainers and private sector with a common aim of promoting eco-farming, that is ecologically and socially sustainable land management. NECOFA is active in several countries in Africa, and it is involved in the promotion of soil conservation and especially the establishment of grass strips, which enhance infiltration and slow down run-off. The material is fodder, also used in roofing and weaving. The main grasses we use are Napier and vetiver grass (used in the last two years, that is catching to Napier), as well as green manure and cover crops, including the blabla bean, mucuna, rotolaya, and other legumes, to fix nitrogen in the soil. The technology is site specific, and it allows for innovations by different farmers, requires less labor and are ideal for households without mature male labor. Also, it enhances soil fertility, reduces raindrop erosion, and run off velocity, therefore increasing infiltration. Moisture conservation is vital in many parts of Africa that are arid or semi-arid. Some materials are mud and fodder, and technology enhances the biodiversity. Another aspect that we include in our bio-intensive soil fertility management program, we also have agro-forestry practices for long-term soil fertility management. Such practices will include following species, intercropping, strip cropping. Compost manures, animal droppings and livestock bedding that is composed are other techniques used in enriching the soil. To add value to these processes we promote the use of kitchen ash and/or tethonia leaves, to supplement the phosphorous content. Use of plant teas, liquid manures, is mainly used to address high value crops, especially in kitchen gardening. Water harvesting, efficient use of water in micro-irrigation systems and effective microorganisms technology enhances the efficiency and fast release of nutrients in the bio-intensive fertilization systems. These are the approaches that we have adopted in network for eco-farming in Africa. It’s a new technology that’s picking up quite well with all small-scale farmers.

Tony MacQuail (Canada)
I’m a member of the ecological farmers association. I would like to speak about the issue of metabolic power on the farm, our muscles as farmers and the muscle power of animals, if we’re going to build a sustainable agriculture that can last beyond fossil fuels. I’d like to ask a question. Please raise your hand if you are a farmer. How many of you use your own muscle power on your farm? How many of you use animal power on your farms? How many of you use engine power on your farms? There’s a good mix here. When we bought our farm in 1973, we were trying to think about how to create a sustainable farm. Oil pricing and availability were a concern in the 1970s and we looked at the various options that were available to farmers, such as bio-diesel, which wasn’t readily available at that time. We looked at wood gas, and we looked at ethanol. We even tried to start a small cooperative to produce ethanol with other farmers, but we ran into farmer time and other technical difficulties. As farmers we didn’t have enough time to pull that all together. There are some challenges when converting grain or other materials to ethanol and getting it to a state when you can run it in an engine. So in 1975 when we finally decided we had to have our own energy source on the farm, in our area work horses were the most renewable energy fueled off-the-shelf technology available to us, and we bought a team of horses. There were some things that we discovered in the process of using a team of horses and also in designing our farm workload and farm schedule so we could do as much as we possible with our own energy. So we looked at designing our barn so that gravity would move feed and we could use our own energy to drop hay bails down rather than needing a lot of conveying equipment. In our garden we looked at using wheel hoes and weeding tools rather than a rototiller. On the farm itself for the fieldwork, we looked at the team of horses. One of the things that sold us early on was the capital cost. A team of horses was much less expensive, even with the harness, and some of the small equipment. In our area at that time, small horse equipment was very cheap because people were moving to larger and larger tractors and tractor equipment. The horses were about half the price of a used tractor. They were cheaper. Horses could run on the fuel that we could grow ourselves and turn into fuel for the horses much more simply than we could turn grain into ethanol or soy beans into bio-diesel or even wood from our woodlot into wood gas. In the process of growing that fuel we were encouraged to grow pastures and hays, which with their deep-rooted legume and grass roots systems, built and helped rebuild the soil organic matter on our heavy-clay farm soil. In addition, livestock, whether it be horses or oxen or water buffalo, convert that fuel into manure which becomes an important source of compost and soil organic matter, for healing and rebuilding soil and feeding soil microorganisms. A third aspect in terms of horses for us, was that like our muscle power, which is self replacing when we have children, the water buffalo, the oxen, the horse is also self-replacing. We now work with horses that are grand daughters, great grand daughters and great, great grand daughters and grandsons of the original pair that we bought in 1977. Not only have the horses replaced themselves, but we have been selling teams of horses and individual horses. So they became part of our economy, enabling us to market from our power source. Indeed, by starting with horses, we were able to save the money to buy a small tractor five or six years after we bought the horses. I used to joke that if we bought the tractor first, we could have never afforded to buy the horses. That was a joke until I did the mathematics and discovered that the team of horses until that period had brought $10,000 of income into the farm through colt sales, through selling the offspring. When I did some calculation on the tractor, it had taken a capital outlay, then costs for tire replacement, starter motor repair, diesel fuel, for grease and the net outflow in same period that the horses had brought $10,000 into the farm, the tractor had taken $25,000 out. I won’t argue that the tractor lets you do some things much faster, but for a small farmer wanting a close relationship to their land, I think there is a value in looking at what we can do with our own muscles and with livestock muscles. Among the other things that we did not anticipate was that, if we want to talk about healing the land, our footprints are much lighter on the soil than a tiller or a tractor. Similarly, living animals do not compact the soil in the same way that a set of tractor tires running on the soil do. If global warming is a concern, the carbon dioxide released by ourselves and by the draft animals is carbon dioxide that is in an annual cycle. The carbon dioxide that we’re releasing in this room today is from the food that was grown in the past year, similarly to the hay and grain that draft animals may do. So, in my sense, both in healing our relationship to our land both in healing our relationship to each other, if we want to build a truly sustainable agriculture, we need to be thinking beyond oil. If we not only look at our farms, but at a global picture our relationship with oil is creating huge conflict, great violence, great violence between peoples but also great violence on the life support systems of the planet. Rethinking and redesigning our agriculture, or if you are coming from a country where human muscle power and animal muscle power are still the major form of agricultural work, to recognize that you are not coming from some past that needs to be left behind, but, indeed, as Cuba is doing with their movement into more and more use of oxen, you may in fact be in a position to lead the way to an agricultural design for the future that is sustainable and supports small farmers working land that is within the reach of their footsteps, their back muscle and the livestock that they live together with and care for on their land. This is what I wanted to share today, building a sustainable agriculture that is healing of the soil and self-replicating in order for the farmer to control, and both fuel it and replenish it, in terms of the offspring from ourselves first. Because as farmers, our first task is raising and nourishing the next generation of our families and neighbors, but then also the possibility of working with our livestock to work our soil and nourish them and the future as well.

Selvam (India)
I am Selvam from the south of India, just above Sri Lanka. We have a farmers federation called Organic Farmers Federation, or OFAI of India. Our farmers use a very intensive and extensive green revolution farming area. It has been in a green revolution for the past 25 years or so. The farmers want to change to organic, having realized that the soil has lost its fertility, due to the so-called fertilizers. In fact, fertilizers have actually totally sterilized the soil. Most farmers are small farmers with average land holdings of 2-3 hectares. They cannot allocate a portion of land to build up its own fertility, to heal itself. That’s a problem for small farmers. So our farmers devised various techniques, and we collected information from different parts of the world. Because of these techniques, our farmers now are able to get almost equal yield of in the first year of the transition period itself. They are happy that they don’t loose any money or lose their yield. So, they are turning back to organic in faster ways. In fact, more than 1,000 farmers are doing organic farming. For instance, if you held a meeting on organic farming, the whole hall would be full, with people standing up on the sides even.
We are using several techniques, such as green manuring with multiple crop seeds, including four or five types of cereals, four or five types of pulses, four or five types of oil seeds, spices, legumes, greens, flowers, and vegetables. They mix and grind all these seeds, and they plow them back into the field. This increases not only the organic matter but also increases the microorganism system immediately. The soil is full of natural nutrients and organic matter. We call this super fallowing. People do it in different ways. Generally, there are three growing periods: they grow the crop up to 30 days then they plow it back; again they crop the same crop up to 60 days then plow it back, the 3rd time up to 90 days. When most of the crops are flowering, they plow it back. After all this plowing, the soil needs nothing, only a little bit of manure. This is our experience in super fallowing. After that, there is what we call soil regenerator, which is a solution that farmers prepare by themselves in their own farms using cow dung (20 kilos), cow’s urine (20 liters) and organic brown sugar (2 kilos), in 200 liters of water, allowed to ferment for two or three days, then they put it in the water supply for one acre. This immediately regenerates the soil structure. It gives life to the dead soil. Even the deadest soils bloom back with life. Our famers call it Amroot solution or water. In our ancient mythology in south India, we say that it even gives life to a dead person. Another very important and innovative thing that farmers have brought back is a technique made from the cow, the water buffalo or even the sheep. It is made with cow dung, cow’s urine, cow’s milk, curd, banana and sugar. These same materials are recorded in our scriptures from 2,500 years ago. It had been forgotten, but now farmers have taken it out, modifying it according to their own needs. Apart from being a wonderful soil healer, it’s a wonderful tonic for all crops. It increases the drought resistance and the flowering. It increases the keeping quality of the vegetables and the dropping quality of flowers. It even helps with the wrinkling of the skin of tomatoes and other vegetables. For example, I grew a tomato with this solution and put it on top of the refrigerator. Even after 14 days there was no sign of small wrinkle on its skin. It looked so fresh that no one could even believe it was picked 14 days ago. So, these are just a few of the techniques that farmers use; there are many more. A folder will be placed in the hallway if want to get it and prepare it yourself. Our mail address carries the recipe, if you want to consult it or contact us. Thank you very much for this opportunity to present our views.

Giusto Giovannetti (Italy)
Mi occupo da circa venticinque anni di funghi, simbionti e batteri della rizosfera. Questo argomento poco conosciuto da chi si occupa di agricoltura fa parte della categoria della microbiologia del suolo, ma, nello specifico, della microbiologia della radice. Sono appena arrivato ed ho sentito poc’anzi l’intervento del relatore che mi ha preceduto e che parlava di sostanze organiche che, messe nel terreno davano un grosso risultato alla coltivazione. Il problema è che quelle sostanze messe nel terreno in genere servono ad aiutare la filiera assimilativa dei batteri della rizosfera, che trasformano poi quelle sostanze in sostanze che vanno a nutrire la pianta. In verità tutte le sostanze messe nel terreno non hanno un effetto diretto, ma servono a nutrire la microbiologia del suolo.
Partendo da questo presupposto, noi abbiamo lavorato da venticinque anni sulla microbiologia, cioè su quel consorzio microbiologico che serve ad assimilare le sostanze. Nello specifico abbiamo iniziato a lavorare con i funghi simbionti, che sono, tra il consorzio di microbi presenti sulla radice, quelli che hanno un’importanza maggiore. I simbionti sono funghi che interagiscono con la radice della pianta sostituendosi totalmente ad essa: la pianta assimila per mezzo dei funghi simbionti. Questo sistema le piante lo hanno adottato da circa 450 milioni di anni, questa è la normalità per le piante, è il modo con cui loro normalmente assimilano. L’esempio che faccio sempre è quello delle alghe: le piante hanno conquistato la terra dal mare, cioè prima erano delle alghe. Le alghe non hanno mai avuto le radici, quindi quando hanno deciso di passare dal mare alla terra ferma, si sono inventati un sistema di cooperazione con funghi e batteri. Hanno delegato a funghi e batteri la loro capacità di assimilare le sostanze nutritive. Questo è il sistema che le piante utilizzano ancora oggi. I funghi simbionti che troviamo oggi sulle radici non sono diversi da quelli che troviamo sui reperti di 450 milioni di anni fa. Però per motivi storici, per come si è evoluta la nostra agricoltura, noi abbiamo deciso di dimenticarci, un centinaio di anni fa, dell’esistenza di una microbiologia del suolo, perché abbiamo deciso di puntare tutto sulle fertilizzazioni chimiche, cioè sui sali minerali semplici: in pratica abbiamo deciso di nutrire le piante, facciamo un’analogia con noi, come se noi avessimo deciso di nutrire l’umanità solo con delle flebo da iniettare in vena. Abbiamo scavalcato completamente la filiera assimilativa delle piante e abbiamo dato loro le sostanze predigerite. E’ un modo di coltivare! Ha funzionato, ha incrementato la produzione, però ha danneggiato la naturale filiera assimilativa delle piante, cioè la presenza di funghi e di simbionti che era la ricchezza del terreno. Apro una parentesi: la presenza di una fertilizzazione chimica ha portato a una riduzione di questi elementi nel suolo, soprattutto per effetto dei metalli pesanti contenuti nei fertilizzanti chimici, che rimangono come ppm, ma che vengono usati nella loro preparazione. Voi sapete che i fertilizzanti azotati sono una materia di rifiuto, di scarto dei prodotti petroliferi. Se noi decidessimo di non usare più queste sostanze, ricavate dagli scarti della produzione della benzina, creeremmo dei problemi: la benzina costerebbe molto di più. Però questo tipo di prodotto ha bisogno di catalizzatori, di metalli pesanti, che a volte non sono dichiarati, ma che rimangono nel terreno e ne diminuiscono la vita, fino a rendere il terreno un deserto microbiologico. Questo lo vediamo in Europa quando diciamo che un terreno è stanco, le piante non crescono più: abbiamo fatto fuori la microbiologia e le piante non crescono più, non sono più capaci di assimilare niente.
Allora se questo è il problema bisogna aggredirlo da quella che è la microbiologia del suolo: dobbiamo essere in grado di ricostituire una microbiologia del suolo e della radice che sia in grado di assimilare. Ma questo non è il problema di un singolo elemento, cioè del fungo simbionte, ma di tutto il consorzio dei microrganismi che fanno parte di filuum diversi, cioè i funghi simbionti sono zigomiceti, sono funghi molto antichi e molto primitivi, ma lavorano insieme e non sono capaci di lavorare senza i batteri della rizosfera, e senza gli attinomiceti, o streptomices, e insieme ad altri funghi che servono per la difesa da patogeni. Insomma il consorzio per funzionare ha bisogno di vari filuum che lavorino spalla a spalla, solo a quel punto siamo in grado di ricostituire una microbiologia della radice adatta ad assimilare le sostanze contenute nel terreno.
La nostra storia è iniziata con lo studio e la sperimentazione in campo dei funghi simbionti che sembrava essere l’elemento principale, ed infatti lo è, rappresentano il 20 o 30 percento della massa organica di un terreno: sono la parte più importante. Poi siamo passati a lavorare sui batteri della rizosfera, cioè quelli immediatamente circostanti le radici. Apro una parentesi: il suolo agrario non ha niente da invidiare ad un ecosistema di una foresta dal punto della biodiversità, ne ha di più. Il suolo agrario è un sistema che ha 10 milioni di batteri per grammo quando è sano! Noi siamo stati in grado di distruggere questa diversità biologica. Ci siamo occupati di una parte di questi funghi, quelli che vivono intensamente legati alla radice e svolgono quella funzione. Su questo tipo di batteri abbiamo selezionato quelli che secondo noi avevano un effetto positivo e ci siamo accorti, via via che il consorzio che funziona bene con il mais è di verso da quello che funziona con i pomodori e via così: per ogni pianta può essere trovato il consorzio più adatto. Apro un’altra parentesi: questo tipo di tecnologie è a basso costo, è molto competitiva rispetto ai fertilizzanti chimici. Non solo! E’ utilizzabile anche dai paesi poveri, chiunque può farsi il suo consorzio di microrganismi per sé, nel suo paese ed usarlo! Non dobbiamo dipendere da una multinazionale. Quindi c’è anche questo aspetto. E’ chiaro che dobbiamo procedere parallelamente ad una ricerca scientifica di alto livello, cioè questi poi per trovarli nel terreno bisognerà fare l’analisi del dna. Oggi questo è possibile, almeno in Europa. Quindi è chiaro che noi possiamo intervenire sul terreno al momento della semina iniettando un consorzio microbiologico, ma addirittura è possibile conciare i semi con questi microrganismi, è possibile intervenire su un impianto già esistente, o usarli in qualunque coltivazione agraria, ma soprattutto è possibile intervenire sulla sanità del suolo. La microbiologia va ritrovata, deve riacquistare il posto che le spetta di diritto ed è questa la via da percorrere per risollevare le sorti dell’agricoltura da oggi ad un futuro prossimo.
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