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Gardening & Agriculture gardening   agriculture General

New foodscape alternatives get lots of attention in the Netherlands

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by: Tjitske Ypma Ypma
new foodscape alternatives get lots of attention in the netherlands

Degraded landscapes, increasing droughts and floods. Food supply is under pressure. Ecosystem Restoration experts John Liu and Daniel Halsey are acting worldwide to restore ecosystems and making fields fertile again. On November the 15th, they gave a lecture about ecosystem restoration at Wageningen university, organised by The Plant/Marieke Karssen.

The Netherlands had just like other European countries heavy droughts, which affected the harvest. Not surprisingly that the university hall was thus fully packed to hear about solutions. Permaculture, food forests, nature inclusive agriculture. In the Netherlands these words seem to have a magical meaning. Main media publish articles about these attempts to secure our future food production and to salvage our biodiversity. All the named systems work with different layers of plants and give trees an important role.

What did Liu and Halsey tell about the new ways? Liu started the evening by emphasising the need to change. “We are developing alternatives too slowly and especially too theoretical. Only when you practise restoration in the field, you really learn. Therefore I invite every student here to visit Ecosystem Restoration Camps.” He added: “Humanity is the only kind on earth who can consciously restore ecosystems. We can displace organic material.”

Change comes through troubles

Also Daniel Halsey sees the big challenges that we stand for. He also sees possibilities. “Real change only comes through trouble.” He travelled a lot around the world and saw the same problems everywhere. “We extracted life out of the earth. We can return this by feeding the earth with its own organic waste. Not with fertilizers and pesticides, but with organic material. That is the way nature works.”

Halsey loves to work with local farmers. “They know about natural vegetation in their area. Female farmers from California noticed the difference in temperature between healthy soil with organic material and poor degraded soils. They learned in a few days to feed the ground with organic waste material and lowered the temperature in the soil with a few degrees.”

Halsey showed different designs of permaculture landscape designs, where permanent landscape elements like shrubs and trees are combined with annual crops and animals. “If you see insects, butterflies and birds come back, you know you are doing the right thing.”

Ecosystem restoration is not only profitable for these animal species, also for the farmer. “With chicken under hazelnuts, the trees gave three times as much nuts as before”, said Halsey.

Rethink: what is a community?

For such new steps people have to rethink their ideas of a community. “Once I visited a farmer who had 1800 cows. He was proud he alone replaced the work of 60 small scale farmers who formerly were needed to milk 1800 cows. I only thought: with only one family there is no bakery, no café and no school. Is that progress? Whole communities have disappeared.”

No division between agriculture or nature, only between working or not working systems

After the lecture, three cases followed. One about the heather grounds. How to combine this type of nature with animals, since every nature conserver in this case is afraid of nutrients as they will change the heather into the next phase of succession, a forest. While in former times it was most natural to let graze animals like sheep. “Do things bit by bit. Too much is always wrong. We can accept animals and exotics in nature. If only we watch the system: how does it affect the system?”,  Halsey responded.

Another casus was about the Ecosystem Restoration Camp in Spain. More biodiversity is coming slowly, but there is almost no economic base. “Maybe we should redefine economics. As a place to learn it is super valuable”, Halsey said.

A third casus from California was very actual, since the forest fires caused disasters. The big challenge to feed a big city, preserve nature and produce enough food makes it difficult to choose alternative systems like permaculture. “I see nature not as different from agriculture. I only see systems that work, or not”, Halsey said. He added that he thinks that western farmers are the first to change their habits. “It is not about who has to be the first investor, in the meaning of being less profitable. Harvest will only rise when you take care of the whole system”, Liu added.

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