The agriculture we want to see
Slow Food promotes a model for agriculture based on a rediscovery of the value of local agriculture, the short distribution chain, and locally closed cycles of production and consumption. It is a model that prioritizes soil fertility, the presence of people in the countryside and biodiversity protection.
Slow Food promotes a food system aimed at reaching a new equilibrium between available natural resources, the demands of society and agricultural production.
For this reason, it promotes agricultural production based on traditional foods with strong links to their local area. Their promotion means valuing local biotic components, the preservation of natural and boundary habitats and the landscape, the local genetic heritage, the safeguarding of the groundwater system, the protection and defense of the local area by its inhabitants and historical and cultural heritage.
From this perspective, Slow Food promotes a European food system based on small-scale food production and local economies, proposing the following support measures, among others:
- an overhaul of the denomination of origin system, with the introduction of strict criteria of sustainability, quality, links to the land, historical relevance and biodiversity protection
- a simplification of the prerequisites and bureaucracy required to start and run a small-scale food-producing business
- incentives for producers who protect traditional and local biodiversity and the traditional agricultural landscape
- the promotion of exchanges of information and knowledge between small-scale producers
- the creation of training programs to optimize agronomical, processing and marketing techniques
- the creation of market channels for small- and medium-scale producers, encouraging farmers’ markets, fair-trade buying groups and groups of consumers who undertake to directly support local agriculture
- incentive systems for those who integrate agricultural production with educational, cultural and tourism activities that encourage an understanding of the environment and agriculture
Slow Food also urgently asks that the principles of agroecology be introduced into agricultural production systems.
Agroecology is based on the conservation and management of agricultural resources through participation, traditional knowledge and adaption to local conditions. One of agroecology’s greatest concerns is agrobiodiversity, considered a primary component of agroecosystems and a source of ecosystemic services.
The use of agroecology as a scientific term dates back to the 1970s, but many of its solutions have been applied throughout history by rural communities around the world. This ancient body of knowledge has been systematically jettisoned or forgotten with the arrival of the so-called Green Revolution, which introduced a model of agriculture based on high levels of energy-rich external inputs, like the widespread use of synthetic agricultural chemicals and powerful machinery run on fossil fuels.
As the years passed, the long-term unsustainability of agriculture based on high external inputs became increasingly evident, both from an environmental perspective and in terms of the productivity of agricultural systems. Today, agricultural science and practice are reorienting themselves towards more sustainable practices and are reconsidering the value of traditional agricultural models. These often use methods that preserve soil fertility, varietal choices and rotation and intercropping practices that can represent the most efficient and effective way of maintaining the productive capacity of agricultural systems.
The agricultural production process tends to significantly alter the pre-existing ecological equilibrium. Firstly, it replaces a community made up of a large number of wild plant species with a limited—sometimes very limited—number of species selected by humans. The result is an ecosystem whose biodiversity has been highly simplified, both in terms of plant and animal species and also populations of microorganisms.
Reduced biodiversity means reduced ecosystem stability.
Additionally, while in natural ecosystems leaves and fruit fall to the ground, in an agroecosystem, a significant amount of biomass—organic matter—is taken away during the harvesting phase, and must be reintegrated. The poor stability of intensive agroecosystems is caused by reduced biodiversity and the high number of inputs and outputs required by the system, which becomes heavily dependent on the outside world.
To reduce the instability of the agricultural system and its need for external inputs, which bring high costs and pollution risks, agricultural systems can be managed from an agroecological perspective: considering crops as part of the ecosystem and choosing a cultivation method that maintains the complexity of the environment and positive and balanced interactions between different agricultural species, natural species and the environment.
This reduces the need for external inputs and creates an equilibrium that is closer to a closed-cycle system, with less dependence on the external world and more stability. In an productive agroecological system, inputs are replaced by resources within the system:
- compost made from plant waste, organic fertilizers made from animal excrement, techniques that preserve soil fertility and no synthetic chemical fertilizers
- organic pest and disease management instead of protection based on the use of synthetic chemicals
- self-production of seeds and propagation materials rather than the purchase of seeds