These are the times to bring Trofim Lysenko out of oblivion. Lysenko was a Russian biologist who shortly after World War II invented his own version of heredity that violated Mendel’s laws (and everything we now know about DNA and genetics). For example, he argued that plants could pass on acquired characteristics to their offspring, and that this was an excellent means of improving the harvest of the severely ailing agriculture of the Soviet Union.
Under Stalin, Lysenkoism became the official doctrine, and anyone who contradicted it lost at least their job, if not a one-way ticket to a concentration camp. Agricultural policy based on Lysenko’s pseudoscience contributed to famines that killed millions in the Soviet Union and in Mao’s China.
Rutte is no Stalin, and real agronomy is still taught at Wageningen University (WUR), but one part of politics in the Netherlands is in the grip of 21st century Lysenkoism: circular farming. We don’t suppose that farmers who don’t want to convert to this will be locked up in re-education camps, but they risk losing their jobs and their businesses, and if the whole EU joins this madness as enthusiastically as the Netherlands there could be mass starvation in vulnerable areas as Africa is not excluded either.
Not surprisingly, GroenLinks is at the forefront of 21st century Lysenkoism, closely followed by D66. The more progressive a political party, the more susceptible to bigoted ideas, which always boil down to the fact that hard choices don’t exist and everyone can have their own will, except the 1% capitalists.
For circular agriculture, it is about the grandiose idea that there is no contradiction between nature and agriculture. All of modern agriculture with its concentrates, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, tractors and milking robots is at best a tragic flaw in that thinking, but actually of course a conspiracy of the agro-industrial complex to the 1%. millionaires get exorbitant profits on the backs of farmers and consumers.
None of this is necessary as long as we live in harmony with nature. Then nature will give us everything we need.
Craft with science
Lysenko came up with his own genetics because they didn’t impose the annoying limitations of the existing genetics to improve agriculture in the Soviet Union. The progressive Holland’s Lysenkos proclaim that if we throw almost all modern technology overboard and close the agricultural cycle, agriculture, hand in hand with nature, will continue to produce food for 8 billion people and in a while for 10 billion.
Lysenkoism was clearly against the facts, but Stalin did not want to hear that. Lysenko’s influence only waned when Khrushchev came to power. The idea that hundreds of millions of tons of human food can be extracted every year from closed-loop agriculture (of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate), i.e. without artificial fertilizers, without exhausting the agricultural system, is as fact-free as Lysenko’s theory of heredity. But the EU Commission will not hear that as long as especially Frans Timmermans is still there, and the cyclists in Dutch politics keep wind in their sails for so long.
One picture is worth a thousand empty words, Member of Parliament Laura Bromet must have thought when she presented the latest last week cartoon of GrønLink’s wishful thinking posted on Twitter. This map depicted ‘The Netherlands beyond the nitrogen crisis’. What a heavenly perspective full of recycling goodies for farmers, citizens and outdoor enthusiasts!
The farmers have a good income ‘in balance with nature’ and everyone lives in ‘affordable and nature-inclusive housing’. Thought has also been given to the wolf, who recently had some problems with balance. From now on it will automatically remain in the Veluwe, ‘where the oak recovers and the wolf can live peacefully’.
‘Slumbos for immigrants’
Calm. Taste that word. A predator that bites whole herds of sheep to death for fun and only takes one bite from each sheep is a bit difficult in the cycle. So the wolf will also undergo a miraculous transformation and live ‘peacefully’ from now on. It’s not listed, but I’m guessing silent wolves will only kill the most necessary, rebalancing prey, like unpaid euthanasia doctors for the game in Veluwe.
The most popular recycled cuddly toy is the food forest. According to the cartoon, ‘intensive livestock farming makes room for, among other things, food forests’. The idea of a food forest is that with a little customization you can create a forest that produces a rich menu of edible fruits, nuts, leafy vegetables, mushrooms and tubers.
The patriarch of the Dutch food forest is the ‘food forest for immigrants’, which a Gelderland environmental club started to build in 2004. Especially because, according to their own research, the immigrants did not care so much about nature, but all the more about getting free food. Granted, it generated quite a bit of satire, so it was a false start; from now on all food forests are ‘inclusive’ so for natives to enjoy too.
Schijndel food forest
It is true that even Bromet does not argue that we should replace all agriculture with food forests, but it remains a relevant question: how many hectares of food forest do you need to replace 1 hectare of intensive arable farming or intensive livestock farming? Information about this intensive agriculture is easy to find: one hectare of potatoes yields 40 tons of harvest per year. In other words: a large truck with a trailer full of potatoes per football pitch. One hectare of ‘grasphalt’ with 5 cows, loathed by ecologists, produces 40 cubic meters of milk annually: a full tanker per soccer field.
How many nuts, tubers and forest fruits does one hectare of food forest provide? I couldn’t find any serious information about this. Food forests in Europe have so far always been set up as an educational or hobby project, where the size of the production plays no role. WUR has been running a monitoring project of food forests in the Netherlands for some time, but it seems that it has not yet resulted in a publication.
It doesn’t matter either: cows give milk every day, and the farmer gets a harvest from a field once or twice a year. But the perspective that a new food forest offers is to wait, wait, wait. The largest food forest in Europe – 20 hectares – is currently under construction near Schijndel, which deliberately calls itself a ‘production food forest’. Initiator Wouter van Eck proudly says that raspberries and berries can be harvested after three years, apples and pears after five years, and walnuts and chestnuts after fifteen years. So if we stop intensive livestock farming now, we will be able to eat chestnuts responsibly from 2037 to get our proteins.
A food forest on subsidies?
Van Eck attaches a few untenable claims to this, such as that no maintenance (pruning, weeding) will be necessary in the Schijndel food forest, that weeds will die by themselves, and that pests and diseases cannot occur. Bromet may believe that, but no farmer agrees.
GroenLinks and related cyclists are always very angry about subsidies for intensive agriculture. After all, does it prove that intensive agriculture is even economically unsustainable? The 20-hectare food forest in Schijndel will initially receive a grant of 300,000 euros from the province of North Brabant for construction and an exemption from renting the land for another five years. Much of the work is also done by volunteers. Will they continue to do this work unpaid when the harvest from the forest finally starts to bring in some income?
So real data on the production of a food forest cannot be found, but I estimate that the annual harvest of food forests is at most ten percent of modern arable and livestock farming, and probably only a few percent. Why? Because modern agricultural crops have been selected and cultivated for thousands of years to provide the largest possible portion of edible product to humans as quickly as possible. And in fields, the growth of plants that are worthless to humans is actively prevented.
In contrast, in a food forest all kinds of species grow in competition with each other for scarce sunlight and nutrients. And by far the largest part of the annual growth – i.e. the potential harvest – consists of things that are inedible for humans: wood, leaves and woody roots. Only if people could eat wood, then fast-growing young coniferous forests might have been a possibility as food forest.
Back in Time
If humans were to live in this way ‘in balance with nature’ from now on, it would really be a return to the age of hunter-gatherers: small, nomadic groups of people living off the scraps that nature left behind. An excellent solution, provided that 98% of the current world population first voluntarily leaves the field.
After all, nature doesn’t care about humans, just like it doesn’t care about any other species, it’s always been a matter of taking what you can get for all life forms. That’s how humans did it, that’s how the wolf on the Veluwe still does it. Only we humans have become so extraordinarily successful that we have to set limits for ourselves. There is inevitably a contradiction between agriculture and nature, but it is man who decides how much nature must give up, not the other way around.
You read the clear, down-to-earth reports of a science journalist Arnold Jaspers every Saturday in Wynia’s Week.
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