Field in Mamer, Luxembourg. Photo by Johny Goerend

On the threshold of a new Agricultural Revolution

Everything seems to indicate that agriculture and cattle-raising stand on the threshold of the second stage of a Revolution that took place 10,000 years ago. We will bear witness to perceiving both activities as sources of actual wealth instead of seeing them as activities inextricably linked to chemical treatments. We will go from a current over-production determined by supply, to production based on the consumer’s needs. What is more: we will come to understand that we are not what we eat, but also the soil we sow.

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round 2.5 million years ago, we humans would move from one location to another depending on the climate and some of them had a direct impact on our diet since harvesting and hunting depended on factors that none of us had managed to exert control on. Until recently, experts have held that the lives of prehistoric humans were dangerous and uncertain. By contrast, the agricultural revolution that took place around 10,000 years ago brought about the progress that the current society rests on. However, nowadays this assumption has triggered many doubts, reinforced by scientific data that describe the Agricultural Revolution as “the history’s biggest fraud”. These are the exact words Yuval Noah Harari uses in his book Sàpiens. Breu història de la humanitat (Edicions 62, 2014). Harari argues that the theses supporting an improvement in man’s intelligence on taking over the reins of harvesting and hunting are untrue. Far from making our lives easier, this Revolution has led to the current market organization, consumerism, private property, competitive fever, famine, diseases, etc.

To our ancestors, agriculture resulted in an exponential increase of their overall diet, that’s true. On the other hand, though, this came with another exponential increase of time and effort invested to cater for the demands of a rising population and growing needs. Such demand, population and needs are still spreading. In return, the Agricultural Revolution, as seen by Harari, led to a worse diet –less varied–, less leisure, a population explosion, the appearance of privileged social layers, harder work, worse health and the establishment of the concept of private property, which involved defending one’s possessions and trying to increase them, which led to wars. To give us an idea, nowadays cattle raising means 1,000 million sheep, 1,000 million pigs, over 1,000 million cows and 25,000 million chicken on our planet. Nothing to do with the few thousands existing when agriculture began. Added to this, the increase of cultivated soil, it is easy to understand that, rather than man controlling agriculture and cattle-raising, it is agriculture and cattle raising that has ended up controlling man.

However, emerging trends point out to changing attitudes and, 10,000 years later, a new Agricultural Revolution could be underway. On the one hand, automation of workplaces –it is expected that, by 2030, 70% of the tasks currently made by humans will be done by machines– will mean a drastic change of our everyday lives, since the labour market will have to reduce the working hours to 15 or 20 hours per week in order to keep the wheel of consumption rolling. As a consequence, humans will have more leisure time, and this will bring an increase in community and solidarity tasks, and hopefully, the possibility of deploying the Universal Basic Income (UBI); this theory has been studied and analysed for decades and several pilot experiments are underway on this issue across the world.

Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, one of the main promoters of this trend, has developed a principle that not only does not clash with current capitalist theses, but also, contrary to expectations, praises them. Bregman upholds that we owe capitalism better welfare for humankind as a whole. To be exact, we should say that we owe our improved living conditions to the Agricultural Revolution started thousands of years ago. However, after highlighting the pros of capitalism, Bregman predicts a change of paradigm as regards the concept of wealth. To be more specific, he anticipates how and when the leap into this model will allow us to generate “actual wealth” instead of “wealth”. The pillars of this economy pattern rest on two certainties: the first one, poverty is getting gradually dearer to society, and the second one, working less would make us happier in the mid- and long run. Prior to this, though, he suggests a period of unlearning. This implies a remarkable cultural turmoil and one of the main currents of this transformation affects agriculture and cattle-raising. Such concepts as regenerative agriculture, Holistic Handling, Keyline design, the new Organic Managers method, or the concept Regrarian are gaining impact across the world, mainly in places with a deeply-rooted tradition linked to farm work. These new approaches propound a new outlook on agriculture based on rejection of chemical treatments, and promotion of natural soil regeneration and better water use. In the mid-term, these novel approaches can reduce costs significantly. This leads to better product quality, which may even increase production. The world’s reference of such practices is Darren J. Doherty, an Irish-born Australian who has been, in the last few days, in a tour of conferences across Girona, Es Mercadal (the island of Minorca), Zaragoza and Lleida. Darren comes on stage and begins by literally ringing a bell, like that of cattle. Then follows a full display of arguments, common sense and a touch of humour and, before the local farmers realise, manages to make them his own, even the more sceptical. His theories and on-the-spot demonstrations are conclusive to the point that every visit, every conference, gains new supporters.

Darren J. Doherty is surrounded by a team of young farmers made up of Girona-born Francesc, Teruel-born José Ángel, Seròs-born Manel Badia, identified by the label Organic Managers. During their on-site conferences and visits, they show the first results of experimental fields in Catalonia, Teruel and Minorca. As usual in such cases, the social media have circulated the cases at breakneck speed, to the extent that they have already received the first offer to develop one of their regenerative farming plans in the US.

Everything seems to indicate that agriculture and cattle raising stand on the threshold of the second stage of the Revolution that took place 10,000 years ago. We will bear witness to perceiving both activities as sources of actual wealth instead of seeing them as activities inextricably linked to chemical treatments. We will go from a current over-production determined by supply, to production based on the consumer’s needs. What is more: we will come to understand that we are not what we eat, but also the soil we sow.