Biointensive agriculture is an organic agricultural system that focuses on achieving maximum yields from a minimum area of land, while simultaneously increasing biodiversity and sustaining the soil fertility. The goal of the method is long term sustainability on a closed system basis. It is particularly effective for backyard gardeners and smallholder farmers in developing countries, and also has been used successfully on small-scale commercial farms.
Background[edit | edit source]
In natural ecosystems, soil over thousands of years old builds up as a mixture of biomass accumulated through the life and death of countless organisms, and also the breakdown of geological features in what is called geomorphology. For thousands of years, humans worked the land in rather basic ways using a combination of hunter/gathering and farming. A significant change came about with regard to experimentation with irrigation, the invention of the wheel, and tool making including bronze and then later the iron. The wheel was used to carry crops and supplies to the farm. While the major tool that improved the farm was the plow powered by hand or in some cases by a domesticated farm animal that would pull the plow through the field. Fields were small because there was no mechanized equipment. So farms were sustainable in that they were linked to the Solar Economy.
The idea was that under the Solar Economy, the amount of production under any particular field was limited by the amount of sun that field received. So in other words all the energy to work the field had to come from the field itself, thus reducing its potential yield per acre.
When oil was applied to the farm about 100 years ago this all changed and we basically de-linked from the solar economy. In so doing we made a dramatic change in how civilization operated, reducing our dependence on the solar economy to power the farm (other than of course to power the weather/climate system and direct solar for growing the plants).
Current industrial practices were empowered by Normal Borlaug's effort while at the Rockefeller Foundation in the 50s to put forward a "Green Revolution. The Green Revolution led to the rapid industrialization of agriculture. This included the injection of industrial chemicals for fertilizers and pesticides, homogenized see varieties and mass production, and mechanized farming practices. While providing dramatic short-term gains in production, over the long term these innovations led to the rapid degradation of natural systems that build and sustain fertile lands.
A Paradigm Shift & the Future of Farming?[edit | edit source]
Often though the debate is quite narrow in that ecologists and industrialists debate about whether or not organic farming can sustain current production levels.
Now the question that emerges is can we go back to a Solar Economy without significantly reducing per acre yields? The conventional wisdom would say no: that since the petroleum inputs basically replaced the Solar Economy in terms of the amount of energy needed to work the field and so by changing back to that system, we risk running huge food deficits.
What is still ignored in the mainstream (on both extremes of the agricultural debate) is that a paradigm shift is emerging that is moving humanity (whether it likes or not) away from conventional land based food production systems that require large amounts of land and heavy machinery (in order for the farms to be economically viable). The key to understand this shift is to see that there are techniques that enable high agricultural production that rivals that of industrial farming without adverse ecological and human impacts associated with monoculture farming.
What is Biointensive Farming?[edit | edit source]
The term Biointensive Farming is primarily attributed to Ecology Action's John Jeavons because he has used the word as part of his GrowBiointensive growing system. However a larger movement using similar practices has also developed around the idea of developing organic farming practices to yield a high level of productivity from a small amount of land and doing so using primarily human labor.
An alternative to conventional farming has emerged that includes what are termed
- Biointensive permaculture, growbiointensive, agroecology, biodynamic farming practices optimize natural systems using organic, poly-culture food growing practices, so that small gardens can rival the productivity of large scale corporate farming monocultures.
- Water based Integrated Farming Systems use digesters to process animal, plant and agro-industrial waste and then use hydraulic principles of water to optimize the growing process and may include aquaponics and pond-based agricultural systems.
Common Attributes of Biointensive Farming[edit | edit source]
These systems are more productive than conventional agriculture because they are designed to complement and synergize naturally occurring processes by:
- Maximizing the uptake/sequestration of gases (mainly carbon and nitrogen) from the atmosphere.
- Creating synergistic loops within the growing ecosystem that lead to a permaculture type design that modifies natural ecosystems but augments (rather than obliterating them as industrialized agriculture does) making selective changes that optimize production.
- Adding potent natural and organics fertilizers such as mineralized water and compost teas to maximize beneficial microbial that plants need to grow rapidly.