Research decisively shows that a basic condition for the development of ecologically intensive agriculture is the increase in biological diversity at different scales, both spatial (from plot to landscape) and temporal (cultivation period, crop succession), in order to foster interactions between plants, animals and microorganisms. These interactions allow to: (i) provide ‘input’ services by improving, for example, the physical, chemical and biological components of soil fertility; and (ii) reduce the pressure of bio-aggressors and foster auxiliaries. Practices and arrangements that increase biological diversity (for example simplified tillage, crop rotation, combined varieties and crops, intercropping, cover crops, development of landscape structures) must ensure that agricultural production is maintained, but also, reduce the negative externalities of agriculture (such as greenhouse gas emissions) while sustaining the production of common goods as carbon sequestration. Transition should therefore be thought within the overall picture, considering the socio-economic impact. All stakeholders should be involved, researchers, farmers, consumers, as well as educators, territorial organizations, local and regional authorities, funders (banks). But thinking transition also leads to an unprecedented dual challenge, bothecological and economic. This encourages the players to think less in terms of usual analytical stances and more in terms of socio-economic innovation. Making the link between sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, human organization, financing, implementation, all within a reasonable time horizon, becomes a full modern challenge.
Our project consists in understanding the radical and necessary transition of the agricultural paradigm, from industrial agriculture based on a strong use of synthetic inputs toagroecology based primarily on the provision of ecosystem services (plant nutrient supply, bio-aggressor regulation, soil structuring, etc.). This will involve the development of agro-ecosystems that optimize these services under specific ecological and pedoclimatic conditions over a long period of time. Then, our project focuses on the impact of this transition on the socio-economic aspects at territorial and global scales, but also on transition financing modalities.
Building on knowledge from the scientific literature, our project will aim first to enhance the understanding of methods that will be set up in order to manage ecosystem services under given pedoclimatic conditions; this assumes a holistic approach over a long-term period because nature is a dynamic complex system involving a large number of individuals interacting. These methods are based on managing biodiversity at the source of ecosystem services such as earthworms for soil structure, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi for nutrients supply to plants, etc. For this purpose, the characteristics of agroecosystems must experience a significant increase in crop diversity, permanent plant cover, reduced tillage, tree and hedge management, etc.
We will thus test different agroecosystemsmost adapted to the experiment conditions characterized by a Mediterranean climate (water stress), under key factors: choice of varieties, different species and varieties associations, crop succession, tillage, etc.; the empirical dimension is fundamental since there is a great variety of production situations. We will select the most efficient agroecosystems by estimating their sustainability by measuring indicators from functional molecular markers to biodiversity indicators or those related to production (yield and quality). The objectives of the established agroecosystems will range from the almost exclusive consideration of crop yield to qualitative aspects. Indeed, world production does not meet the nutritional needs for human health and industrial agriculture fosters the consumption of ultra-processed products containing synthetic food additives, lipids and sugars, which can be the source of cardiovascular diseases or diabetes for instance. Similarly, the goal will be to ensure sustainability of an agroecosystem in terms of yield but also of long-term resilience to potential extreme temperature events or water shortages related to climate change. Data analysis will be conducted using Oriskany’s expertise in statistical and probabilistic analysis of complex systems.
Economic profitability is at the heart of the classic challenges of industrial agriculture, based on economies of scale on large surfaces and world market prices. However, risks related to climate change – whether the environmental change itself (biophysical risk) or the adaptation of society to limit these changes (societal and institutional risks) – will have a significant impact on financial stability (see Article 173 of the energy transition for green growth act) and therefore, on the functioning of global economy. Their proper consideration by the financial system has become a real challenge in order to limit the risks of potential food crises at the global level. In this unprecedented context, it becomes urgent for the financial system to ensure compatibility between funding model and agroecological innovation.
Agroecology, on the other hand, is based on a territorial rooting where production systems fit into different socio-economic contexts. Production systems are thus partly determined by many interacting players: processors, distributors, consumers, local authorities and resources/waste managers. Such interactions, known as circular economy, can enable local job creation, human health improvement through the provision of nutritionally healthy food, increased added value for the farmer, etc. Our project aims to develop and study new socio-economic organizations related to the agro-ecological transition with respect to the consequences of industrial agriculture. To this end, and in a participatory research approach, meetings will be organized with farmers, technical institutes, researchers, etc., in order to create a network and provide coherent analyses. In this context, the issue of financing will also be essential. Making this financing model compatible with agro-ecological innovation is also becoming an essential issue.
For this purpose, the program must address the global dimension and be part of a concrete and local logic. In collaboration with AllEnvi, the national alliance for the environment, project holders have chosen to combine these two major themes:
The ‘Global Thinking’ component, which is part of the agro-ecological transition, with the aim of involving as many players as possible in the reflection and implementation of a socio-economic model; and the ‘Act Local’ component, which allows the design and implementation of specific practical agricultural solutions based on the principles of agroecology.