The Convergences World Forum has been held every year for the past eight years, providing a forum for stakeholders committed to tackling poverty and promoting sustainable development to share their views. From 7 to 9 September, Paris hosted the 8th Forum, with the following ambition: “Zero exclusion, zero carbon, zero poverty”. Maxime de Rostolan, the coordinator in charge of the “Fermes d’Avenir” project, which aims to develop permaculture and agroecology, gave a speech during this event. In an environment marked by the demonstrations by farmers across Europe and discussions surrounding the end of the current agricultural model, the projects and ideas developed by people involved in permaculture set out some interesting possibilities for giving fresh impetus to the agricultural sector. Here’s the interview.
Credit : Jean-Robert Dantou
Maxime de Rostolan cofounded the association Fermes d’Avenir and is a coordinator of the La Bourdaisière micro-farm, near Tours in France: this is a 1.4 hectare micro-farm that grows fruit and vegetables. Through this project, the association aims to demonstrate the economic and financial viability of small-scale eco-friendly farming, inspired by the principles of permaculture. These new farming models offer not only economic, social and health benefits, but also environmental benefits.
Maxime, could you tell us more about your background and explain how you ended up involved in permaculture and the “Fermes d’Avenir” project?
I am an environmental engineer. When I graduated, I spent two years travelling around the world looking into water, getting as close as possible to local water issues.
In 2007, I joined the publisher Deyrolle, where my work included especially putting together educational charts on sustainable development, the water cycle, waste management… This is where I discovered biomimetics and I set up the Biomimicry France association: we invited businesses to challenge their models, inspired by nature.
Permaculture involves applying biomimetics for agriculture. I have had opportunities to meet with some dedicated people, such as Charles Hervé-Guyer, from Bec-Hellouin farm, and François Léger, from AgroParisTech / INRA, with whom we have had extensive exchanges about the viability of new agricultural models that are more environmentally-friendly, less “productivist”… The Fermes d’Avenir association was set up in line with this goal to carry out permaculture trials, demonstrating that this model works. Our challenge with the Domaine de la Bourdaisière estate is to generate 100,000 euros of sales and therefore prove that we have broken even from an economic perspective. This farming approach is completely natural and not dependent on oil or external producers. This farming also creates jobs!
The challenge is to be able to duplicate this type of farm nationwide. And for this, we need to have figures and results concerning the viability of these models.
What are the results to date?
We had sales of 10,000 euros in year one, 40,000 euros in year two, and we are targeting 70,000 for year three and 100,000 for year four. We should be able to successfully prove our model’s viability.
Through the Fermes d’Avenir association, we have also managed to raise 130,000 euros of funding to support and help other permaculture projects develop throughout France. We also organised the “Fermes d’Avenir” competition, in partnership with La Ruche qui dit Oui. The winners of this competition, chosen by a panel in summer 2015, will also be able to benefit from a crowdfunding campaign (community financing), through the Blue Bees platform.
Alongside this, we provide training and advice, particularly for local municipalities, with many of them looking to set up micro-farms in their regions. We handle the legal and technical design aspects, and if the municipalities do not want to manage it following this research phase, we can take this on as well.
Is permaculture compatible with urban farming, which we often hear about?
Permaculture is a possibility for cities and urban centres, provided that you have one hectare available! For me, this does not mean hydroponics, there is no business model for hydroponic farms today.
Today, certain farming practices are being called into question because of the pollution they generate, particularly for water tables, soil quality, etc. How is permaculture differentiating in terms of its management and its impacts on natural resources?
As a minimum, permaculture avoids negative externalities for the environment. In addition to permaculture, this is already the case for organic farming.
To give you an example, Bavaria in Germany had a serious nitrate pollution problem in the 1990s. At the time, two options were presented to local officials: either resize their water treatment plant, or look at a more “systemic” option. Indeed, the pollution was linked primarily to farmers close to the catchment area. So, municipal officials encouraged the farmers to switch to organic. Two years later, the water quality had returned to its previous level; and four years later, they were recording water quality levels that had never been seen before! The farmers were profitable again and no longer needed subsidies.
When we work with nature, and not against it, it is very generous.
Today, these negative externalities that have been avoided are not monetised, they are not taken into account in the overall view of agriculture. The reduced impacts on water quality, the return of bees…just some of the positive impacts which mean that it would be in the best financial interests of municipalities to roll out this type of farming more widely in the future.
In terms of irrigation, permaculture’s needs are less than with conventional farming. We use three times less water! For market gardening, we need 1,000 m3 per hectare, compared with 3,000 m3 for conventional farming. By mulching our soil, we limit evapotranspiration.
To find out more about the tests being carried out at the Domaine de la Bourdaisière farm, the Fermes d’Avenir association or even the Competition launched this year, visit www.fermesdavenir.org/
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