Organisation - May 19, 2016

Column: Synergy

The subject of synergy in agriculture came up during a lecture. What is synergy? And what would be a better description than just 1+1=3? The concept of ‘ecosystem literacy’ was mentioned. I define that as the extent to which you understand the formation, functioning and cohesion between everything you see in a landscape by consciously reading it. Reading a landscape? Yes, reading!

Reading is all about synergy. It is more than knowing the letters or figuring out the sentences. As you read, you start to understand the links between the words and sentences. A word gets its meaning from a contrasting word, a text from the context. The sentences accumulate to create understanding and insight. Reading is about making connections, grasping and sensing meaning. Reading comprehension is synergy: a synthesis involving 26 letters.

But then ... agriculture. There is not much synergy in agriculture today. After coming up with artificial fertilizers, antibiotics and nanotechnology, we have become pretty ‘ecosystem illiterate’. We no longer see the cohesion. Crops and animals have been removed from their natural context and now we are left — literally —with all the shit.

But synergy is gradually returning, now termed agroecology or nature-inclusive agriculture. I see it happening throughout society, even in Wageningen. The genius loci has come alive again. We are increasingly aware that animals are more than a bunch of cells you prop food into to obtain a product. An egg is living synergy. We are starting to read the book of nature and agriculture afresh. We are realizing increasingly that agriculture without nature is impossible.

Nature is the ultimate form of synergy. Now for agriculture ...

Kees van Veluw (57) teaches Permaculture and is active in organic agriculture networks. His vision stems from his work with African farmers, his networks with Dutch farmers, his family life with his wife, three sons, dog and chickens.