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February 27, 1861, Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic agriculture is born

Sustainability / -

Rudolf Steiner
© Adoc photos_Corbis

Thanks to Steiner, farms have been "redesigned" in a holistic fashion: no longer self-contained entities, but systems based on wide-reaching relationships, with the soil seen as a source of life, together with the earth and the cosmos.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher, an esoteric, a teacher, an artist and a social reformer. He is the founder of anthroposophy, a new conception of humanity and of the world that reinvigorated the fields of medicine, and of teaching, as well as art and science in general, acquiring many followers throughout the western world.
 
Steiner began his career in 1897 as a teacher and lecturer. During his career, which took him round the world, he gave more than 6,000 lectures and published 28 books on topics ranging from philosophy, medicine, and mathematics to physics and agriculture, as well as economics, education, and architecture. The lectures have been collected, along with his writings, and have been published in the 354 volumes that constitute his opera omnia.

The birth of biodynamic agriculture
One year before his death, he formulated the principles that underpin biodynamic agriculture. The year was 1924 and a group of important Anthroposophist landowners in eastern Germany had asked Steiner how they could revitalize their fields. They were concerned about the early signs of weakening in the soil, caused by modern approaches to farming, and in particular, by the increasing use of chemical fertilizers. Steiner decided to give them a series of lectures, the central theme being the need for healthy soil and the preservation and enhancement in fertility, the better to improve the quality of the output, food to feed humankind. These lectures were published in the volume entitled "Scientific and spiritual impulses for the progress of agriculture".
 
In his lectures, Steiner demonstrates how spiritual research leads to a completely new view of nature. Through the cooperation between the soil, water, sun, animal life and plant growth, it is possible to identify two formative forces: the terrestrial and the cosmic. In the plant world, the action of the ground forces can be seen in the growth and production of substances, while the action of the cosmic forces can be seen in ripening and fertilization. Steiner shows how in agriculture it is possible, up to a certain point, to stimulate, or possibly curb, those two quite different forces, which are polar opposites.

The biodynamic method considers each substance as a combination of matter and life force. As Steiner explained in his sixth lecture, given in June 1924:

[…] We must not merely look at the plant or animal or human world […] Life always proceeds from the entire Universe — not only out of what the Earth provides. […] Nature is a great totality; forces are working from everywhere.  […] What does science do nowadays? It takes a little plate and lays a preparation on it, carefully separates it off and peers into it, shutting off on every side whatever might be working into it. We call it a “microscope.” It is the very opposite of what we should do to gain a relationship to the wide spaces. No longer content to shut ourselves off in a room, we shut ourselves off in this microscope tube from all the glory of the world. Nothing must now remain but what we focus in our field of vision. […] We, however, must find our way out again into the macrocosm. Then we shall once more begin to understand Nature - and other things too.

Legacy and the present day
Adopted around the world starting in 1924 by farmers of all sizes and types, biodynamic agriculture takes its inspiration from the idea that a farm is a real organism living in a closed cycle, but is also part of the larger living cosmic organism, and is subject to its influence. For each farming activity, such as sowing, transplanting, and pruning, great importance is given to the cycles of the moon and planets, and farmers use a special calendar.
 
As well as reviving traditional practices, such as green manure and crop rotation, biodynamic agriculture is based on a series of "preparations", used in homeopathic doses, which function as “medicine” for the soil and plants. This results in a gradual rejuvenation of the soil, an increase in stable humus, and higher-quality output.
 
This knowledge can complement the official agricultural approach, helping to achieve greater growth, in a more ethical and aesthetic fashion, while promoting a new type of farmer, one who is more mindful and responsible.
 
Expo Milano 2015 provides an opportunity to learn about the importance of biodiversity on our planet. In particular, the Biodiversity Park, located within the Thematic Areas, highlights Italian excellence in the fields of agriculture, the environment, and food production, describing the evolution and preservation of agricultural biodiversity. A program of events, talks, and multi-media experiences completes the visitor experience.
 

Land grabbing. Neocolonialism or economic opportunity

Economy / -

Un cittadino protesta contro la politica agricola della Banca Mondiale
© Afandria Afandi/Demotix/Corbis

The crisis in finance, energy and food in recent years has sparked the interest of investors in one of the most valuable resources of our planet; land. However this race to amass land is a threat to the environment and the socio-economic systems of the countries involved.

Starting in 2008, the interest of rich countries turned to the protection of their own food and energy supplies, pushing governments, corporations and investment funds to direct large amounts of capital to acquire ownership of large areas in the South and in the countries in the developing world, where land prices are lower.

Land grabbing is a growing phenomenon
According to the latest report by Land Matrix (the monitoring system proposed by the International Land Coalition), land grabbing is a growing phenomenon. Despite the incompleteness of the data and the lack of transparency of operations, 62% of 953 acquisitions were made dealing with an agricultural area of ​​35.9 million hectares (February 2014).  This is 10% more than the data collected in June 2013.  The continued increase in the price of commodities (products such as sugar and coffee whose price is determined by the market) is one of the causes of the spread of land grabbing which is viewed as the most best ways to  profit for the agro-food industries, governments and corporations. These investors, in fact,  are reacting to market demands or as method to ensure food safety,  and are acquiring low-cost, arable areas that are considered under utilized. They are replacing the existing practices  with  intensive industrial practice subsistence agriculture production models.

At the top  of the ten countries most involved the land hoarding trend are the Asian countries (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia), followed by those in Africa (Sudan, Congo and Mozambique) and South America (Brazil). In these states, rich countries have invested in 7.5 million acres of agricultural production aimed at energy needs, such as the cultivation of jatropha in Ethiopia and  the  Petrol Delta in Senegal or  the Chinese oil palm plantations in Congo and Mali.  The investment is second only to those of the Gulf countries and Korea and Japan that  have acquired 9.6 million hectares of land for the supply of food (especially grains). The USA’s major oil producers are dependent on investments abroad, especially with regards to water and grain. It is no coincidence that the investments, such as those from Saudi Arabia, focus on agricultural land in Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali, along the watershed of the Nile and Niger rivers.

The consequences of land grabbing
The problems arising from these vast acquisitions and speculative projects are mainly  of socio-economic status. The land ceded by governments, often for ridiculously low or no compensation, are fenced off, pending the activation of the production process, resulting in the exclusion of local communities from working the land and accessing resources such as water. The prospects for food security and employment are the prerogative of the rich countries, increasing unemployment in developing countries, not to mention the environmental damage inflicted by monoculture agricultural production and consumption of agricultural land allocated to new infrastructure and distribution systems.

A glimmer of hope begins to dawn. The blocking of 1 .3 million hectares  of land for 99 years in exchange for the construction of a commercial port in Madagascar by Daewoo Logistics and the policies controlling land hoarding in Brazil and Argentina are perhaps the first true actions by  governments in favor of countries in the eyes of investors.
 
 

Hungary. Water: thirst-quenching, flowing and germinating

Culture / -

© Kimberly WalkerroberthardingCorbis

October 23 is Hungary’s National Day in Expo Milano 2015. This Eastern European country has chosen to base its participation on an extremely simple, common and fundamental element: water.

Hungary is an Eastern European country bisected by the Danube River, which at 2,800 kilometers, is the continent’s second longest river. Hungary is mostly composed of plains, which as well as the Danube are home to the River Tisza, regulated by a series of dams which make it navigable while also generating electricity. It also boasts the famed Lake Balaton, a significant presence in terms of tourism and wealth. Hungary enjoys a continental climate, given its absence of coastline, but its temperatures are mostly mild, thanks to air currents from both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. This climate ensures extensive and flourishing vegetation and both deciduous and coniferous woodlands. Despite this, January is always an exceptionally cold month, when the average temperature slides below freezing.
 
A wine originating from a World Heritage region
Agriculture is a growth sector in Hungary, an activity carried out largely by small farms. Over 50% of the country’s area is cultivated: one of the highest percentages in Europe, thanks to which its yield comfortably covers national food needs and leaves a significant amount for exportation. Corn, used mainly as forage, plus wheat, and also barley and rye, are the country’s main crops. Fruit production, particularly apples, plums and apricots, is also widespread and abundant. And mention must be made of the wine-making region of Tokaj-Hegyalja, declared a World Heritage region by UNESCO and birthplace of one of the world’s great wines: Tokaj.
 
A country with its heart set on preserving water and defending natural products
The participation of Hungary in Expo Milano 2015 is based above all on the importance of the quintessential natural resource: water. The theme of the country’s participation is “From the purest source”, and the aim is to present the virtues of natural and thermal mineral water. Hungary also consistently calls attention to its clear and committed decision in favor of organic farming and against GMOs, and it runs a particularly precise traceability system for its food products. Its Pavilion spreads across 1,910 square meters. Inside, its rich content shows visitors its impressive achievements in sustainability, food quality and the quest for rationalizing the use of water.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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