Book Club

The Chair read for you L’agroécologie peut nous sauver – from Marc Dufumier and Olivier Le Naire

Published on 25 March 2020

« L’agroécologie peut nous sauver » (Agroecology can save us) [1] retraces the interviews conducted by Olivier Le Naire, journalist, essayist and great reporter, with Marc Dufumier. The latter is a French agronomist and teacher-researcher. In particular, he held the Chair of comparative agriculture and agricultural development at AgroParisTech from 2002 until his retirement in 2011.

Described by Olivier Le Naire as a “pragmatic and concrete man in the field, a free and committed adventurer” (p.12), M. Dufumier lingers throughout these interviews to pass on the knowledge and experience he acquired during his many trips and encounters with the world’s farmers.

Graduated from the National Agronomic Institute (now AgroParisTech) during the era of the Green Revolution, the all-chemicals and what he calls the “sacrosanct progress” (p.47) of the 1960s, Marc Dufumier went on to discover the farming practices of different continents during his years of international cooperation and following his studies. Impressed by the inadequacy of his advice as an agronomist with the diversity of local problems, he has since been deeply convinced that a return to more natural, fair and meaningful practices is the key to many of our ills. In short, he aspires to a sharp turn towards what he defines as “agroecology”.

He defines this movement and set of practices as an optimization and “intensive use” (p.35) of the resources that nature offers us.

The fundamentals seem simple: making the best use of the sun’s energy that produces plant photosynthesis ; establishing diversified plant cover to avoid water waste and soil erosion ; combining crops and trees to draw essential mineral elements from deep within ; preserving and maintaining the biodiversity of landscape elements and soils by avoiding ploughing and providing organic matter…

The ecological crisis and the drastic drop in biodiversity requires us to reduce considerably our use of synthetic inputs. The set of products in “cides” which, it is worth recalling throughout the book, simply means “to kill”, grouped in the large family of pesticides have become essential to our industrial agriculture and need to be replaced by the reintroduction of natural predators and relevant crop associations.  

To make a long story short, Marc Dufumier calls for a return to the roots of agriculture, a return to the natural rather than the chemical to “stop killing the soil, stop killing earthworms, stop killing bees, stop killing the landscape, stop killing the planet, stop killing people, stop killing jobs.” (p.42)

This observation, drawn up in the course of answers to Olivier Le Naire’s questions, is associated to concrete examples and historical facts. Marc Dufumier thus returns to the evolution of the agricultural communities, land issues, the contemporary malaise and misunderstanding between rural and urban areas, and the political orientations, particularly of the Common Agricultural Policy, which have considerably influenced production choices.

Always taken under the prism of agricultural production, Marc Dufumier, in a discourse that may seem particularly optimistic, is convinced that agroecology offers solutions. Under the influence of civil society, he believes that it requires us to influence our elected representatives and to develop a real citizen’s advocacy in the face of industrial lobbying in order to “launch an agroecological revolution” (p.57) ; “feed the world” (p.79), agroecology being capable, according to him, of providing healthy food for 10 billion people ; “preserving our health and our environment” (p.93) ; “fighting against North-South inequalities and solving migration problems” (p.101) and “reconciling cities and countryside” (p.114).

Concluding with the presentation of ten measures to be implemented as a priority, this book, published not without hazard in the “Domaine Du Possible” collection (which mean “realm of possibility”), draws up, through M. Dufumier’s feedback, the observation of an agriculture that has become highly globalized and proposes, through a questionable approach, another model of production and society.

Richard Koenig, Research fellow « Crop insurance as a mitigation and adaptation tool in a climate change context »

[1], Marc Dufumier & Olivier Le Naire, L’agroécologie peut nous sauver, (2019), Actes Sud, Domaine Du Possible, 18,50 € TTC, 160 pages.