The organic pioneers

Throughout the XXe century, environmental movements within the agricultural world have campaigned for organic production and the defense of small workers. The history of these environmentalist farmers tells of the contract for the future that has been forged between agriculture and society.

Too often, expressions in the public arena are satisfied with all-encompassing generalities: ecologistsTHE farmersTHE city ​​dwellersTHE decision makersTHE consumers, etc. These simplifications often serve vested interests and their agents. The principle of representation certainly meets the needs of management and particularly co-management: public authorities expect intermediary bodies to represent the interests of corporations.

Thus the majority agricultural union, the FNSEA, who has always defended the principle of unity in the agricultural world, behind his banner of course. But the disadvantage is to oversimplify reality, to blur its nuances and obscure minority movements, the margins where social innovations occur, where new models are tested which can be disturbing at cruising speed, but turn out to be saving when the boat begins to deteriorate. . Well advised then, the captain who did not sacrifice his lifeboats under the pretext of lightening the ship.

a time when the global food system is leaking from all sides (or drought, it depends) in the sinking of industrial civilization, under the weight of its own excess of destructive power, it is useful to highlight the history and also the present of these other farmers, poorly represented and often mistreated, who are the environmentalist farmers.

The ecological critique of industrialization

It is the ambition of Jean-Philippe Martin, specialist historian of the Confédération paysanne (one of the minority unions), who broadened his focus to all movements, including within the majority unionism. Instead of devoting to gemonies the emerging social demands in terms of social justice, health, preservation of the environment and the living environment, these movements try to respond to them by forging new alliances with non-agricultural movements, outlining a new contract between society and agriculture.

Historically, two currents early warned about the harmful effects of the industrialization of agriculture. The first is organic agriculture and its precursor, biodynamic agriculture, a movement claiming to be based on the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), which, from the 1920s, was structured in Germany, Switzerland, and England. The Soil Association was founded in 1945 and in France, notably with the creation of Nature et Progrs in 1964, uniting doctors, farmers and consumers.

This current emphasizes health and ecological dimensions, even if social questions are not absent, with a conservative, even reactionary current, on the one hand, and a socializing current, on the other. From this trend emerged in France the National Federation of Organic Agriculture, founded in 1978 as part of a convergence of different trends, which was recognized by the state in 1981 by the Minister of Agriculture at the time, Pierre Mhaignerie, then the establishment of a label national and European, will contribute: the organic.

During the cultural hegemony of industrial agriculture, organic agriculture offers a socio-economic framework for the conservation and development of alternative agronomic and veterinary practices today rediscoveredas well as different social and commercial practices, in particular the more direct link with consumers. Because organic owes a large part of its success to the consent of organic consumers to pay a little more for their products, foreshadowing a constant demand from all unions: to have legitimately remunerative prices.

We will observe in this regard that industrial agriculture, which loudly demands higher prices and denounces the inconsistency of consumers, at the same time disqualifies organic agriculture because of its price.! It is true that, in the first case, it is a question of covering the production costs (pesticides, fertilizers, over-equipment, debt with Crdit Agricole), while, in the second, it is a question of preserving the environment and health. We immediately grasp the difference. Truth beyond agribusiness, lie beyond, to paraphrase Pascal.

The working peasants

The second current is born within trade unionism, particularly in the West, a region with a strong tradition of technical assistance in the world of livestock farming, where small, labor-intensive farms dominate, unlike the North-Eastern cereal quarter.

After the fodder revolution, the cultivation of grass instead of permanent meadows, the world of livestock is experiencing the maize-fodder revolution and its corollary, the purchase of hybrid seeds, fertilizers, phytosanitary products, harvesters, forage harvesters, supplements food and soy in short, a whole set of production factors imports which eliminate the autonomy of producers and put them in a position of dependence in the agro-industrial complex, reducing them to a situation of subcontractors or workers in a way that brings them closer, despite appearances, to the proletariat.

It is in reaction that an organization like Cedapa developed, in the technical field, marked by the figure of Andr Pochon, the apostle of white clover. In the socio-economic field, we see the emergence of a Marxist critique claiming the status of worker, as opposed to the term of exploiter, a current embodied by the figure of Bernard Lambert, politically close to the self-management current and who was elected socialist deputy in 1981.

These critical movements advocate for agriculture more economical and independentto use the title of the Poly report of 1978, then director of the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA). These different movements converged to form the Peasant Confederation in 1987, giving this term a political meaning and placing it in the public arena as an alternative to the model of the agricultural operator promoted by the FNSEA. On a more confidential note, it is worth mentioning Modef, close to the Communist Party.

The agricultural world faces the environmental question

If the 1980s generally sidestepped the ecological question, it will return, by force of circumstances, in the 1990s, the occasion of the mad cow crises, the irruption of GMOthe problem of green algae and climate chaos.

Economical and autonomous methods were much less harmful to the environment. However, the rapprochement between the social trend and ecological concerns, often perceived as urban, will be a long process. From the end of the 1970s (the presidential candidacy of Ren Dumont, an agronomist who had renounced industrialism, dates from 1974), Lambert recognized the challenge of considering ecological questions, but the social criticism movement included in its ranks many small producers who , due to lack of space, have engaged in industrial intensification, particularly in pig and poultry raising. The ecological question will therefore put tension on the Peasant Confederation. The latter will gradually integrate ecology through the promotion of agrocology, a synthesis of ecological and social concerns.

The ecological question is also widespread within the majority union, some members of which are switching to organic farming. Thus Dominique Chardon, who receives national responsibilities. The representative weight of the FNSEA found itself weakened by the emergence of a new union, the Rural Coordination, in 1991. While trying to integrate organic agriculture, particularly in the professional organizations it controls, the FNSEA will especially favor the development of another approach: agriculture reasons. Counterfire to new mobilizations?

City rats and field rats

These efforts will quickly be threatened by the emergence of two new concerns: the return of large predators, the wolf and the bear (either in a process of wilding of lost territories, or by voluntary reintroduction), and the movement to reduce animal products (with the flexitarian/vegetarian/vegan triptych).

These two claims pose a problem, to the extent that a significant part of the peasants has been maintained precisely thanks to extensive livestock farming in pasture areas not conducive to industrialization. Veganism and the protection of large predators therefore constitute threats to extensive livestock farming, which develops alpine meadows, and the farmers who practice it.

The controversy reveals the tensions inherent in the search for an ecological society, whose issues are multiple and potentially contradictory, between biodiversity, naturalness, energy, protection of soil or water resources, landscape; these contradictions can only be resolved in the form of compromise. Tensions revive a narrative opposing city rats necessarily dracin ecologists and the field rats inevitably rooted premises. A play of actors, often cruel, which does not prevent compromises from being developed.

If there is one point that seems to be progressing as in the rest of society, it is the growing role of women in the profession. necessary evolution, if we want to face the immense challenge of renewal of generations; a real headache, the time when exploitations have become so capitalized that their transmission in an individual setting has become impossible.

Three solutions remain: their dismantling, as proposed by the Confédération paysanne; the pooling of their capital and perhaps work, as proposed by Terre de liens; the form of capital company and corporate agriculture, as the de facto consent of FNSEA since 1960. The final choice will depend on the public policies that will be implemented.

No manifest destiny

Jean-Philippe Martin gives us a fresco of the history and contemporary challenges of environmental farmers, in clear, accessible and jargon-free language which constitutes a fine example of successful popularization. Without jargon, but not without acronyms: it can be useful to have a certain veneer of the subject to fully appreciate this original essay.

Its purpose is to illustrate the existence of early environmental trends within the agricultural world, by showing that ecological farmers did it all on their own, even if they benefited from the support of ecological associations and urban consumers who buy organic, local, and join AMAP.

The statement is, however, contradictory: All alonebut having benefit from the support. It was undoubtedly, for the author, to counter the sectarian strategy of confinement of farmers practiced by the agro-industrial complex, which conveys the idea that industrial agriculture would be agriculture. natural farmers, while ecological concerns are exogenous urban or rural fads. If we can understand the author's concern, we will not completely follow him in his defensive strategy aimed at to farm ecology.

After all, the industrialization of agriculture was not an endogenous process. How often does the agricultural world justify itself by saying we were told to produce? But who is it weadmission that industrialization responded to external stimuli? Industrial agriculture is therefore, no more than ecological agriculture, the manifest destiny of the countryside. In all cases, agriculture is an activity included in society and necessarily results from socio-economic alliances between practitioners and other social forces.

The virtue of the environmentalist peasants was therefore less endoginal to them. All alone than having shown the way to a new contract between agriculture and society. In this sense, they do not benefit of support: they established with urban movements, with which they shared values ​​and objectives, the terms of a mutually profitable exchange which we hope will be the norm tomorrow. This interpretive drawback aside, the great qualities of this work deserve that it finds its readership.