| Syn­tropic farm­ing in the trop­ics

Syn­tropic farm­ing may be one so­lu­tion to the need of food for rapidly grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the trop­i­cal belt.

Living Now - - Contents - by Martin Oliver

In the trop­ics, de­for­esta­tion is a ma­jor is­sue. When land in these re­gions has been de­for­ested, the poor con­di­tion of the re­main­ing soil has tra­di­tion­ally made re­for­esta­tion very dif­fi­cult. How­ever, this is now less of an ob­sta­cle fol­low­ing break­throughs in­volv­ing cut­ting-edge tech­niques such as those de­vel­oped by a Swiss farmer named Ernst Götsch.


Over the last few decades, Götsch has be­come well known in some en­vi­ron­men­tal cir­cles for re­for­est­ing a tract of 480 hectares (about 1200 acres) that he pur­chased in 1984 in the Brazil­ian state of Bahia. The land had been de­nuded by the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pier, a sawmill owner, and was known as ‘Dry Lands’. As a re­sult of Götsch’s ef­forts, much of his land has been trans­formed into an ex­am­ple of the At­lantic rain­for­est found in Brazil’s south­east. Today, seven­teen streams run all year round, and four­teen springs have reap­peared. And in the last few years there have even been ben­e­fi­cial changes in the mi­cro­cli­mate, with lower tem­per­a­tures and in­creased rain­fall.

None of this oc­curred by ac­ci­dent. While pur­su­ing his am­bi­tious project, Götsch drew on his back­ground as a farmer and a sci­en­tist. In the 1970s, while still in Switzer­land, he had ex­per­i­mented with poly­cul­ture agri­cul­tural sys­tems. Then in 1979, he re­lo­cated to Costa Rica to work with agro­forestry sys­tems, be­fore mov­ing again in 1982, this time to Brazil.

While his land looks like un­bro­ken for­est from the air, ap­pear­ances are de­cep­tive. Be­neath the top storey are ca­cao trees and a num­ber of other food crops. His is a work­ing farm that also pos­sesses a high level of bio­di­ver­sity, aided by his unique take on agro­forestry.


Af­ter his ar­rival, Götsch faced a num­ber of chal­lenges, in­clud­ing strong winds and a lack of water caused by a drought. His first step was to cre­ate a cover crop based on the veg­e­ta­tion that he ob­served grow­ing close by, in­clud­ing man­ioc, pi­geon pea, banana, and a few na­tive tree species. Prun­ing yielded mulch, which re­turned biomass to the ground layer, where it broke down quickly in the hot cli­mate and en­abled fast re­cov­ery of the soil. Af­ter a while, for­est trees could be planted, and over time Götsch de­vel­oped a so­phis­ti­cated mul­ti­di­men­sional sys­tem where dense­ly­planted species are cho­sen to im­i­tate the eco­log­i­cal process of nat­u­ral suc­ces­sion.

One im­por­tant as­pect of his strat­egy is the heavy prun­ing, which kick­starts sev­eral pro­cesses. Veg­e­ta­tion ac­cel­er­ates its root growth, which in turn stim­u­lates pro­duc­tion of the hor­mone gib­berel­lic acid that en­hances plant growth. A sec­ondary ef­fect is in­creased de­liv­ery of nu­tri­ents from bac­te­ria and fungi, as a nat­u­ral chem­i­cal-free form of fer­til­i­sa­tion.

Prun­ing also in­creases the rate of pho­to­syn­the­sis and con­se­quently car­bon se­ques­tra­tion. This ties in with global moves to­wards a re­gen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture that can fix at­mo­spheric car­bon in the soil and help to re­verse cli­mate change, while re­pair­ing dam­aged ecosys­tems and turn­ing around land degra­da­tion. When agri­cul­tural pro­cesses can suck large quan­ti­ties of car­bon from the at­mos­phere if pur­sued on a wide scale, this may re­move the im­pe­tus to work to­wards the same goal by pur­su­ing po­ten­tially risky geo­engi­neer­ing ex­per­i­ments.


Götsch has cho­sen to call his sys­tem ‘syn­tropic’ agri­cul­ture, in­di­cat­ing the op­po­site of en­tropy (the ten­dency to­wards an in­creas­ing level of dis­or­der). His ap­proach shares sim­i­lar­i­ties with per­ma­cul­ture, es­pe­cially its food for­est model, but has a com­par­a­tively nar­rower fo­cus. With agri­cul­tural in­puts cre­ated on­site, there is no need to im­port them from fur­ther afield. Syn­tropic agri­cul­ture lends it­self best to the trop­ics and sub­trop­ics, where plant growth is vig­or­ous. It could be sum­marised as in­ten­sive, or­ganic, and re­gen­er­a­tive, and can be ap­plied to large acreages where it com­bines well with the use of agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery.

The trop­i­cal belt has a great need of food for a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. Syn­tropic farm­ing, like other forms of agro­forestry, may be a part of the so­lu­tion. It has spread to dif­fer­ent parts of Brazil, and has re­cently ar­rived in Aus­tralia, where there are two pi­lot projects on the New South Wales North Coast. One of these is near Byron Bay, and the other is at Chilling­ham, near Mur­willum­bah. Cour­ses were re­cently held for any­body in­ter­ested in see­ing how this agro­forestry sys­tem might work on their land, and hope­fully oth­ers will be tak­ing place in the fu­ture. ■

Syn­tropic agri­cul­ture lends it­self best to the trop­ics and sub­trop­ics, where plant growth is vig­or­ous.

Con­nect with other read­ers & com­ment on this ar­ti­cle at www.liv­ing­now.com.au

Vered Kil­stein, a qual­i­fied psy­chother­a­pist & hyp­nother­a­pist, trained per­son­ally with Dolores Can­non & has 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence. QHHT has many ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing heal­ing body & emo­tions, re­solv­ing trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences from this life and beyond. Ex­pe­ri­ence the learn­ing & il­lu­mi­na­tion of higher guid­ance for your life pur­pose, & re­ceive per­spec­tive on your cur­rent life through un­der­stand­ing the time­less­ness of the soul & your mul­ti­di­men­sional na­ture. www.pastlif­er­e­gres­sion.net.au 0407 628 208

Martin Oliver is a writer and re­searcher based in Lis­more.

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