Will Germany build a food system of the future based on Biomimicry?
Biomimicry Germany is a network that connects Biomimicry enthusiasts across the country, and the world. We offer educational events to enable our members to put their knowledge into practice. That’s why we are excited that our members Morganne Graves, Fabian Feutlinske, and Sonja Eser were part of the “Agrarsysteme der Zukunft” (“Agricultural Systems of the Future”) project, launched and supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, with the aim of creating a sustainable food system for the future. Since the agrarian system is very complex and involves numerous stakeholders and users who rarely get the opportunity to talk to each other, they wanted to hear as many different voices as possible. Therefore, they kicked off the project with a participatory, Vision Camp Workshop, that brought farmers, scientists, students, and retailers to the design table.
As we distance ourselves from the conventional high-energy and highly chemical industrial agricultural models of the present, the challenge is to find viable alternatives, which are less destructive and damaging to local ecosystems. The industrial agricultural approach aims to maximize what we can produce from the soil. And yet, there are still more than 4 billion people that are undernourished, malnourished, or have a wrong diet worldwide. It is clear that current ecological, economical and humanitarian challenges can’t be properly addressed by the present food system, and with population growth only expected to accelerate, it only becomes more necessary to explore alternatives. Because of that, they wanted to reform the agricultural model with our systems-based approach and a deeper understanding of natural components like nutrient cycles, soil fertility, and their relationships and effects on each other. In this article, we share some top challenges with you.
Closing regional nutrient cycles
One of the current industrial agricultural model’s greatest weaknesses is the way nutrients are pumped into the cycle. In a high energy, high chemical process, nitrogen and phosphorus are used a as fertilizers. However, only 50% of this ends up in the produce, the rest filters into the groundwater, the surrounding ecosystem and atmosphere. Future agricultural systems will reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, thereby avoiding the leakage of excess into the local surroundings.
Resilience through biodiversity
As shown again in an impressive recent study, the industrial agricultural model has significantly impacted Germany’s biodiversity, because it has created more hostile living conditions for many different organisms. This is due to the predominance of and reliance on monocultures – only one crop or plant species in fields. Worryingly, these plants are more vulnerable in the face of more extreme weather conditions and disease. An agricultural system for the future must therefore follow one of nature’s basic principles, and a keystone of Biomimicry, which is resilience through biodiversity.
Fostering soil fertility
Current industrial farming shows that monocultures (growing only one plant or crop species) lead to soil degradation. Furthermore, heavy machinery being pulled across the land and pesticides destroy micro-organisms which help keep the soil healthy. A sustainable agricultural system will focus on the preserving the micro-organisms which bring the soil to life. That’s why cover crops (crops planted to manage soil erosion, fertility, moisture and disease amongst other things), composts and animal farming will be an essential part of this model. “Living soil” is not only beneficial for the nutrient cycle, but also necessary to store large amounts of water during dry periods. Finally, healthy soil also plays an enormous part in sequestering carbon.