Pierre RABHI (with Nicolas Hulot) participates in a debate hosted by Jean-Jacques Fresko, chief editor of Terre Sauvage (“Wild Earth’), at the Earth University – a Meeting organized by Nature et Découverte, in partnership with Les Echos magazine, in November 2005.
Pierre Rabhi, you yourself use the term “mankind out of the ground” Can you tell us about your experience?
We need to understand that intensive farming, resorting to high quantities of pesticide, degrades the soils, pollutes the water, threatens domestic biodiversity, and the vital heritage of mankind which has grown over centuries. We are heading straight for times of food scarcity and famine.
Now it happens that third world populations have caught the train we are on. We were forced to catch up with a change for which nothing could prepare us. A large part of the world follows the production pattern of developed countries out of mimicry, without seeing the dangers. In reality, this model is absolutely not renewable. The depletion of oil resources actually leads us to think that we have reached the end of a logic.
The process you describe is nothing less than globalization.
The question is to find out why duality has become a model of organization. In reality, antagonism leads to globalization. The education of our children is motivated by principles of competitiveness, and competition. We should not be surprised that this policy should result in the current situation.
I am often called a philosopher. But you must know that I came to ecology through farming.
I attempted to understand the profound mechanisms of the earth. I wished to return to the soil, live frugally and self-sufficiently. The administration of my estate in the Cevennes of Ardèche was prompted by principles. I have lived for 13 years without electricity, water, or modern techniques., Through this experiment I found out that man had created a radical break between activities that enable them to feed themselves and essential principles of nature.
Reading Silent spring, by Rachel Carson, a scientist who was requested by the American government to look into the effects of insecticides on the environment, triggered something in me. The study’s outcome is disastrous: The entire life chain appears degraded. I therefore decided to radically change my direction.
My project was more about life style than an economic project. The beauty of the place where I settled has been, as a matter of fact, crucial. In my view, ecology does not just concern the environmental conundrum, or that of the biosphere, but the cosmos as a whole. In reality, we “are” ecology. Indeed, the substances we release into the soil will end up sooner or later in our body, in our cells. What’s more, the world “humanity” refers to the words humus and humility.
Afterwards, you became the councilor to the President of Burkina Faso and, if I am correct, provided the evidence that organic farming could feed the world.
Absolutely. The little plot of land that I cultivated in Ardèche widened my horizons and enabled me to connect with time and space all around the world. I then wondered whether my experiment was “transmissible”. I realized that the South had been trapped by modernity, that it was connected through chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Furthermore, the South is especially affected by ecological disasters, by the disappearance of animal and vegetal biodiversity, by desertification. Above everything else, man should eat his fill, and yet, too many human beings do not even obtain the vital minimum.
Having found that out, I wanted to train farmers from third world countries in agro ecology techniques, using my own practices and laboratory experiments in order to help them feed themselves and regenerate their environment. In 1981, I went to Burkina Faso upon the request of the government.
How many farmers have adopted this production pattern today?
We started with 900 farmers. We built a laboratory on the premises; now 100,000 farmers use organic fertilization and, as such, are freed from the control of chemical industry and international organizations.