Peasant agriculture conference in Dordrecht, Netherlands, 13-15 October 2021: “Farmers designing social techniques, tools and machinery for agroecological farming”

Peasant agriculture conference in Dordrecht, Netherlands, 13-15 October 2021: “Farmers designing social techniques, tools and machinery for agroecological farming”

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By Dutch Workspace Agroecology (Werkplaats Agroecologie Toekomstboeren)

At the peasant agriculture conference in Dordrecht, Netherlands, 13-15 October 2021 farmers formulated design questions to (co)develop social techniques, tools and machinery for agroecological farming like Atelier Paysan in France. In this blog we share relevant questions regarding the purpose, material, knowledge, scale to ask ourselves instead of answers.

Some of these questions revolve around the contribution of the technique, tool or machinery to the livelihood of farmers. Can it help reduce the weight of tasks that require a lot of energy from farmers such as ploughing? Can it shorten the time needed for tasks such as weeding? But also, does these practices enable farmers to diversify their source of income?

Another set of question regards the sustainability of the materials of the technology. Can we build something according to the cradle to cradle principle? Can we use renewable energy without polluting mineral extraction in the Global South and in new mining sites in the Global North? Geothermal heat, wind, human movement? Can we use recycled materials? Are the costs in relation to the benefits? Can we repair/restore/adapt easily? Can we find the components in our region?

And, how to take into account the context and care for other species? Do we need a location specific technique to deal with differences in undergrowth, relief, soils and local knowledge? How do we maintain/improve the soil structure and soil life? Do we harvest in a wildlife friendly manner? Is there enough food left over for wildlife? Can non-human species have species-specific behaviour?

There are also questions about the relation between the technology and the human body. Do we take in to account physical diversity (gender/different population groups), ergonomics, maintaining/enhancing meaningful, joyful and safe work? Can we combine working with sport activities like cycling? Can we carry out the work alone or do we want to carry out the work with more people? How much time may it take? 

Other questions evolved around harvesting and processing in agroforestry systems and food forests. Can we combine processes in the local food system and save energy, water? Like simultaneously cooking and smoke-drying. What are other options for processing and storing? Add fungi, sprout, press, vacuum, salt, acid, sugar, alcohol and so on? Can we use multiple parts of the crop for different purposes like feed for livestock, fibre for clothes and/or for medicinal use?

In the end, we realise that asking multiple questions like these you come up with new techniques such as no-dig methods or cycling tools. This questionnaire is work-in-progress of the workspace Agroecology so please inform us about other relevant questions.

For further information, please contact: Margriet Goris, margriet.goris@wur.nl