Claire Simonetta: Protecting agriculture from the cascade effect


LITTLE PEOPLE know that I have a (very) soft spot for science fiction.

Not the typical alien type against humanity (unless we’re talking about Captain Kirk and the Tribbles of course!), But rather futuristic-type storylines, dystopian questions and what our environments and systems might look like an day.

These stories often pose big questions that concern not just science but culture, politics and philosophy – and our moral obligations to each other and to our planet.

One of my all-time favorites, The Expanse, has an incredible ability to capture issues realistically and head-on (as far as a fictional story can be realistic, of course!).

In one episode, Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede (support me please!), Which has become an agricultural station to provide food for those who live in space, is attacked. The systems necessary to maintain food production on the base are starting to break down one by one.

This is called the cascading effect and is eloquently explained by one of the protagonists: “In real nature, there is enough diversity to cushion an ecosystem when something catastrophic happens. Nothing we build, our ships, our stations, has this depth.

“In an artificial ecosystem, when something goes wrong, there are only a certain number of ways that can compensate for it. Eventually those lanes get overloaded, then they fail, leaving fewer lanes, then they’ll be overloaded, then they fail.

… “And Ganymede is a simple and complex system. Because it’s simple, it’s prone to stunts, and because it’s complex, you can’t predict what will go down or how.

Seems familiar?

Yes of course. Every industry that we have created, every system that we manage can be and from time to time is affected by the cascading effect, a chain reaction following an event that impacts a system.

This can range from an overloaded power line trip causing further line trips, to the loss of a top predator in a specific ecosystem and the imbalance it creates due to the explosion of the prey population. .

While cascading effects are relevant in all man-made constructions, they’re especially critical in our food industry because, you know, it’s kind of one of the most important industries we have.

Think about the impact that the harsh crop harvesting conditions in many countries, coupled with the biblical floods in Germany, could have on the profitability of farms and the feed costs that feeders face.

The difficulties encountered by the subsidiary industries when the 2015 CAP reform resulted in severely delayed payments to agricultural enterprises, highlighted how this sum is usually immediately transferred and recirculated in the economy at large, as it is This is essential income support for most farmers, not just an added benefit that can simply be pocketed.

Think about the outcome if we were to lose the critical mass in some of our sectors, its impact on other agricultural sectors, subsidiaries, rural communities, rural and national economies, and our ultimate dependence on imports?

I believe the last time this country became more and more dependent on imported food was during the war and we all know what happened when those imports were cut off.

Not to mention, as someone said in a meeting last week, the moral obligation that we must do our best to contribute to sustainable global food security for a growing population.

Now imagine what would happen to our agricultural and environmental resilience if our policies focused only on and supported a small handful of agricultural sectors and production systems, as policy design focuses on simplicity of administration rather than delivery efficiency?

Simplifying program implementation is key to minimizing time spent by farmers on cumbersome compliance formalities, but simplicity should not be a priority for officials in order to minimize government workload, because it always has a cost for efficiency.

Simplicity does not like diversity and flexibility, two key factors in industrial, commercial and national resilience.

Imagine ending up with just a small handful of production systems of a common type and size because agricultural policymakers couldn’t bother to be flexible and inclusive, or judged others sectors and systems as “inefficient” or “less climate friendly” due to less than rudimentary analysis (or political agenda?), and withdrew their support for it.

What would happen? The few remaining companies would likely have the same strengths but also the same weaknesses and if any one of them is negatively affected, all of them are.

If the world market collapses for an agricultural product, they have no buffer if it affects them. Their land management would likely be similar if not the same – these lands would ideally have some sort of biodiversity value, but would only be able to support specific types of plants and animals.

Meanwhile, the important landscape-scale interconnectivity between other more marginal habitats would be lost, as alternative sectors no longer exist to provide a mosaic of habitats.

So what’s the answer (to everything)?

Well, first of all, we have to understand that nature knows very well how to achieve balance, stability and resilience of ecosystems.

She’s been doing this for a while now and has a bit more experience than the (not so) humble homo sapiens. It means understanding that man-made constructions and systems are fallible, despite our best intentions and progress.

Second, we need diversity. Everywhere and in all aspects.

The agricultural industry needs different sectors and production systems, a diverse model of land ownership and occupation, small and large farms, family farms, mosaics of habitats, pastures, agroforestry , mountain cattle and field crops, and everything in between.

To achieve this, we need a flexible policy that embraces this diversity as an opportunity as each system brings its own benefits (despite what some may think).

If our new CabSec does not receive the support it should receive to implement such a policy, we will not be able to stop the stunt, because “it’s not the thing that breaks you that you have to be careful”.