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Pathway to resilience n ° 7: Generalize agroecology

In France, agriculture occupies more than half of the mainland. Agricultural practices are therefore the greatest force in the evolution of landscapes, and the biodiversity they shelter. The unprecedented intensification of agriculture is manifested today by a deeply degraded environment, a high dependence on many inputs and a great homogeneity of agrarian systems. Dominant agricultural practices are proving to be a source of vulnerability and exacerbation of the threats described in this report. The massive adoption of agroecological practices is imperative to strengthen the resilience of farms and halt the destruction of wildlife.

State of Affairs

Degraded agrosystems with very little resilience

The evolution of agricultural practices since the middle of the 20th century can be summed up in three major transformations. The most visible of these is the destruction of the natural elements of the landscape. The second is the intensification of agricultural practices. The third is the homogenization of crops and the expansion of plots.

Destruction of the natural elements of the landscape

The natural or semi-natural elements of the landscape have greatly diminished. The line of hedges thus fell from 2,000,000 kilometers at the start of the 20th century to 600,000 kilometers in the 2000s. The trend has not been reversed: hedges and groves have lost an average of 24,000 hectares on average. per year between 2006 and 2014. Wetlands are also among the most threatened natural environments with less than 10% in favorable conservation status.

Above: A preserved bocage structure in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais). Hedges and edges provide habitat for many animal and plant species. Credits: Matthieu Debailleul, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons. Below: cereal fields characteristic of Beauce (Eure-et-Loir). The landscape is very homogeneous and does not present any habitat diversity. Credits: all rights reserved.

Very intensive use of inputs and resources

The intensive agricultural practices developed during the green revolution largely dominate:
- The use of mineral fertilizers is always excessive (see path of resilience n ° 11) . About a quarter of the nitrogen thus brought to the fields is lost and contributes to the pollution of aquatic environments and the emission of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.
- Irrigated areas have tripled since the 1970s , and represent around 6% of the agricultural area (see path to resilience n ° 5). The increase in droughts could encourage this growth to continue.
- Finally, the consumption of pesticides has never been so high , despite the "Écophyto" plans and other policies implemented. Thus, the "number of unit doses" (NODU), generally used by the authorities to monitor the evolution of pesticide use, continues to grow (Figure 23). Sales of phytosanitary products for agricultural use jumped again by 22% between 2017 and 2018.

Figure 23 : Phytosanitary treatment index in Number of Unit Doses (NODU), three-year sliding average. The objective of the "Écophyto" plan launched in 2008 was to halve by 2018.Source: Commissariat Général au Développement Durable (2018).

A homogeneity of agrosystems at all scales

Like all industrialized production, agriculture resulting from the green revolution is standardized. This results in a loss of diversity at all scales:

- At the plot level, genetic diversity has decreased with the shift from “population” varieties to modern genetically homogeneous varieties (see resilience pathway n ° 4).
- At the farm level, rotations and rotations have become easier (Figure 24). About 20% of arable land is affected by two-year rotations or monocultures. The integration of legumes in the rotations - a practice allowing to renew the nitrogen level - is marginal: less than 2% of the area under arable crops in 2018.
- At the scale of an agricultural region, the expansion and specialization of farms have led to a great standardization (see ways of resilience n ° 1 and n ° 6). Polyculture-livestock systems have regressed in favor of specialized farms.

Figure 24 : Evolution of the diversity index of rotations in France between 1970 and 2000. The homogenization of cover is associated with the simplification of rotations and the enlargement of plots. A score of 10 corresponds to a high crop diversity, while a score of 1 corresponds to a great homogeneity of crops. Source : Schaller (2012).

Alternatives that are progressing, but remain in the minority

Many practices that break more or less markedly with the emerging conventional system: conservation agriculture, organic agriculture, agroforestry, agroecology, permaculture, etc. Most are in the direction of more resilient agriculture, but give unequal levels of priority to the different threat.

For example, organic farming is gaining ground in all territories , at 16% per year nationwide since 2015. In 2019, certified farms accounted for 7.5% of French agricultural land and 14% of agricultural employment. Although growing rapidly, organic farming remains in the minority. It is also proportionately less developed than among most of our European neighbors (France was in 18th position in Europe in 2016).

Links to resilience ?

Associated threats: climate change, collapse of wild and cultivated biodiversity, degradation and artificialization of soils, depletion of energy and mining resources

Natural elements of the landscape

The destruction of natural elements reduces ecological niches and the resources available to wildlife. The result is a seriously degraded biodiversity in agricultural environments , unfavorable to certain essential functions such as pollination or the regulation of pests and diseases. Agricultural soils subjected to agro-industrial practices gradually lose their fertility and biodiversity ( see soil degradation and artificialization ). The destruction of hedges and open-field trees worsens this problem: reduction of organic matter input to the soil, infiltration and retention of rainwater, lower protection against erosion and climatic hazards.

Heavy use of inputs

Mineral fertilizers have become essential for renewing soil fertility, but their production is hampered by the exhaustion of fossil fuels (see path to resilience n ° 11).

Agriculture no longer has any energy autonomy (see path to resilience n ° 3). Total dependence on motorization for agricultural work is a source of vulnerability in a context of declining world oil production.

The severe droughts resulting from the current climate change could have catastrophic consequences on harvests if agricultural systems do not reduce their water needs (see path to resilience n ° 5).

Dependence on pesticides becomes problematic if there is a disruption in supply or the emergence of resistant varieties. The massive use of pesticides contributes to the death of countless insects, plants and other living things that do not harm crops. It is estimated that less than 0.1% of toxic molecules used globally actually reach their targets .

Homogeneity of agrosystems

The genetic homogeneity of crops makes them particularly sensitive to environmental stresses and pests (see pathway to resilience n ° 4).

The lack of crop diversity increases the risk of pest development. For example, common wheat was in 17% of cases preceded by wheat over the period 2006-2009, which promotes weeds and diseases associated with this crop and increases dependence on pesticides. Complex rotations, in addition to promoting better resistance to pests, help reduce dependence on nitrogen fertilizers as they include legumes.


We will highlight in this report agroecology, whose principles and objectives respond in a relevant way to many issues raised by the threats described above (Figure 25). Agroecology can be understood as the application of knowledge from ecology - the science that studies ecosystems - to agronomy, in order to design sustainable agrarian systems. A massive agricultural transition is imperative for agroecology to become the new standard and thus strengthen the resilience of farms.

Figure 25 : The general principles of agroecology, and some associated practices Source: Solagro. One of the key points of this strategy is the profound reconfiguration of agricultural landscapes in order to better reconcile food production and restoration of biodiversity. Trees must take back the place they occupied a century ago in our agricultural landscapes. Existing woods and forest areas must be protected: they provide refuge areas for biodiversity, mitigate the consequences of climate change, and make an essential contribution to carbon storage. All of the IPCC scenarios leading to a relatively small rise in global temperature (below 2 ° C) include reforestation and afforestation strategies. Trees are also a source of local and renewable energy that it is essential to develop in the face of the decline of fossil fuels. We must also adapt our ecosystems to the accelerated pressure of climate change. In logged forests, special attention must therefore be paid to the choice and diversity of species.

Actionnable Levers

LEVER 1 : Carry out a diagnosis of agricultural practices in the bioregion, and set improvement objectives

The diversity of agroecological practices and the absence of a label or precise specifications make it difficult to carry out a detailed diagnosis of the territory, to draw up an action plan or to monitor changes. For this, local authorities can refer to certain additional indicators, which are easier to use:
- Organic farming , which meets specifications incorporating several agroecological practices, and is regularly monitored;
- Quality labels are also often associated with agroecological practices;
- The High Natural Value (HVN) index developed by Solagro aggregates information relating to the abundance of landscape elements of ecological interest, the extensiveness of agricultural practices and the the diversity of rotations. Easy to obtain, it is in this sense very useful for giving an overview of the agroecological situation of a territory and avenues for improvement.

LEVER 2 : Raise awareness, train and support farmers in the development of agroecology The transition to agroecology may require operators to make substantial modifications to their technical itineraries, the acquisition of specific equipment, and an evolution of their economic model. Sustained efforts to raise awareness, share experiences and provide training are essential. The coordination of this process can be delegated to an actor in the field or managed by the local authority. This second option makes it possible to make the link with the land management. The community can also play a role in obtaining financing to acquire equipment, develop value chains or ensure good remuneration for farmers during their transition period.

Developed by the Solagro association, OSAE (Dare Agroecology) is an extremely rich exchange platform bringing together testimonials from farmers, practical educational sheets for developing agricultural systems, and thematic technical summaries. Information, experimentation and exchanges between peers are effective levers that can be coordinated by communities.

LEVER 3 : Protect and massively develop forest and landscape infrastructures Communities can develop a forest and landscape management strategy involving landowners, farmers, foresters, and organizations overseeing their activities. It is :
- Carry out a detailed diagnosis of forest cover and scattered afforestation on farms (mapped inventory of hedges, rows of trees and isolated trees in town planning documents) as well as their state of health and their potential for adaptation to climate change;
- Implement regulatory protections by requesting their classification by prefectural decree;
- Set quantitative (High Natural Value index of the territory, linear hedges) and qualitative objectives (adaptation of species to climate change), staggered over time. Urban planning documents such as the SCOT (Schéma de Cohérence Territoriale) and green and blue frameworks can be mobilized in this direction;
- Support the development of a responsible wood-energy sector , and collective heating systems (heating network) where conditions are favorable. Participatory hedge planting sites and management as "common goods" of the latter make it possible to sensitize the population.

In the Orne region, the Société Coopérative d 'Interest Collectif (SCIC) Bois Bocage Énergie was created in 2006 around a major challenge: the maintenance of the bocage. It aims to promote the planting of country hedges by acting as an intermediary between producers and consumers of wood energy. More than 20 local authorities in the department thus supply their boilers with local renewable fuel. Crédits : © Afac Agroforesterie LEVER 4 : Encourage organic farming and certified production Certified productions such as organic farming, Protected Designations of Origin, quality labels for meat, include both compliance with certain agroecological practices and at the same time benefit from established recognition facilitating conversions and their success. economic. For the conversion to organic farming, for example, the Territory Analysis Grid, produced by the national "Water & Bio" working group, can be mobilized as a diagnostic and consultation support. The results will make it possible to refine the actions and modes of communication most suited to the territory.

Municipality of Saillans (Drôme). The Biovallée association, which brings together three agglomeration communities in the Drôme valley, aims to reach 80% organic agricultural land by 2030. The project is the winner of the Territories of Innovation call for projects coordinated by the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations. Crédits : © Noak CARRAU, Association Biovallée.

Municipality of Hautevilles-lès-Dijon (Côte-d´Or). Dijon Métropole aims to increase the volume of production labeled in agroecology, by covering 6 to 8% of local demand in 2024 and 10 to 12% in 2030. The project is the winner of the call for projects Territories of innovation coordinated by the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations. Crédits : Christophe Finot, CC BY-SA.

Side Benefits

The development of agroecology makes it possible to restore wild and cultivated biodiversity as well as the diversity of landscapes and the products they can offer (hunting and gathering). It encourages the production of timber and local renewable energy.


Divergent interests

Agroecology marks a break with the agro-industrial model and its productivist orientation. It seeks to reduce its dependence on inputs and its impact on the environment, even if it means reducing the quantities produced. Its development is therefore against the interests of powerful economic players such as companies supplying fertilizers and pesticides or those using and transforming agricultural raw materials. However, these actors often have significant weight in local organizations in charge of agricultural development such as Chambers of Agriculture or cooperatives, essential intermediaries for communities as part of a food resilience project.

Economic hardship for farmers

The transition to agroecological practices can be an economically difficult time for farmers in a context of high debt and low bargaining power over prices. Changes do not always produce immediate results, and it takes some time for the farmer to master his new technical routes. However, the example of organic farming shows that the economic result is significantly better after conversion. This requires a way to enhance production, for example through channels built with communities.

Ownership and structuring of land

Renting is the most common form of land tenure, so few farmers own their land and few consider it to be a heritage to be passed on. In addition, the fragmentation of land means that certain plots are relatively far from the place of life of the person who cultivates them, sometimes in different municipalities. There is therefore little incentive to implement on its land developments perceived as restrictive: implementation of semi-natural elements, changes in practices.

Social standards

Like any social group, the agricultural world is characterized by certain standards, shaped by the agro-industrial model for two generations. This social frame of reference tends to slow down or downgrade initiatives that depart from it. The success of these initiatives, however, has the power to change standards little by little and to promote behavioral changes through mimicry.


- Share of agricultural area labeled organic or in conversion
- High Natural Value Indicator
- Linear hedges and their characterization (single or double, maintenance, etc.)

Tags : agroecology
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