La ferme naturelle « Het Bolhuis » est une ferme d’élevage biologique qui travaille en étroite collaboration avec « Natuurpunt » et « Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos » (ANB).
Accelerating the transition to agroecology
City : Wallonia
Region : Wallonia
Project by : Terres Vivante
Joined on : Oct 2022
The project consists of disseminating the agroecological system to farmers and other actors in the food chain. Its aim is to engage all Walloon farmers in an agroecological transition by 2030.
Agroecology is a more autonomous, productive and ecological agricultural system. It is also a relocalized food system, creating jobs and based on short(er) circuits, delivering healthy and fresh food produced on living soils (One health: from rhizosphere to intestinal microbiota).
It is a biodiversity-based system that generates agricultural, functional and heritage biodiversity.
The project is based on a participatory approach in farmers' groups, in which farmers exchange among themselves and with a team of agronomists. It is also a "systems" approach in which all aspects of the farm are considered and improved in an iterative way. A system of agroecological indicators evaluates the progress of each farm every year. This diagnosis is used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the farms and to define annual progress objectives.
The absence of intensive tillage and permanent soil covering enhance biodiversity in the soils. An ecological network consisting mainly of grass strips and hedges favours crop-friendly animals but also wildlife in general. Diversified soil covers between the main crops support a variety of wildlife. The integration of crops/livestock maintains or develops permanent and temporary meadows which are often associated with hedged farmland.
The processing and selling of products in short and local circuits reconnects producers and eaters, the countryside and the cities. It highlights the farmers’ work and the quality of their products. It also improves the farms profitability and ensures their long-term future.
It is therefore a win2 project in which producers, citizens, environment, climate and biodiversity are all winners.
Who is involved?
Farmers, processors and distributors of agricultural products. Craftsmen and upstream industries. Researchers, teachers, students, decision makers, etc. Canteens, restaurants, schools, companies, administrations
Produits agricoles et animaux, Produits primaires importés
3,000 farmers in agroecological transition by 2030
730,000 ha, or about 7 million tons of product (in dry matter)
How are the criteria met?
Agroecology is based on the imitation of nature. It implies a paradigm shift that should lead to abandon the concept of fighting nature and, instead, to cooperate with nature and have respect for its rules. It also implies a holistic approach to the whole agricultural and food sector, diametrically opposed to the reductionist approach of the present agricultural system. This double approach, biomimetic and holistic, results in an in-depth review of the food chain model and in a new deal between farmers themselves, between farmers and other citizens, and between man and nature.
The ecological strategy of agroecology is to replace commercial inputs produced with significant fossil energy use, such as fertilizers and pesticides, with ecosystem services provided by biodiversity. Synthetic nitrogen is replaced by nitrogen fixed by symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. An alfalfa or a red clover for example can fix 300 to 400 kg of nitrogen per ha and per year i.e. much more than what farmers spread on their fields. Fungicides can be replaced by a living soil where non-pathogenic bacteria and fungi protect crop plants from pathogenic microorganisms. Insecticides can be replaced by an ecological network of grass strips, hedgerows and other elements that support populations of natural enemies of crop pests. Soil structure and fertility can be improved by the activity of microorganisms and soil fauna as well as by stopping the tillage of the soil by violent mechanical operations such as ploughing.
These services provided by biodiversity are the reason why agroecological systems invest in biodiversity restoration, from soil to landscape, from crop rotation to diversity of actors.
Since most of the operations performed by conventional farmers are carried out by other living organisms in agroecological systems, the work per hectare or per animal is considerably reduced. This frees up time for other possible income-generating or leisure activities.
Agroecological systems are more resilient to climate change than conventional systems due to their inherent diversity, to the restoration of soil carbon levels that improve water conservation, and to the choice of species, cultivars and breeds that are hardier than their current counterparts.
Agroecological systems reduce climate change by storing carbon in soils and vegetation, and by decreasing the use of fossil energy in agricultural practices, particularly in the two fossil energy intensive areas of ploughing and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use. Ploughing and intensive tillage are replaced mainly by permanent soil covers, direct seed and competitive crops towards weed. The nitrogen fixed by the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process is replaced by biologically fixed nitrogen.
Agroecological systems are therefore systems that go beyond organic.
The economic strategy of agroecology consists, on the one hand, in drastically reducing production costs and, on the other hand, in increasing the income through the production of quality products, their processing and marketing in short and local circuits compared to the situation of conventional agriculture. With decreasing costs and a better income in agroecology, profits are comparable or even higher than those of conventional agriculture. Above all, the added value per hectare and per person increases significantly.
Agroecological systems have proven to be economically efficient in a range of production and geographical situations in Europe (Van der Ploeg and al. 2019). The economic indicators are on average 50% higher in agroecology in this study (10% to 110%) compared to conventional systems.
This agroecological system is now sufficiently efficient to be disseminated on a large scale.
The aim of this project is to disseminate this agroecological system in the farming community so that a maximum of Walloon farmers initiates a transition to agroecology.
The project could eventually reach about 3,000 Walloon farmers if it continues and intensifies in the future. Given the high average age of farmers and the low takeover rate of conventional farms, it can be considered that a large proportion of farmers managing farms with a future would then be encouraged to start a transition to agroecology.
The working method is holistic and participatory. This method is based on a partnership between a team of agronomists, a group of "pilot" farmers and other stakeholders. It brings together the main people concerned, the farmers themselves. They are involved at every stage of the project and are considered as knowledge holders and not only as people to be advised. This has the advantage of quickly sorting out the technical solutions: only solutions that are acceptable to farmers are promoted. Therefore, from the outset, there is an integration of ecological, social, economic and technical dimensions in the project activities. The cultural values of farmers are implicitly taken into account. The knowledge of farmers and agronomists is combined, with the former contributing their practical experience and the latter their technical and scientific knowledge. When these two types of knowledge are combined, realistic and pragmatic solutions quickly emerge.
 Van der Ploeg, J. D., Barjolle, D., Bruil, J., Brunori, G., Madureira, L. M. C., Dessein, J. , Drag Z., Fink-Kessler A., Gasselin P., Gonzalez de Molina M., Gorlach K., Jürgens K., Kinsella J., Kirwan J., Knickel K., Lucas V., Marsden T., Maye D., Migliorini P., Milone P., Noe E., Nowak P., Parrott N., Peeters A., Rossi A., Schermer M., Ventura F., Visser M., Wesel A., 2019. The economic potential of agroecology: Empirical evidence from Europe. Journal of Rural Studies, 71, 46-61.
The agroecological, organic and no-till system (OCA) has the following characteristics and effects on biodiversity:
A dense ecological network of 3-meter-wide parallel grass strips, 60 meters apart from each other, on the whole surface of the arable land of farms. It consists of 3 types of cover alternating every 30 meters in each strip, including flowering meadows. This network promotes predators and parasitoids of crop pests. They also have a very positive influence on birds (grey partridge, passerines including red-backed shrike) and mammals (hare, roe deer, etc.).
A network of diversified hedges, made of about twenty species, which take turns to produce pollen and nectar from January/February until June/July, then fruits from June to December. This favours insect pollinators as a whole, and fruit-eating birds.
The implementation of other elements of the ecological network is encouraged: ponds, puddles, stone and wood piles, etc.
The absence of herbicides in the system allows a modest development of weed but enough to favour birds (grey partridge) and insects.
The absence of insecticides allows the development of insects and arachnids.
Stopping ploughing and covering the soil permanently with main crops and cover crops boosts living organisms in the soil (bacteria, fungi, earthworms, etc.) which themselves form a trophic base for many other organisms, including birds.
Biomax-type cover crops, sown between two main crops, provide a habitat for crop-friendly animals (especially insects), pollinators, migrating or wintering birds, mammals, etc.
The integration of crops/ruminant livestock requires the existence of permanent (generally wooded) and temporary grasslands which constitute a food resource for many insects and birds in particular. The presence of ruminants attracts insects consumed by swallows for example. The red kite hunts in recently mowed grasslands. Etc.
The diversity of crop rotations multiplies food sources for seeds (flax, hemp, traditional cereals, maize, etc.) and tubers, and offers permanent shelter covers for animals.
The project involves lots of actors: Farmers, processors and distributors of agricultural products. Craftsmen and upstream industries. Researchers, teachers, students, decision makers, etc. Canteens, restaurants, schools, companies, administrations.
This engagement is also reflected in the following initiatives :