How does Circular Economy apply to organic agriculture and gardening?

By Alfred Day Decker, Permaculture Designer, Teacher, and Consultant

A Circular Economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Examining the entire agri-food system from a Circular Economy perspective reveals opportunities at all levels for the production of food and a whole range of other goods that humans depend on to meet their needs (clothing, materials, medicine, energy, etc.).

Agricultural production would use a minimal amount of external inputs, close nutrient loops, reduce negative discharges to the environment in the form of wastes and greenhouse gas emissions, and recycle or use agricultural wastes.

Yet the industrial agriculture that began with the so-called Green Revolution 60 years ago has become one of the planet’s most resource-intensive industries, relying heavily on the availability of fossil inputs in the form of synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, oil-derived agrochemicals and fossil fuels.

One recent study concluded that agriculture causes 30% of greenhouse gas emissions

The World Bank estimates that irrigation of crops accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, and Europe generates approximately 700 million tonnes of agrifood (agricultural and food) waste each year.

In my early 20s, I was a passionate young eco-activist, sitting in trees, blocking roads, occupying offices, and doing what I could to protest against the destruction of the natural world.

I was very dogmatic about dietary and food choices because it was obvious that modern agriculture was a disaster for the planet. There came a time when I realized that unless I had working alternatives for how to feed our population with as minimal impact on the planet as possible, my protesting could only have a limited effect.

I took a Permaculture Design Course and became enthusiastic about how agriculture could actually be regenerative instead of destructive… the knowledge that humans can actually heal much of the damage that we have done while producing only the food and goods we need.

Still inspires me as much as it did over 20 years ago when I first discovered permaculture. A future blog post will address forms of Regenerative Agriculture. 

Let’s look at the production of Iberian ham from a Circular Economy perspective. One of Spain’s most famous products is acorn-fed jamon ibérico. The only grazing species of pig that remains in Europe, the Ibérico pig is native to the natural pasture lands called dehesas that cover large expanses of central and southwestern Spain. These natural ecosystems contain grasses, grains, tubers, insects, and wild mushrooms, as well as acorns from oak trees that Ibérico pigs consume in large quantities.

Considered by permaculturalists as one of the most ecological food production systems in Europe, the pigs roam the dehesas and the action of their hooves in soil, as well as the manure and urine that they leave, actually improves the soil health.

No external food inputs are needed to be brought in at great economic and energetic expense. The biodiversity of the dehesas remains high as there is no industrial disturbance to the equilibrium that has been achieved over centuries.

Farmers are encouraged to conserve the landscape and not sell out to developers. This is a classic example of a permanent agriculture, a concept from which the term “perma-culture” was developed, and is consistent with the goals of a Circular Economy.

By contrast, ham production in Catalunya, the Northeast region of the Spanish peninsula, is by law industrial: pigs must grow indoors. They are fed soy and corn grown in South America, often on land that was deforested and converted to farmland. Their water is brought indoors instead of managed in a landscape, and their manure and urine is handled in such a way that instead of a resource, it is probably the biggest source of pollution in Catalunya.

Several million young pigs are trucked to Catalunya from other parts of Europe, fattened there, and then trucked back to other countries such as Denmark where they are butchered and then sold as “Danish meat.” Could a food system be much more destructive, wasteful, and cruel?

As consumers, we can make choices that affect what kind of food appears on our plates and what kind of medicine treats out bodies. Using BioTabs products, you can be sure that there is no industrial discharge harming the environment nor chemical fertilisers harming human health. BioTabs is committed to developing a coherence between the brand identity, its principles, the products and its packaging, and how buyers use the products.