22 February 2016

To produce more: build an alliance with nature rather than combat it

There are two radically different ways of looking at the world (the Weltanschauung of Kant and Hegel) and of defining our relationship with it:

  1. The first, that has been overwhelmingly dominant over the last centuries, is a way that considers us as being individuals struggling for survival in a hostile environment

  2. The second, that has been regaining momentum in recent years, sees us as being fully integrated into our surroundings and dependent on it for a healthy and sustained life.

The first of these two visions, which has underpinned the ‘Western’ thinking and practice, has led to a highly ‘sterilized’ way of living and massive medical use of antibiotics to protect us against agressions from nasty microorganisms; it has also been at the basis of the development of an agriculture that seeks to eradicate all possible pests and diseases through extensive use of chemical pesticides and fungicides.

The second of these two perspectives is every day more strongly supported by numerous scientific discoveries that show that we can only survive if we live in a symbiotic relation with the billions of microorganisms that play a fundamental role not only our capacity to assimilate our food, manage our immunity and avoid allergies of all sorts, but even in our mood, yes, our mood. In this vision, we are an integral part of the environment in which we live, and our life depends on how we can create symbiotic win-win links with all the other living organisms that share it with us. A view that has been shared by Buddhists and many ‘indigenous’ peoples, for centuries…

The same goes for plants. It has been long known that legumes are able to fix nitrogen only because they live in a symbiotic relation with a bacteria, Rhizobium. But it is also true in a much more general way, as proven by scientific evidence that has shown that the billions of microorganisms that live around roots play an essential role in how nutrients migrate from the soil into the plant.

The implication of these findings is that the more our soils are ‘sanitized’ by the chemicals that we pour on them [read here], the less the plants we cultivate benefit from the assistance of all these useful microorganisms. So it is high time to reconsider how we manage plants and how we think about agriculture…

We have already reported here on how by encouraging a symbiotic relation between crops and some fungus found in the hot waters of Yellowstone National Park, it is possible to increase drought resistance of these crops, particularly maize and how this is being used by the Seattle-based Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, [read here].

Now Indigo Agriculture, based in Cambridge, Massachussetts, is aiming at harnessing “nature to help farmers sustainably feed the planet” by working with “microbes that have evolved in conjunction with plants over millions of years to optimize their health and maximize their productivity”.

With a budget of more than $56 million, Indigo Agriculture wants to reintroduce microbes that have been lost through the ‘modern’ agricultural technologies. For this, rather than coating seeds with chemicals as is currently done in ‘modern’ agriculture, Indigo agriculture wants to coat them with ‘helpful’ microorganisms. The Indigo Agriculture’s tests have shown a 10% increase of yields and it is estimated that this new technology could bring huge increased production for those crops on which the company has been working (cotton, wheat, soybeans and maize).

For us, at, this sounds like good news and certainly goes in the right direction towards a more ecological agriculture that rests on nature’s processes.

But for it to help eradicate hunger in the world, there is one condition that needs to be fulfilled, and that is the technology developed be made available at a minimal cost to resource poor farmers.

So what are Indigo Agriculture’s plan from that point of view?


To know more:

  1. -Indigo Agriculture’s website:

  2. -Kowitt, B., This Startup Wants to Use Bacteria to Revolutionize How Our Food Is Produced, Fortune, February 2016

Earlier articles on related to the topic:

  1. -Research and biodiversity can help us reduce the negative impact of climate change: the case of beans, 2015

  2. -Biodiversity or GMOs : how to increase plant resistance against drought?, 2014

  3. -Developing drought resistance or investing in water management?, 2014


Last update:    February 2016

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