Sacred Life, Sacred Seed and Agriculture 3.0

Some writers are using the term ‘Agriculture 3.0’ (which refers to a future agriculture), to represent different versions of industrial agriculture (agriculture 2.0). Its use is already falling into the same problem that ‘sustainability’ fell into (see blog post). The term ‘Agriculture 3.0′ was launched (for me anyway) by Steffen Schneider from the Institute for Mindful Agriculture at a conference I attended in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, one of my favourite websites (Ashoka changemakers, which I write about further down) speaks about agriculture 3.0 from an industrial ag perspective, which to me, is misuse of the term. It happens here too.

Any agriculture that arises from an industrial model of agriculture is still Ag2.0 (or 2.1 or 2.3 or 2.7 … to borrow from software development) because as long as production supports corporations first and strives for quantity over quality, it is not supporting soil life, the farmer’s quality of life or every eater’s need for nutritious food. These are at the core of the farm practices of agriculture 3.0.

What is Agriculture 3.0?
Agriculture 3.0 is a new narrative for agriculture that promotes farming practices that regenerate soil first and foremost, thereby mitigating climate change and producing nutritious food. It honours all life, from seeds and livestock, to the growers and eaters of food, and is founded upon a consciousness shift which leads us, out of a love for the Earth, to take greater care. These farming systems mimic the intelligence in Nature; diverse, place-based and resilient.

Farming is sacred work that we must all participate in, to be self-reliant and personally resilient. Daniel Deffenbaugh, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Hastings College, has been an organic gardener and seed saver in southern Ohio for over thirty years. His current work focuses on the notion of integrated health, where well-being is a balance between spirituality, physical vitality, community involvement, and ecological integrity. In his book, he writes about farming as sacred work:

We realize that the earth is a living being, just as we are. Tending earth’s soil, plants, animals and landscapes is sacred work, the work of a farmer. Farms not only produce food, but are centres where we experience our society’s culture and where communities come together to participate in all stages of food, from growing it, preserving it, preparing it and eating it, by knowing (once again) the life force that is in our food, farms and communities. Farmers who work on the land recognize that a spiritual practice is integral to the task of growing real food. This is when agriculture becomes a sacred act. (Deffenbaugh, D.G. 2012. Learning the Language of the Fields: Tilling and Keeping as Christian Vocation. Cowley Publications,  Cambridge, MA, USA.)

What Agriculture 3.0 is not
Dr. Vandana Shiva spoke in Guelph, Ontario on October 7th, 2015. I was awed by her presence. She is a remarkable woman, because she has the courage to speak out and present the data that supports her arguments. Her article Which Future of Food and Farming posted on October 13, 2015, best summarizes her talk. Thanks to Dr. Shiva’s article, I am better able to explain the issue of misusing the term ‘Agriculture 3.0.’

small farms workDuring the last half-century, agriculture and food systems lost their way, in the darkness and fog created by corporations that made chemicals for warfare, through myths and paid propaganda – that poisons and synthetic chemicals are necessary to feed the world. The industrial food system produces only 30% of the food eaten by people.

There is, however, another road to food security. The road that was abandoned by research institutes and governments under the influence of giant chemical corporations (now seed and Biotechnology Corporations). This is the road of agroecology. This is the road with small farms, which still produce 70% of the food in spite of a century of a war against small farms. This is the road that rejuvenates our soils, biodiversity and water systems, that stabilizes the climate, that produces health and well being.

It is not a road less travelled when looked from the perspective that most people in the world are small farmers, that small farms produce most of the food we eat. Small farms also strengthen local economies instead of extracting profits for the few. It is only less travelled in the dominant paradigm, in the fantasy created by corporations to sell their poisons and patented GMOs.

She continues,

Corporate spin doctors continue to fog our thinking about the future of food and farming with new propaganda – ‘sustainable intensification’, ‘smart agriculture’, ‘climate smart agriculture’ (and also calling it Ag3.0 when it is just an outgrowth of Ag2.0). Any agriculture system that destroys fertile soils is non sustainable because soil is the foundation of agriculture. Industrial monocultures produce nutritionally empty commodities, most of which go to biofuel and animal feed. Only 10% of the corn and soya is used directly as human food. This is not a food system” (that is slated to feed 9 Billion, as the industry claims).

The most painful part to witness is that this is an agriculture that “is based on 10 times more costs of inputs – such as chemicals fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and GMO and nonrenewable seeds – than the returns farmers are getting from what they produce. It is designed to trap farms in debt, remove them from the land and appropriate their assets. And it is not working.”

“Chemical intensive, external input intensive, capital intensive agriculture is ‘non sustainable intensification’, not ‘sustainable intensification’ because it is cannibalising the land and the farmer. What is being referred to as ‘Smart Agriculture’ and ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is designed to make farmers and society dumb by giving up their intelligence, their knowledge, their skills, and then forcing them to buy ‘data’ which becomes yet another external input leading to more dependence on corporations, more control by  corporations, and more failures in agriculture. Data controlled by distant, centralized systems is not the intimate knowledge of the soil, of the biodiversity, of farm animals that an ecological farmer has.”

Sadly, corporations are not playing fair at all. Firstly, they have now purchased the data used in these newer approaches to agriculture to gain even more control. Monsanto now owns the world’s biggest climate data corporation and soil data corporation. Also,“‘Climate Smart Agriculture’, and genetically modified crops are based on seeds pirated from third world peasants.” And, “corporations who have profited from industrial agriculture are attempting to turn the climate crisis into an opportunity to control stolen climate resilient seeds and climate data. 1500 patents on Climate Resilient crops have been taken by corporations,” which means corporations “can prevent access to climate resilient seeds in the aftermath of climate disasters through patents.”

“Climate resilient traits are not created through genetic engineering, they are pirated from seeds farmers have evolved over generations. For thousands of years farmers, especially women, have evolved and bred seed – freely in partnership with each other and with nature, to further increase the diversity of that which nature has given us and adapt it to the needs of different cultures. Biodiversity and cultural diversity have mutually shaped one another over time.

Every seed is an embodiment of millennia of nature’s evolution and centuries of farmers’ breeding. It is the distilled expression of the intelligence of the earth and intelligence of farming communities. Farmers have bred seeds for diversity, resilience, taste, nutrition, health, and adaption to local agro-ecosystems.  In times of climate change, we need the biodiversity of farmers varieties to adapt and evolve.”

Data-Driven Agriculture
To go back to the misleading use of the term ‘Agriculture 3.0’, Ashoka Changemakers say in their article, The Future Of Farming In The Face Of Climate Change:

The challenges faced by farmers are immeasurable. They’ll have to produce an additional ton of food per acre by 2050 to ensure that nine billion people can get their fill—no easy feat. But agriculture’s tech revolution, or Ag 3.0, looks to be a game-changer.

The article takes us to another article,  The Internet of Things and the Future of Farming which expands on what they mean in using the term ‘Ag3.0’ … for a data-driven future. “Inexpensive sensors, cloud computing and intelligent software hold the potential to transform agriculture and help feed the world’s growing population.”

“The third stage, which Mr. Donny calls Ag 3.0, is just getting underway and involves exploiting data from many sources — sensors on farm equipment and plants, satellite images and weather tracking. In the near future, the use of water and fertilizer will be measured and monitored in detail, sometimes on a plant-by-plant basis.

Mr. Donny, who was raised on a family farm in Fresno, Calif., that grew table grapes and raisin grapes, said the data-rich approach to decision making represented a sharp break with tradition. ‘It’s a totally different world than walking out on the farmland, kicking the dirt and making a decision based on intuition,’ he said.”

Hmmm… ‘exploiting data’ and farmers’ intelligence, knowledge and skills? I guess farmers won’t be spending much time kicking the dirt anymore.

Mr. Donny continues by emphasizing that data is the only way to satisfy the demand for transparency and how consumers want to know where their food comes from. He has forgotten about the possibility of farmers nourishing local communities and consumers knowing who grows their food perhaps, as I witnessed in Transylvania on a Nuffield Canada Agricultural Scholarship.

There is a positive in The Internet of Things and the Future of Farming. The article states that the average farm size in the United States is 450 acres and in Africa, it is about two acres. “Heavy machinery and big farms will not be needed. Higher yields and less waste can be achieved with better information on weather, soil conditions and market demand for specific crops — all delivered via cellphone.”

I agree that food production will benefit from data. It’s just too bad that farmers will have to hand over more of their income to a large corporation in order to be able to access it.

The Ashoka Changemakers story is about Attah, 26, who co-founded Farmerline with Emmanuel Owusu Addai in 2013. Attah’s goal is to help farmers in Africa with data to deal with climate change, including weather forecasts, financial tips, ag stats and market prices. That way, farmers have a few days notice when changes are occurring. Farmers get “a better idea of what to plant, and when, or how much fertilizer to use. As a result, they see higher yields, less waste, and on average increase their income by more than 50 percent per acre.” Mobile subscriptions are projected to reach 1.2 billion by 2018.

Ag 3.0 is a serious boost for smallholder farmers, 500 million strong, who produce most of the world’s food on a quarter of the planet’s farmland. Why? Because they’re not only strapped for resources in emerging markets, but are also disproportionately affected by climate impacts. Many smallholders in Africa, for example, are struggling to cope with drought, flooding and shifts in rainfall. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that farmers in some countries on the continent may see yields from rain-fed agriculture halved by 2020.

What concerns me in this case for digital farming is a mobile money service which enables the rural poor smallholder farmer who does not have access to banking services to borrow cash for farming inputs (seed, fertilizer or equipment). They are claiming that with this technology, poverty in Africa has been reduced from 56 percent to 35 percent.

I am not against technology. It is powerful and very enabling, but it is not only smallholder farmers who are benefiting from data-driven farming. It is the large corporations who benefit from the sales of inputs and data, and who, as Dr. Shiva makes all too clear, will “fog our thinking about the future of food and farming with new propaganda,” putting small farmers in a place of giving over every hard earned penny until they are trapped deep in debt. In India, more than 270,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves since 1995 (

times of india(Image courtesy of

The Intelligent, responsible road to the future of food and farming is based on the deep awareness that the earth, the farmers, and all people are intelligent beings. And we grow food sustainably through care for the soil and the seed, not through exploitation and privatised profits. If we can look through the fog, we can find our way to the road that will ensure we rejuvenate the planet, we regenerate the soil, and we ensure the well being of all. (Dr. Vandana Shiva, in Which Future of Food and Farming at

Published by Kaytlyn Creutzberg, BSc, NSch, MA

#SayItLikeItIs and #ChoreographYourLifeYourWay: Kaytlyn writes not only about applying a spiritual care therapeutic model to farming, but also how collective cultural narratives impact the choices we make that result in a pervasive "don't care" attitudinal construct towards Earth and Her landscapes. (formerly Gayl)

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