The language of the land
An author and educator, Pierre Rabhi was born in the Sahara and
has been farming in the Ardeche region of France since 1960.
The desert survival skills of Pierre Rabhi led him to apply
organic farming methods based on compost to regenerate the poor soils of his
farm in France. But above and beyond such techniques, it is the renewal of
ancient relationships between farmers and the land that he proposes as the best
tool for good husbandry. It is also another way for extension workers to get
their messages across to farmers.
All farmers throughout the world speak the same "language of the
land", even if they often need interpreters to speak to one another.
Whether they are farming the high lands of Latin America, the
rice paddies of Asia, the African plains, the Scandinavian taiga or the bad
lands of France herself, they all share the same experience of direct
communication with the land. Given this common base, farmers cannot help but
understand each other.
So it is not as an "expert" but as a farmer that I speak to my
counterparts. I talk only about things that I have experienced myself during
almost 20 years of organic farming. This kind of agriculture represents not only
a technique but an approach to the land that other farmers can adopt. My
predecessors and I in this movement have shown that even the most exhausted soil
can be rehabilitated with organic farming techniques.
When I started farming in the Ardeche -- known as the "Third
World of France" -- my soil was shallow, hard to work and had very low fertility
levels. Without using any chemical fertilizer or pesticide, it was regenerated
solely by the use of high quality compost.
Produced by aerobic decomposition, compost is a living product.
It enables the liberation and uptake of fertilizing elements in the soil and
facilitates the infiltration of air and water by improving the soil structure.
Farmers who use compost are part of a vast movement dedicated to the restoration
and conservation of productive land: each generation tries to leave the next
with soil in better shape than when it was inherited. This is hardly the case of
those who practise "scorched earth" techniques. From the Ardeche to the Sahel,
the task is the same: degraded soils must be restored if these areas are to
prosper. This has been obvious to me ever since my first visit to Burkina Faso.
Organic farming, which implies working in harmony not only with
nature but with people, can ensure the regeneration of both soil and environment
as well as the improvement of local living conditions. This is because organic
farming contributes to local and national autonomy by reducing the dependence of
farmers on outside supplies. This, in turn, helps relieve the balance of
payments deficit by reducing fertilizer imports.
Farmers in Africa still have deep bonds with the land and living
things, both plants and animals. To have a meaningful discussion with such
people, one must adapt to their way of seeing things. It would be a mistake to
use language that is purely technical or scientific. To get technical messages
across, one must use a symbolic language because many farmers in Africa and
elsewhere also associate the visible with the invisible. For them, the invisible
has almost the same reality as the visible.
If, for example, I want to explain aerobic fermentation to
farmers in the Sahel, I would not talk about oxidation or reduction. I would
talk instead about two different forms of energy: a living energy, which
breathes life into the soil through compost and a dead energy, which suffocates
and makes things rot. To get the point across that the soil, plants, animals and
people are all necessary for the transformation of wastes into fertile compost,
I explain that these elements all depend on one another in the same way as the
beams of a hut. To build a solid, round roof, each rafter is indispenable. Such
symbolic language, based on everyday things, is the only way to have a real
discussion with such farmers.
The technical approach adopted by most development officials too
often neglects this universal mentality of "people of the land". It is well
known, however, that farmers tend to listen and to trust only people who also
know the land and speak its language.
Following the advice of Pierre Rabhi, Burkina Faso has
officially adopted organic agriculture as part of its action programme for
agricultural development. A centre on ecological agriculture has been
established in Gorom Gorom in order to train farmers in such techniques, notably
composting. Pierre Rabhi has also created a similar centre on his farm to train
people in organic farming and has written Du Sahara aux Cevennes published by
Candide (ISBN 2 904877 01 0) and available in French only at 70 FFR from:
Candide Lavilledieu 07170 Bayssac France
For further details, contact:
Pierre Rabhi Montchamp 07230
This article is based on an interview conducted by Radio France
International and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of