The short story

By focusing on immediate profit and ignoring millennia of experience in agronomy,  agroindustry is responsible for the unprecedented erosion of soils now occurring around the world. Add climate change and dwindling natural resources to the picture, and it would appear that even societies in the Global North are no longer safe from famines. Voices of Transition is a film which is optimistic but clear-sighted. It makes clear that these current and impending crises are, in fact, positive challenges!

In France, farmers and researchers demonstrate that agroforestry techniques, which imitate natural ecosystems, have enormous potential for our agriculture. It would appear to be just a matter of time before our monocultural fields are tranformed (back) into abundant and biodiverse edible forests.

In England, the Transition Towns movement is developing at an astonishing pace. It illustrates that food production must not be solely in the hands of rural farmers (or faceless corporations), but that we can bring it into the very heart of cities. City-dwellers are no longer mere consumers, but instead play a vital part in the transformation of their communities towards local resilience.

In Cuba, the fall of the USSR in 1990 and the US embargo led to the country to experience “peak oil” long before it was expected. Shortages in resources led the Cubans to develop innovative solutions, with the result that they became vastly more self-sufficient in food production. In Cuba, food is now produced organically, in a decentralised, community-supporting way.

The long story

CHAPTER I – reintroducing life into our fields

“By falling into the vicious circle of chemical fertilisers, we have killed our soils, made the plants ill, and taken the first steps on a straight course towards famine.” For Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, researchers in soil microbiology, the “Green Revolution” was not simply a logical extension of the Industrial Revolution in agriculture, but, in fact, a true agronomic disaster in which quick profit has triumphed over common sense and supplanted common good.

In Burgundy, young farmer Oswaldo Forey wants to take over his father’s farm. The challenge is to escape from the claws of agroindustry and supermarket distribution, to be able “to put agronomy back into our fields” and have the freedom to diversify crops and distribution channels. But there is a powerful opponent: European and national policies are headed in the opposite direction.

By cutting down our trees, we have removed the primary source of natural fertility from our soils and the original biodiversity from our fields. Is this process unavoidable? Couldn’t trees, once again, play the role of catalysts of  life? In England and France, agro-foresters share their vision of the fields of the future, which they hope will soon be covered with rows of trees…

CHAPTER II – reintroducing fields into our cities

What if the agricultural problem was actually a cultural problem? Rob Hopkins urges us to “turn off the stories that we get bombarded with all the time, like the story of the ‘lipstick supposed to make us happy’, and to tell new stories” – stories in which we are the protagonists. His co-founding of  “Transition Town Totnes” has, indeed, led to an abundance of new success stories: since 2006, self-organised work groups have launched local currencies, built community-owned renewable energy cooperatives, initiated “Energy Descent Action Plans” and are now experimenting with innovative forms of food production: vegetable box schemes, community supported agriculture, forest gardens and much more.

At this point, more than 800 local initiatives worldwide are on their way to achieving more “local resilience”: the ability to withstand shocks. The challenge is huge, but it’s exciting, too: if we prepare our communities to face climate change, peak oil and economic instability in a peaceful way – now, while we still have the time – then the result will be improvements in our collective quality of life.

We travel to “Transition City Bristol” and find that it is a fabulous laboratory of social innovation. We’re particularly interested in how cities can be turned into site of food production: Mike Feingold, for instance, has brought neighbours, bees, chickens and apple trees together, based on the principles of permaculture, to produce honey, vegetables, apples and, last but not least, “bliss” in a community garden setting; Sally Jenkins is inspiring her neighbours to produce an abundance of food in their own gardens; Chris Loughlin and Co. have set up a vegetable box scheme with a flat hierarchy. Listening to these passionate “Voices of Transition”, you get the urge to start digging right away!

CHAPTER III – learning from an existing example of “Peak Oil”

A change of scale: Cuba is the first country to experiment with conversion from intensive agroindustry to ecological mixed farming systems on a national scale. Why? Because it had to. After the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc in 1990 and the consequent collapse of their privileged economic exchanges, Cubans were forced to find ways to produce food with very limited oil, without chemical fertilisers and no access to heavy machinery. This is a situation in which we, too,  are likely to find ourselves at some point in the future.

Today, thanks to the promotion of urban agriculture, the city of La Havana produces 70% of the vegetables it consumes – all using organic methods. Various protagonists of this agro-ecological transition in Havana and Pinar del Rio give us their account of the innovation and creativity that brought them through the crisis.