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Agricultural Systems
Volume 200, 2022, 103424

Biodynamic farming as a resource for sustainability transformations: Potential and challenges

C. Rigolota, M. Quantinb

UMR Territoires, Université Clermont Auvergne, INRAE, VetAgro Sup, AgroParisTech, Route de Theix, F-63122 Saint-Genès Champanelle, France.

Abstract

Biodynamic farming is increasingly popular among farmers and consumers, but it is still dismissed as pseudoscience by part of the scientific community. In this article, we first present an overview of biodynamic farming, its current development, foundations and three specific principles: 1) the farm seen as a living organism; 2) Preparations; 3) Cosmic rhythms. Then, we show that pragmatic scientific approaches are compatible with biodynamic farming, and suggest an interesting potential for sustainability. Particularly, anthropological studies demonstrate that beliefs and spirituality in biodynamic farming contribute to a unique relationship of care between farmers and nature. Contrary to a common misconception, biodynamic farmers are shown to be open to scientific knowledge, which they manage to combine creatively with experiential and spiritual knowledge. At farm scale, although still rare, holistic multicriteria assessment studies suggest fairly satisfactory overall sustainability performances. Biodynamic farming has also already proven to be useful in transdisciplinary action-research projects with diverse stakeholders, to produce original “actionable knowledge” for sustainability. Overall, we conclude that biodynamic farming can be a valuable resource for “reenchanting” agriculture, in a comparable and complementary way to indigenous knowledge. However, it must not be seen as a panacea, and its organization and the major role of beliefs especially raise legitimate concerns. More research is needed to better understand the specific advantages and difficulties of biodynamic farming. Three key research perspectives are identified: 1) Farmers' decision-making; 2) Farming system design and evaluation; 3) Transformation pathways.

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