Inspiring New Film, “Voices of Transition,” on the Agriculture That We Need

How will agriculture have to change if we are going to successfully navigate past Peak Oil and address climate change?  A new film documentary, Voices of Transition, provides plenty of answers from Transition-oriented farmers in France, Great Britain and Cuba.    

Produced and directed by French/German filmmaker Nils Aguilar, the 65-minute film is “a completely independent, participative film project” that both critiques the problems of globalized industrial agriculture and showcases localized, eco-friendly alternatives. The film features actual farmers showing us their farms and describing the human-scale, eco-friendly, community-based alternatives that they are developing. 

You can watch a trailer of the movie in English, German and French here and read a synopsis here. Go to the film’s website to check out the public screenings and DVD versions that you can buy.  Here is a link to the campaign around the international launch of the film.

Farmer Jean-Pierre Berlan explains the problem with contemporary agriculture:  “Our society is organized in such a way that everything is turned into a commodity. How can such a society develop farming methods that are free of cost? Agronomy should be looking for better methods, but our current farming policy is opposed to that.”   

Once processing and transport are taken into account, industrial agriculture is responsible for around 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, the film explains. To produce on single calorie of food, ten to twenty times that amount of energy are needed.  Almost all government subsidies and R&D budgets are focused on this unsustainable agricultural model – and worse, most of these subsides go to the biggest, most polluting farms.

The results: Heavy chemical use literally kills valuable organisms in the soil, causing a cascade of ecological disruptions. The use of monoculture crops over vast areas of land means that wildlife and biodiversity are declining. And the centralized distribution of food makes the entire system highly vulnerable to the costs of oil and potential disruptions of supply. If trucks were to stop arriving at supermarkets, they would empty within three days.

A French farmer is reintroducing soil-enriching plants in fields, and even trees in fields, because a tree's leaves and roots enrich the soil with organic matter and aerate the soil, allowing living organisms to breathe.”  This kind of “ecological agronomy” helps maintain soil fertility and prevent soil depletion.

A British farmer explains the dynamics of “forest gardening,” in which many layers of plants – trees, shrubs and surface level plants – are planted in proximity to each other so that they can work together as one system, promoting cross-fertilization among plants.  Rather than trying to homogenize the plants in a given area of land so that a maximum amount of saleable crops can be sold, the idea is to develop an integrated bio-system that can function sustainably, with as few external interventions as possible.

Nils Aguilar says that the aim of the film “is to catalyze transition wherever possible.  ‘Voices of Transition’ isn’t just a documentary film – it’s a tool to inspire communities to rediscover their collective potential.” 

Already the film has sparked the founding of eighteen Transition initiatives, mainly in Germany, Austria, France and Belgium. Volunteers have also translated the film in seventeen languages, including German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Polish. The film has just been released in North America.  Here's hoping that the film finds a wide and expanding audience.