The Philosophy Behind Successional Agroforestry

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Ernst Gotsch, one of the main contributors to the successional agroforestry movement in Brazil, emphasises in his teachings that the human being is not the most intelligent animal in the planet. According to him we are only one of the species that compose an intelligent system and we need to learn how to play our role accordingly.

The principles upon which life is based are underpinned by processes that evolve from simple to complex life forms. This is why Ernst claims that what drives the evolution of the Gaia are syntropic processes. Each one of the thousands of species, human beings amongst them, has a function within the larger system. The Planet Earth is a macro-organism and its metabolism always has a positive energetic balance driving the ever-increasing complexities of its ecosystems. As an example we might observe that the decomposition of each living being (animal or plant) are entropic in an individual scale, but have the function to support other syntropic processes in a regional or planet scale.

Planet Earth’s fundamental life supporting principle is the complexification of entropic waste as the basis for the evolution of syntropic processes. The syntropic processes, in turn, need sunlight to produce (photosynthesise) energy. Everywhere in the planet life organises itself to make optimal use of entropic waste. Much of what we observe in geophysical phenomena (the planet’s rotation, winds, sea currents, tectonic plates movement and volcanos) tells us that the planet itself actively seeks to optimise life-forming processes. This brings us closer to the wisdom of ancient traditional societies such as the Celtic people who believed that the planet is a living organism. Much in the same way that confirms James Lovelock’s Gaia theory (Lovelock, 2000). Natural succession of animal and plant species are, hence, life’s drive or the vehicle in which life travels through space and time.

With this perspective in mind, we can leave behind the current exploitative paradigm with destructive agriculture and extraction of natural resources to rethink our tools and ways to produce food. If we are to survive in this planet, we must develop an agriculture that is based on syntropic processes and have a positive net balance to support the life processes in the planet.

The first criteria to guide our design and future actions in agroforestry systems must be that these activities need to favour the enhancement of life and the successional processes especially via photosynthesis (Gotsch, 1997). From this premise, we need to know that we will have a positive energy balance for every intervention made in an agroforestry system. The biggest goal is to create more life, more soil fertility and a prosperous system. For this reason we rule out entropic interventions such as ‘slash and burn’, heavy machinery and chemical fertilisers, herbicides and fungicides. In time we also rule out any natural fertiliser and biomass that does not come from within the designed and established system (Gotsch, 1997).


Götsch, E. Homem e Natureza – cultura na agricultura. – 2.ed. – Recife: Centro de Desenvolvimento Agroecológico Sabiá, 1997.

Lovelock, J. (2000). Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Oxford University Press. UK.

Upcoming Agroforestry Courses

Forestry in Practice – With nearly 30 years of experience and literally thousands of farm plans under his belt, Darren J. Doherty comes to the Northern Rivers (NSW, Australia) to teach the course “Forestry in Practice“. The course equips farmers to holistically integrate trees in their landscapes and enterprises. Darren, who also works closely with livestock producers, has been an adamant promoter of tree integration for all farm enterprises. The course will run on the 9th and 10th of February, 2019, at the Holos Regenerative Design learning site in Brunswick Heads, Northern New South Wales.