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Trophobiosis Theory: A Pest Starves on a Healthy Plant

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Abstract

Pests shun healthy plants. Pesticides weaken plants. Weakened plants open the door to pests and disease. Hence pesticides precipitate pest attack and disease susceptibility, and thus they induce a cycle of further pesticide use. This is the essence of Trophobiosis Theory, a thesis presented by Francis Chaboussou, an agronomist of France's National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), in "Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution". After two decades, this important book is finally available in English. Trophobiosis has been characterised by the former Minister for the Environment in Brazil, Jose Lutzenberger, as: "a pest starves on a healthy plant" (1995). It is "a revolution in plant pathology and is a mortal blow to agrochemistry as commonly practised in modern agriculture" (Lutzenberger, 2000, p. 2). He laments that: "Chaboussou is still unknown to most workers in agriculture, even in organic agriculture" (2000, p. 2). Lutzenberger puts the case bluntly: "the more poisons we apply, the more diseases and pests we get" (p. 3). It is certainly the case that agribusiness continues its focus, not on the health of the crop, but rather on the demise of the pest, and so continues to develop novel pesticides, genetically modified organisms that produce pesticides or can withstand heavy pesticide dosages, and most recently the coupling of nanotechnology and pesticides.
Trophobiosis Theory:
APest Starves
on
aHealthy Plant
By
John
Paull
Fenner
School
of Environment &
Society,
Australian
National
University,
Canberra
Reprinted with kind permission
of
Elementals
Pests
shun
healthy plants. Pesticides weaken plants. Weakened plants
open
the
door to pests
and
disease. Hence pesticides precipitate pest attack
and
disease
susceptibility,
and
thus they induce acycle of further pesticide use.
This
is
the essence of Trophobiosis Theory, athesis presented
by
Francis
Chaboussou,
an
agronomist of France's National Institute of Agricultural
Research (INRA), in "Healthy
Crops:
A
New
Agricultural Revolution". After two
decades, this important book is finally available in English.
Trophobiosis has been characterised
by
the former Minister for the Environment
in Brazil, Jose Lutzenberger, as: "a pest starves on ahealthy plant"
(1995).
It
is
"a
revolution in plant pathology
and
is amortal blow to agrochemistry as common-
ly practised in
modern
agriculture" (Lutzenberger, 2000, p.
2).
He
laments that:
"Chaboussou is still
unknown
to most workers in agriculture, even in organic
agriculture"
(2000,
p.
2).
Lutzenberger
puts
the case bluntly: "themore poisons
we
apply, the more diseases
and
pests
we
get" (p.
3).
It
is certainly the case that
agribusiness continues its focus, not on the health of the crop,
but
rather on the
demise of the pest,
and
so continues to develop novel pesticides, genetically mod-
ified organisms that produce pesticides or canwithstand heavy pesticide dosages,
and
most recently the coupling of nanotechnology
and
pesticides.
Lutzenberger writes that: "I knew that pests
shunned
healthy plants, as most
observant organic farmers knew. But I
didn't
know
how
and
why. Chaboussou
was arevelation to me ... Idare say that Chaboussou's
work
is
the most impor-
tant discovery in agricultural chemistry since Liebig" (p.
5).
If
Chaboussou is correct then the premises of the so-called green revolution are
false. There
is
the common experience that pesticides used on crops lose their effi-
cacy after so many applications, the pests return and the pesticide dose, or the
frequency of application needs to be stepped up,
and/or
new
pesticides need to be
introduced into the spraying regime. The green revolution explanationof this
is
that
the pest develops resistance. Chaboussou's explanation
is
that the plants are weak-
ened,
and
progressively more so, as they are repeatedly assaulted
by
this chemical
warfare. Because they are progressively weakened ever more chemical intervention
is required -hence the pesticide treadmill experienced in chemical farming.
Chaboussou's alternative approach is to focus on the health of the crop. According
to Chaboussou
"we
need
to
overcome
the
idea
of
'a
battle';
that
is
we
must
not
try
to
annihilate
the
parasite
with
toxins
that
have
been
shown
to
have
harmful
effects
on
the
plant,
yielding
the
opposite
effect
to
the
one
desired.
We
need,
instead,
to
stimulate
resist-
ance
by
dissuading
the
parasite
from
attacking.
This
implies
a
revolution
in
attitude,
followed
by
a
complete
change
in
the
nature
of
research"
(p.
209).
In taking anon-military approach to farming, Chaboussou
is
taking aposition in
solidarity with proponents of organic agriculture including the earliest, Steiner
(1924),
Pfeiffer
(1934),
and
Northbourne
(1940).
"And
so with the biological-dynam-
ic
methods
we
work not against Nature
but
with Nature (Pfeiffer,
1934,
p.16).
Pfeiffer
put
it this way: "When
the
biological
balance
is
upset,
degeneration
follows;
pests
and
diseases
make
their
appearance.
Nature
herself
liquidates
weaklings.
Pests
are
therefore
to
be
regarded
as
nature's
warning
that
...
the
balance
[has
been]
sinned
against"
(1958,
p.16).
Northbourne wrote that:
"There
can
be
no
quarrel
between
ourselves
and
nature
any
more
than
there
can
be
between
a
man's
head
and
his
feet
...
We
have
invented
or
imagined
a
fight
between
ourselves
and
nature;
so
of
course
the
whole
of
nature,
which
includes
our-
selves
as
well
as
the
soil,
suffers
...
We
have
tried
to
conquer
nature
by
force
and
by
intellect.
It
is
now
for
us
to
try
the
way
of
love"
(1940,
p. 191,192).
From the outset of organic agriculture, Northbourne
had
nailed the escalation
problem of chemical farming:
"True,
plants
continue
to
grow
on
the
ground,
but
why
is
it
that
more
and
more
spraying
is
necessary?
What
answer
can
there
be
but
that
dis-
eases
and
pests
are
more
and
more
rampant;
in
spite
of
the
fact
that
far
more
is
being
done,
far
more
skill
is
being
lavished
on
the
combating
of
disease
than
was
ever
dreamed
of
in
the
past
...
It
is
liability
to
disease
and
not
disease
itself
which
indicates
ill-health"
(1940,
101).
This is the issue that Chaboussou addresses with trophobiosis theory.
Trophobiosis is derived from two Greek roots -
trophikos
(nourishment)
and
bio-
sis (life): "the relationships between plant
and
parasite are primarily nutritional"
(Chaboussou, p.
206).
According to the trophobiosis theory, it is nutrient deficien-
cies
and
imbalances that lead to pest
and
disease outbreaks,
and
that synthetic
pesticides
and
fertilisers can cause such deficiencies
and
imbalances.
PClge
5'2
The trophobiosis theory has been
summed
up
by
Dr.
Ulrich Loening of the
University of Edinburgh as follows: "most
pest
and
disease
organisms
depend
for
their
growth
on
free
amino
acids,
and
reducing
sugars
in
solution
in
the
plant's
cell
sap.
Every
farmer
has
experienced
the
increase
in
diseases
after
heavy
fertilisation
with
nitrogen;
the
Green
revolution
varieties
are
good
examples
in
which
rich
fertilisation
creates
suscepti-
bility
to
pests,
requiring
more
pesticides
to
control.
Chaboussou
explains
why.
Almost
all
conventional
chemical
agricultural
technologies
create
favourable
conditions
for
the
growth
of
pest
and
disease
organisms
...
the
susceptibility of
the
crop
is
increased:
when
offered
free
nutrients,
pests
grow
better
and
multiply
faster.
In
this
sense
therefore,
agro-
chemicals
and
poisons
cause
pests
and
diseases."
(2004,
p.
x,
xi).
Under
Chaboussou's theory, an excess, within the plant, of less complex bio-
chemical molecules, such as amino acids (rather than proteins that they build to)
and/or
simpler (reducing) sugars such as glucose (rather than the more complex
carbohydrates such as glucose polymers -starches -
and
other polysaccharides)
offers an attractive milieu for pests
and
disease.
Chaboussou's book
Healthy
Crops
is presented in three sections:
Pesticides
and
Biological
Imbalances;
Deficiencies
and
Parasitic
Diseases;
and
Agriculture
Techniques
and
the
Health
of
Crops.
He documents his case citing awide variety of research,
including his own.
Chaboussou acknowledges that there are multiple environmental factors in the
relationship between plants
and
pests, including "genetic factors, ... the physio-
logical cycle of the plant, photoperiodism, climate, nature of the soil, fertilisation,
nature of the stock"
and
the one central to the trophobiosis theory, "the effect of
pesticides on the plants physiology" (p.
7).
The trophobiosis argument
is
that resistance and susceptibility to attack are afunc-
tion of the nutritional state ofaplant-whenproteins are being synthesised, the plant
is
resistant, and when proteins are being broken down, the plant
is
at risk.
"Organophosphates inhibit protein synthesis ... this
is
the cause of the plant's
increased susceptibility, not only to sucking insects such
as
mites, aphids, aleurodes
[aphids] and (so it seems) psyllids
but
also to diseases, fungal and otherwise"
(p.
55).
Chaboussou states
that"
all herbicides are toxic for all plants" (p.
57).
He reports
"a
parallel between the effects of herbicides
and
those of nitrogen fertilisers ... the
pesticides that contain nitrogen -practically all chemical pesticides -are cations.
They can replace cations such as Ca, Mg,
and
Zn
from the exchange complex"
(p.156).
And
hence applications of herbicides
and
synthetic fertilisers can lead to
deficiencies in the treated plant.
Chaboussou states
that"
artificial organo-chemicals have avery special affinity for
plant tissues" (p.
39)
and
pesticides applied to the leaves -foliar application-find
their
way
into the
body
of the plant. This can be through the cuticle
and
through
the stomata -since light promotes the maximum opening of the stomata, pene-
tration of pesticides will be greater where the poison
is
applied in daylight.
Penetration of pesticides into the
body
of the plant can be via the leaves,
and
also
the roots, the seeds
and
the branches. Having penetrated the plant, Chaboussou
identifies that pesticides can be transported through the plant via
both
apoplastic
(extracellular) pathways
and
symplastic (intracellular
and
intercellular exchange
-within acell
and
from cell to
cell-
via the cytoplasm) pathways. The plant, so
weakened,
is
thus susceptible to pests
and
disease.
Francis Chaboussou's book "Healthy
Crops:
A
New
Agricultural Revolution" first
appeared in French, published
by
Flammarion, Paris in
1985.
He
died the same
year. The book has been translated
and
published in German
(1987
&1996),
Portuguese (1987 &
1999
2nd edition)
and
Japanese (2003),
and
now
English.
Plant pathologist Francis Chaboussou (b.1908 -d.1985) saw
with
aclear eye that
just as there are iatrogenic, doctor-caused, medical problems, likewise there are
agrogenic, farmer-caused, agricultural problems. Chaboussou offers alifetime's
insight into his vision for an agriculture without pesticides,
and
in so doing he
provides ascientific underpinning for organic
and
bio-dynamic agriculture.
References:
Chaboussou,
F.,
1985
(English 2004 trans.). Healthy Plants, ANew Agricultural Revolution, Jon
Carpenter, Charlbury, UK
Loening,
U.,
2004, in Chaboussou, 2004 trans., Healthy Plants, A
New
Agricultural Revolution,
Jon Carpenter, Charibury, UK
Lutzenberger, J., 1995, Pleading
for
aPoison-Free
Agriculture,
excerpt available at
<www.lindros.co.za>
Lutzenberger, J., 2000, in Chaboussou, 2004 trans., Healthy Plants, A
New
Agricultural
Revolution, Jon Carpenter, Charlbury, UK
Northbourne,
L.,
1940,
Look to the Land, Dent, London
Pfeiffer,
E.,
1934,
The Biological-Dynamic Method
of
Rudolf Steiner: New Methods in
Agriculture and their Effects on Food-Stuffs, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London
Pfeiffer,
E.,
1958,
in Steiner, 2004 reprint, Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner Press, Forest Row
Steiner,
R.,
1924
(English
1958,
trans., 2004 reprint). Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner Press,
Forest Row
PG1ge
54
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trans.). Healthy Plants, A New Agricultural Revolution
  • F Chaboussou
Chaboussou, F., 1985 (English 2004 trans.). Healthy Plants, A New Agricultural Revolution, Jon Carpenter, Charlbury, UK
Pleading for a Poison-Free Agriculture, excerpt available at <www.lindros.co.za> Lutzenberger The Biological-Dynamic Method of Rudolf Steiner: New Methods in Agriculture and their Effects on Food-Stuffs
  • U Jon Loening
  • Carpenter
  • Chari Bury
  • J E Uk Lutzenberger
Loening, U., 2004, in Chaboussou, 2004 trans., Healthy Plants, A New Agricultural Revolution, Jon Carpenter, Chari bury, UK Lutzenberger, J., 1995, Pleading for a Poison-Free Agriculture, excerpt available at <www.lindros.co.za> Lutzenberger, J., 2000, in Chaboussou, 2004 trans., Healthy Plants, A New Agricultural Revolution, Jon Carpenter, Charlbury, UK Northbourne, L., 1940, Look to the Land, Dent, London Pfeiffer, E., 1934, The Biological-Dynamic Method of Rudolf Steiner: New Methods in Agriculture and their Effects on Food-Stuffs, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London Pfeiffer, E., 1958, in Steiner, 2004 reprint, Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner Press, Forest Row
Pleading for a Poison-Free Agriculture
  • J Lutzenberger
Lutzenberger, J., 1995, Pleading for a Poison-Free Agriculture, excerpt available at <www.lindros.co.za>
The Biological-Dynamic Method of Rudolf Steiner: New Methods in Agriculture and their Effects on Food-Stuffs
  • E Pfeiffer
  • E London Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer, E., 1934, The Biological-Dynamic Method of Rudolf Steiner: New Methods in Agriculture and their Effects on Food-Stuffs, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London Pfeiffer, E., 1958, in Steiner, 2004 reprint, Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner Press, Forest Row Steiner, R., 1924 (English 1958, trans., 2004 reprint). Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner Press, Forest Row