Reimagining Agriculture

Syntropic Agriculture, A New Path to a Sustainable Future

Ernesto van Peborgh
5 min readAug 1, 2023

The horizon of the green revolution and industrial agricultural boom is retreating into the rearview mirror, making way for a new age of agriculture — Syntropic Agriculture. This innovation is deeply rooted in sustainability, promising a promising future for both our farming practices and our planet’s well-being.

Syntropic Agriculture is the sweet spot where Mother Nature’s wisdom meets human intervention. It borrows its principles from the natural world, mirroring not only the structure but also the function and dynamics of natural processes. The approach lies in ‘regeneration through use’, cultivating highly productive agricultural fields that gradually wean themselves off artificial inputs and irrigation while simultaneously nurturing crucial ecosystem services like soil formation, water cycles, and microclimate regulation. Picture it as a delicate ballet between the worlds of agriculture and ecosystem regeneration.

Ernst Götsch, the mastermind behind this transformative practice, possesses a rich intellectual pedigree, combining the ethics of Immanuel Kant with the principles of biology, chemistry, ecology, botany, physics, Greek philosophy, and mathematics. His transdisciplinary approach surpasses mere theoretical discussions, breathing life into practical agricultural execution, from planning to planting. It gives birth to an agricultural model devoid of internal contradictions and fortified by a robust, systematic chain of evidence. Syntropic farming, thus, is not a mere utopian concept; it is a working methodology and a viable solution to some of the most urgent environmental conundrums of our time.

Ernst Götsch on Syntropy

A Unique View of Nature

What sets Syntropic Agriculture apart is its innovative approach to understanding and interacting with nature. Here, seeds are seen as vessels of genes, holes evolve into nests, competition bends to cooperation, pests, and diseases become life optimizers, and weeding is recognized as a form of harvesting. These unconventional terminologies reflect a dramatic shift in our comprehension and relationship with nature.

Many of today’s sustainable farming practices revolve around substituting harmful inputs — substituting chemicals with organics, plastics with biodegradable materials, and pesticides with natural solutions. While such approaches bring beneficial changes, they are limited within the traditional agricultural paradigm. Syntropic Agriculture, conversely, seeks to mimic and hasten the natural processes of ecological succession and stratification, offering a process-based approach where the harvest is a delightful by-product of ecosystem regeneration.

The term ‘syntropy’ — lesser-known yet just as significant as its thermodynamic counterpart, ‘entropy’ — encapsulates the core philosophy of this novel farming methodology. ‘Syntropy’ refers to the natural phenomenon observed in biological systems where structures form, differentiation amplifies, and complexity thrives, in short, where life flourishes. Unlike entropy, which dictates energy dissipation and simplification, syntropy advocates concentration and complexification. Embracing syntropy in farming instills a transformative outlook into the practice, reimagining it not as a process of extraction and depletion but as a complexifying and life-affirming endeavor.

Invoking syntropy in agriculture, Götsch presents farming in a whole new light. He perceives farming as an integral part of the ecosystem, where life’s metabolism refashions the entropic residues into more intricate compounds. This results in a positive energy balance at both the local and global levels. In essence, it is about collaborating with nature, not opposing it.

Ernst Götsch’s farm, in Bahia (photo: Felipe Pasini)

Syntropic farming goes beyond mere substitution of inputs; it reinvents the entire system. It repositions farming as a tool for planetary restoration rather than a mere resource extraction mechanism. As the climate crisis unfolds before our eyes, syntropic agriculture shines as a beacon of hope, offering a sustainable future, an alternative path. To me, that’s the most exciting part about this new chapter in agriculture.

Our discourse on climate change is evolving and one term is finding its way into the vernacular of farmers and environmentalists alike — Syntropic Farming. Pioneered by Swiss researcher and farmer Ernst Götsch four decades ago, it signifies a seismic shift in sustainable agriculture, aligning humanity’s need for food with nature’s regenerative power.

Monoculture tree plantations often disrupt natural processes and limit survival rates due to direct sun exposure. Furthermore, they alter the microclimate and pose risks such as fires and pests. By viewing forests as interconnected, agro-ecosystems rather than standalone trees, Syntropic Farming provides food, medicine, timber, and fiber while also playing a pivotal role in carbon sequestration, water and air purification. Unlike conventional farming, Syntropic Farming doesn’t rely on external fertilizers, pesticides, or irrigation. It’s agriculture as nature intended — self-sustaining, regenerative, and in perfect harmony with the environment.

The trees in syntropic farms are revered as more than just physical entities. They are the architects of the microclimate and the veins of our planet, conducting a symphony of wind patterns, water evaporation, and mineral transportation from the depths of the earth.

Syntropic Farming is the embodiment of the concept of “Syntropy”, a term first coined by Italian mathematician Luigi Fantappiè in 1944. This principle illustrates the tendency of living systems to evolve towards a more resilient future, fostering life and developing in quality and quantity over time. It signifies energy concentration, self-organization into higher complexity, and the reduction of energy diffusion. This natural force propels biodiversity, promotes thrivability and abundance, and creates robust and adaptable systems.

By integrating trees into agriculture and nurturing a blend of crop trees, noble timber, and service trees, Syntropic Farming improves the local water cycle and boosts the economic value of the land. It discourages rural migration as farmers are less likely to abandon land that houses valuable timber. High-density tree planting promotes biodiversity and enables more efficient land use, requiring little to no irrigation.

It’s high time to reassess our conventional farming methods and explore the potential of Syntropic Farming — a technique that aligns food production with nature’s regenerative power, nurturing rather than depleting our environment. In the face of escalating climate change, Syntropic Farming can chart a path to a sustainable and resilient future — one where we sow more than trees, but whole forests; one where we cultivate not just crops, but life itself.

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Ernesto van Peborgh

Entrepreneur, writer, filmmaker, Harvard MBA. Builder of systemic interactive networks for knowledge management.