Can we Improve Syntropic Agriculture Education?

Can we improve Syntropic Agriculture Education?

Observation, contemplation, inquiring and enjoying our own mistakes...

Skills we must develop to conduct our system!!

Can we improve Syntropic Agriculture Education?


There is no doubt that education is, and will play, an increasing role to changing the status quo, after all, as we’ve heard long ago, we must approach our current problems with a different mindset to the one that has created it. Thus, our education must plant the seeds of this new mindset, so it can grow to become the creator of new solutions.


Syntropic agriculture education is no different. But for many years I have experienced and witnessed an educational approach that is failing us.


As an example to this problem, I’ve recently received the following message from a Facebook friend, who had attended a Syntropic Agriculture course with Ernst Gotsch somewhere in Europe.


“Dear Victor,

My name is Monica (fictitious name) – I saw one time your comment where you’ve said that people are so worried about designing the perfect system and that it is through management and observation that one begins to understand the system and the macro-organism.

I really understand your point and you are right.

But, on the other hand, my ignorance is very big, so I have to somehow first ensure that I have designed something that has a chance to work.

I am wondering if you could take a look at my system and give me some feedback. I want to plant 500m2 and this will cost all my savings, so I also want to ensure it has some kind of chance of making it...”


I could certainly feel and relate to her enthusiasm as I was once in this exact position of having come across a very powerful knowledge and just wanting to get things done … let’s solve the problem!!


I can only assume the difficulty of writing this message to someone that you barely know, but I must say that I was very glad that she had done, and I wish I’d had someone to have asked some questions before spending thousands of dollars in my first system.


To her message I’ve replied:


“Hi Monica,

Thanks for reaching out, I am happy to help!

However, I think that we should start with a chat… So I can better understand your context and suggest possible pathways”


We then had a lovely chat the next day, to which I’ve found out that she was holding many assumptions, including (but not limited to):


  • It is possible to have a fail proof design by simply having knowledge of plants;
  • For the macro-organism to emerge you need to plant a large area;
  • You organise plants in accordance to their heights;
  • Trees are planted north-to-south and vegetables east-to-west;
  • And so on…


Again, I could relate to these assumptions as I remember coming back to Australia after attending my first course in Brazil in 2016, and I was super-enthusiastic to get things growing, but had absolutely no understanding of how, and most importantly, why things were done in a particular way…


I am sure that Monica and I are not alone in wanting to manifest what we’ve learnt, especially when it is done so impressively through a communal effort of planting a large syntropic system, where you can almost see and hear the plants growing and cooperating together. This must be the way, right?


Well, yes and no….


I have no doubt that this is the way – through agroforestry, but the way to approach it needs to be changed. We cannot afford to send the few people that are keen and have some resources to act into a dark pathway of bankruptcy, even though there will be many lessons on their way.


Syntropic Agriculture Education Issues


So, what problems can you see here (and/or perhaps have you experienced), and where is syntropic agriculture education failing us?


From my experience, these are some of the problems being reiterated in most of the courses that I’ve attended, and which seems to continue to be repeated throughout the world:


  • Syntropic agriculture is linearly and simplistically presented as a universally applicable economically viable system – “where the horticulture pays for everything”;
  • Too much emphasis on consumable/cash crops (to pay the way);
  • Focus on production-led regeneration, rather than regeneration-led production;
  • Implementing very big systems during courses, way too much time spent digging and repetitive actions;
  • Too much focus on design and very little focus on context;
  • Too much prescription and not enough description;
  • Secondary importance given to truly understanding forest dynamics and what it takes to produce under these forces;
  • Lack of acknowledgement that not only our systems move through succession but so do our thinking, practices and relationship to the macro-organism – you will know what to do when you need to know what needs to be done!; and
  • Increasing number of inexperienced “teachers”, who are well intended, but portray a false image of what it actually takes to succeed syntropically (or in any form of regenerative agriculture).


These limitations, as I see it, stream from the fact that we are working with memorised concepts and cold rationales rather than being comfortable with the ever changing reality of the natural world.


This approach then portrays a simplistic view of syntropic agriculture, one that excites newcomers but leaves them naked in the face of uncertainties. Consequently, the number of people who are literally and/or possibly going bankrupt (as could have happened with Monica if she had spent all her savings in a 500m2 system) or mentally crazy, are increasing.


We, humans, must understand and be comfortable with the fact that we don’t know much, and that it is unlikely that we will know much if we continue to play the game as spectators rather than participants. From the outside in rather than from the inside out.


Education must encourage and empower us to become ever more comfortable with the unknowns of reality, so we can participate in it with our creativity and freedom – gifts that no other being in the natural world has been given the luxury and responsibility of!!!


We need to stop over-emphasising the “tangibles” of our systems like digging, planting, designing and putting plants into neat categories, and encourage the germination of our less tangible skills, the ones that will allow new (and old) practitioners to be resilient and make approximately right decisions, such as observation, context understanding, imagination, theory application, participation and the freedom to make mistakes.


YES, the freedom to make our own mistakes…so we can observe, participate, change and LEARN!!!


Improving Syntropic Agriculture Education


In the face of this reality, and based on my experiences as a student, researcher and educator I would like to share a few practices that I bring into my educational approach that could be helpful to other educators:


  • A descriptive approach is much better for understanding complexities than a  prescriptive one. I’ve realised that sharing the process of what I’ve done (including the thought process beforehand), helps students to understand the importance of context and allow them to put themselves in the picture imaginatively.
  • I refrain from telling students what to do, rather I facilitate a process in which they are able to see what they can do, given the constraints and opportunities of their context.
  • It is great to share the successes, but I find that students learn a lot more and become a lot more comfortable to go out and play when I share my failures. Especially when I am able to share how that failure came about, and more importantly how it helped me to change my thinking/practice.
  • I find very enriching to explore many different possibilities to solve the same problem, or answer the same question, in that way students start to think laterally rather than linearly;
  • I love going into depths on the theory and philosophy of syntropic agriculture, but I find paramount to ground them into reality, especially on how I apply them into my decision making process and how they help me to relate to the natural world;
  • I heavily focus on the relational/qualitative skills, such as observation, management, inquiring and contextual decision making at the expense of digging, planting and designing. I believe that digging one metre and planting 10 plants is enough to get the message across, whereas there is a whole world of sense perception and skills that needs to be developed for practitioners to be confident on how to conduct their systems.
  • I only run practical courses in my land or in the land of someone that I am sure that is committed to managing what has been planted.  I have seen too many poorly managed sites, and unfortunately an out of control example (“weedy”) travels far and wide, doing a lot more harm than good;
  • Flexibility and dialogue are key components, that allows me to connect individually with each student, expand on specific topics that are more relevant to them and make the most of serendipitous moments.


As for the students, I would like to suggest a few things to consider that might help your experience to be more realistic and productive.

  • Always have your context (your climate, land, water, goals, skills, resources, markets and other considerations) in mind and be comfortable in asking as many questions as possible – syntropic agriculture is INDIVIDUALISED;
  • Start slow and steady, but representative to where you want to move towards. If subsistence is your focus/starting point, then it is better for your back, finances, education and mental stability to plant 100 x 5m beds, than to smash a 500m2 system. If you have economic goals, then play with the smallest scale that will inform you on the possibilities of these economic returns (it might be better for you to keep your day job for a little longer);
  • Do not believe or negate anything at face value, always question the information received and allow it to percolate through yourself until you find resonance (or not) within you – find your own truthfulness in what is being presented.
  • Do as many courses as you can afford, visit as many syntropic places as possible and talk to as many practitioners as you can (feel free to give me a call). The more points of view you are exposed to, the better for you to understand the macro-forces at play and how you might go about them on your own reality;
  • Spend as much time designing as you need to be comfortable to go out and do it, but don’t lose yourself and/or your savings in it. It is much more important that you observe and participate in the evolution of your system than trying to get it “perfect”.
  • Be wary of non-practicing educators. If an educator is not putting his/her resources, time and energy into creating and managing his/her own system, then unfortunately that person does not know what he/she is talking about – reality is ALWAYS different than concepts.
  • Preferably choose educators that have lived pass the placenta stage (2 years), as at this stage the successional gaps, lack of organic matter and other critical issues would have emerged and that practitioner would need to dig deeper to find answers, and these are the important lessons that an educator should be able to pass on.
  • Match the educators/consultant experience with his/her advice. Has the educator/consultant actually lived through and experienced all the important variables on what he/she is advising you to do?
  • Lastly, enjoy making your own mistakes, that’s how your questioning and observational skills evolve, which helps greatly in your learning process!!!


Well, I really hope these thoughts encourage a healthy discussion and attitude towards improving Syntropic Agriculture education. It is a missed opportunity when a student goes back home very enthusiastic but without any understanding of the fundamentals and completely lost on how to make autonomous decisions.


We need to encourage and support more humans to use their freedom and creativity to solve our current problems, and syntropic agriculture provides a very powerful and tangible platform to put these skills to the test and foster their potential.


Much love to all and please share your thoughts,




Victor Pires


PS: if you are wondering about Monica, she is well and taking it slowly, and she will be attending my next online course…

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