Socio Ecological Transition of Organic Agricultures in Catalonia (late 19th-20th century)

by Elena Galán del Castillo

Institution: Universitat de Barcelona
Year: 2015
Keywords: Història de l'agricultura; Historia de la agricultura; History of agriculture; Ecologia; Ecología; Ecology; Ecologia agrícola; Ecología agrícola; Agricultural ecology; Balanç de nutrients; Balance de nutrientes; Nutrients balance; Metabolisme social; Metabolismo social; Social metabolism; Tasa de retorno energético; Taxa de retorn energètic; Energy returned on energy invested; Ciències Experimentals i Matemàtiques
Record ID: 1126368
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10803/288378


The main motivation of this dissertation is to add the environmental dimension to the Economic History of the changes in agriculture in Catalonia since the late 19th century. According to this, we speak in terms of Socio-Ecological Transition instead of agrarian development, which considers only the variable of productivity. That allows us to focus in fertility (first and second waves of the transition) and in a last step, in the use of fossil fuels (direct and indirect) in agriculture (third wave). Therefore, this thesis seeks to bring to light the ways followed by Mediterranean organic agricultures to overcome its yield ceilings (not necessary Malthusian ceilings) in order to be adapted to the structural changes of the economy in the late 19th. Indeed, as the rest of Spain, Catalonia was strongly hit by the end-of-century crisis, when the cheap grain from North America flooded European market due to improvements in transport technologies and the use of fossil fuels. The grain was cheap because the never ploughed deep organic horizons of the North American prairies accumulated high amounts of nutrient, consequently, their mining had not effects in the short run. Accordingly, North American farmers could produce without compensating the nutrients extracted by harvests, something completely opposite to the case of European agricultures with old soils and agricultural systems that relied strongly in the circulation of organic matter. In addition, the phylloxera plague, which destroyed all vineyards and the introduction of new kinds of vegetable oils, changed the market conditions for wine and olive oil, important crops in Catalonia. Moreover this thesis also aims to answer the question of whether there was or not a room for further organic improvements before the arrival of the second and third waves of the Socio- Ecological Transition. That is, when they finally outstripped all previous yield ceilings thanks to the spread of the use of fossil fuels, directly or indirectly in the form of chemical fertilisers, concentrated feed, and use of adapted seeds, etc. Following the previous works in Spain we use the analytical perspective of the social metabolism and agro-ecology applied to Environmental History to study the Socio-Ecological Transition of Spanish agriculture to an industrial mode of agriculture. We focus on the study on the driving forces by reconstructing two sets of flows in agricultural systems of Catalonia, energy and nutrients. The thesis is organised in the following structure. In the first block we make an analytical proposal to study and compare different energy efficiencies of agroecosystems and we apply it to a case study in the centre of Catalonia c.1860 and in 1999 (chapter 1 and 2). The second block is centred on the nutrient balances of the cropland areas of Catalan agriculture, hence, chapters 4 and 5 show two moments of time, c.1860 and c.1920. While chapter 4 analyses one municipality (Sentmenat) chapter 5 makes a regional analysis thus using provincial sources.…