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Andre Leu has been an organic farmer in Australia for 40 years. He is also the newly re-elected President of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), a worldwide network of more than 800 groups in 120 countries. In addition to traveling the world advocating for organic farming, Leu has spent the last few years thinking and writing about pesticides for his new book,
The Myth of Safe Pesticides.
I met Leu in October at the IFOAM’s Organic World Congress, held this year in Istanbul, Turkey. The tri-annual event brought together nearly 1,000 farmers, scientists, processors, and other experts for an impressive, inspiring meeting of the minds. When I asked Leu who takes care of his farm while he’s on the road-about 300 days of the year-he said, “It takes care of itself, all I have to do is manage the biodiversity.”
When Leu bought his 150-acre farm 20 years ago in the Daintree region of northern Australia, the land had been degraded, the native tropical rainforest destroyed. He knew most of the property would be worth far more by returning it back to the natural primary forest, so that’s just what he did. Today, 100 acres have been returned to rainforest and he grows more than 100 different species of tropical fruit on the other 50 acres.
“Instead of a reductionist approach,” Leu told me, “we’re looking at how we can use biodiversity to help foster a productive farm.” As the forest has returned, so have keystone species like the duckbilled platypus that now calls his creeks home, the rare Victoria’s Riflebirds, Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers and the six foot tall, flightless Cassowary, which nest in his restored tropical rainforest and wetlands.