Agroecology is the science and know-how behind sustainable agriculture. It takes into account environmental impacts, animal welfare, and human social aspects. It combines scientific inquiry with the place-based knowledge and innovation of indigenous and peasant farming communities.
Agroecology’s core principles include:
- maximizing biodiversity
- recycling locally available natural resources to enhance soil fertility
- emphasizing interactions and productivity across the agricultural system
Agroecology uses farmers’ knowledge and experimentation as a starting place in contrast to the top-down delivery of agricultural science and technology. It is knowledge-intensive, emphasizing low-cost techniques that work with the local ecosystem. It takes a whole system approach to agriculture that considers a wide range of conditions and issues. Because it recognizes the particular nature of each ecosystem, agroecology can include methods such as organic farming, but does not specifically embrace any one particular method of farming.
Today, agroecology-based production systems are seen as a critical component of socially just food systems that promote food sovereignty and the conservation of valuable natural resources.
Cutting edge of innovation
Small-holder farmers produce most of our food: 70 per cent to be exact, and all of that on only 25 per cent of the arable land. In a world facing both increasing climatic changes and a growing population, feeding 9-billon people is the centremost question for our food systems. Studies have shown that small-scale farmers can double food production in the next 10 years simply by adopting agroecological methods.
The future of food production should rely not only on the use of environmentally sustainable approaches, but also on socially equitable technologies. Agroecology does exactly that. A cutting edge approach to agricultural production, agroecological principles ensure farms continue to exhibit the high levels of diversity, integration, efficiency, resilience and productivity they need to adapt and feed the world.
Can we scale up agroecology?
Perhaps the most important feature of agroecology lies in its ability to be scaled up.
This requires addressing several barriers currently constraining agroecological development efforts. These include a lack of information by farmers and extension agents, a lack of land tenure, infrastructural problems and market failures.
Access to land for small-holder and family farmers is of key importance for food sovereignty. Farmer-to-farmer exchange and workshops such as the Campesino a Campesino (CAC) movement that promotes a the sharing of experiences, ideas and information also plays a key part for the long-term sustainability for agroecology. Training, farmer field-schools, on farm-demonstrations, field visits all play a crucial role in scaling up agroecology.
These approaches must go hand in hand with participatory approaches that harness the rich traditional agricultural knowledge of peasant and indigenous populations. It also ensures the conservation of agricultural biodiversity and genetic resources found in these communities. At the same time, policy reforms are also essential to scaling up agroecology.
Links and Resources
- Altieri, M., et al. (2012). Nourishing the World Sustainably: Scaling Up Agroecology.
- Altieri, M. (2012), Agroecology Scaling Up for Food Sovereignty and Resiliency.
- De Schutter, O. (2011, Mar. 8). Report: Agroecology and the Right to Food.
- University of California, Santa Cruz (USA). (n.d.). Agroecology.
- Agricultural Transition. (n.d.). Agricultural Transition.
- Altieri, M. and Toledo, J. (2011). The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(3), 587-612.
- The Christensen Fund. (2012). Soil to Sky: Of Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture[Infographic].
- Ensor, J. (2009). Biodiverse Agriculture for a Changing Climate.
- Pesticide Action Network North America. (n.d.). Agroecology: Productive, Resilient, Fair & Sustainable.
- Pretty, J. (2010), Agroecology in Developing Countries: The Promise of a Sustainable Harvest.
- El-Hage Scialabba, N. (2007). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Organic Agriculture and Food Security.
- Holt Gimenez, E. Executive (Huffington Post, May 2012), Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People – and Still Can’t End Hunger.
- VIDEO: Miguel Altieri: How will agroecological farming achieve the necessary scale to feed the world?
- Jan Douwe van der Ploeg (2013). Peasant-driven agricultural growth and food sovereignty.
- A Haroon Akram-Lodhi (2013). How to Build Food Sovereignty.
- Wittman, H., Desmarais, A., & Wiebe, N. (2010). Food Sovereignty in Canada: Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems.
- VIDEO – Feeding Nine Billion: A Solution to the Global Food Crisis by Dr. Evan Fraser; or visit their website at feedingninebillion.com
- USC Canada - Agroecology Will Feed the World. "Business-as-Usual" Will Not