Dear Friends and Colleagues
Agroecology – The Solution to Highly Hazardous Pesticides
In a position paper on agroecology and highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), Pesticide Action Network calls for strong and enforceable regulatory frameworks to reverse the damaging effects of chemical-intensive, resource-extractive agriculture, along with global commitment to support the transition towards agroecology.
Reliance on HHPs continues to destroy the health, lives and livelihoods of communities around the world. Recent studies in seven countries in Asia found more than 60% of farmers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year.
With increased understanding of the adverse effects of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) has come global recognition of the need to replace chemical-intensive agriculture with agroecology. In 2015, the 4th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4) emphasised replacing HHPs with agroecological alternatives.
Agroecology puts farmers first; promotes soil health, biodiversity and natural ecosystem function; integrates science with knowledge and practice; builds resilience through promoting complexity over simplicity; and minimises waste while optimising energy use. It provides multifunctional benefits to agriculture, which include not only food, jobs and economic well-being, but also cultural, social and environmental benefits and ecosystem services. Agroecology contributes to the achievement of all the SDGs.
Concrete actions are recommended as follows:
With best wishes,
AGROECOLOGY – THE SOLUTION TO HIGHLY HAZARDOUS PESTICIDES
PAN International Position Paper
Highly Hazardous Pesticides: A persistent problem
Input-intensive chemical-based agricultural systems have pervaded communities across the globe. Pesticides contaminate every environmental medium, travelling through air and by rivers and seas to distant locations. They are endangering biodiversity and disrupting the agroecosystem by decimating beneficial insects and soil microbes. They injure or kill an unknown number of farmers, workers, children and animals. Recent studies in seven countries in Asia found more than 60% of farmers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year.1Beyond these poisonings are the chronic health effects and the human tragedy of communities suffering the irreversible and intergenerational impacts of pesticides.
Corporate influence over markets, policy agendas and regulations drives pesticide dependence and farmers’ loss of sovereignty over their land, the food they grow and even the seeds they use. Those that still have land are often caught in a spiral of debt from costly inputs. Meanwhile, the worldview that elevates human beings over other species and elements of nature has eroded respect for biodiversity, natural cycles and the relationships between living beings, undermining the sustainability of our farming systems.
With increased understanding of the adverse effects of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) has come global recognition of the need to replace chemical-intensive agriculture with agroecology. In 2015, the 4th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4) emphasised replacing HHPs with agroecological alternatives. The Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions support agroecology as a primary approach for replacing listed pesticides. FAO has recognised that “business as usual farming” is not an option for meeting the world’s food needs2 and has hosted multiple international and regional symposia on agroecology as the way forward to nourish the world.
Foundations of Agroecology
A long history exists behind the concept of agroecology, which is rooted in traditional Indigenous, peasant, pastoralist and forest-dwelling communities’ sophisticated approaches to land use, frequently based on an understanding of our reciprocal relationship with the earth. Academic contributions emerged in the 1940s led by Mexican scholars, and were subsequently developed by Latin American, European and North American ecological scientists, often benefiting from ongoing collaboration with farmer-scientists.3 As social movements emerged to challenge the devastating health and environmental harms of industrial agriculture, these movements embraced agroecology as the path towards food sovereignty and the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food. Agroecology today thus reflects the results of ongoing dynamic dialogue between farmers, scientists and social movements.
Principles of Agroecology
Agroecology provides an established framework for sustainable farming, with a set of guiding principles and a diversity of practices and approaches, supported by scientific research and empirical evidence, that continue to evolve through experimentation and adaptation to new and changing conditions.
Agroecology is based on these five guiding principles.
Farmers’ knowledge of their landscape and their skills in adapting to local conditions have been honed over many generations. Agroecology centres farmers as key decision-makers with the capacity and responsibility to provide nutritious and affordable food for themselves, their communities and beyond. Women farmers in particular often bring considerable knowledge based on their expertise in producing food, fibre and medicinal crops, saving and selecting seeds, protecting biodiversity, ensuring dietary health and household food security, and processing food for added value. Small-scale farmers collectively produce the majority of food that nourishes communities throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa.4Putting farmers first means ensuring that women, family and peasant farmers, small to medium scale producers, agricultural workers as well as Indigenous and community-based organizations are at the centre of agricultural decision-making processes, whether local, national or international, relating not only to on-farm production but also to access to and control over resources and the direction, priorities and investments of agricultural extension, research, public policies and programs. Governance with commitment to justice and equity is thus a foundational component of agroecology.
Agroecology prioritises soil health as the basis of healthy agroecosystems. By returning organic matter to the soil, agroecology promotes biological activity, improves its structure, increases fertility and minimises nutrient losses. This favours the growth of healthy plants resist-ant to pests and diseases, and nutritious food. Agroe-cology also supports biodiversity — above and below ground, providing critical resources for a diversity of life to flourish— and maintains the healthy functioning of surrounding natural ecosystems and important ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control of pests. Agroecological practices include genetic, crop and system diversification through intercropping, green manures, cover cropping, multi-year crop rotations with nitrogen-fixing plants, agroforestry and integrated crop-animal systems.
Agroecology integrates sciences and ecological principles with local and Indigenous knowledge and practice. It combines scientific inquiry by farmers and professional scientists, with com-munity-based experimentation and investigation using formal and informal methods, while creating space for alternate ways of knowing and understanding the agroecosystem and people’s relationship within it. Examples include Farmer Field Schools, farmer-scientist-NGO networks such as SOCLA and MASIPAG, approaches of the Latin American Agroecological Institutes, plant health clinics, farmer-to-farmer extension and community-based, on-farm agroecological studies.
Agroecology embraces the complexity of different sources of knowledge, system processes and flows, and ecological as well as social relationships. This complexity provides a high degree of resilience to system stresses such as extreme or variable weather, market fluctuations, or other perturbations — in contrast to monocultural systems that are inherently unstable and easily disrupted by such perturbations. Examples include duck-fish-rice systems producing meat, fish, grain and straw, while providing weed and pest control and recycling nutrients, and systems that provide multiple agricultural products for farmers and consumers connected through direct market or other social linkages.
Agroecology optimises system efficiency by enhancing biological processes and the recycling of biomass, nutrients, water and energy. Agroecology conserves resources, reduces dependency on costly nonrenewable external inputs, enhances synergies and maintains the integrity and resilience of the system. Agroecological systems consistently demonstrate higher land use efficiency than monocultures, when comparing output from the multiple components produced together (e.g. crops, animals, fibre, honey, medicinal products, etc.) with the output from single-commodity systems. Examples include integration of deep-rooted perennial plants that capture water and nutrients below the root zone of annual crops; crop-livestock systems that recycle organic matter; and integrated rural-urban food and farming systems in which urban “green waste” is recycled as compost for nearby farms that in turn deliver healthy nutritious food with social and cultural value back to consumers.
Multifunctional Benefits of Agroecology
Agroecology provides multifunctional benefits to agriculture, which include not only food, jobs and economic well-being, but also cultural, social and environmental benefits and ecosystem services. In every food-producing region of the world, studies show that agroecology can:
Transitioning towards sustainable agriculture in the 21st century requires a decisive shift of institutional and policy support towards agroecology— made urgent by new evidence that many ecosystems are verging on collapse, the effects of climate change are intensifying, and reliance on HHPs continues to destroy the health, lives and livelihoods of communities around the world.
PAN calls for strong and enforceable regulatory frameworks to reverse the damaging effects of chemical-intensive, resource-extractive agriculture, along with global commitment to support the transition towards agroecology. We urge redirection of investments towards agroecological research, extension and education that centres the leadership of farmers, workers and rural communities. We call for national and international commitment to uphold the rights of women, farmers, workers, Indigenous peoples, environmental and social movements, as they organise in support of agroecology.
Concrete actions towards these goals include:
Establish global policy mechanisms to replace HHPs with agroecology
Build local and national capacity in agroecological research, extension and innovation
Support small and medium scale farmers and their organizations
Establish supportive economic policies, financial incentives and market opportunities
Strengthen institutional supports
Rengam, S. et al. 2018, Of Rights and Poisons: Accountability of the
Agrochemical Industry. PANAP, Penang.