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Strong Call to Mainstream Agroecology

The Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS) has released a discussion paper entitled
Mainstreaming Agroecology: Implications for Global Food and Farming Systems”. The paper makes it clear that increasingthe use of agroecological approaches to enhance the sustainability of food production demands “social and institutional changes in agricultural communities, the commercial framework of agriculture, the wider food system, and policies for agriculture, development and trade”.

There is a growing body of evidence on high-performing agroecological management practices. Agroecological food production systems aim to maintain the functions that natural systems provide, both internal and external to production, and which are robust, productive and equitable. This means integrating instead of segregating, closing systems and relying on local inputs, increasing biological and genetic diversity, and regenerating instead of degrading.

The report concludes that current attempts to make industrial farming, which is fundamentally unsustainable, more sustainable, are futile and only amount to “tinkering around the edges”. It emphasizes that the strength of agroecology is that “it is equally a science, a practice and a social movement”. To consider it as a technology in isolation would be to miss the point completely. The paper ends with strong recommendations on how to mainstream agroecology and highlights priority areas in policy, knowledge management, agricultural extension and research.

The Executive Summary of the paper is reproduced below. The full document can be downloaded from: http://www.coventry.ac.uk/Global/05%20Research%20section%20assets/Research
/CAFS/Publication,%20Journal%20Articles/MainstreamingAgroecology_WEB.pdf
.

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MAINSTREAMING AGROECOLOGY: IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL FOOD AND FARMING SYSTEMS

DISCUSSION PAPER

By the Centre for Agroecology and Food Security, U.K.

Executive Summary

The challenge of feeding the world’s growing population without further damaging the natural resource base is becoming increasingly urgent, and must be met in ways that also allow adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. Agriculture provides not only food, but also fuel, fibre and a wide range of ecosystem services. This paper discusses the principles and practices of agroecology, and how mainstreaming them can potentially meet the challenges facing agriculture and food production.

The academic discipline of agroecology emerged over a century ago. Subsequently, in response to the social and environmental problems caused by the global industrial agricultural and food system, it has become the foundation of both a set of land management practices and a vibrant social movement. The science of agroecology is the study of living organisms and their inter-relationships in the context of agriculture and land use, and can be seen as the scientific basis of sustainable agriculture.

Agroecology not only defines, classifies and studies agricultural systems from an ecological and corresponding socio-economic perspective, but also applies ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems (Altieri, 1995). This means that it is very useful as a theoretical and practical approach to increasing the sustainability of current agri-food s ystems.

Agroecology has come to greater prominence since the publication of the 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which advocated the use of agroecological approaches in sustainability initiatives.

The following year, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food also highlighted agroecology as a viable approach for working towards food security (De Schutter, 2010).

The increasingly high profile of agroecology is reflected in the growing body of evidence on high- performing agroecological management practices. For example, a recent study (Pretty, Toulmin and Williams, 2011) examined 40 initiatives employing agroecological production methods in 20 countries, involving 10.4 million farmers. These included agroecological approaches to aquaculture, livestock and agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and crop variety improvements with locally appropriate cultivars and cropping systems. Analysis of project outcomes demonstrated not only an average crop yield increase of 113%, but also numerous environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration and reductions in pesticide use and soil erosion.

Agroecological practitioners design food production systems which aim to maintain the functions that natural systems provide, both internal and external to production, and which are robust, productive and equitable. This means integrating instead of segregating, closing systems and relying on local inputs, increasing biological and genetic diversity, and regenerating instead of degrading.

Agroecosystems managed according to these principles look very different from industrial agricultural systems, and are based on a different paradigm. Increasing the use of agroecological approaches in order to enhance the sustainability of food production would demand social and institutional changes in agricultural communities, the commercial framework of agriculture, the wider food system, and policies for agriculture, development and trade.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food identifies scaling up agroecological approaches as one of the main challenge of our time, noting both a need for increasing the areas cultivated using agroecological practices and an enabling framework for farmers using these practices (De Schutter, 2010). There are significant barriers to achieving this. They include the economic viability of agroecological approaches in competition with industrial approaches, an international economy dominated by neoliberal narratives, and the vertical, integrated structure and entrenched political interests of agri-businesses.

Although informed citizens and markets are powerful mechanisms for shaping resource use and production, and for stimulating creativity and innovation by communities, concerted government action is needed to speed up the spread of agroecological production, especially while some countries are still moving their agricultural sectors in the opposite direction. Supportive policies will be required if crop and livestock production systems are to be managed as ecosystems, with management decisions fully informed of environmental costs and benefits.

This discussion paper concludes with an agenda for change to support the wider use of agroecological approaches in the arenas of research, policy, and knowledge management and agricultural extension. In summary,

>  Agricultural policy should focus on building a progressive, knowledge-based agricultural sector which fosters the participation of all stakeholders to deliver strong support, extension and education services for agroecological technologies.

>  Economic policy should create market conditions – including financial and regulatory mechanisms – that are favourable to rural and urban agro ecological production, and develop improved markets for ecosystem services to provide incentives for their conservation and support for farming communities.

>  Cross-sectoral policies addressing food, markets and rural and urban development should include the development of robust frameworks for assessing and evaluating existing food production systems that focus on their ecological integrity and socio-economic benefit, and use these as a basis for evidence-based policy.

>  Knowledge management and agricultural extension should prioritise exchange of knowledge on agroecological management practices between all stakeholders by building regional, national and international information resources and networks.

>  Research should address the implications of agroecological management in different cultural and environmental settings, both urban and rural, and further develop agroecological production techniques.

 


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