Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security [18-19 September 2014]. Given the multiple, overlapping challenges posed by continued food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity, the letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.
This symposium comes at an opportune time as climate change, continued food insecurity and rural poverty present myriad challenges to sustainability. Agroecology, especially when paired with the developing principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems to an extent not matched by other approaches or proposals. This is why agroecology has been endorsed by the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter; the 10,000-member Ecological Society of America; through the formation and statements of the Latin American Society for Agroecology;in the scientific report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD); by La Vํa Campesina, the world’s largest organization of peasant farmers; by a growing number of research institutions around the world and most recently, further endorsed by over 250 scientists and experts.
As the organizers and attendees of the symposium likely already know, these groups view agroecology as a well-grounded science, a set of time-tested agronomic practices and, when embedded in sound socio-political institutions, the most promising pathway for achieving sustainable food production. Agroecology integrates multiple fields into a unique “trans-discipline,” drawing on ecology, agronomy, political economy and sociology, among other fields. It can be considered a science, a set of practices, and a social movement for distributive and procedural justice. In fact, without these elements of justice - which are often lacking in other approaches (for example, “climate-smart agriculture” or “sustainable intensification”) - no approach can be scientifically assessed as "sustainable" according to most established definitions of sustainability. The procedural justice element has been associated with the growing conceptualization of and movement for “food sovereignty” - the right for people to design and decide on the shape of their own food system within their own localities, to the maximum extent practicable, with the maximum possible participation.
According to the letter, agroecology’s broad base in science and society means it is uniquely suited to address today’s challenges in food and agricultural systems. It can be considered a science, a set of practices, and a social movement for food sovereignty and justice. As a science, agroecology integrates multiple disciplines into a "trans-discipline," drawing on fields such as ecology, agronomy, political economy and sociology. As a set of practices, it can provide multiple benefits to society and the environment, from reducing pollution from agriculture and supporting the conservation of the environment to boosting nutrition security and improving resilience in a changing climate. As a movement, it can address the vitally important issues of distributive and procedural justice in food and agriculture—that is, who gets access to what resources and how to decide. The letter points out that, according to well-established science, social movements and addressing distributive and procedural justice are just as crucial as scientific and technical innovation in sustainably implementing the right to food.
International institutions are currently using a variety of different terms, with different meanings, to identify a way forward for agriculture and food systems to address critical crises including climate change and food security. The FAO and other international institutions like the World Bank have supported other approaches which they call “climate-smart” agriculture and “sustainable” intensification. The letter criticizes these as vague terms that are subject to abuse through misleading or incomplete definitions. In contrast, agroecology is a holistic approach with a long history and an extensive body of knowledge grounded in science and in the experiences and leadership of farmers themselves.
scholars call on FAO member states and the international community
to build upon the proceedings of this symposium in order to launch
a U.N. system-wide initiative on agroecology as the central strategy
for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face
of water crises. Such an initiative could form one of the pillars
the future work of the Committee on World
Food Security (CFS) and make an invaluable contribution to negotiations
about agriculture within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate
Change process and the post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda. The
letter closes with a hope that the FAO will consider
this proposal at the forthcoming Committee on World Food Security
meeting on October 13–18, 2014.