The article below was published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 7882, 26 September 2014.
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The time has come for agroecology
Rome, 24 Sep (IPS/Genevieve Lavoie-Mathieu) -- "It is time for a new agricultural model that ensures that enough quality food is produced where it is most needed, that preserves nature and that delivers ecosystem services of local and global relevance" - in a word, it is time for agroecology.
The call came from Pablo Tittonell of Wageningen University, one of the world's leading institutions in the field of agriculture science, speaking at the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The symposium, held at FAO headquarters in Rome on September 18-19, gathered experts from many backgrounds, including scientists, scholars, policy-makers and farmers.
In an open letter ahead of the UN Climate Change Summit on September 23 in New York, some 70 scientists and scholars said that in times of climate change, food insecurity and poverty, "agroecology, especially when paired with principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems."
"The FAO symposium contributes to building momentum for agroecology in Rome," Gaetan Vanloqueren, an agro-economist and one of the speakers, told IPS. Since 2008, there has been a renewed debate on agricultural models and the food system in general, he explained, but this symposium is, up to now, the most significant effort made by FAO.
Vanloqueren, who was adviser to former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, has a positive view of recent interest by a number of organisations in Europe and elsewhere to talk, research and promote agroecology, but "the danger", he told IPS, "is that it becomes the new 'sustainable development', a new buzzword and catch-all phrase that can mean just about anything."
"There remains a large amount of misunderstanding related to agroecology," said Luca Chinotti, Oxfam's GROW campaign adviser.
For example, "a lot of people think that organic agriculture is the same as agroecology" and "sustainable agriculture is used by different people, meaning very different things," the Oxfam spokesperson told IPS.
The expression 'sustainable agriculture', for example, is used by both Monsanto, the agri-biotech giant, and Greenpeace, the environmental organisation which strongly opposes the use of genetically modified seeds.
There is much work that needs to be done with respect to informing people about what agroecology really is, Chinotti told IPS.
According to Vanloqueren, agroecology includes a set of practices, such as the diversifying of species and genetic resources and the recycling of nutrients and organic matter. But it is also more than the scientific study of ecology applied to agriculture.
It encompasses a set of socio-economic and political principles that questions the basis of the current dominant agricultural system.
"Agroecology should not be seen as a model or a technological package that can be replicated anywhere at any time. There are very few practices that can be applied to a great number of situations," explained Celso Marcatto, technical officer on sustainable agriculture at ActionAid International.
This is why, he said, agroecology "has more to do with introducing new ways of thinking, rather than distributing ready-made solutions."
Agroecology is a different way of seeing the food system because it deals with issues related to who gets access to resources and the processes that determine this access. That is why agroecology is also considered a social movement.
"The [principles] of autonomy, the importance of the combination of traditional knowledge and economic knowledge, the co-construction of solutions by peasants' organisations, researchers and citizens are key in defining agroecology and are the basis of what distinguishes the movement from the so-called 'sustainable ecological intensification'," Vanloqueren told IPS.
At the centre of agroecology is the "role of farmers that needs to be scaled out and scaled across," said Vanloqueren.
Agroecology is also about substituting inputs with knowledge, he added, and it is about fostering autonomy through both knowledge and independence from global markets. Finally, agroecology is about social equity and about democracy.
However, many obstacles remain in the way of convincing policy-makers and donors to advocate and promote the adoption of agroecology.
Quentin Delachapelle, a French farmer and vice-president of the Federation Nationale des Centres d'Initiatives pour Valoriser l'Agriculture et le Milieu rural (FNCIVAM), told the FAO symposium that one of the main obstacles to the larger adoption of agroecology is that it is based on a longer term vision.
"Unfortunately", he said, "current public and market policies are based solely on a short-term perspective."