Dear Friends and Colleagues
FAO Commits Continued Support for Agroecology
At the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, held at the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) headquarters in Rome on 18 and 19 September, 2014, stakeholders representing governments, civil society, science and academia, the private sector, and the UN system gathered to discuss the contribution of agroecology to sustainable food systems. The Proceedings have been published and are available at: http://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/d1f541b5-39b8-4992-b764-7bdfffb5c63f/
The Director-General of the FAO, Jos้ Graziano da Silva, in his Foreword to the Proceedings report, writes, "While past efforts focused on boosting agricultural output to produce more food, today’s challenges – including climate change – demand a new approach. Agroecology offers the possibility of win-win solutions. FAO sees agroecology as a positive contribution to the eradication of hunger and extreme poverty, and a means to facilitate the transition to more productive, sustainable and inclusive food systems."
In the Introduction, principles are given to guide the transition to agroecology along five levels, which could serve as a map outlining an evolutionary change process for the entire global food system. The integration of these principles will create a synergism of interactions and relationships on the farm that will eventually lead to the development of the properties of sustainable agro-ecosystems. The characteristics and elements of a truly sustainable food system are discussed. In order for this paradigm shift to come about, "agroecology must become a force for change that integrates research, practice and social change in all parts of our food systems".
The FAO commits to continuing to support a framework for international dialogue on agroecology at regional and national levels. It sets out its next steps as: (1) continuing to strengthen the evidence base in support of agroecology; (2) building and strengthening networks in support of agroecology; (3) establishing policy support to provide an enabling environment for agroecology, smallholder family farming and agrobiodiversity; and (4) investing in agroecology including participatory guarantee systems.
The Recommendations and Next Steps of the Proceedings report are reproduced below.
With best wishes,
FOR FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION
18-19 September 2014, Rome, Italy
Recommendations and Next Steps
Continuing the conversation at regional and national levels
Following on from the success of the International Symposium, FAO will continue to support a framework for international dialogue on agroecology, starting with three regional meetings in
2015. The first Regional Meeting on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean was successfully held in Brasilia, Brazil, on 24-26 June, 2015. Two more regional meetings will be held in Africa and Asia, during November, 2015. Further expressions of interest have been registered to hold regional meetings in China, Europe and North America in the future.
Through the regional meetings – including the participation of civil society and other stakeholders – countries will continue the discussions initiated in Rome as they move towards the implementation of initiatives and strategies to advance agroecology. Regional level initiatives such as the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative of the African Union or the work of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on family farming have already taken steps to promote practices and policies that support agroecological principles. Such initiatives offer an opportunity for South-South cooperation in developing concrete actions to support agroecology.
Based on the regional meetings and stakeholders’ interests and needs, the next steps for FAO ’s work on agroecology will be defined.
Continue to strengthen the evidence base in support of agroecology
Agroecological systems are knowledge intensive and science based. The International Symposium helped to strengthen and consolidate the evidence base in support of agroecology, with key contributions contained in these Proceedings. However, there is still a wide disparity in research attention given to agroecological systems compared with conventional agriculture. The
International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development concluded in 2008: “An increase and strengthening of AKST [Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology] towards agroecological sciences will contribute to addressing environmental issues while maintaining and increasing productivity.” This implies a new interdisciplinary approach to agricultural research that embraces complexity. Agroecological approaches focus strongly on locally available resources, blending scientific and traditional knowledge, with producers at the centre of the learning and innovation process, and knowledge as a ‘co-production’ between producers and formal scientists.
The Symposium also highlighted a number of key questions and areas that require further investigation:
* A fundamental question is how widely is agroecology practised? How many producers practise agroecological methods worldwide, and at what scale? Chapter 16 of these Proceedings outlines factors in social organization that have helped to scale up agroecology, yet also points to the need to prioritize social science and self-study by rural social movements, to help draw systematic lessons from successful experiences;
* What are the links between agroecological systems and dietary factors that influence health and disease? Chapter 18 makes an urgent call for transdisciplinary research in agriculture, ecology and public health in order to explore these connections;
* What impact do agroecological systems have on socio-economic variables? Chapter 19 provides a preliminary analysis and identifies future research priorities in this area;
*What should investments into agroecology look like and how can they catalyse transformational change?
* How can the private sector best contribute to make food systems more sustainable?
* How can markets for agroecological products be built and strengthened where they already exist?
FAO sees its role in this area as a facilitator between different actors, including national research and development programmes, academia, social movements, farmers’ associations and the private sector, to contribute to the strengthening of the evidence base for agroecology.
Build and strengthen networks in support of agroecology
Agroecology is already taking place on-the-ground, spread through social movements and methodologies such as the campesino-a-campesino (‘farmer-to-farmer’) methodology. These approaches have been highly successful in promoting farmer innovation and horizontal sharing between peers. Such movements involve large numbers of peasant and family farmers in self-organized processes. Because agroecology is grounded in local socio-ecological conditions, social process methods have significant advantages over traditional top-down methods of extension that prescribe ready-to-use technical packages.
Countries, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations such as FAO, and other international institutions can help catalyse the spread of agroecology by supporting these existing social movements and networks. They can learn from the experiences of organizations such as La Via Campesina to support agroecological networks in countries and regions where agroecology is a more recent and developing concept.
One concrete measure is to establish new farmer–researcher networks to support and empower smallholder producers, unleash their local and traditional knowledge, and improve the research– innovation cycle to enhance rural livelihoods and sustainable food systems. FAO ’s vision is to connect these farmer–researcher networks through an online Agroecology Knowledge Hub.
FAO will further integrate agroecology into its existing work at the national level, including the development of agroecology curricula for Farmer Field Schools (FFS). The participatory FFS approach, which prioritizes experiential learning, is well suited to support capacity building on agroecological approaches.
Policy support to provide an enabling environment for agroecology, smallholder family farming and agrobiodiversity
Agroecology has entered the vocabulary of governments and international bodies, with policies established in numerous countries in Latin America and Europe. Both Brazil and France have adopted national agroecology plans. Agroecological approaches have been recognized, among others, within the Committee on World Food Security, in the Secretary-General’s 2013 report on Agricultural Technology for Development and by the 17th UN Commission on Sustainable Development. This proves that policy processes can help scale up agroecology at national and international levels.
Policy support helps provide an enabling environment for agroecology to flourish. During the International Symposium, a number of specific priorities were identified:
* Protect the rights of smallholders and family farmers to access agrobiodiversity at no costs, which is a critical input for agroecological systems and is increasingly being restricted;
* Conserve agrobiodiversity as an essential resource for future adaptation, through in situ and ex situ measures;
* Internalize the environmental externalities in production costs to place agroecological systems on a level playing field with conventional industrial agriculture;
* Provide farmers and land managers with incentives to promote the protection and enhancement of ecosystem services through good agricultural practices;
* Strengthen the link between agricultural and nutrition policies;
*Encourage short commercialization circuits and local food systems (e.g. through procurement policies).
FAO stands ready to assist interested member countries to develop new opportunities in agroecology, including offering support to identify and implement policies, strategies and innovations that contribute to sustainable food systems.
Invest in agroecology
Most of the investment in agricultural research during the last five decades has been directed towards monocultures. As a result there is an urgent need, but also attendant opportunities, to redirect investment towards applications of agroecology to address the current and future challenges facing global food systems.
A distinguished group of over 300 scientists and experts from across the United States of America recently delivered a Statement of Support for Public Investment in Agroecological Research, calling for greater public investment in agroecological research. They note that agroecology has a proven record of meeting farming challenges in a cost-effective manner.
Moreover, while other approaches also offer promising solutions, they are more likely to already benefit from private sector support. Agroecology is less likely to be supported by the private sector because one of its goals is to reduce farmers’ dependence on purchased external inputs. This leaves the public sector with the primary responsibility to fund agroecological research in the interests of farmers and society.
It should not be forgotten that farmers themselves are the largest investors in agriculture and adequate investment in agroecology will ultimately also depend on providing farmers with further means as well as giving them access to agroecological inputs and products. Therefore, financial infrastructure such as credit markets and farmers’ insurances that support diversification and a transition to agroecology should be made available to smallholders and family farmers.
Additionally, participatory guarantee systems should be strengthened and supported as should products and inputs needed for agroecological farms. FAO sees agroecology as a ‘good investment’ for farmers, the environment and wider society.
In summary, we urgently need new alternatives to address the current and future challenges facing our food systems. Agroecology represents a promising option, capable of providing win-win solutions by enhancing food security and nutrition, restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems, delivering sustainable livelihoods to smallholders and building resilience to adapt to climate change. To scale up the positive impacts of agroecology FAO will continue to support a framework for international dialogue on agroecology at the regional and national levels. It will be important to continue to strengthen the evidence base in support of agroecology, especially to address some of the key questions identified at the International Symposium. Countries, intergovernmental organizations and other stakeholders should support existing networks and promote new initiatives such as farmer–researcher networks to build and strengthen networks for agroecology. Through policy support, countries have a key role to play in establishing an enabling environment for agroecology, smallholder family farming and agrobiodiversity. Finally, there are opportunities for public and private actors to invest in agroecology to realize its full potential.
During the final wrap-up session of the International Symposium, Steve Gliessman and Pablo Tittonell reported the key findings and themes to the plenary. They asserted that agroecology provides an action-oriented approach to develop alternative food systems: “The Symposium emphatically demonstrated that the stakeholders represented have everything necessary to make this transformation happen. It only requires action, vision, responsibility towards future generations and above all courage.”