Dear Friends and Colleagues
The Sustainability of Agroecology versus the Unsustainability of Industrial Farming
A call for a re-evaluation of our current food Systess was made in 2008 by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). A new paper reviews recent literature against the backdrop of the IAASTD to outline key contentious points in the controversy between the merits of “techno-based” industrial methods of farming versus alternative agroecological farming models.
Several studies have challenged the claims of sustainability made by proponents of modern industrial or conventional agriculture farming systems. A life-cycle analysis of conventional agriculture found that central features of the model failed to meet key sustainability criteria, including its dependency on high fossil-fuels inputs, a trend towards food industry consolidation, adverse human health impacts, a loss of agrobiodiversity, soil degradation, and exacerbation of the anthropogenic causes of climate change. However, the mainstream trend in high level industry, media, industry-funded academics, and many policy circles continues to espouse the value of high capital and high-input dependent agricultural systems to feed the world.
The IAASTD, which consisted of a panel of over 400 scientists from over 60 countries, addressed this by calling for a significant paradigm shift to agroecological sciences. This call is echoed in the 2013 Trade and Environment Review published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which urged a shift "from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers”.
The paper therefore puts forward organic farming and agroecology models as a sound social, scientific, and rural development strategy. The key features of such an agroecological approach include: the decentralization of the production and marketing process, a holistic and integrated participatory approach, minimizing erosion and enhancing soil quality, the conservation of natural resources, the promotion of agrobiodiversity and of ecosystem services both at the farm and landscape or watershed level, and the need to fully integrate socioeconomic, social and gender equity considerations in all phases of the agricultural research, extension, and developmental process.
The Abstract and Conclusions of the published paper are reproduced below. The full text is available at:http://www.mdpi.com/2311-7524/2/1/2/htm
With best wishes,
AGROECOLOGY: A GLOBAL PARADIGM TO CHALLENGE MAINSTREAM INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE
Considerable controversy continues to exist in scientific and policy circles about how to tackle issues of global hunger, malnutrition, and rural economic decline, as well as environmental issues, such as biodiversity loss and climate change adaptation. On the one hand, powerful vested interests, with close ties to government, media, and academic institutions, propose high-input technology-based solutions, speculative and neoliberal “market-based” solutions, and export-oriented agricultural models. On the other hand, an international scientific and grassroots Food Movement has emerged, calling for a redesign of the Global Food System in support of small-scale agroecological farming systems. A call to re-evaluate our current Food Systems was made in 2008 by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Here, using the IAASTD study as a backdrop, we review the recent literature to outline key contentious points in the controve rsy between the need for high-input and “techno-based” versus agroecological farming models. A critical assessment is made of proposed strategies to protect soil resources, improve nutrient and energy cycles, protect agrobiodiversity, and promote social well-being in rural communities. With an increase in the number of affluent consumers (i.e., the middle class) in the developing world, and with the continued problem of extreme and chronic poverty with other larger sectors of society, Organic Farming and Agroecology models are put forward as a sound social, scientific, and rural development strategy.
Because of increased global population pressures, of the impending impacts of climate change on food production, and of the increased trend toward the market price volatility of the major global staple crops, there have been increased calls for a transformation of modern agricultural systems. The debate and the narrative about the future of agriculture is permeated by the narrative of powerful vested interests with close ties to government and academic institutions that make a call for a continuation of capital and input-intensive technological based solutions for agriculture. However, scientific surveys and reviews have documented a range of human health and environmental externality costs from industrial or conventional production systems, and these surveys have questioned the sustainability of such systems because of their potential adverse impacts on the long-term quality of the soil, natural resources, and on future generations.
As a result of the concerns about the lack of sustainability and lack of resiliency observed in modern industrial agricultural production practices, calls have been made for a paradigm shift in the design of agricultural systems. Agroecological approaches have been put forward as viable solutions to increase agricultural productivity, to increase economic well-being as well as the social and gender equity in rural communities, and to increase agricultural productivity while minimizing reliance on external proprietary technology, capital and synthetic chemical inputs. Key features of an agroecological approach include the decentralization of the production and marketing process, the need to follow a holistic and integrated participatory approach, an emphasis on minimizing erosion and enhancing soil quality, the conservation of natural resources, the promotion of agrobiodiversity and of ecosystem services both at the farm and landscape or watershed level, and the need to fully integra te socioeconomic, social and gender equity considerations in all phases of the agricultural research, extension, and developmental process.