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Dear Friends and Colleagues

Agroecological Farms Generate More Income and Employment than Conventional Farms

A recent study (Item 1), based on empirical evidence, shows how agroecology is key to the much-needed transformation of European agriculture. It discusses the economic dimensions of agroecological farming systems in Europe, drawing upon different styles of farming that can be described as ‘proto-agroecological’, i.e., approaches to farming that are agroecological by nature, but which may not necessarily explicitly define themselves as agroecological.

The study reports that agroecological farming currently generates farm incomes that exceed those from conventional and industrial farms. In addition, agroecological farms also provide more employment per hectare (thus supporting regional economies), use less fossil fuel and make positive contributions towards the maintenance of scenic landscapes and biodiversity. In all the study’s examples, agroecological practices generate Value Added/Gross Value of Production (VA/GVP) ratios that exceed those from comparable conventional and industrial practices. There is enormous potential to further strengthen the economies of agroecological farms through the construction of closely-knit webs for local processing and marketing. Many agroecological practices discussed are the outcome of social struggles at multiple levels (fields, farms, networks, markets, etc.). Lastly, agroecology depends overwhelmingly less on subsidies than conventional and industrialized agriculture.

The researchers recommend shifting part of the common agricultural policy budget towards agroecology to strengthen the already significant contribution that ecological farms make in providing quality food, employment, public goods and environmental services. This money could also be used to waive the debts of thousands of highly indebted farms on condition that they embark on a transition process towards becoming more agroecological. Both these shifts in funding would accelerate the much-needed transformation towards a more sustainable and resilient agriculture in Europe.

The above study complements a 2017 study (Item 2), which analysed 17 case studies from around the world and provided some initial evidence of the positive economic impacts of agroecology. The study found that agroecological practices enhanced financial capital, contributing to a sustainable livelihoods framework at the farm level.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
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Item 1

THE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF AGROECOLOGY: EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE FROM EUROPE

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg et al.
Journal of Rural Studies
Volume 71, October 2019, Pages 46-61
11 September 2019
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2019.09.003 

Abstract

This article discusses the economic dimensions of agroecological farming systems in Europe. It firstly theoretically elaborates the reasons why, and under what conditions, agroecological farming systems have the potential to produce higher incomes than farms that follow the conventional logic. This theoretical exposition is then followed by a presentation of empirical material from a wide range of European countries that shows the extent to which this potential is being realized. The empirical data draw upon different styles of farming that can be described as ‘proto-agroecological’: approaches to farming that are agroecological by nature, but which may not necessarily explicitly define themselves as agroecological. The empirical material that we present shows the huge potential and radical opportunities that Europe’s, often silent, ‘agroecological turn’ offers to farmers that could (and should) be the basis for the future transformation of European agricultural policies, since agroecology not only allows for more sustainable production of healthier food but also considerably improves farmers’ incomes. It equally carries the promise of re-enlarging productive agricultural (and related) employment and increasing the total income generated by the agricultural sector, at both regional and national levels. While we recognise that agroecology is a worldwide and multidimensional phenomenon we have chosen to limit this analysis to Europe and the economic dimension. This choice is made in order to refute current discourses that represent agroecology as unproductive and unprofitable and an option that would require massive subsidies.

Conclusions

There is currently a paucity of published data on the economic performances of agroecology within Europe. We hope that this analysis goes some way to filling that gap and will complement D’Annolfo et al.’s (2017) recently published review of the social and economic performance of AE, which analysed 17 case studies from the world and provided some initial evidence of the positive economic impacts of AE.

In the first part of this paper we set out some theoretical grounds for assuming that AE may well be capable of realising better economic returns than conventional and industrial agriculture. The second half of the paper provides a set of empirical examples that show, notwithstanding the limitations and doubts that we recognise, that agroecological farming currently generates farm incomes that exceed those from conventional and industrial farms (see Table 10 for an overview). In addition to this benefit, agroecological farms also provide more employment per hectare (thus supporting regional economies), use less fossil fuel and make positive contributions towards the maintenance of scenic landscapes and biodiversity.

We consider these results to be both impressive and convincing. The more so, since there is enormous potential to further strengthen the economies of agroecological farms through the construction of closely knit webs for local processing and marketing, as shown in the case of Bioalpin in Austria (as well as, to a lesser extent, the Italian dairy and cattle sectors). Such webs can further improve farm incomes and employment opportunities, thus contributing to the scaling up of AE practices and creating strong links between rural production and urban consumers.

Taken together these results shows that AE is far from being a ‘second-best’ type of agriculture with a limited potential for providing adequate incomes to those who work in it. By contrast, this paper shows that AE generates levels and stability in incomes and employment that are all, under current circumstances, superior to those generated by conventional and industrial farming.

It is important to stress that the many AE practices discussed in the paper are the outcome of social struggles, each of which involve many actors and can take place at multiple levels (fields, farms, networks, markets, etc.).We see a promising potential for these manifold practices to become increasingly interlinked and mutually supportive. New social movements and well-articulated policies will need to play a role here. The example of Ireland is a case in point. It shows the potential for appropriate agricultural policies, that centre on applied research and co-ordinating flows of communication, in facilitating and supporting agroecological farming. This could readily be replicated elsewhere and would allow for a substantial transition from conventional and industrial to agroecological farming. As the article shows there are already many proto-agroecological practices within Europe that are capable of functioning as spring boards and inspirations for the further unfolding of AE in Europe.

One final point that emerges from this comparative analysis is that AE depends overwhelmingly less on subsidies than conventional and industrialized agriculture. This is largely due to the way in which in the EU’s agricultural subsidy system is structured (with the lion’s share of the budget going to the largest 20% of farms) but also reflects AE’s inherent higher income generating potential (without which agroecological farms would not be able to survive under the current subsidy regime). Shifting part of the CAP budget towards agroecology would greatly strengthen the already significant contribution that these farms make in providing quality food, employment, public goods and environmental services. This money could also be used to waive the debts of thousands of highly indebted farms on condition that they embark on a transition process towards becoming more agroecological. Both these shifts in funding would accelerate the much-needed transition towards a more sustainable and resilient agriculture and signal a switch away from the current and wholly unsatisfactory situation of EU taxpayers’ money being used to top-up the incomes of large and unsustainable farms.

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Item 2

A REVIEW OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE OF AGROECOLOGY 

Raffaele D’Annolfo, Barbara Gemmill-Herren, Benjamin Graeub & Lucas A. Garibaldi
International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 15:6, 632-644,
9 Nov 2017
https://doi.org/10.1080/14735903.2017.1398123
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14735903.2017.1398123

Abstract

Agroecology potentially offers a sustainable path to agricultural development as it integrates ecological principles and social and economic concerns into agri-food systems. While many descriptive studies have documented the experience of farming communities using agroecological approaches, evidence on social and economic indicators of agroecology is poorly documented in a quantitative sense. The present study aims to build a framework and provide a quantitative overview of the effects of adopting selected agroecological practices at the farm level. A literature review has been conducted in order to identify scientific work addressing the contribution of agroecology to a set of socio-economic indicators, which affect human, financial and social assets. Data extracted from 17 peer-reviewed papers were analysed using two techniques: vote counting and general linear mixed-effects models on effect sizes. We found preliminary evidence of agroecology’s positive contribution to improving financial capital. However, data extracted does not provide meaningful information on other capital endowments (human and social). This is mainly due to the fact that there is a lack of data concerning the socio-economic impact of agroecology. In addition, qualitative methods (e.g. Q-methodology) should be integrated into further research in order to capture farmer perspectives.

Conclusions

This study collected quantitative evidence on the social and economic effects of agroecology from a selection of scientific publications. Based on the reviewed papers, evidence suggests that agroecological practices enhance financial capital, contributing to SL framework at the farm level. Results for yield and farm profitability provided by vote counting and linear mixed-effects models followed similar patterns. It needs to be acknowledged that there is high variability and uncertainty among the results collected for farm profitability, while for other indicators (e.g. income stability), data have not been found. In this regard, we emphasize that:

  • The available data are limited to peer-reviewed studies, most of which do not address the holistic agroecological approaches or reflect farm (rather than experiment station) conditions.
  • Other co-variables (e.g. rainfall levels) need to be considered in any future development of the analysis in order to provide a more exhaustive explanation of the results.
  • Additional attributes of agroecological approaches – for example practices that have cultural values or that build natural assets such as watershed services – contribute to the overall outcomes and should be considered in the totality of evaluation.
  • There is a lack of evidence of interactive effects across practices; the combination of agroecological practices and their interactions deserve further analysis, in order to explore the potential of future agroecological systems.
  • Qualitative methods (e.g. Q-methodology) should be integrated in order to capture farmer perspective.

 


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