Dear Friends and Colleagues
Upscaling Agroecology to Build Climate Resilience Requires Enabling Policies
It is now widely recognized that a major transformation of food systems is needed to achieve food and nutrition security globally in the context of a changing climate. A recent background paper, commissioned by the Global Commission on Adaptation under the auspices of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests Trees and Agroforestry, focuses on the role that agroecological approaches can play in making food systems more agile in adapting to climate change as planetary boundaries are reached and exceeded.
Agroecology is increasingly seen as being able to contribute to transforming food systems by applying ecological principles to agriculture to ensure a regenerative use of natural resources and ecosystem services. Agroecology also embraces social and cultural aspects in developing equitable food systems within which all people can exercise choice over what they eat, and how and where it is produced.
There is extensive experience of agroecological practices to simultaneously address specific climate hazards, enhance the resilience of farming systems to climate change and improve the flow of a range of ecosystem services. The largest contribution that agroecology makes to adaptation is often through better management of interactions at livelihood scales, conferring income and food security benefits.
Agroecological approaches will only be widely adopted if actions are taken to level the playing field in respect of enabling policies, the collection of evidence and consumer choice. The barriers to adoption of agroecological approaches at scale must be overcome through actions of public and private sector governance. There are three critical areas:
With best wishes,
THE CONTRIBUTION OF AGROECOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO REALIZING CLIMATE-RESILIENT AGRICULTURE
Sinclair, Alexander Wezel, Cheikh Mbow, Susan Chomba, Valentina Robiglio,
and Rhett Harrison
It is generally accepted that agriculture is a major driver of climate change as well as being acutely challenged to adapt to its effects. Agroecological approaches involve the application of integrated ecological, economic and social principles to the transition of smallholder farming systems, towards greater resilience. This involves adapting 13 generic agroecological principles to local circumstances. The principles include: diversification, recycling, and better connecting producers and consumers. Adaptation is done by scientists working closely with farmers and other stakeholders to co-create concrete, demand-led solutions to pressing problems as they are experienced locally rather than through imposing externally prefabricated solutions that may not be locally appropriate.
Agroecology comprises transdisciplinary science; sustainable agricultural practices; and, social movements that are precipitating widespread behaviour change. Agroecological principles map closely to principles of adaptation with the notable exception that while they often exhibit resilience benefits, these are incidental rather than representing an explicit response to climate signals. Current market failures (for example not costing pollution nor valuing the maintenance of soil organic carbon); and, perverse policy incentives (for example subsidizing use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides) combine to mitigate against decisions for farmers and other food system actors to adopt agroecological approaches despite their benefits for climate resilience.
Agroecology manifests at field, farm and landscape scales, for which different metrics of agricultural performance are relevant in order for agroecological practices to be fairly judged against alternatives. Operationalising new and holistic performance metrics for agriculture will require innovation in both public and private (value chain) sector governance.
There is extensive experience of agroecological practices contributing to addressing specific climate change effects, such as: contour hedgerows to reduce soil erosion caused by more intensive rainfall; shade trees to mitigate higher temperatures for crops as diverse as coffee, wheat and rice; and, encouraging optimum landscape level tree cover to realise nutritional benefits through increasing diversity of the diets of women and children and groundwater recharge. But, the largest contribution that agroecology makes to adaptation is often through better management of interactions at livelihood scales, conferring income and food security benefits. Robust evidence of the cost-effectiveness of agroecological practices vis-à-vis alternatives is lacking and collecting it is of urgent importance.
Despite an uneven playing field, there are examples of agroecology being adopted at scale. These include: farmer managed natural regeneration that is precipitating the regreening of parts of the Sahel in Africa, agroecological response to the newly arrived fall army worm epidemic in Africa, state level sponsorship of agroecology in Andhra Pradesh in India and policy change in Peru, France and Switzerland to support land restoration and biodiversity conservation.
Agroecological approaches have proven ability to simultaneously address specific climate hazards, enhance the resilience of farming systems to climate change and to improve the flow of a range of ecosystem services. They will only be widely adopted if actions are taken to level the playing field in respect of enabling policies, the collection of evidence and consumer choice. These actions need to be coupled with moving away from simplifying landscapes to embracing complexity, addressing option by context interactions and enabling integration both vertically (across scales) and horizontally (across sectors) to deliver a conducive environment within which agroecological approaches can co-exist alongside alternatives.