About Agroecology

Agroecology at work

We join a growing number of citizens, scholars, farmers, Indigenous peoples, and activists who are concerned about the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on people and the planet.

With its increasing reliance on genetically modified crops, monocultures, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides – industrial agriculture has left an array of damaging impacts on soil, air, water, human health, and communities across the globe.

It has concentrated agricultural capital, including the global genetic resources of plants and animals. It has made food, natural resources, and agricultural labour globalized commodities. It has diminished biodiversity and our ability to adapt to climate change. It has changed our vital connection to food and the land which sustains us.

The future of food and agriculture will depend on cultivating resilient food systems and communities – those that:

  • support the growth of a diversity of healthy foods, people, and livelihoods;
  • remove barriers to accessing and controlling food and natural resources needed to survive;
  • value and conserve natural resources, including plant and animal life;
  • work to dismantle structural racism, patriarchy, oppression, and inequality;
  • work toward achieving Food Sovereignty.

Resilient food systems and communities are those that are adapted and equipped to handle a wide array of environmental and social conditions that may otherwise jeopardize access to quality food and natural resources. By localizing food systems and putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, and know-how into the hands of local producers, citizens, and consumers, communities become resilient and are better able to withstand environmental stresses, climate change, and the effects of globalization.

An alternative to industrial agriculture is small-scale agroecology.

As a science, it is a discipline that has studied and expanded the knowledge of agroecosystems – an integrative approach that considers ecological, socio-economic, and cultural variables to deliver contextualized solutions to local problems. As a movement, it empowers small-scale farmers and communities as agents of change. As an agricultural practice, it combines the traditional, practical, and local knowledge of producers with technologies and scientific tools to achieve sustainable agriculture.

Agroecology as a Science is the application of ecology to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems:

Agroecology as a scientific discipline emerged from the convergence of agronomy and ecology disciplines and has a long and varied history depending on where it was studied. During the early 1980s, agroecology became a distinct and interdisciplinary framework with holistic methods for the study of agroecosystems that included sustainability and social equity. Today, agroecology as a science is known as applying ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. It includes the study of the ecological processes in farming systems and processes such as: nutrient cycling, carbon cycling/sequestration, water cycling, food chains within and between trophic groups, lifecycles, pollination, herbivores/predators/prey/hosts.

As a scientific discipline, agroecology a is a large-scale solution to the industrialization and globalization of agriculture, since it lays a foundation for agroecological movements in supporting sustainability, alternative development, and environmental justice, all of which help to promote agroecological practices. Furthermore, until agroecology as a science became intertwined with its movements and practices that advocated for a sustainable and equitable agriculture, governments, funders, and policy makers, seldom considered the environmental impact of agriculture, nor the social costs of a uni-dimensional development framework fixated on production and economics. Its science provides empirical evidence needed to determine an alternative agricultural discourse that challenges the dominant development paradigm with agroecological practices used by farmers in the global South; also influencing farmers in the global North. Agroecological science continues to influence development discourse and policies needed to evoke meaningful change on local and global scales.

Agroecology as a Movement, mobilizes and empowers local communities:

Agroecology as a movement is integral with other movements that also share visions of an alternative model to industrialized agricultural and dominant development discourse, some of which include the sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty, seed sovereignty, farmer-to-farmer, and ecofeminism movements. Emerging from the environmental movement of the 1960s, agroecology became known first as a science and practice, and then a full movement by the 1990s, when the word started to communicate a new paradigm that redefined the relationships between agriculture and society. Agroecology, including its sister movements, is a large-scale solution to industrial agriculture since it creates an alternative space to challenge the principles of modern agriculture, uniting people across the global North and global South over common goals. Confronting the root causes of hunger, poverty, and inequality and urging for the dismantling and transformation of the institutions and regulations responsible for the globalization of agriculture and food systems, the agroecological movement advocates, instead, for small-scale sustainable agriculture that is determined and controlled by farmers.

For example, the international peasant movement, La Vía Campesina, brings together 150 organizations from 70 countries throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe to promote small-scale family farms, sustainable agriculture, agroecological practices, and food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is important to the agroecological movement because it demands that farmers determine their own agriculture, not international markets, agribusiness, nor development policies. According to La Vía Campesina, food sovereignty encompasses the right of local populations to define their own food and agriculture systems and policies, prioritize food production and consumption to meet local needs, and secure access to and management of land, water, seed, livestock, and biodiversity.

​Agroecology, and its sister movements also create farmer-consumer solidarity, where people in the global North and South reconnect to agriculture and the nature needed to sustain it as they become more aware of where their food comes from through the growth in farmers’ markets, CSAs, and direct farm marketing. These movements collectively symbolize change that advocates for the protection of people and the environment. By influencing development policies and politics, by connecting with farmers worldwide, and by sharing knowledge and resources through farmer-farmer exchanges, the agroecological movement demands solutions to the industrialization and globalization of agriculture.

Agroecological movements are occurring at the local level in countries worldwide. For example, Bhutan strives to become the first nation that is 100% organic in its agricultural production by preserving and promoting traditional knowledge systems in concert with the “Gross National Happiness” development philosophy. Cuba is also living through an agroecological revolution where industrialized agricultural production was transformed with agroecological practices, leaving rural and urban producers to feed a nation limited by what it could import. Brazil, too, has also experienced its own local agroecological movement, with contributions made by several actors from the grassroots to the state levels, including the MST (Landless Worker’s Movement). These local movements have brought large-scale solutions to these countries, by influencing production, policy, and agricultural practices, as well as through the empowerment of people.

Agroecology as a Practice, includes both farming and social practices:

Small-scale farming systems are often agroecological by tradition, utilizing practices such as polyculture, agroforestry, soil and biodiversity conservation, the integration of livestock into farming systems, and nutrient, pest, water, and resource management. The practices implemented on these farms offer direct and large-scale solutions to food insecurity, nutrition, poverty, climate change, the narrowing of biodiversity, and reduced knowledge sharing. For example, when small-scale agroecological farms practice polyculture, they are more productive per unit area than any crop grown in monoculture, and yield greater outputs on fewer inputs, excluding labour. In other words, more total food is produced per hectare of land when food is grown in polycultures, because crops utilize the space that weeds would otherwise utilize, their diversity reduces the pressures of insects and diseases, and they make more efficient uses of available resources such as water, light, and nutrients. This surplus of food not only improves the nutrition of those farmers, but also can be sold in local markets assisting in poverty alleviation.

Small-scale farmers tend to be very good at conserving biodiversity and protecting natural resources, as these are commons relied upon by entire communities. These farmers also practice biodiversity conservation by planting a variety of crops (many are landraces), because it reduces their cropping system vulnerability while increasing harvest security and resiliency in the event of environmental stresses brought by pests, disease, and drought, as well as climate change. Many small-scale farmers already rely on traditional knowledge of locally adapted varieties, water harvesting, polyculture, agroforestry, and non-cultivated plants to help them through periods of environmental and economic insecurity. In fact, women play a distinct role as the carriers and preservers of traditional knowledge. Valuing their contributions is critical to the success of agroecosystems.

Many of these small-scale traditional farming systems are inherently resilient and productive. However, research has shown that despite the failures of industrial intensification of traditional systems, agroecology as a science can help traditional plant and animal systems adapt to increase productivity in ways that are ecologically, socially, and economically responsible. More than just a set of farming practices, agroecology also implicitly presumes a set of social practices that are grounded in local empowerment and participatory exchanges, and seeks to respect local knowledge, cultural processes, and agroecological subjectivities that are often not reasoned from science. Numerous studies have shown improvements made to productivity as well as ecosystem and social health after the adoption of agroecological methods on small-scale traditional farms.

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