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Andenes or platforms for agriculture in Peru

Andenes or platforms for agriculture in Peru

Credit: Christian Vinces - Adobe

Agroecology

Call to action:

Returning to food systems based on agroecology will reduce poverty, end hunger, heal damaged land, sequester carbon, and improve health.

Agroecology is a nature-based food production system integrating biology, ecology, sociology, economics, and activism. It is simultaneously a scientific discipline, a suite of time-tested regenerative farming practices, and a social movement. It views agricultural areas, whether small or large, as ecosystems. It combines Indigenous and traditional agriculture with multidisciplinary scientific research and new technology, with the goal of increasing food production, improving livelihoods for farmers, strengthening food security and nutrition, reducing pesticides, replenishing soil health, supporting wildlife, and building resilience to climate change. It can end hunger. It creates equitable food systems. It values diversity, localized solutions, and interdependence.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn why the social and environmental benefits of agroecology make it a “must do” alternative to industrial agriculture. Agroecology is widely practiced around the world, particularly among Indigenous, traditional, and smallholder farm communities where it has produced food regeneratively for centuries. In many nations, however, it has been replaced by an industrial food system that treats agricultural crops as a commodity, employing a lengthy list of destructive practices, including growing crops with chemicals that kill biology in the soil. Repeated plowing causes soil erosion, resulting in a loss of stored carbon. In contrast, agroecology provides healthy food and heals land. It is the foundation for regenerative solutions: see Eating Plants Nexus, Regenerative Agriculture Nexus, Agroforestry Nexus, and Degraded Land Restoration Nexus. The term agroecology was coined in 1928. Although precise definitions vary, agroecologists share core practices (see Farmers and Ranchers below).

Learn about the diversity of agroecological systems around the world. Marginalized for decades, many Indigenous peoples, traditional cultures, and smallholder farms are now leading an agroecology revolution as the benefits of their regenerative systems become clear. Examples include:

Support agroecology by buying directly from farmers and ranchers who practice regenerative agriculture or from retailers who support them. Purchasing products from agroecological farms and ranches encourages other farmers and ranchers to adopt similar practices and goals. See Regenerative Agriculture Nexus and Eating Plants Nexus for more suggestions.

Beware “junk agroecology.” Agribusinesses have begun to co-opt the term agroecology for their own purposes. These corporations tend to showcase small advances in single practices, such as improving soil health, that allow them to appear sustainable while falling short of more holistic solutions.

  • “Junk Agroecology” is a report from Friends of the Earth International that details how the purveyors of junk agroecology want to perpetuate the ills of the industrial food system under the guise of “sustainable agriculture.”
  • Many groups representing Indigenous and agroecological food systems felt they were marginalized in favor of corporate agribusinesses at the United Nations’ World Food Summit in 2021. Here is a story about the controversy.

Get trained and/or earn an education certificate in agroecology. There are many opportunities to deepen your knowledge. Programs include:

  • An Agroecology M.S. offered by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, including a research track and a public participation track.
  • The University of Vermont has an undergraduate program called Agroecology in Action.
  • The University of California, Santa Cruz offers multiple programs at its Center for Agroecology.
  • Programs of study in agroecology in the United States can be found here, here, and here.
  • The International People’s Agroecology Multiversity has a network of field learning sites in South Asia that provides training in agroecology.
  • The Ecological Society of America provides educational resources on agroecology.
  • The European Association for Agroecology provides an online game called Segae in which a player pilots a virtual farm and implements agroecological practices to increase its sustainability.

Donate to or join organizations that support agroecology. There are many choices, including volunteer projects and other community-based initiatives that preserve biodiversity (see Key Players below).

Groups

Scientists

Expand research into agroecological practices and customs, especially its potential to build resilient and equitable food systems. Agroecology is underserved by the research community, particularly the interconnections among sustainable farming practices, social sciences, and cultural heritage, and their potential for ending the climate crisis. Researchers need to be inclusive, inviting Indigenous and marginalized voices into their projects and scientific communities. Potential research areas include:

  • Exploring links between crops grown by Indigenous, traditional, and smallholder farms and the specific agroecological niches where these crops are raised, including the role they can play in restoring degraded land. (see Eating Plants Nexus – Restoring Degraded Land Nexus)
  • Analyzing how agroecology can increase productivity (yield) and farm profitability. Here is an example of the type of research needed.
  • Analyzing why agroecology isn’t being adopted more widely by farmers beyond those who are currently using it. What are the barriers to adoption of agroecological principles and practices? How can its adoption be scaled up? What are the social and policy needs for expanding agroecology? What arguments are the most effective?
  • Joining fellow scientists in calling for increased public investment in agroecological research.

Farmers and Ranchers

Adopt agroecological practices. Expand the scale of your agroecological enterprises as much as possible. Participate in research. Join efforts that change policies and economic conditions to support agroecology. For more information see Regenerative Agriculture Nexus, Agroforestry Nexus, and Eating Plants Nexus. Practices include:

  • Organic no-till is a combination of chemical-free and no-tillage agriculture, often achieved with the use of cover crops.
  • Conservation tillage falls between no-till and full-till and usually involves cover crops.
  • Cover crops keep the ground covered using a wide variety of plants in order to protect the soil and build organic matter.
  • Polycultures and food forests traditionally employ two or more food types grown together, often utilizing trees in a multistory system.
  • Agroforestry is the integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems. It has been practiced around the world for centuries.
  • Composting is the aerobic decomposition of carbon-rich material, such as wood, manure, and food waste, into a soil-enriching amendment (see Compost Nexus).
  • Silvopasture is the integration of trees and grazing livestock on the same land, managed intensively for both forest products and forage (see Silvopasture Nexus).
  • Perennial crops are trees and vegetables that grow every year without seeding, including olives, asparagus, rhubarb, and globe artichokes (see Perennial Crops Nexus).

Adopt new technology and new training. New agricultural technology and training programs have the potential to boost agroecological yields and make farming more efficient and profitable.

Restaurants and Retailers

Offer agroecological products to customers. Identifying food in meals and for sale on store shelves as agroecological will help customers understand the value of the regenerative agricultural practices and principles that produced the food.

  • Zero Foodprint, a nonprofit organization that certifies restaurants and food businesses for their use of climate-friendly products, is a role model for agroecology.
  • El Fogon Verde is a restaurant in Madrid that uses ingredients from agroecological farms exclusively.
  • Food retailers and their environmental policies can drive agroecology practices on the farm.

Philanthropy

Support agroecological research, implementation, and activism. Many agroecology projects are underfunded and have a difficult time attracting the attention of major foundations.

  • One Earth supports transitions to regenerative agriculture and agroecological food systems. Here is a list of their projects.
  • The Agroecology Fund supports projects around the world that advance agroecology.
  • A funders toolkit on climate, health, and equity can help connect funders with other sources of climate-focused philanthropy and provides strategy advice.
  • In an open letter, two hundred organizations called on foundations to stop supporting the spread of industrial agriculture in Africa and support agroecology projects instead.
  • Money Flows: What Is Holding Back Investment in Agroecological Research for Africa?” is a report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.
  • A network of European foundations is supporting sustainable agriculture and UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Companies

Support agroecology as an economically viable, profitable, and resilient alternative to conventional farming. Agroecology can strengthen businesses, fostering long-term profitability. Challenges and opportunities:

  • Help shorten supply chains from the farmer to the customer. Fewer steps can help local producers enjoy higher profit margins. Eosta is a company that distributes fresh and fair organic fruit and vegetables, tracing all products carefully along its supply chain.
  • Help develop markets for products. Agroecological businesses often lack access to markets, especially in low-income countries. Here is a story about a partnership between Practical Action and IKEA to help smallholder farmers in Kenya.
  • Help build awareness of the benefits of agroecology for customers. Although there is no certification process, companies can promote agroecological products as part of marketing campaigns. Biofit is a Kenyan company that produces animal feed from water hyacinth.
  • Help bring digital technology to the distribution and marketing of agroecological products. Here is a story about how digital tools can help African agrifood systems. Here is a research article about how digital technology can facilitate transitions to agroecology.
  • Business Fights Poverty is a collaboration of business experts and researchers fostering successful partnerships between companies and farmers.

Governance

Enact laws, policies, regulations, and public research projects that support agroecology and related customs and practices. Agroecology can provide an overarching guide to policies and economic incentives that support regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. Its integration of scientific research, practical implementation, and social awareness can help bring together policy sectors and diverse stakeholders that are often disconnected from one another. Consequently, multiple good governance goals can be achieved at a variety of scales and levels. Actions include:

Bad Actors

Some of the same large agribusinesses that have been deeply involved in the expansion of industrial agriculture are trying to co-opt agroecology to suit their bottom line. These companies include:

Bayer/Monsanto, a large agribusiness that produces a variety of chemicals, including the herbicide glyphosate (e.g., Roundup), that are sprayed on croplands. Bayer Ag CEO is Werner Baumann. His email is werner.baumann@bayer.com. His phone is 49-214-30-47720.

Cargill, a family-owned agribusiness behemoth at the center of the global industrial production of soy, corn, and other commodities and implicated in a wide variety land-degrading, health-damaging, and climate-altering activities. The CEO of Cargill is David MacLennan. His email is david_maclennan@cargill.com. His phone is 952-742-4507.

ADM, a major food commodities trader and supplier. The ADM CEO is Juan Luciano. His email is juan.luciano@adm.com His phone is 312-634-8100 (headquarters).

Corteva, a major chemical and seed company, was split off from the DowDuPont corporation, itself the product of a merger between DuPont and Dow chemical companies, whose products have been used in industrial agriculture for decades and have been linked to a variety of harmful effects. The CEO of Corteva is James C. Collins, Jr. His phone is 800-922-2368.

Learn

Watch

Agroecology: Who Will Feed Us in a Planet in Crisis, a lecture by Miguel Altieri (47 mins.)

Sustainable Farming Through Agroecology, a lecture by Stephen Gliessman (96 mins.)

A collection of short videos on agroecology produced by the Soil Association (UK)

A collection of videos produced by Agroecology Now!

Soils For Life, many short films about regenerative agriculture

The Soil Story (4 mins.)

Regenerative Ranching in a Pandemic, Civil Eats TV (5 mins.)

Regenerative Agriculture, Bioneers (10 mins.)

Read

Agroecology is central to the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to end poverty and achieve zero hunger while sustainably managing the planet’s natural resources.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) identified ten common elements to agroecology worldwide: food and plant diversity; cocreation and sharing of knowledge; synergies across food systems; efficiency; recycling; building resilience in communities and ecosystems; equity and social well-being; maintaining culture and food traditions; encouraging effective governance at different scales, from local to national to global; and creating circular economies that reconnect producers and consumers while providing innovative solutions for sustainable development.

The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology represents peasants, Indigenous peoples, family farmers, rural workers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, and urban people around the world.

Goodreads list of books by Vandana Shiva

Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel

A series of books titled Advances in Agroecology by Louise Buck and others, including agroforestry, landscape ecology, and many other topics.

Civil Eats archive on agroecology

Mongabay journalism series on agroecology

Listen

Mongabay podcasts on agroecology.

Podcasts from Food Tank celebrating Indigenous foodways

Farmerama podcasts about regenerative agriculture

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