Agroecology is the application of ecological science to the study, design, and management of sustainable agriculture. It offers a model of agricultural development to meet the challenge of how to feed the world sustainably. Recent research demonstrates that agroecology holds great promise for the roughly 500 million food-insecure households around the world, many of them in Africa. By scaling up the practice of agroecology, we can sustainably improve the livelihoods of the most vulnerable, and thus contribute to feeding a hungry planet.
TABIO is working to Make the Case for Agroecology, by gathering case studies from around Africa showing the many ways that rural communities are benefitting from agroecology in increased food security, nutrition, poverty reduction, climate change adaptation, democracy and justice.
The first nine case studies are available online at http://afsafrica.org/case-studies/
Why are we doing this?
The combined effects of climate change, energy scarcity, and water shortage require that we radically rethink our agricultural systems. Countries can and must reorient their agricultural systems toward modes of production that are not only highly productive, but also highly sustainable.
The growing push toward industrial agriculture and globalization—with an emphasis on export crops, GMOs, and the rapid expansion of biofuel crops (sugar cane, maize, soybean, oil palm) is increasingly reshaping the world’s agriculture and food supply, with potentially severe economic, social, and ecological impacts and risks. Such reshaping is occurring in the midst of a changing climate expected to have large and far-reaching effects on crop productivity predominantly in tropical zones of the developing world.
Globally, the Green Revolution, while enhancing crop production, proved to be unsustainable as it damaged the environment, caused dramatic loss of biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge, favored wealthier farmers, and left many poor farmers deeper in debt. The new Green Revolution proposed for Africa via the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) appears destined to repeat the tragic record left by the fertilizer dependent miracle seeds, in Latin America and Asia by increasing dependency on foreign inputs and patent-protected plant varieties which poor farmers cannot afford.
The industrial food system with its dependence on fossil fuel and chemical inputs is increasingly becoming recognized as an unsustainable, inefficient and environmentally destructive way of producing the world’s food. Yet the political and economic might of the global food and agribusiness industry means that the transformation to a sustainable food system will not be easy. It will require not just a shift in technology choice but also a shift in mindset, to a place where people come before corporate profits, and where sustainability trumps corporate share price.
Ecological farming works in harmony with nature, using cultivation techniques and breeding programmes that do not rely on chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or artificial genetic modifications. It builds on traditional agricultural practices using research, technology and existing indigenous knowledge, while at the same time ensuring that it is farmers that are in control of all aspects of food production. Using ecological agriculture, farmers produce abundant, healthy food sustainably.
Principles of Agroecology
- Biodiversity – Agroecology relies on and contributes to biodiversity at a genetic, species, crop and farm level.
- Integration – Crops, animals, fish and farming communities are integrated within the farming systems. This minimizes waste and the need for expensive external inputs.
- Environmental protection – Agroecology benefits the environment and does not contaminate it with toxic chemicals or genetically engineered organisms.
- Resources – Agroecology is based on biological processes and locally-available, renewable resources.
- Farmers’ control – Farmers using agroecology have control of all aspects of production, from seeds to the use of the crops. They decide what they want to grow and what is done with the crops post-harvest.
- Financially sound – Locally and often freely available resources are used in agroecology which means farmers are less dependent on access to capital or credit.
- Knowledge based – Agroecology respects and works with local culture and farmers’ knowledge and uses technology developed with and for farmers, not just technology designed to sell products. Knowledge is generated and shared between farmers, scientists and researchers.
- Equality – Agroecology values the role of women and aims to reward women equally.
- Long term – Agroecology takes a long term view. Instead of prioritizing annual monetary profits, it ensures soil, plants, animals and people benefit from a sustainable system.