Have you heard of agroecology? This is a holistic agricultural production system that is similar to organic methods, but yet not exactly the same. The Christensen Fund has made a great infographic that compares and contrasts the agroecological with the conventional system from sky to soil:
As this handy policy brief explains, “based on a myriad of scientific research and satellite cases worldwide, there is a general consensus and growing support among experts around the world that an agricultural model based on agroecology can provide a sustainable, socially inclusive,productive and efficient way forward to increase food security and alleviate rural poverty.“
What I particularly like about agroecology is that it’s knowledge-based. The entire idea is to improve smallholder farmers’ productivity by teaching them how to best act in line with nature and their land. Thus, it’s the exact opposite of industrial intensification which requires large amounts of expensive and oftentimes environmentally damaging inputs. Instead, the agroecology movement counts on knowledge dissemination on how to use and recycle the nutrients and energy of the ecosystem in complementary and diversified ways to create a biodiverse, resilient, fertile environment. An evaluation of 286 such training programs has shown that on average, they can bring about yield increases of 79 percent without making the farmer economically dependent on external inputs.
Furthermore, the knowledge dissemination is not intended to be top-down, but to happen in farmer-to-farmer networks. This approach respects and recognizes the local understanding and works with it, rather than dismissing smallholder farmers as inefficient per se. Again, according to the policy brief, “using the knowledge and expertise of those most familiar with the ecosystem and its weather patterns, local farmers use a diversity of complex management schemes and adaptation techniques to strengthen ecosystem resilience and minimise dependence on agro-chemical and energy inputs.“
The brief then goes on to talk about two case studies in Brazil and Cuba, where agroecology has been relatively successful already (around 100,000 Brazilian family farms have adopted such techniques so far). Brazil in particular is a good example on how participatory knowledge dissemination can work in practice:
Especially considering it’s the FAO Year of Family Farming, I feel there should be way more attention drawn to agroecology. Even the UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, says that it’s probably the way to farming in the future. His website is also a great resource for topics spanning from food commodity speculation to agroecology, so make sure to check it out as well!
Did you know of agroecology?