THIRD WORLD NETWORK INFORMATION SERVICE ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Dear Friends and Colleagues
Key messages from agroecology session at G-STIC 2017
The Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) 2017 (www.gstic.org) was held in Brussels from 23rd to 25th October. It aimed to accelerate the development, dissemination and deployment of technological innovations that enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The thematic session on agriculture and food focused on ‘Agroecology for Sustainable Food Systems’. The session was organised by the Third World Network and the South Centre.
The key findings of the session, presented at the closing plenary, are that:
1. There is a need for a paradigm shift in agriculture to diversified agroecological systems as they can address multiple challenges, facilitated by supportive public policies, a rights-based approach and collective action; both producers and consumers have important roles to play.
2. The application of ecological principles to the design and management of agroecosystems manifest in various practices that can be locally adapted to farmers’ needs and circumstances, while being accessible, affordable, socially acceptable, environmentally sound and gender sensitive; such technology assessment criteria are relevant to any agricultural technologies & innovations.
3. Evidence is particularly strong on the ability of agroecology to deliver strong and stable yields by building ecological, social and climate resilience, and in delivering nutrition and secure livelihoods, in the places where needed most, and to the peoples who need these most.
4. Agroecology technologies and practices build on farmers’ and indigenous peoples’ knowledge and innovation; they require bottom-up, participatory approaches in R&D, dissemination and extension, including through farmer-to-farmer networks and farmer-scientist collaborations.
Solutions identified to overcome the barriers to a shift towards agroecological practices include (1) reorienting agriculture policies and significantly increasing funding to support agroecology; (2) dismantling incentives and subsidies for industrial and high-emissions agriculture; (3) refocusing research and development to bottom-up approaches that recognize farmers’ knowledge; and (4) extending efforts towards agroecology, while at the same time strengthening existing farmers’ knowledge and innovation.
We are pleased to share below the key messages of the session, which are drawn from a background paper prepared for the conference.
With best wishes,
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
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Agroecology for Sustainable Food Systems
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that bold and transformative steps are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. Numerous challenges such as persistent hunger and malnutrition, climate change and environmental degradation, and ever-tightening constraints on resources mean that no less than a transformation of our agricultural and food systems is needed.
The G-STIC 2017 thematic session on agriculture and food will focus on ‘Agroecology for Sustainable Food Systems’. We chose this specific focus as the paradigm shift towards diversified agroecological systems is increasingly gaining recognition as one that couldenable substantially better food production, while providing a set of farmer-friendly, regenerative solutions that can realize more resilient agricultural practices and provide people with access to sufficient and healthy food under changing climate conditions.
- ‘Industrial agriculture’– the input-intensive crop monocultures and industrial-scale animal feedlots that dominate agriculture – has successfully produced large volumes of foods, but this has come at a great cost to the environment, human health and animal welfare, while doing little to address the root causes of poverty and hunger.
- Negative outcomeshave been generated on multiple fronts, such as persistent undernourishment and malnutrition while others are obese and overweight; environmental degradation and pollutionthat threaten the resource base that agriculture depends on; lossof agricultural biodiversity; high greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change; inequities in access to food; and the marginalization of smallholder farmers, their practices, rights and knowledge systems.
- What is neededis aparadigm shift towards diversified agroecological systems.Agroecology applies ecological principles to the design and management of agroecosystems. Its technologies diversify farms and farming landscapes, increase biodiversity, nurture soil health, enhance recycling, promote ecosystem services and stimulate interactions between different species, such that the farm can provide its own organic matter, pest regulation and weed control, without resort to external inputs.
- Agroecology technologies and practiceshave consistently proven capable of sustainably increasing productivity, rebuilding soil fertility and sustaining yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods, especially for smallholders who constitute the majority of food producers worldwide. Evidence is particularly strong on the ability of agroecology to deliver strong and stable yields by building environmental and climate resilience, and in delivering production increases in the places where needed most. It can also help ensure adequate nutrition through diverse diets.
- Given the challenges of climate change to agriculture, agroecology technologies and practices are particularly important as they diversify farms and landscapes, build complexity into the system to provide vital ecosystem services, increase organic matter and ensure good soil structure, and improve water harvesting and water storage. This provides farmers a means to spread risks during adverse and extreme weather events, adapt to climate change and build climate resilience. At the same time, many of the practices can also contribute to mitigation in the agriculture sector.
- Agroecology is a science, movement and practicethat draws on social, biological and agricultural sciences and integrates these with traditional knowledge, farmers’ knowledge and indigenous peoples’ knowledge and cultures. Its technologies are knowledge-intensive rather than capital-intensive, and it is based on techniques that are not delivered top-down, but developed on the basis of farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and through farmer-researcher participatory approaches.
- Women play pivotal rolesin cultivating and providing food and nutrition, holding knowledge about seeds, agricultural biodiversity and agroecology technologies. Nonetheless, women and girls across the globe continue to face many constraints and inequities based on gender. Overcoming gender inequalities and empowering women can have powerful social and economic impacts, delivering significant improvements to agricultural production, food security, child nutrition, health and education.
- Agroecology technologies and practices are able to meet key technology assessment criteria: they are technically feasible, low-cost and affordable, socially acceptable, locally adapted and environmentally sound. The principles of agroecology are applied in diverse technological forms, according to the biophysical and socio-economic needs and circumstances of farmers. Innovations are developed with the participation of farmers, through collective sharing of knowledge and know-how, and the flexible nature of the technologies allows them to respond and adapt accordingly.
- Agroecology emphasizes the capability of local communitiesto experiment, evaluate, and scale up innovations through farmer-to-farmer research, sharing of experiences and grassroots extension approaches. However, few resources and policy support have been directed to agroecology despite its potential to address the multiple challenges facing agriculture. The barriers to scaling up and scaling out agroecology need to be addressed, while a facilitative policy environment is needed to effect change and ensure greater impacts.
- Support for agroecologyneeds to be based on recognition that some technologies, innovations and knowledge systems developed by farmers and indigenous peoples are on par with those generated in formal institutions. Recognition of diverse sources of knowledge builds on acceptance of farmers as equal partners in research and development, not mere passive users of technologies generated by academia, government institutions and the private sector.
- Agroecology could significantly contribute to achieving the SDGsin an integrated, comprehensive and holistic manner that will directly involve and benefit those whom the 2030 Agenda aims to uplift. It has strong potential to contribute to meeting SDG 2’s specific targets, such as: ending hunger and malnutrition, doubling agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, ensuring sustainable food production systems and implementing resilient agricultural practices, and maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species. In addition, it can contribute to many of the other SDGs.