Agroecology and Organic Farming Can Drive Sustainability in Agriculture


Dear Friends and Colleagues

Agroecology and Organic Farming Can Drive Sustainability in Agriculture

Most quarters agree that agriculture and food systems urgently need to change to make progress on several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while staying within planetary boundaries. However, two narratives dominate the discussion: incremental steps to improve efficiency in conventional agriculture while reducing negative externalities, versus transformative redesign of farming systems based on agroecological principles. The SDGs offer an opportunity to reconcile these divisions by focusing on the sustainability contributions of different farming approaches and the policies that help to accelerate the required transition.

While UN institutions are recognizing the role of agroecology as a science, a practice and a social movement that contributes to making agriculture and food systems more sustainable, the pace of agricultural reforms is insufficient for meeting the SDGs by 2030. Only if governments ensure that policies are coherently aligned with the SDGs will agriculture become part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Eleven international experts recommend four groups of policy interventions as an effective strategy to achieve policy coherence to enable the transition.

  • Upscaling the area covered under transformative systems such as organic agriculture. Economic incentives and technical advice are crucial to enhance adoption by farmers. The performance of these systems should be improved further, particularly in terms of yields, water management and consumer accessibility.
  • Fostering the demand of sustainable food products can be done through two main mechanisms: (i) raising consumer awareness on the linkages between agriculture, environment, health and social wellbeing, and (ii) enhancing the commitment of retailers and caterers to offer such products.
  • Incentivizing improvements in mainstream systems. Practices that contribute to the SDGs should be incentivized, and unsustainable practices should be disincentivized. Full-cost accounting that incorporates the value of ecosystem services and external costs of farming into economic decision-making represents one way to provide conceptual guidance in such a policy reform.
  • Raising legal requirements and industry norms. Command-and-control approaches that rule out particularly unsustainable practices, such as using highly hazardous pesticides or clearing primary forests, are pragmatic policy instruments and serve to implement the precautionary principle. Where governments are reluctant to raise legal requirements, key market players should agree to adhere to minimum requirements.

The experts stress that successful implementation of a reformed and supportive policy context depends on societal debates and social movements that apply pressure to governments and institutions. A shift away from animal products towards plant-based diets in industrialized and emerging economies and a reduction in food waste would reduce the overall footprint of the food system. Governments should only support agriculture and food systems that deliver on the SDGs (in line with “public funds for public goods”). Transcending ideological barriers and vested interests while focusing agriculture and food policies on the SDGs needs to be at the top of the agenda in order to accelerate the necessary shift towards more-sustainable food systems.


With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
To subscribe to other TWN information services:



IFOAM Organics International

Governments should only support agricultural systems that provide healthy food, minimize environmental impact and enable producers to earn a decent living. 11 international experts argue in the renowned scientific journal Nature Sustainability that organic agriculture has moved out of its niche and is now playing an important role in getting our food and agriculture systems right. They call for coherent policies that support sustainable food systems, incentivize better farming practices, and raise the bar of what is acceptable in farming in the 21st century.

There is broad consensus that the way we produce and consume food urgently needs to change in order to address global challenges including climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, and deteriorating health. However, the approach to achieving this is heavily contested: do we need to gradually make mainstream agriculture more sustainable, or promote systems such as organic farming? According to the experts, if we focus policies on achieving the universally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both approaches can go hand-in-hand and mutually reinforce each other.

For too long, we have been trapped in heated debates on whether organic agriculture can feed the world. Transcending ideological barriers and vested interests now needs to be at the top of the agenda in order to accelerate the necessary shift.“ says lead author Frank Eyhorn from the Swiss development cooperation organization Helvetas and emphasizes that “We can no  longer afford seemingly cheap food for which we actually pay several times, at the counter, through taxes for agricultural subsidies, when repairing part of the damage caused by intensive agriculture, and with increasing health bills.”

The entire agriculture sector needs to become more sustainable,” says Louise Luttikholt, Executive Director of IFOAM – Organics International and contributor to the article.  “Organic and agro-ecological farming methods can also be applied in multiple systems. We welcome newcomers to the sector and look forward to jointly accelerating a global shift towards truly sustainable farming systems. The SDGs offer a common framework for this task.”

Change is already underway: The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently recognized the role of agro-ecological systems such as organic farming in addressing the huge challenges linked to our current food system. Government authorities in Germany, Austria, India, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, are implementing policies and action plans to substantially upscale organic farming.

A critical mass of scientists, farmers, policymakers, businesses, and civil society organizations will have to commit to an agenda for transformation, if we are to drive change towards truly sustainable food systems.

articles post