Agroecology Taking Root as Momentum Builds for Transformation in Agriculture


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Agroecology Taking Root as Momentum Builds for Transformation in Agriculture

The article below was published in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #8676, 7 May 2018.

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Agroecology Taking root as momentum builds for transformation in agriculture

London, 4 May (Lim Li Ching) — A transformative vision for agriculture that is based on agroecology and that is resilient, equitable and socially just, is gaining ground, including in international policy processes.

Agroecology is a science, practice and movement that uses ecological principles for the design and management of sustainable agricultural systems.

While agroecology draws on social, biological and agricultural sciences, it integrates these with farmers’ knowledge and innovations.

On 19-20 April 2018, the Network of Peasant Organizations and Agricultural Producers in West Africa (ROPPA) and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) held a meeting in Dakar, Senegal on "Bringing agroecological initiatives to light in West Africa".

ROPPA brings together farmers’ organizations and agricultural producers from 13 West African countries. It defends and promotes the role of family farms, which make up the majority of agricultural, forestry and pastoral production in West Africa.

Around 40 participants from farmers’ organisations, national agroecology platforms, civil society, regional networks, research institutions and international organisations gathered to discuss how to support sustainable food system reforms in West Africa, by jointly developing a strategy to facilitate the implementation of integrated policies for family farming, agroecological transition and sustainable food systems.

This process aimed to strengthen a pan-West African alliance, enhance relationships between different actors, and build bridges between different scales of actions.

From the meeting, it was clear that the transition to agroecology cannot happen without the small-scale food producers and family farmers who are the bedrock of farming in West Africa.

While alternative agroecological pathways exist and agroecology is particularly promising in the West African context, given its emphasis on local and traditional knowledge, and its low costs and resource efficiency, there are, however, several major obstacles that still need to be confronted.

Steps to overcome these obstacles were identified and an action plan drawn up around the following areas: improving agricultural governance and financing for agroecology, enhancing participatory research and evidence building, further strengthening the agroecology movement and mobilizing civil society, strengthening farmer-to- farmer training and peasant learning systems, and developing local food systems as well as local and solidarity partnerships so that producers are able to access existing and alternative markets.

The meeting is part of a process of research and reflection on the future of agricultural development in West Africa, launched by IPES-Food in 2017, and following the publication of its influential report, "From uniformity to diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems".

In that report, the panel of experts called for a major transformation in agriculture towards agroecology and exposed the "lock-ins" that act to keep the structures and logics of the current unsustainable industrial agriculture model in place, while simultaneously locking out the reforms that are needed.

The meeting in Dakar followed closely on the heels of the Second International Symposium on Agroecology, held at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome in early April.

The Symposium brought together more than 700 policymakers, agroecology practitioners, academics, and representatives from government, civil society, the private sector and UN agencies to discuss key elements and actions to support scaling up agroecology.

Building on the First International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, held in Rome in September 2014, and the seven regional multi-stakeholder seminars on agroecology, organised by FAO between June 2015 and November 2017, participants explored solutions, experiences and practices, which have come mostly from the grassroots and have been shared horizontally through farmer-to-farmer networks.

This has taken place despite the resource, policy and research environment that has so far largely favoured industrial agriculture.

The FAO, long seen by many as promoting the Green Revolution – with its input intensiveness and monocultures with accompanying adverse environmental and health impacts alongside high yields – appears to have had a change of heart.

At the Symposium, the message was clear; the Director-General of the FAO, Jose Graziano da Silva, asserted that such "focus on increasing production at any cost is not sufficient to eradicate hunger".

"We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer healthy and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment. Agroecology can offer several contributions to this process," Graziano da Silva said.

According to the FAO, agroecology can safeguard natural resources and biodiversity, as well as promote adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

It can also improve the resilience of family farmers, especially in developing countries where hunger is concentrated.

It can contribute to the production and consumption of healthy and nutritious food, and boost local economies and markets.

These multiple benefits make agroecology an important pathway for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and for addressing the interlinked challenges that face agriculture today.

Governments and international organisations can provide an enabling environment to allow agroecology to thrive and to ensure the participation of the small-scale producers who practice and innovate agroecology.

At the same time, there must be concerted effort to remove the incentives and address the structures that keep unsustainable industrial agriculture in place.

Whether in West Africa or elsewhere, these efforts are urgently needed, in order to bring about a more just and sustainable future for agriculture; one that is based on agroecology. +

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