Perspectives on FAO International Agroecology Symposium


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

RE: Perspectives on FAO International Agroecology Symposium

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has opened up a new space for agroecology with its International Symposium on Agroecology for Nutrition and Food Security held in September 2014 in Rome. Attended by more than 300 people from the public and private sectors, civil society organizations, peasant and social movements, and the academe, this represents a highly important and unprecedented move by the organization.

The Latin American Scientific Society on Agroecology (SOCLA) and La Via Campesina, a peasant organization, have cited several critical observations of the meeting (See Items 1 and 2). The first is that international organizations, governments, some members of the academe, and the private sector tend to regard agroecology as a toolbox which can incorporate ‘new Green Revolution’ technologies. This was in direct contrast to the stand of civil society and peasant organisations which put forward agroecology as “a fundamental and unique alternative to profoundly transform the current agri-food system confronted with climate, energy and economic crisis” and a set of ecological and social principlesin “the construction of food sovereignty”.

In light of this, strong challenges remain to ensure that agroecology is not coopted by industrial agriculture proponents. The Symposium’s conclusions, summarized below by SOCLA, are an important starting point:

* Agroecology consists in a series of ecological and social principles, and is not a box of tools or technological recipes

* Agroecology questions and defies the dominant food system and proposes its radical transformation where producers (peasants) are at the center of this social process  

* Agroecological interventions transcend the farm scale to embrace territorial scales and the food system as a whole, including environmental, socioeconomic and political dimensions

* Agroecology is deeply rooted in a dialogue of wisdoms and its role is to continue linking science with the knowledge, practice sand innovation of peasants

In his closing remarks, the FAO Director General said that “Today a Window was opened in what for 50 years has been the Cathedral of the Green Revolution.” The FAO willorganize three regional symposiums in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the next two years.


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Item 1

Reflections on FAO’s International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition held at FAO in Rome 18-19 September, 2014

SOCLA – The Latin American Scientific Society on Agroecology

During September 18-19, 2014, FAO organized at its headquarters the International Symposium on Agroecology for Nutrition and Food Security attended by more than 300 persons from all over the world belonging to international and national agencies and civil society (MAELA, IFOAM, PANNA, IPC, ABA etc.), Universities, peasant organizations (Via Campesina) and social movements. Given some concerns raised by FAO officials that not all member states were supporting this Symposium, and that therefore the Symposium should focus on the scientific dimensions of Agroecology, SOCLA was invited the night before the Symposium by Via Campesina and the IPC (International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty) to define our common response and position at the Symposium.

We all agreed that for FAO to open a space for Agroecology was unprecedented and important, and that we should support that space so that the space continues open and expands. However the group felt that we could do this without compromising our positions, visions, goals and that as SOCLA we would defend the original principles of Agroecology and its history and identity.

Invited members of SOCLA included Clara Inés Nicholls (President), Fernando Funes Monzote (Vice-president), and other members such as Enrique Murgueitio-CIPAV-Colombia, Peter Rosset – ECOSUR-México and Miguel Altieri -UC Berkeley who during the first day participated in various parallel technical sessions delivering talks on Agroecology and its relationship to climate change resiliency, traditional knowledge and local learning processes, energy efficiency, tropical silvopastoral systems and social movements.

SOCLA collaborated in securing the presence of 4 peasants from Latin America:  Jesús León Santos from Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca-México (CEDICAM), Julián Andrés Giraldo of the Comunidad del Dovio-Colombia, and two members of the International Coordination of Vía Campesina representing ANAP- -Cuba and MPP (Mouvement Paysan de Papaye (MPP)-Haití who talked during the second day about agroecological practices in their communities and the role of Agroecology as part of their food sovereignty strategy.

Throughout the Symposium presenters exhibited their views about Agroecology as a science, practice and movement enriching the visions on Agroecology, but at the same time it became obvious via the presentations of farmers as well as scientists that Agroecology is much more advanced in Latin America than in other areas of the world. This advance, product of more than 30 years of work by farmers and technicians in our region, was not officially recognized in the Symposium.

Two marked tendencies emerged from the various presentations and discussions held during the Symposium: (a) the vision of international organizations, governments, some members of academia and the private sector that regard Agroecology as one more option or tool with that also includes many ‘new green revolution’ technologies to fine tune the problems and deficiencies of industrial agriculture, and (b) the vision of SOCLA, Via Campesina, and other members of civil society viewing Agroecology as a fundamental and unique alternative to profoundly transform the current agri-food system confronted with climate, energy and economic crisis.

The lack or little discussion on key issues on Agroecology such as gender dynamics, the corporate control of the food systems and aspects of access to land, seeds and water as stated in the food sovereignty concept was evident but not surprising given the political sensitivities within FAO. 

In my opinion the most relevant conclusions of the Symposium although not clearly stated, clearly state that:

–  Agroecology consists in a series of ecological and social principles, and is not a box of tools or technological recipes

–  Agroecology questions and defies the dominant food system and proposes its radical transformation where producers (peasants) are at the center of this social process  

–  Agroecological interventions transcend the farm scale to embrace territorial scales and the food system as a whole, including environmental, socioeconomic and political dimensions

–  Agroecology is deeply rooted in a dialogue of wisdoms and its role is to continue linking science with the knowledge, practice sand innovation of peasants.

It is necessary to activate and strengthen a global Agroecology network, where FAO, given its unique international position, should assume the responsibility to help create and operationalize. SOCLA offered its collaboration in supporting this network, while keeping vigilant so that the real dimensions of Agroecology and not distorted or co-opted.

Pending challenges and tasks involve complex and urgent issues such as:

–  Development and implementation of public policies to promote the agroecological transformation at the local, national and regional levels.

–  Strategic articulation of producer and consumer associations committed to the radical creation of new socially just and ecologically sound food 

–  Need for funding research and extension programs on Agroecology 

–  Direct support to the efforts by social movements to scale up Agroecology in their territories

In the afternoon of the second day of the Symposium, there was a high level plenary with the official participation of the Agriculture Ministers from Japan, Algeria, France, Costa Rica, and video messages from the Minister of Rural Development of Brazil and the UE Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, and FAO’s Director General Sr. José Gracizano da Silva.

The official government declarations supported the concept of Agroecology, but from a perspective that it is a useful tool to overcome many of the problems caused by the Green Revolution. Only the Brazilian Minister stated that for them Agroecology is the fundamental technological-methodological base for the development of family farming.

In his final message FAO’s Director General de la FAO explicitly said that Agroecology is opening a window in FAO to what he referred as the “cathedral of the green revolution”. At the same time he cautiously stated that Agroecology is one more of the many approaches available to deal with the agriculture and hunger challenges, thus leaving another window open for transgenic crops. The DG said that among the commitments assumed by FAO after the Symposium is to discuss and internalize within FAO’s strategic plans the lessons derived from the Symposium, and promised that FAO will organize within the next two years three regional Symposiums in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the last one to be supported and hosted by the government of Brazil. SOCLA proposed to the Brazilian colleagues to hold the regional symposium in conjunction with SOCLA’s V Latin American Congress on Agroecology to be held in early October 2015 in La Plata, Argentina, in order to create synergies and secure the presence of a critical mass of SOCLA members.

SOCLA thanked FAO for the opportunity to participate in the Symposium and manifested its disposition to collaborate in future initiatives, but at the same time we manifested that Agroecology in Latin America was created and grew without the official support of international organizations and donors, and that we will continue working with or without support from the international cooperation.  This has allowed us to stay true to our principles and advance an agroecological research, educational and dissemination agenda in favor of peasant agriculture which in not negotiable.

Clara Inés Nicholls  

President de SOCLA

Item 2

Press Release

by La Via Campesina


"Today a Window was opened in what for 50 years has been the Cathedral of the Green Revolution"

The International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutritional Security was held on the 18th and 19th of September of 2014, at the headquarters of the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) in Rome. This marked the first time that the FAO has ever officially and directly addressed the topic of agroecology.

In his closing remarks at the Symposium, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO, said that: "Today a Window was opened in what for 50 years has been the Cathedral of the Green Revolution." The delegation of La Via Campesina, that participated in the Symposium, welcomes this opening, but recommends caution, given the attempts to coopt agroecology that were observed at the event.

According to La Via Campesina, the science, practices and movement of agroecology are the product of centuries of accumulated peasant and indigenous knowledge, knowledge of how food was produced for humanity since long before farm chemicals were invented. This knowledge has been organized through a ‘dialog of knowledges’ (dialogo de saberes) with the western sciences of ecology, agronomy, rural sociology, etc.  Support for agroecology, among rural social movements, consumers, environmentalists and others, has grown a lot in recent decades, in part because of its sharp critique of, and it’s alternatives to, the badly-named ‘Green Revolution’ of industrial agriculture.  For La Via, peasant agroecology is a fundamental building block in the construction of food sovereignty.

Governments and institutions, the majority of which respond to the interests of national and transnational agribusiness, have resisted agroecology. In fact, to speak of the alternatives embodied in agroecology, has until now been taboo in institutions like the FAO. Still, this situation has been changing of late, though only partially.

The rapid degradation of soils and other productive resources brought about industrial farming practices, and climate change, have now created growing uncertainty about the future of industrial agriculture. And the number of scientists with studies and data that show agroecology to be a superior approach, in terms of both productivity and sustainability, is growing. The result has been more institutional opening to agroecology.

But the opening is relative.  While social movements like La Via Campesina see agroecology as the alternative to industrial agriculture, and highlight it’s potential help in transforming grim rural realities, the new institutional opening is geared more toward a scaled-back version of agroecology.  This version is limited to seeing agroecology as nothing more than the source of a few new tools for the toolbox of industrial agriculture; in other words, of methods to reduce the negative impacts of industrial farming practices on future productivity.  Those who promote this shrunken approach use names like ‘sustainable’ or ‘ecological intensification,’ or ‘climate smart agriculture,’ to refer the erroneous idea that agroecology is compatible with large extensions of industrial monoculture, pesticides and GMOs.  For La Via Campesina, this is not agroecology, but rather is a blatant attempt at cooptation, which should be denounced and resisted.

A decent sized delegation from La Via attended the Symposium at FAO, with delegates from Mozambique, India, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua and Italy. Three of the delegates were speakers. The delegation arrived expecting the worst, ready for a pitched battle against the cooptation of agroecology.  The reality was actually somewhat more refreshing, as the majority of the scientists who were invited as expert speakers, presented visions of agroecology that were quite similar to the vision of La Via. They pointed to agroecology as an alternative, for transformation, and highlighted it’s social, political, economic and cultural contents, in addition to the technical content.  This left the tendency toward cooptation as a minority position, though it was present, and evident.

As a result, the summary of conclusions from the Symposium, presented by the reporting team on the second day, emphasized positive points, including the affirmations that:

  • agroecology is based on a set of principles, and is not a tool box nor a set of recipes,
  • agroecology implicitly questions the contemporary agrifood model, and promotes a radical transformation, which would place peasants and family farmers at the center of the social process,
  • agroecology is based on a dialog of knowledges, and thus must continually link science with peasant knowledge, innovation and practices.

And furthermore, that the principal challenges to be faced, must address complex but urgent issues, such as:

  • public policies that support and promote agroecological transformation at local, national and regional scales,
  • the alliance of farmers with conscious and responsible consumers, based on the need for a radical transformation toward a socially just food system,
  • support for the efforts by rural social movements to bring agroecology to a territorial scale.

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian peasant leader, and member of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) of La Via Campesina, said that "this Symposium represents a step in the right direction for FAO," but he issued a warning about the developing conflict "between good and evil," over the definition and future of agroecology.  Given this dispute, he spoke of the need to specify ‘agroecological peasant agriculture,’  because "agroecology is a way of life for us, not just a mode of production."

Rilma Román, a leader of the National Association of Small Farmers of Cuba (ANAP), who is also a member of the ICC of La Via, highlighted the centrality of "peasant knowledge and practice as the true basis of agroecology." She insisted that in countries like Cuba, "peasant agroecology is not theoretical, rather it is already a reality."  Andrea Ferrante, leader of the Italian Association of Biological Farmers (AIAB), emphasized that, "agroecology is also a reality in Europe," though he complained that "the fact of agroecology in the North was pretty much ignored in this Symposium."

Marciano da Silva, of the Small Farmers’ Movement of Brazil (MPA), called for vigilance, as we will face ever more attempts by agribusiness and institutions to coopt agroecology.  He remarked that while the FAO, and the ministers of agriculture from several countries who spoke at the Symposium, made public commitments to agroecology, "it is up to us to hold them to those commitments."

Renaldo Chingore João, from the National Peasants’ Union of Mozambique (UNAC), underlined the importance of the tacit recognition by FAO that "the Green Revolution is in rapid decline," and said that "it is important to transmit this message to our African governments."

Nandini Kardahalli Singarigowda, a successful agroecological producer from the Karnataka State Farmers Association of India (KRRS), said that "we peasant women of KRRS in India are already successfully promoting agroecology," and asked, therefore: "why can’t the FAO do the same?"  Finally, Chavannes Jean Baptiste of the Via Campesina Haití, explained that "agroecology is above all a social and organizational process."  "It requires," he said, "peasant organizations and rural social movements who are capable of building social processes based on horizontal learning and peasant protagonism."

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