The Environmental, Socio-Cultural, Economic and Political Principles of Agroecology



Dear Friends and Colleagues

The Environmental, Socio-Cultural, Economic and Political Principles of Agroecology

Generally speaking there is a need to clarify what agroecology is and what it is not in order to gather political support, for the discipline to flourish, to avoid co-optation and fight against false solutions, etc. A recent publication by CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity)identifies principles to strengthen the narrative and advocacy on agroecology. The publication splits the different principles into four dimensions of sustainability: environmental, socio-cultural, economic and political. The rationale for this is as follows:

  • Environmental dimension: Agroecology increases resilience to climate change and contributes to efficient carbon sequestration. Agroecology helps to build self-sufficient, healthy, pollution-free systems that provide an accessible and diverse range of safe food, energy and other domestic needs.
  • Socio-cultural dimension:Agroecology allows the development of appropriate technologies closely tailored to the needs and circumstances of specific small-scale farmers, peasants, indigenous people, pastoralists, fisherfolks, herders, hunter-gatherers communities in their own environment. It also creates opportunities for women to increase their economic autonomy and influence power relationships.
  • Economic dimension:Small-scale farmers benefit from implementing agroecology as they can sustainably increase their yields, improve their food and nutrition security and raise their income. By using local resources and providing food to local and regional markets, agroecology has the potential to boost local economies.
  • Political dimension:When part of a food sovereignty approach, agroecology represents a democratic transition in food systems that empowers peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, consumers and other groups, allowing their voice to inform policy making from community to national and international level. It lets these groups claim/ achieve their right to food.

The principles of each dimension are listed below. The full publication is available at

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Third World Network
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3 April 2018

The environmental dimension of agroecology

  • Agroecology enhances positive interaction, synergy, integration, and complementarities between the elements of agro-ecosystems (plants, animals, trees, soil, water, etc.) and food systems (water, renewable energy, and the connections of re-localised food chains).
  • Agroecology, builds and conserves life in the soil to provide favourable conditions for plant growth.
  • Agroecology optimises and closes resource loops (nutrients, biomass) by recycling existing nutrients and biomass in farming and food systems.
  • Agroecology optimises and maintains biodiversity above and below ground (a wide range of species and varieties, genetic resources, locally-adapted varieties/breeds, etc.) over time and space (at plot, farm and landscape level).
  • Agroecology eliminates the use of and dependency on external synthetic inputs by enabling farmers to control pests, weeds and improve fertility through ecological management.
  • Agroecology supports climate adaptation and resilience while contributing to greenhouse gas emission mitigation (reduction and sequestration) through lower use of fossil fuels and higher carbon sequestration in soils.

The social and cultural dimension of agroecology

  • Agroecology is rooted in the culture, identity, tradition, innovation and knowledge of local communities.
  • Agroecology contributes to healthy, diversified, seasonally- and culturally-appropriate diets.
  • Agroecology is knowledge-intensive and promotes horizontal (farmer-to-farmer) contacts for sharing of knowledge, skills, and innovations, together with alliances giving equal weight to farmer and researcher.
  • Agroecology creates opportunities for and promotion of solidarity and discussion between and among culturally diverse peoples (e.g. different ethnic groups that share the same values yet have different practices) and between rural and urban populations.
  •  Agroecology respects diversity between people in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation and religion, creates opportunities for young people and women and encourages women’s leadership and gender equality.
  • Agroecology does not necessarily require expensive external certification as it often relies on producer-consumer relations and transactions based on trust, promoting alternatives to certification such as PGS (Participatory Guarantee System) and CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture).
  • Agroecology supports peoples and communities in maintaining their spiritual and material relationship with their land and environment.

The economic dimension of agroecology

  • Agroecology promotes fair, short distribution networks rather than linear distribution chains and builds a transparent network of relationships (often invisible in formal economy) between producers and consumers.
  • Agroecology primarily helps provide livelihoods for peasant families and contributes to making local markets, economies and employment more robust.
  • Agroecology is built on a vision of a social and solidarity economy.
  •  Agroecology promotes diversification of on-farm incomes giving farmers greater financial independence, increases resilience by multiplying sources of production and livelihood, promoting independence from external inputs and reducing crop failure through its diversified system.
  •  Agroecology harnesses the power of local markets by enabling food producers to sell their produce at fair prices and respond actively to local market demand.
  • Agroecology reduces dependence on aid and increases community autonomy by encouraging sustainable livelihoods and dignity.

The political dimension of agroecology

  • Agroecology prioritises the needs and interests of small-scale food producers who supply the majority of the world’s food and it de-emphasizes the interests of large industrial food and agricultural systems.
  • Agroecology puts control of seed, biodiversity, land and territories, water, knowledge and the commons into the hands of the people who are part of the food system and so achieves better-integrated resource management.
  • Agroecology can change power relationships by encouraging greater participation of food producers and consumers in decision-making on food systems and offers new governance structures.
  • Agroecology requires a set of supportive, complementary public policies, supportive policymakers and institutions, and public investment to achieve its full potential.
  • Agroecology encourages forms of social organisation needed for decentralised governance and local adaptive management of food and agricultural systems. It also incentivizes the self-organisation and collective management of groups and networks at different levels, from local to global (farmers organisations, consumers, research organisations, academic institutions, etc).
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