Recommendations for Agroecological Transitions


Dear Friends and Colleagues

Recommendations for Agroecological Transitions

Agroecology has been gaining worldwide interest in recent years as a strategic pathway to transition to sustainable food and agriculture systems. Following the First International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, held in Rome in 2014, the FAO organized a series of regional multistakeholder seminars in Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific, China, Europe and Central Asia, and the Near East and North Africa from 2015 to 2017. The FAO has released the global report on the seminars and a summary of it (Item 1). Four thematic areas of the common recommendations made during the seminars emerged. They are:

(1)   Strengthening the central role of producers and their organizations in safeguarding, utilizing and accessing natural resources. This includes recognizing, preserving and utilizing traditional knowledge and culture.

(2)   Fostering experience and knowledge sharing, collaborative research and innovations by, for instance, investing in support for agroecology training initiatives among grassroots organizations.

(3)   Promoting markets for agroecology-based products and services.

(4)   Reviewing institutional policy, legal and financial frameworks to promote agroecological transitions for sustainable food systems. This includes considering the specific needs of family farmers, including women and youth, by including them in policy development.

Ten elements of agroecology arose from the FAO seminars (Item 2). These constitute a guide for policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders in planning, managing and evaluating agroecological transitions. The elements are: diversity; synergies; efficiency; resilience; recycling; co-creation and sharing of knowledge; human and social values; culture and food traditions; responsible governance; and circular and solidarity economy.

The FAO stresses that agroecology is based on bottom-up and territorial processes, helping to deliver contextualised solutions to local problems. Rather than tweaking the practices of unsustainable agricultural systems, agroecology seeks to transform food and agricultural systems, addressing the root causes of problems in an integrated way and providing holistic and long-term solutions. This includes an explicit focus on social and economic dimensions of food systems. Agroecology empowers producers and communities as key agents of change. It places a strong focus on the rights of women, youth and indigenous peoples.

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Item 1


April 2018


It was highlighted in all regions that transition calls for profound changes in the organization and governance of food systems. This in turn requires a solid commitment from all actors and can sometimes upset the established order or specific interests. There are many successful examples of agroecology at local and national level. Some have been reinforced by public policies, knowledge exchange networks, strengthened rural institutions and improved market access. The participants made recommendations regarding all stakeholders: public organizations, academia, civil society actors and even the private sector, whose collective mobilization was deemed essential to carry out the transformation. The numerous recommendations may also be sources of inspiration for decision makers wishing to develop new public policies or to structure existing ones. Based on the results of the FAO seminars, this chapter describes the recommendations adopted by the stakeholders during the seminars. They are grouped into the four thematic areas most commonly covered during the seminars. The recommendations form the basis for the proposal to scale up agroecology presented in Chapter 4. Based on a review and synthesis of the 160 recommendations made during the regional seminars, general priority orientations emerged representing lines of action to support agroecology transitions:


Recognizing, preserving and utilizing traditional knowledge and culture:The use of a very limited base for plant, tree, animal and aquatic genetic resources in food systems jeopardizes their resilience. All regions recalled the central role of farmers in preserving and improving this heritage. They called for an acknowledgement of the multifunctional role played by small scale agroecological producers in preserving soil, water and biodiversity, and in promoting rural development. The value of the natural, historical, cultural and local food heritage, and respect for human and social values were recognized as key to develop contextualized approaches. In a globalized world with a high level of standardization, the diversity of local history and traditions was considered an important and valuable asset.

Promoting the dynamic management of biodiversity and use of local and traditional crops and livestock breeds:All regions recognized the need to strengthen support for community based seed and species management, on-farm selection, and revival of underutilized crops and breeds. The effectiveness of agroecological initiatives depends on the development and often the rediscovery of genetic heritage in terms of crops, plants, animals and trees. These elements concern both the practical and technical aspects of itemizing, collecting, developing and managing local genetic heritage, as well as genetic protection, and rights of access to and exchange of these resources, which often come up against political or trade regulation problems.

Supporting product diversification and integration of cropping, livestock, aquaculture and forestry:Diversification in space and time at farm and territory level is a key factor in restoring ecosystem services. Together with soil conservation and restoration measures, agroecology has huge potential to inject more life into soils, ecosystems and the countryside.

Restoring and enhancing soil quality and fertility:Tackling erosion and the degradation of soil quality and fertility as well as soil restoration are systematically presented as key issues for agriculture. In this regard, agroecology provides clear benefits: on-farm diversification; soil management and conservation measures, incorporating organic matter and entailing anti-erosion interventions; and reduced use of mineral fertilizers and heavy mechanization.

Guaranteeing access and use of productive natural resources for small-scale producers (land, water, forests, fisheries and genetic resources):Governance of natural resources was a key factor in all regions. Guaranteeing rights to natural resources was cited as a prerequisite for developing agroecology, with particular emphasis on women, youth and indigenous peoples. Access and land tenure has always been presented as vital for the survival of populations: long-term tenure must be secured together with the conditions for producers to improve their land through soil management, production diversification, and integration of crop, animal and forest production.


Developing farmer-led and participatory research and co-innovation:Agroecology is local and context-based; it is, therefore, essential to invest in observation and analysis on the ground. The way forward no longer requires a predefined system or a technological package provided through unilateral top-down knowledge transfer. On the contrary, it is important to work with local actors to analyse the local context and its potential, in order to build the most productive and environmentally friendly solution. Co-innovation through recognition of farmers’ traditional knowledge, experimentation and participatory research were presented in all regions as a priority for the development of agroecological research. Participatory research has many advantages: the topic of research reflects farmers’ real needs, which increases the likelihood of it being adopted; and participation results in more varied innovations as well as training and capacity building for both producers and researchers.

Developing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and filling research gaps:Agroecological research is complex, because it is integrated and requires use of a model to conceptualize all the interactions between the various components of the agroecosystem. It also factors in the long term, providing an understanding of the interactions between each dimension and how systems can be restructured. This paves the way for a new research paradigm that is steadily gathering pace with increased investment on the ground and in dialogue. Agroecological research requires extensive knowledge of ecosystem services, soil life, biogeochemical cycles, and all complex interactions related to these systems. In all regions, emphasis was placed on basic research with an increased focus on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary aspects and on ecosystem services. The need for specific public funds was highlighted, because limited private funding is available for these areas of research.

Promoting technical, social and institutional innovations for agroecology:In all regions, the vital role of innovation in the broadest sense was highlighted. Participants stated that producers required not only technical innovations, but also social and institutional, and conceptual and methodological innovations. Similarly, in line with the participatory research approach of agroecology, the importance of the ongoing innovation and experimentation process undertaken for generations by small-scale producers was emphasized.

Setting up multistakeholder cooperation platforms:There are numerous agroecological approaches and their impact is clear at local level. However, it is crucial to share success stories in order to inspire and guide others, not only in the field, but also through public authorities, to show that another way is both possible and effective. The challenge lies in the dissemination of information not only for motivational purposes: information is also needed for awareness raising, training, capitalization and advocacy. Networks of actors and experience sharing platforms are emerging in all regions in various formats, and there was a unanimous call from all seminar participants for such networks to be created on a larger scale, i.e. at national, subregional or regional level, to boost their prominence and effectiveness. Although some networks are sectoral, such as researcher networks, there is a trend towards ensuring a global vision and multistakeholder exchanges to foster innovation and co-creation by establishing thematic networks of farmers, researchers and citizens. These networks or platforms can be either physical or virtual. New technologies, in particular mobile exchange applications, allow for significantly more direct exchanges between producers and enable horizontal training. Another important vector for international innovation creation and sharing is South–South and triangular cooperation. This was highlighted in all regions, and although agroecology is a highly contextualized approach, innovations or success stories in certain regions can be a valuable resource for others, as borne out recently by the joint work between Latin America and Africa on biological control of the fall armyworm.

Investing in capacity development, including support for agroecology training initiatives among grassroots organizations:The need for capacity development among producers and their organizations to create their own training schools and processes capitalizing on their dynamism, potential for adaptation and innovation was also evident. In all regions, horizontal training systems – such as the farmer field schools (FFS) and farmer-to-farmer networks successfully implemented in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America – were widely recognized as a very effective means of developing agroecology. In addition, training agricultural managers was flagged as a priority. For this reason, and to increase consumer awareness, it was recommended to include agroecology in study programmes in primary, secondary and higher education.


Supporting short food supply chains and innovative markets such as public procurement schemes:Food distribution, sales, marketing and market supply chain relationships are major drivers of farmers’ decisions and actions. Short value chains and innovative markets were identified as market factors facilitating the broader adoption of agroecological practices. Bringing together farmers and consumers is a key step in building more sustainable food systems. Improved understanding and increased knowledge of mutual expectations enables this connection and often results in more virtuous practices for the environment and in solidarity between consumers and farmers. In addition, it enables sales in local communities, with a positive impact on social cohesion, the economic vitality of territories, and the carbon footprint of systems. Direct sales and direct producer–consumer contacts are becoming more popular across countries. In all regions, participants recommended supporting short food supply chains through public policies facilitating physical infrastructures designed to promote local sales (markets, fairs, festivals) or through public procurement of agroecological products, considered one of the most promising models for promoting local production and consumption.

Raising consumer awareness of the benefits of agroecological products, including nutritional quality and health:Nutrition is gaining attention in the agroecology community. The simplification of diets contributes to increased micronutrient deficiencies; in contrast, biodiversity in production systems leads to diverse diets and greater micronutrient intake. Agroecology brings nutritional benefits, as micronutrient intake increases with the integration of biodiversity in production systems and the provision of nutrient-rich wild foods growing on agroecological landscapes. In addition, initiatives to revive traditional foods often serve to promote agroecological approaches. Traditional foods are prepared using local biodiversity and require food preparation techniques that are beneficial to health, such as fermentation.

Developing solidarity-based economies and private sector engagement:Engaging all actors, especially economic actors, is essential to complete the transition. The transfer of agroecological products from producer to consumer involves a host of economic actors: input suppliers, traders, wholesalers, processors, retailers, caterers and chefs, distributors, financers, shippers etc. To make the transition towards agroecological food systems, participants recommended rethinking the role of the private sector, with a focus on reciprocity, equity and inclusivity. By highlighting solidarity between members of the food system, consumers, producers and intermediaries can receive fair prices and additional value from the trade of agroecological products.

Promoting territorial approaches and the transition to circular food systems:Developing territorial approaches, in line with the need for an integrated approach in agroecology, is a priority in all regions. The territorial approach supplies a common natural and cultural heritage, provides coherence in creating and managing agroecosystems and food systems, fosters synergies in training, supply and marketing actions, and finally, creates social linkages, making it a pillar for the development of agroecology. It also contributes to decompartmentalizing sectors, fostering a global approach to situations and management of agreements. Governance on a smaller scale also has the advantage of proximity to the decision-making level, which facilitates responsiveness. This demand for reinforced territorial governance is increasingly reflected in a more organized or institutional fashion by upstream strategic analysis and the implementation of territorial projects whose food component is often a point of entry extended to all economic, energy and social activities in the territory via circular economies.


Analysing the success of the many initiatives presented sheds a light on their innovative nature and the way in which the actors were able to seize existing opportunities and develop them further. However, it was unanimously noted that many barriers stand in the way of project leaders taking an alternative approach to a dominant system. Participants’ requests concerned two aspects: a framework to facilitate farmers’ actions, and financial support for organizations and producers. The following actions were set out in the recommendations:

Developing public policies and initiatives with appropriate funding to foster agroecological transitions:Public policies have been widely discussed because they do not support and may even hinder small-scale producers by discouraging on-farm diversification initiatives and failing to facilitate comprehensive, long-term and integrated approaches such as agroecology. This results in increased costs and risk-taking by farmers, who are decisive for the commons and general good (for example, through the ecosystem services). All regions mentioned the need to include agroecology in national and subregional policies and programmes, such as the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the importance of factoring in all sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, forestry and livestock husbandry. With regard to support for farmers, financial aid for the transition to agroecology is essential to initiate the transition process on a larger scale. Specific funding must be earmarked for the implementation of public policies and programmes for two reasons: to support farmers and to send out a positive signal. To this end, a proposal was specifically made in Africa for a regional agroecology fund to enable donors to support any efforts made at government level. Support for the transition of practices towards diversification, using local seeds and animal feed to restore productive ecosystems, limit nutrient waste and thereby boost productivity and resilience, reducing inputs such as fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, imported industrially processed feed, medication and fossil fuels, was highlighted through the implementation of related policies. The promotion of decentralized interventions on food systems with territorial and collective action is also a priority. All regions are keen to see support for territorial, local and decentralized policies. Support may be in the form of farmers’ organization initiatives and local agroecology schools and training centres, which play a key role in capacity building for an agroecological transition. In line with the above-mentioned role of agroecological research, strengthening support for public research was flagged as paramount and classed as a priority in all regions to uphold the potential of research and innovation and to ensure that research is geared towards the public good and general interest.

Considering the specific needs of family farmers, including women and youth, by including them in policy development:The need to give priority support to small-scale producers and family farms was underscored in all regions, while also recalling the importance of encouraging other types of farm, since a successful transition requires the contribution of all. Support for family farms is essential, because they account for the lion’s share of basic food production. With a workforce of around 500 million holdings, this type of farm creates most jobs and has absorbed the majority of the 350 million new agricultural workers in the last 30 years (Bélières et al. 2015).

Implementing integrated food policies and guidelines with greater coherence and long-term thinking:It was requested that agroecology be considered comprehensively, taking into account its multiple dimensions from production to food, particularly in Europe, where there is a call for integrated food policies promoting dialogue and health, nutrition, ecology, trade and agriculture. The coherence of public policies was at the heart of the debate. Furthermore, the issues of aid, regulatory mechanisms, taxes and trade agreements, which hamper the transition to agroecology, were raised in all regions, resulting in participants suggesting a review of the policies in question to improve the effectiveness of public action in supporting agroecology. Beyond the coherence of public policies lies the question of redirecting subsidies to encourage virtuous practices and to deter practices that have an adverse effect on public goods. Similarly, it was stressed that public policies should take into account the long-term effects on agriculture when measuring policy impact. Although impacts on climate change or the provision of ecosystem services are difficult to quantify, they must guide public policymaking.

Considering the externalities of agriculture and drawing up multi-criteria indicators to measure the long-term performance of agroecological systems: Governments may be motivated to redirect aid policies and programmes towards agroecological approaches for social and environmental factors, but it is also important that their decisions are evidence based. Cost internalization calculations of intensive agriculture can highlight the real costs of water pollution, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, health problems, loss of employment in rural areas and so forth. The way that performance is measured was seen as a key obstacle to agroecological transition. Performance is multifaceted; however, traditional indicators do not account for externalities, and furthermore they fail to measure certain aspects that are essential in the contribution of agricultural models to the Sustainable Development Goals at environmental, economic and social level. It was recommended to move beyond the measurement of immediate performance and to incorporate the long-term effects and virtuous circles generated by agroecology.Designing an indicator grid emerged as a priority, as did the gathering of data to reflect the range of agroecological amenities at economic, social and environmental level, including the effects on different spatial scales (farm, territory, state) and times (especially the long term). While research is paramount, civil society participation in this process was also recommended.


Bélières, J.F., Bonnal, P., Bosc, P.M., Losch, B., Marzin, J. & Sourisseau, J.M. 2015. Family farming around the world: definitions, contributions and public policies. Montpellier, CIRAD.

Item 2


April 2018


Today’s food and agricultural systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of food to global markets. However, high-external input, resource-intensive agricultural systems have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, biodiversity loss, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite significant progress in recent times, hunger and extreme poverty persist as critical global challenges. Even where poverty has been reduced, pervasive inequalities remain, hindering poverty eradication.

Integral to FAO’s Common Vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture1, agroecology is a key part of the global response to this climate of instability, offering a unique approach to meeting significant increases in our food needs of the future while ensuring no one is left behind.

Agroecology is an integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It seeks to optimize the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.

Agroecology is not a new invention. It can be identified in scientific literature since the 1920s, and has found expression in family farmers’ practices, in grassroots social movements for sustainability and the public policies of various countries around the world. More recently, agroecology has entered the discourse of international and UN institutions.2


Agroecology is fundamentally different from other approaches to sustainable development. It is based on bottom-up and territorial processes, helping to deliver contextualised solutions to local problems. Agroecological innovations are based on the co-creation of knowledge, combining science with the traditional, practical and local knowledge of producers. By enhancing their autonomy and adaptive capacity, agroecology empowers producers and communities as key agents of change.

Rather than tweaking the practices of unsustainable agricultural systems, agroecology seeks to transform food and agricultural systems, addressing the root causes of problems in an integrated way and providing holistic and long-term solutions. This includes an explicit focus on social and economic dimensions of food systems. Agroecology places a strong focus on the rights of women, youth and indigenous peoples.


In guiding countries to transform their food and agricultural systems, to mainstream sustainable agriculture on a large scale3, and to achieve Zero Hunger and multiple other SDGs, the following 10 Elements emanated from the FAO regional seminars on agroecology4:

Diversity; synergies; efficiency; resilience; recycling; co-creation and sharing of knowledge(describing common characteristics of agroecological systems, foundational practices and innovation approaches)

Human and social values; culture and food traditions (context features)

Responsible governance; circular and solidarity economy(enabling environment)

The 10 Elements of Agroecology are interlinked and interdependent.


As an analytical tool, the 10 Elements can help countries to operationalise agroecology. By identifying important properties of agroecological systems and approaches, as well as key considerations in developing an enabling environment for agroecology, the 10 Elements are a guide for policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders in planning, managing and evaluating agroecological transitions.


1.       FAO’s Common Vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture balances the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability across agricultural landscape and seascape mosaics. It outlines general principles for sustainable food and agricultural systems that are highly productive, economically viable and environmentally sound, contributing to equity and social justice. The five FAO principles for Sustainable Food and Agriculture are: 1) improving efficiency in the use of resources; 2) conserving, protecting and enhancing natural ecosystems; 3) protecting and improving rural livelihoods, equity and social well-being; 4) enhancing the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems; 5) promoting good governance of both natural and human systems.

2.       Examples include: the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, which called for an increase and strengthening of agroecological sciences in 2008; the 2011 Report on Agroecology and the right to food, presented by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to the UN Human Rights Council; the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative of the African Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that have promoted agroecological practices and policies at regional level; the Ecosystem Approach (including pillars of ecological wellbeing, human wellbeing, and governance), endorsed by the Convention on Biological Diversity and applied by FAO through its Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries and Aquaculture since 2000.

3.       Brazil’s Fome Zero programme provides a telling example. Fome Zero proved instrumental in reducing extreme poverty (from 17.5 percent in 2003 to less than 3 percent in 2013) and eradicating hunger. The programme involved a large number of policy and development instruments, including support for agroecological food production and consumption (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. 2013. Pesquisa nacional por amostra de domicílio: segurança alimentar (available at: populacao/).

4.       The 10 Elements of Agroecology were developed through a synthesis process. They are based on the seminal scientific literature on agroecology – in particular, Altieri’s (1995) five principles of agroecology and Gliessman’s (2015) five levels of agroecological transitions. This scientific foundation was complemented by discussions held in workshop settings during FAO’s multi-actor regional meetings on agroecology from 2015 to 2017, which incorporated civil society values on agroecology, and subsequently, several rounds of revision by international and FAO experts. Altieri, M.A. 1995. Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture. CRC Press. Gliessman, S.R. 2015. Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems. 3rd Edition. Boca Raton, FL, USA, CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

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