In many parts of the world destructive industrial agriculture is not the norm. Instead diverse forms of smallholder food production based on agroecology are generating local knowledge, promoting social justice, nurturing identity and culture, renewing resources and strengthening the economic viability of rural areas.1 Agroecology as a system combines all these elements to provide an effective way to feed the world and a counter to destructive industrial agriculture.
As an agricultural practice agroecology mimics natural processes to deliver self-sustaining farming that grows a greater diversity of crops, drastically reduces artificial inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics) and recycles nutrients (plant and animal waste as manure). This has obvious benefits for farmers – drastically reduced costs, autonomy from corporations, diversified income streams, risk management for crop failures and varied produce to improve nutrition. As a socio-economic system agroecology values the life of people and planet over profits. As a political movement agroecology is an action agenda to achieve food sovereignty led by small-scale food producers. It is a growing movement to completely transform our system of production, distribution and consumption rather than conform to industrial models.
Elements of agroecology could include intercropping, traditional seed saving and exchange, agro-forestry, community supported agriculture, farmer to farmer training schools, pastoralism, integrated pest management, farmer-led plant breeding, soil conservation and sustainable watershed management.
Around the world Friends of the Earth International’s member groups are engaged in the movement, calling for a rapid transition to a sustainable, just and resilient food system based on agro-ecological principles through campaigns and projects.
Our approach to agroecology is firmly based on the principle of collaboration, with a view to mobilising support for a fundamental transformation in the way food is produced around the world. We work closely with rural, urban and coastal small scale food producers, consumers, and local communities, and their representatives (especially members of La Via Campesina, the peasant farmers’ movement).
The practical implementation of agroecology on the ground offers farmers and peoples a real alternative, even in countries where governments are strongly in favour of industrial export-oriented agriculture.
Our agroecology projects also have a particular focus on gender justice. Women make up the majority of the world’s small-scale food producers and play a vital role in traditional agriculture. For example, they sustain traditional knowledge about the diverse uses of localy-found plants for nutrition and health. Yet they are consistently denied access to land, and technical and financial assistance. For agroecology to achieve its full potential, there must be equal distribution of power, tasks, decision-making and remuneration between men and women.
Just like La Via Campesina, we believe seeds form part of the heritage of the people, for the good of humanity. Native and traditional seeds are a priority and we help to protect and revive traditional knowledge about seeds and foods. We work with food producers to improve livelihoods and nutrition and we work with forest communities and indigenous peoples to rehabilitate forests.
FoEI’s member groups are also working to build direct links between food producers and consumers.
Progress on agroecology has to be accompanied by stiff resistance to the imposition of destructive industrial agriculture. Many FoEI member groups are working with communities to resist land grabbing for industrial food and biofuel crops, and campaigning for national laws that allow communities greater control over their land. People’s willingness to speak out against land grabbing has definitely been strengthened.
Resistance to factory and livestock farming is also growing. Meat is at the centre of some of our world’s greatest ecological and public health threats: deforestation, habitat destruction, water scarcity, climate change, water pollution, diet-related disease, antibiotic resistance, intolerable animal cruelty and more. Our groups are stopping factory farms and changing consumer behaviour on meat eating as well as promoting grass and pasture-based systems that work in harmony with nature, while reducing the need to grow large amounts of thirsty grains for feed.
These messages are helping to change consumer behavior.
The beauty of agroecology is that it moves us away from a one size fits all perspective, that, for example, forces inappropriate and unnecessary hybrid seeds from corporate labs onto peasants in Brazil or Africa, wiping out 75% of crop genetic diversity in the process.
Agroecology enables us to develop solutions based on the local climate, nutrition needs, agronomics, knowledge and experience.
Our map shows that when put together these seemingly small-scale local transformations can construct a new global system based on well being (buen vivir, Ubuntu etc.) and that tackles global problems, be it stopping runaway climate change, building biodiversity, an end to hunger, or providing jobs and livelihoods to the world’s poorest.
This future is within reach, but requires brave Governments with ingenuity that can find the best public policies to allow local solutions to flourish without forcing them to try and fit into an outdated model of agricultural development.