Agroecology is the understanding of agriculture as ecosystem.  This view of the cultivation of the land is based in the sciences of biology and ecology, and many traditional farming practices. Large-scale studies through UC Berkeley, University of Essex, Swissaid, the UK Government, and others cited in the links below, have demonstrated that agroecological farms can produce as much or more food than input-dependent industrial farms.

 

Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food writes in   

Agroecology

Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices ... As a science, agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.” As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem. It provides the most favourable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity. The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species. Agroecology is highly knowledge-intensive, based on techniques that are not delivered top-down but developed on the basis of farmers’ knowledge and experimentation.

 

… By enhancing on-farm fertility production, agroecology reduces farmers’ reliance on external inputs and state subsidies. This, in turn, makes vulnerable smallholders less dependent on local retailers and moneylenders. One key reason why agroecology helps to support incomes in rural areas is because it promotes on-farm fertility generation.

… Such resource-conserving, low-external-input techniques have a proven potential to significantly improve yields. In what may be the most systematic study of the potential of such techniques to date, Jules Pretty et al. compared the impacts of 286 recent sustainable agriculture projects in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (3 per cent of the cultivated area in developing countries). They found that such interventions increased productivity on 12.6 millions farms, with an average crop increase of 79 per cent, while improving the supply of critical environmental services.

 

… Agroecology improves resilience to climate change. Climate change means more extreme weather-related events. The use of agroecological techniques can significantly cushion the negative impacts of such events, for resilience is strengthened by the use and promotion of agricultural biodiversity at ecosystem, farm system and farmer field levels, which is materialized by many agroecological approaches.

 

… Agroecology also puts agriculture on the path of sustainability by delinking food production from the reliance on fossil energy (oil and gas). It contributes to mitigating climate change, both by increasing carbon sinks in soil organic matter and above-ground biomass, and by avoiding carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions from farms by reducing direct and indirect energy use.

Here are some links to dive deeper into the ideas, research and practices of agroecology:

Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, has a great page on their site listing organizations that are actively transforming the global food system:

Agroecology in the Brazilian Landless Movement

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