Agroecology Symposium at the FAO: a small step for farming families, a big step for policy makers
The general message at the symposium was clear: agroecology is key to building sustainable food systems. This view was shared by ministers from France, Nigeria, Japan, Senegal, Costa Rica, Brazil, and the EU commissioner of agriculture and rural development, all of whom expressed their commitment to support agroecological development in their countries.
Experts at the forefront of scientific research, state officials involved in the construction of innovative agroecological policies, and representatives from social movements presented grounded experiences showing that this is not only desirable but also possible.
At the symposium agroecology was seen as a science, practice, and social movement, three inseparable and interdependent elements. Stephen Gliessman (University of Santa Cruz) explained that agroecological research has existed for over 45 years, with its origins in Latin America. He argued that the challenge today is to strengthen its link with people. This is needed to transform food systems worldwide. Pablo Tittonell (Wageningen University) presented examples of agroecology showing how practice based on farmer knowledge and local innovations has influenced scientific research. He urged scientists and governments to promote agroecology as a pathway to integrate local and scientific knowledge with complex agroecosystem management. He stressed that “agroecological principles are not recipes, but rather guidelines to develop locally relevant options for sustainable agriculture.”
This was also emphasized in the poster presented by Edith van Walsum, representing the AgriCultures Network, which shows how amplifying agroecology begins with identifying promising agroecological practices in the field or co-creating them with scientists (see image).
Étienne Hainzelin (CIRAD) reminded the audience that agroecology represents a conceptual space to discuss sustainability as an interaction between science and society. Irene Maria Cardoso, member of the ILEIA board and president of the Brazilian Association of Agroecology, argued that farmer knowledge and wisdom supports agroecology and not the other way around. She also showed the important role social movements have played in upscaling agroecology to the level of national policy in Brazil. Moreover, she argued that agribusiness are a factor constraining agroecological development and that farming families need full ownership of the biodiversity they manage in order to maintain and sustain their livelihoods.
An African perspective on agroecology, or agroecologies, was presented by Paul Mapfumo (University of Zimbabwe) who supports the idea that non-governmental organisations have an important role to play in supporting processes of nutrient provision and nutrient recycling which can also help to restore virtuous socio-ecological cycles.
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste (Mouvement Papay Payzàn, Haiti, and La Vía Campesina) stressed that farming families “have the responsibility to produce healthy food for our families and for the populations in the city.” He argued that local markets, with accessible prices for everybody, can connect urban and rural areas. Jean-Baptiste is convinced that agroecology is the most appropriate production method for family farmers.
Miguel Altieri (University of Berkeley), Clara Inés Nicholls (president of SOCLA, the Latin American Society for Agroecology), and Peter Rosset (ECOSUR), showed the central role of farmer organisations and social movements in strengthening agroecological practices for sustainable local food systems. The importance of a paradigm shift in governments and institutions to promote and invest in agroecological practices and research worldwide was also mentioned. According to them, agroecology encompasses a strategy of recognition and respect for the cultural, economic and environmental diversity worldwide and recognises sustainable agriculture and food security from farmers' fields to entire landscapes.
José Graziano da Silva said: “Agroecology continues to grow, both in science and in policies. It is an approach that will help to address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, especially in the context of climate change adaptation."
Stephen Gliessman concluded the symposium by saying that to achieve a truly sustainable food system, all sectors of society and scales of production have to be transformed, from the fields to the market which means fundamentally changing the dominant food regime.
The 1st International Symposium on Agroecology was an important step to consolidate agroecology at the international level. However, the desired paradigm shift will need patience and big efforts from everyone, especially at the grassroots level. Political initiatives to scale up the window of opportunities, are needed.
As highlighted by SOCLA, one of the most difficult tasks that we now have might be, to close other, recently-opened windows, such as the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, because they work against biodiversity conservation, autonomy, and empowerment of smallholder farming families in rural areas across the world.
As stated in a Scientists´ Support Letter for the International Symposium on Agroecology drafted at the Symposium, agroecology provides opportunities to address food insecurity, decrease rural poverty, and mitigate climate change. The letter reiterates that this requires a cohesive discussion supporting international cooperation and construction of agricultural policies aligned with the principles of agroecology. As such, the symposium is a promising step but there is a long way ahead when it comes to transforming policies and institutions to effectively support agroecology.
- FAO webpages about the symposium and the
- Reflection by La Via Campesina
- Reflections by keynote speakers Steve Gliessman and Pablo Tittonell
Maria Alice Mendonça & Georges Félix
Maria Alice Mendonça is a PhD student in Rural Development at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS, Brazil) and guest Phd at the Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
Georges Félix is a PhD student at the Farming Systems Ecology group in Wageningen University (The Netherlands). He is also a representative of the Puerto Rican chapter of the Latin American Scientific Society for Agroecology (SOCLA) and member of the Puerto Rican ecological farmer organisation Boricuá.