The innovation we don’t want
The narrative of “innovative” solutions is being imposed in different political, social and economic spheres. In the debate over Agroecology, big farmers’ organizations, some academics, large NGOs, philanthropists and institutions intimately linked to the interests of transnational agribusinesses promote “apolitical” narratives, presented as “triple win” options to achieve economic benefits, food security and adaptation and mitigation of climate change. They seek to incorporate certain agroecological practices into the dominant agro-industrial model while maintaining the structural characteristics and dependencies that have led to the current global crisis.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Agri-Food Network, “agro-ecology is the study of the relation of agricultural crops and the environment”. Indeed, Business at OECD narrowly defines Agroecology as a scientific discipline which emerged in the 1960’s while criticising those who frame it as an agricultural production system based on specific practices, or as a political or social movement. Their argument: “this variety may cause confusion and distract from discussions on how to meet the SDGs (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals)”. Finally, they advocate for “a mix of practices, tools, and technologies tailored to each situation”, including precision agriculture and other “innovative approaches”.
Meeting the SDGs is not our definitive goal as a society. We have to aim for deeper structural changes if we really want to build a fair world for present and future generations. It has also become clear, for example, that by sticking to business as usual the world will fall far short of achieving the SDG target of eradicating hunger by 2030 .
We must beware of the multiple reinterpretations of the concept by different actors and interest groups. Agroecology and industrial agriculture are not interchangeable concepts or practices and cannot coexist. They represent two fundamentally different visions of development, well-being and the relationship between human beings and their environment.
Proposals we reject
Digitalization of agriculture: Next edition of this newsletter is dedicated to this worrisome agribusiness strategy. Make sure you read it!
Climate-Smart Agriculture: reinforce business-as-usual: The FAO began talking about ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (CSA) in 2009 as a way to bring agriculture — and its role in mitigation, adaptation and food security — into the climate negotiations [See FAO news release, “Promoting Climate-Smart Agriculture”, on the launch of its report, Food Security and Agricultural Mitigation in Developing Countries: Options for Capturing Synergies (2009). Two FAO conferences dedicated to Climate-Smart agriculture, organized with the World Bank and a small group of governments, followed in 2010 and 2012]. The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA)[List of members here], launched in 2014, includes national governments, agribusiness lobby groups (the majority representing the fertilizer industry)[60% of the private sector members of the Alliance represent the fertilizer industry (GRAIN, 2015; CIDSE, 2015). “The Big Six (BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta) are the engines of industrial agriculture. With collective revenues of over $65 billion in agrochemicals, seeds and biotech traits, these companies already control three-quarters of the global agrochemical market and 63% of the commercial seed market” (ETC Group, 2016)], the world’s largest network of public agricultural scientists — the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) — universities and NGOs. The 2017 report Too big to feed by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-FOOD) shows that agrichemical corporations and their lobby groups are strongly represented in the major alliances and initiatives promoting CSA today. CSA is a classic technological fix that seeks to address a problem created by biotech’s failed technology (herbicide tolerant crops), and a new way of commodifying and appropriating nature. Furthermore, while claiming to use agroecological approaches (e.g. agroforestry), CSA does not exclude practices and technologies that can undermine, or are incompatible with them.
Read more here.
Sustainable intensification: While the term ‘sustainable intensification’ has been in existence for two decades, its use has only recently become mainstream and has also been incorporated into Climate-Smart Agriculture. It was originally conceived as an approach based on three fundamental assumptions about food security and agricultural production in the 21st century: 1) the world needs to produce significantly more food in the coming decades to feed a growing population; 2) the arable land base cannot be expanded significantly; and 3) agricultural production must become more sustainable and resource efficient in order to preserve the natural capital on which agriculture relies. Considered together, these three assumptions imply that agricultural production on existing arable land must intensify in order to meet higher demand, but in a manner which does not damage the environment. Nevertheless, the first assumption ignores the evidence, already stressed by the FAO and many others, of the importance of measures to redistribute food and reduce waste rather than increase production, and the latter is linked to the strongly criticized ‘Green Economy’ approach.
Read more here.
Gene drives: Gene drives are new tools that force genetically engineered traits through entire populations of insects, plants, animals and other organisms. This invasive technology represents a deliberate attempt to create a new form of genetic pollution. Gene Drives may drive species to extinction and undermine sustainable and equitable food and agriculture.
Read a letter signed by food movement leaders around the world and read the ETC Group report Forcing the farm.
CropLife International: This global network, “the voice and leading advocates for the plant science industry”, with BASF, Bayer and Syngenta among its members, identifies the six main elements of Agroecology based on a vision that mention farmers only as mere receptors of technical support and users of technology, such as biotech products, both offered by these companies.
Mega-mergers: The sudden increase of mega-mergers in the agri-food sectors and consolidation of corporate concentration throughout the entire industrial food chain (seeds, agrochemichals, fertilizers, livestock genetics, animal pharmaceuticals and farm machinery) is celebrated by some actors for creating a dynamic innovation climate. Nevertheless, while R&D spending in the sector is high ($7 billion in 2013), the scope remains narrow. Industry focuses on crops and technologies with the highest commercial returns; for instance, 40% of private breeding research goes to one crop, maize. Furthermore, a common trend is for large firms to buy emerging ‘healthy’ or ‘sustainable’ brands to fill their innovation gaps in this sector, while at the same time stifling innovation and compromising the commitment to sustainability of these smaller firms.
Read more here.
FAO process on Agroecology
The FAO process on Agroecology, which began in September 2014 and included two international symposia (2014 and 2018), several regional seminars and meetings (2015 and 2016) and a meeting between FAO and the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) and allies (2017), has allowed the organizations and social movements that promote Food Sovereignty to take our proposals and demands for Agroecology to spaces of dialogue with governments, international institutions, academia and other social organizations.
But the FAO is a monster of a thousand heads and there are attempts to permanently halt the advance of Agroecology. An example of this was the intention to mimic the Agroecology process with Agricultural biotechnologies in 2016 and 2017. The pressure of social movements and organizations, united in the IPC managed to stop this process, but the same actors within the FAO managed to open another front by promoting a discourse on necessary innovations in agriculture as a way out of the global food, environmental and climate crisis.
In this context, the issue was placed on the agenda of the meeting of the FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG), held from 1 to 5 October 2018 and an international symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers was held in Rome in late November 2018.
There has been a very strong emphasis on fostering innovation (mostly understood as technological innovation) to achieve sustainable agriculture and food systems and to adapt to climate change. Innovation will be a very relevant framework in the coming years. In this framework, most governments stressed the central role of private sector investment completely ignoring the fact that small-scale food producers are the first and major investors in agriculture and that they are key actors who have been innovating for centuries. However, under pressure from social movements, the COAG acknowledged in 2018 that “innovation is not a goal per se [and] some forms of innovation may contribute to environmental degradation, be disruptive of livelihoods or exacerbate inequalities. It is important to understand which kinds of innovation need to be encouraged, where and for whom”.
FAO is currently developing an analytical framework for the multi-dimensional assessment of Agroecology and guidelines for its application in order to support evidence-based decision-making on Agroecology, in dialogue with Civil Society Organizations and academia.
For organizations and social movements which are part of the IPC platform, filling major gaps in scientific and evidence-based data on Agroecology, as well as scaling Agroecology outward and upward, should be done through participatory action research, in close dialogue with committed academia. It should foster the capacity of food producers and their communities to experiment, evaluate and disseminate innovations and facilitate the bridging of different knowledge systems, leading to systemic solutions toward truly healthy, sustainable agriculture and food systems.
The Peasant School Multimedia
In November 2015, the National Association of Small Farmers of Cuba (ANAP), La Via Campesina International (LVC) and the Komanilel Collective, launched a video course called “Multimedia Peasant School; an audiovisual tool to scale up Agroecology”. The objective of the course is to help the diffusion of Agroecology around the world. It was developed together with the network of peasant agroecological schools that La Via Campesina has created in almost every country where it has members. The training is technical, political and methodological. The virtual material explains the concepts and practices of the “Campesino a Campesino” (peasant-to-peasant, or farmer-to-farmer) methodology for spreading Agroecology. It is based on the successful Cuban experience in disseminating Agroecology. Each of the short videos in this collection pictures an aspect of the processes, actors, and experiences that together configure the Peasant to Peasant Methodology, as well some specific features of the methodology in Cuba. The video series is also complemented with a bibliographical collection on Agroecology, peasant to peasant methodology, technical manuals, and political documents from La Via Campesina.
The Peasant School Multimedia is available online in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.