In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

What innovation is required

Given how hegemonic discourse on innovation includes from Agroecology to biotechnology among its “focus points for sustainable agriculture”, it is vital to recognize that there are radically divergent perspectives on how to deal with global crises, how to define and implement innovative processes and products, and who should be the central actors and beneficiaries.

The technologies, innovations and practices chosen today will determine the future of agri-food systems [We refer to the various elements that make up agri-food systems (the environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructure, institutions, etc.) and the full spectrum from pre-production and production to processing, packaging, transportation, distribution, marketing, preparation, consumption and waste management. This framework also incorporates the inputs and outputs associated with each of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes. Based on GANESAN (2014).] and the livelihoods of people throughout the world. Therefore, it is crucial that decision-makers, food producers and other stakeholders raise the right questions to guide their decisions.

In this sense, innovation should not consist only of offering a technology or a toolbox from which a few elements are selected, or focus solely on productivity. Innovation should focus specifically on social, economic, cultural, ecological, environmental, institutional, organizational and public policy processes.

For an innovation to reconfigure agri-food systems and contribute to their sustainability, it must be developed on the basis of an integral and multidisciplinary approach for systemic change that positively impacts the lives of people. In addition, innovating to transform these systems is not just about introducing new revolutionary or disruptive innovations, as well as new needs, markets and application spaces: it also involves adaptation or evolution, and the improvement and / or substantial expansion of techniques and practices which already exist.

Evaluating innovations in agrifood systems is a challenge, and requires the development of a framework and a set of indicators, and/or analysis of scenarios to measure the characteristics of an innovation and its impacts on the sustainability of these systems in order to help inform strategic options and actions. To contribute to the development of this framework, here we propose a non-exhaustive set of 13 interconnected criteria. New innovations should be evaluated according to these criteria:

i. Social, economic and institutional dimensions:
– promote popular participation in decision-making, the management of natural assets and in monitoring and evaluation processes, assign a prominent role to the most vulnerable and marginalized.
– build social and economic justice, strengthening economic inclusion and social cohesion to improve livelihoods and actively reduce inequalities, fostering and consolidating relationships and solidarity between rural and urban areas and between generations, and supporting models social and public ownership and management.
– contribute to eradicating hunger, ensuring equitable access and a sufficient food supply that in turn contributes to strengthening food self-sufficiency.
– encourage the consumption of diverse, nutritious and safe foods for healthy, diversified, culturally appropriate and sustainable diets.
– benefit small food producers and workers, creating dignified living conditions, implementing effective participation in decision making and recognizing and preserving their knowledge.
– build gender justice and respect diversity, recognize and value women’s productive and reproductive work, promote equal rights and access to resources, as well as effective participation in decision-making and help to eradicate all forms of violence and oppression against women.

ii. Environmental aspects:
– are effective, minimizing the loss of food, the waste and transport involved in the production and distribution of food, as well as the associated environmental effects through localized or re-localized food systems.
– contribute to energy justice by considering the systems and types of production, distribution and consumption of energy required to create, deploy and operate innovation, minimizing the social and environmental impacts of energy and ensuring fair and sufficient access to it.
– contribute to environmental justice, considering: the short and long term environmental impacts derived from its use, beyond its useful life; its ability to preserve biodiversity and water; and include the labor aspects of innovation in food production and the problems of migrant farm workers.
– contribute to climate justice, addressing the structural causes of climate change due to agri-food systems, to strengthen the resilience of the people facing future crises.

iii. Aspects of the implementation process:
– they will be available and affordable, for all people and institutions at all levels and in all territories.
– they are useful, usable and sustainable over time, being effective in the short and long term in fulfilling the task for which they are intended.
– they have a multiplier effect, to achieve their widespread adoption at all levels and in all territories, with a positive impact.

For an innovation to be considered social, cultural, environmental, political and economically acceptable, it should take into account and meet at least the majority, if not all, of these criteria.

Read more here.

In the spotlight 2

Why Agroecology is the path to support

Agroecology is a multidimensional approach, founded on knowledge, know-how and peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ ways of life, grounded in their respective natural, social and cultural environment[[For more on Agroecology read the Nyéléni newsletter num.20]]. It is a living concept that continues to evolve as it is adapted to diverse and unique realities. It provides a coherent framework that conceptualizes these practices and their effects (and their mutual reinforcement), and a holistic understanding of our place in natural cycles and how food systems must adapt to and restore the biocultural systems on which they depend.

It includes a long-term vision and goes beyond agricultural production to encompass and transform the whole food system. It is a tool of struggle and resistance to build peoples’ Food Sovereignty (MST)[1, only in Portuguese]. It calls for paradigm shifts on multiple fronts, including in research, consumption, and policy-making in order to achieve Food Sovereignty for rural and urban communities. Across the world, Agroecology guarantees the diversity of food and food cultures adapted to their social and natural environments.

Additionally, there is convincing data that Agroecology can raise yields significantly among those that need it most, i.e. marginalised and subsistence food producers in rainfed areas, without needing expensive and resource intensive infrastructures like irrigation and corporate seeds.

Small-scale food providers, especially peasants and family farmers, are the primary innovators in agriculture and have been for thousands of years. They are the main designers of agroecological farming systems, including agroforestry and integration of livestock with crops and trees, as well as the main plant breeders in the world. What research institutions and the private sector contribute is minuscule in comparison. This is especially true when we consider agroecological systems and locally-adapted crop varieties and livestock breeds. It is these farmer-led and farmer-conducted innovation processes that need to be supported, as well as Campesino a Campesino (farmer-to-farmer) processes to stimulate farmer innovation and sharing of results.

There are a myriad of ecologically based farming methods developed by at least 75% of the 2 billion small scale producers, mostly women on 500 million small farms that feed 70 – 80% of the world. Most of the food consumed today is derived from 2.1 million peasant-bred plant varieties.

In conclusion, Agroecology is the innovative approach to be supported; an Agroecology practiced by and according to the principles of those who maintained it for millennia: small-scale food producers.

Read more:
Innovating for sustainable agriculture and food systems.
Agroecology at a crossroads, Nyéléni newsletter num. 28