In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

Agroecology – from historical identity to illegal appropriation

In a world which aims to privatise and patent everything, agroecology has been placed on the agenda of international agriculture and food governance where science, multilateral agencies and even the private sector compete for space on the playing field to have their role in the design of sustainable agricultural systems recognised. In a world which assumes to recognise the importance of small-scale food producers, agroecology seems to be becoming appropriated by others and alienated from its historical protagonists.

Eduardo Sevilla Guzman says “One of the characteristics of industrialised capitalist societies is constituted by the role played by science, the institutions through which social control of change is exerted, anticipating the future with the aim of planning it. Processes of privatization, commoditisation and “scientification” of communal ecological goods (air, land, water and biodiversity) developed through the dynamic of modernization have assumed an intensification through the application of artificial physical, chemical and biological processes to cycles of nature in order to obtain foodstuffs”.[Eduardo Sevilla Guzmán, Agroecología y agricultura ecológica: hacia una “re” construcción de la soberanía alimentaria, Revista Agroecológica, University of Murcia, Volume 1, 2006.]

For this, it is more urgent than ever to know how agroecology was born in order to conceive public policies through the right lens. Since the origins of humanity, knowledge has been essential to life, and for this agroecology has been developed from traditional knowledge accumulated historically by peasant farmers, to which has been added the scientific knowledge of the last few centuries.

It has been peasant farmers and indigenous peoples who have identified, adapted and incorporated new elements to improve production of food, maintaining their cultural identities without damaging nature. This is the only form we should use when developing creative designs for the production and circulation of foodstuffs.

Peasant knowledge and experience, surrounded by capitalism in its distinct forms, becomes reborn from its origins and is refreshed, demonstrating real results with creativity and legitimacy and showing definitively that it is possible to have a dignified life in the countryside, maintaining a peasant and indigenous identity.

Agroecology is the social, economic, organisational, productive and political model for living in the countryside of small-scale food producers which returns the social role of food – in contrast to the capitalist system which reduces food to a commodity. It has the unique particularity of not being a homogenous model, but one which accommodates all the local agri and hydro-cultures represented by men and women farmers and peasants, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, small-scale fisheries and woodland and forest dwellers who defend their territories and the land, seeds and all natural resources, food sovereignty and buen vivir.

However, agroecology also implies a change in the paradigm of social, political and economic relations, as well as the relations between nature and society – transforming the patterns of production and consumption to build food sovereignty from the peoples of the country and the city. We know that agroecology is the only model capable of feeding the peoples of the world, but only through its protagonists – peasant farmers and indigenous peoples.

Agroecology is on the agenda and is quickly becoming the key issue in many spaces which have forgotten the real protagonists of this agricultural revolution. For this reason, government recommendations should ensure it is small-scale food producers who implement political, economic and agri-food changes of and from their territories.

In the spotlight 2

Agroecology as a solution to climate change

The climate change issue has been in our minds for a long time now. Research studies, conferences and debates galore, the environment sector comes alive altogether at a different level when it is time for a convention or protocols to take place. Before and after the events- reports are tabled, resistances and disagreements are recorded and reports of emission reduction targets start pouring in. It is very critical to have countries join international treaties to come together and cooperatively consider what one can do to limit the emissions to manage the global temperature and its effects on the planet that we inhabit. It is critical because by strengthening a global commitment, we need to reverse the inevitable effects of the changing climate. And it is not only feasible, it is also economically viable and profitable as well.

Climate change is a complex problem, which, although environmental in nature, touches and has consequences for all spheres of existence of our people. It impacts on and is impacted by global issues, including food, trade, poverty, economic development, population growth, sustainable development and resource management. Stabilizing the climate is a definitely a huge challenge that requires planning and steps in the right directions. However, the bigger questions lie in understanding not just the ‘how much’ but also the ‘how to’- how to reduce these emissions, how to produce enough healthy food and how to have clean energy?

Solutions for mitigating climate change come from all arenas in the form of creating new technologies, renewable clean energies and even changing management practices. Agroecology is one such practice that deals with the ‘how to’ of mitigation as well as adaptation to climate change. The uncertainty of raising temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, droughts and the emergence of unfamiliar pests and diseases, demands a form of agriculture that is resilient, and a system of food production that supports local knowledge transfer and on farm experimentation through building adaptive capacity of farmers. Majority of climate change mitigation activities are foundations of organic practices. Organic production systems serve as the best widespread examples of low emissions agriculture. Organic systems are more resilient than industrial systems in terms of withstanding environmental shocks and stresses including droughts and flooding.

Conventional agriculture releases high carbon emissions due to the over use of fossil fuels and destroys biodiversity. For agriculture, the idea is for a shift towards agroecological models of production that allow drastic reductions in the use of fossil fuels, present great mitigation potential through soil, wildlife and plant rejuvenation, and have the flexibility as well as diversity required to allow adaptation to changing conditions. In practice, agriculture can contribute to cooling the planet in three ways: by reducing the use of fossil fuel (through reducing and/or completely removing chemical and synthetic fertilizers and pesticide production) and of fossil fuel powered transport and machinery; by positively effecting biodiversity and by slowing the release of biotic carbon.

Agroecology can significantly impact climate change positively as it builds:
Agro-ecosystem resilience that would look at consistency and sustainability of yield even and especially so, with the changing climate;
Livelihood resilience that would help in achieving diversification of livelihood options through poultry, cattle, fish breeding etc…
This also helps in separating agricultural practice from instability and changes in other markets, while holding assets on the farm and also reduced or completely stops dependency on external inputs.

Smallholder agroecology is not only an effective solution to complex agricultural challenges, but also an affordable way to increase yields without external inputs outside the farm. Further, it offers low inputs, low emissions and local control over production decisions, offering Food Sovereignty alternative to the unsustainable agro-monocultures currently being pushed to address the food crisis. Several characteristics that are found in local or indigenous breeds will become increasingly important as climate change alters the environment and affects the produce. Local seeds and crops have a much better chance of survival in their local environment with the changing climate conditions. Their protection, along with the local knowledge is critical to their management and breeding, is extremely crucial to feed us in the future.

In the spotlight 3

Transformation made possible: Agroecology, a popular, solidarity-based economic model

Is it possible to think about another way of doing economics, a way which goes beyond the hegemonic model of production-distribution-exchange-consumption of foodstuffs at a global level, characterized supply chains controlled by a few large transnational corporations which exclude other actors and retain the majority of the profits?

Can this model, this agro-mining-export model cohabit with an economy based on principles of cooperation, reciprocity, autonomy, justice and solidarity – an economy which progressively redistributes means of production which have been concentrated in the hands of a few: land, capital, technology and access to knowledge?

Can openings be made in this dominant economic model to build another economy based on exchange and restitution — in place of extraction — between society and nature, on collective responsibility and on forms of collective, community, mixed, public and other types of property different from private property, which remains the basic principle of the rights system in capitalist societies?

It is only possible to think of building “another economy” if we obtain People’s Food Sovereignty — and to achieve this there is no other route but Agroecology. Family farmers, peasants and indigenous peoples have developed another way of thinking and living which make Agroecology possible — from the production to the system of values and social relations which exist behind the food we eat. We need agriculture and food policies which distribute equitably and build politically from the level of local markets — there is no Food Security for People unless there is Sovereignty and respect for their cultures.

The peasant farmers and practitioners of Agroecology of MAELA (Agroecological Movement of Latin America and the Caribbean) and its organisations have developed, in the last two decades, diverse forms of socio-economic and productive organisation based on the right to life which is permanently violated by the existing dominant economic system. This process has made us aware that the production, sales, distribution and access to foodstuffs are part of a political process of interactions, a cause for individual and collective rights which can bring dignity to life in the field as well as in the city.

From the local to the global and in that order of priority, actions are conceived and developed to open breaches in this commodifying system for food:
Creating local agroecological markets with identities which build direct links between producers and consumers at the same time as providing a space of political and social exchange and information and which generate labels or alternative guarantee systems;
Fortifying traditional peasant markets through the defence of their cultural identity and the restitution of the productive agroecological peasant identity;
Generating agreements with urban actors for the development of healthy and equitable peasant agrifood systems;
– Creatively building methods of regional and international exchange with an agroecological identity, through solidarity channels north-south, south-south, or peasant to peasant;
– Implementing diverse strategies for avoiding the entry of peasants into traditional value chains which are controlled by and at the service of national elites and transnational corporations.
These systems and processes have allowed us to live an agroecological revolution, based on social, economic, cultural and organisational pillars to reach people’s Food Sovereignty.