Agroecology in practice

Agroecology in practice 1

Spreading agroecology and building resistance for food sovereignty

Shashe Agroecology School

The Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), a member of La Via Campesina (LVC), runs an agroecology School at Shashe which promotes the exchange of agroecological peasant farming experiences through horizontal learning among farmers from Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries.

The school is part of LVC’s network of more than 50 Agroecology schools worldwide, and is the cornerstone for collective development of strategies to fight against dependence on agrochemicals and fertilizers, and to survive climate change. At Shashe, farmers employ various agroecological practices to ensure food sovereignty, mitigate climate change and reduce dependence on purchased agro-inputs, thus keeping farm income in the family’s pocketbook. These practices include the use of manure, mulching, minimum tillage, multiple cropping, the exchange and use of traditional seeds, among others. Such practices are the foundation for building a new future for peasant farmers, not only at ZIMSOFF, but globally. In addition to planting crops, most farmers keep a wide variety of livestock. Our agroecological systems are designed so that these livestock do not compete with humans for food, but eat what humans don’t eat, such as weeds and insects.

Peasant families in ZIMSOFF also are experimenting with local food processing, storage and preservation. This is critical not only for reducing post-harvest losses but so to initiate the growth of small local industries which are key for the employment of youth. Crops such as sunflower and groundnuts are processed to make cooking oil and peanut butter respectively. At Shashe the farmers are creating a vibrant local market for produce, and strengthening relations with consumers.

In April of 2016, the school hosted 20 farmers from Manica province in Mozambique, who came to learn and exchange information on peasant seeds and struggles against policies intended to criminalise their production and exchange. Bad policies facilitate the marketing of commercial registered seeds, build a policy framework to enforce the privatization of germplasm, and constitute an attack on peasant seeds. Fighting these policies is a key complement to agroecology, and such exchanges are fundamental for organizing resistance and building peasant seed sovereignty.

The experience at Shashe shows that with agroecology and their seeds and livestock, peasants can produce healthy food at a low cost, in harmony with nature, for their families and for the market. More importantly, agroecology provides an environment for peasants to experiment and shape their own sustainable rural development, and build better social relations based on respect and mutual learning.

Agroecology in practice 2

Turning the Green revolution upside down

Native and Criole Seed Network of Uruguay

For thousands of years the production of foodstuffs for human consumption was based in the utilization of “natural” seeds by indigenous peoples, peasants and farmers. — meaning that using our own knowledge, capacities and skills we have been capable of domesticating wild species, adapting them, improving them and above all reproducing them to satisfy our food needs. It can be clearly seen how three distinct crops — maize in America, wheat in Africa and rice in Asia gave sustenance and life to three models of civilization.

Following processes of migration these original local seeds were moved to other territories with distinct ecosystems, climatic conditions and environments. Once again it was the peasants and farmers of these territories who had the ability to adapt and reproduce these seeds.

This gives rise to the term “criole seeds” which are distinguished from “native seeds” by just this process of adaptation.
It is calculated that human beings had about 6000 types of domesticated vegetables suitable for consumption.
Today we use only about 200 of those and of these 12 are the basic crops which make up our main diet.

From the second decade of the last century central countries[[Central countries vs those in the periphery]] began to impose the model of the green revolution internationally, with technological packages including industrial and transgenic seeds with their associated agrochemicals among other things. Hunger was never tackled seriously and the economic, social and environmental costs were huge. However, it is possible to slow and even reverse the advance of large scale industrial agriculture driven by agribusinesses and supported by huge transnational corporations. In Uruguay in the Native and Criole Seed Network we are marking the path in demonstrating that the majority of native and criole genetic materials continue in the hands of peasant and farming families who continue to conserve and utilise them through the generations to feed their people.

However we are speaking now of Food Sovereignty and all of us agree it is a right, but the exercising of that right is not only the task of those who produce food. Today all of us, regardless of the role we occupy in society, have to commit to the struggle to defend food sovereignty. Nor are we alone — across the world millions of peasants, farmers and communities are doing the same. As long as a farmer exists who has a seed, and who is willing to struggle for land to plant it, and for water to water it, the perpetual nature of life is guaranteed.

Agroecology in practice 3

A real solution to the agrarian crisis in India

Zero Budget Natural Farming in India

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is both a set of agroecological practices and a grassroots peasant movement in India, especially Karnataka, where some 100,000 peasants participate. This has been achieved without funding, as ZBNF inspires a spirit of volunteerism among its peasant members, who are the protagonists of the movement. The word ‘budget’ refers to credit and expenses, thus the phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and natural farming means with Nature. The movement was born out of collaboration between Subhash Palekar, an agricultural scientist who put together the ZBNF ‘toolkit’ of practices, and the state farmers association of Karnataka (KRRS), a member of La Via Campesina (LVC).

There is an agrarian crisis in India, with farmers reeling under debt due to expensive inputs, poor market prices, and faulty policies. More than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in the last two decades. Various studies have linked these suicides to debt. Under such conditions, ‘zero budget’ farming promises to end a reliance on loans and drastically cut production costs. ZBNF farmers who have given up chemical monocultures to practice ZBNF, say they now produce way more with virtually no cash outlays.

The key practices of ZBNF include: Jivamruta- a microbial culture made of cow urine, dung, pulse flour, raw sugar and a handful of soil; a similar seed treatment called Bijamruta; intensive mulching and cover crops; and regulation of  moisture. ZBNF requires less than half the water of conventional farming, and is apt for arid areas. There are a host of other principles like intercropping, local earthworms, indigenous cows, bunds, and ecological pest management.

At the local level, the movement has a self-organized dynamic and runs in an informal way. Most practicing ZBNF farmers are loosely connected to each other and carry out both organized and spontaneous farmer-to-farmer exchange activities and other pedagogical activities. The main centrally organized activities at the state level are massive and intensive training camps, taught by Palekar, with an attendance that ranges from 300 to 5000 farmers
and last up to five days.

“In ZBNF our expenses are very low. It doesn’t matter what the yield is, I still make a profit because my costs are negligible. Plus I’ve added intercrops to this, so I get income from many crops, not just one. Yield is not an important
concept for us.”
– Belgaum a ZBFN farmer

Agroecology in practice 4

Building the Community Supported Agriculture movement in Europe

Urgenci Europe

We are building the Community Supported Agriculture movementin Europe. We are working to develop the joint pillars of food sovereignty and solidarity economy.

With a very rapidly growing movement, there was an increasing need to build a common narrative, so we started a year-long process to develop a shared Declaration for all the Urgenci members throughout Europe. And as the recent  European survey of CSAs shows, there are almost a million CSA members right across all European countries, so this was a big challenge. Not all countries or members were involved, but it was a participatory and collectively owned  process from the start, and we set out to reach agreement on who we are and what we stand for: a sort of “identity card” of the movement to help us to develop as a whole, and to prevent the corporate capture of the CSA concept.

Box schemes, the Food Assemblies and other “look-alikes” have been springing up and eating into our market. But none of them have the unique characteristic of shared risks and benefits that CSA consumers share with their producers!  The process to build the European Declaration on Community Supported Agriculture reinforced both the European CSA platform and the local and national networks, fostering critical discussions on what we stand for and how to share it widely. The process has also been a way to nurture the future sustainable movement building process.

The Declaration was adopted by the 3rd European CSA Meeting on 17th September in Ostrava, Czech Republic and it is the best way to take position on behalf of our movement; because if we don’t do it, somebody else will!
Since then, it has been hailed with great enthusiasm, not just in Europe, but also in countries around the world. It has been translated into many different languages, and has helped those practicing CSA who are not necessarily Urgenci members to come closer to us. It’s still early days, but the Declaration is proving a powerful movement-building tool for us all. And we all feel proud to have been part of this unique process!

You can read the declaration here.