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Newsletter no 28 - Agroecology in practice

Tuesday 13 December 2016, by Manu

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

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 [1] 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

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

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 at:

[1Central countries vs those in the periphery