Agroecology

Agroecology

Agroecology is inspiring more and more people worldwide in a quest to find alternative production methods for a sustainable agriculture without agro-chemicals. But agroecology means different things to different people. Altieri (1983), considered the founder of agroecology, defined it as the application of ecological principles to agriculture. This definition of agroecology includes farmers and farmers’ knowledge, and it sees farmers as stewards of the landscape, of biodiversity and of the diversity of foods. In essence it aims to mimick or apply ecological rules to agriculture - working with nature instead against it. For others, it is a science as well as a social movement linking producers and consumers (see reference list for further readings).

In 2009, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) documented the need for the agroecological transformation of agriculture, food production and consumption and positioned the concept of agroecology in the food policy debate. The report also showed that agroecological transformation is a worldwide challenge requiring a global effort to convert conventional, large-scale as well as small-scale farms to productive agroecological systems, and involving farmers, scientists and policymakers, at regional, national and international levels. De Schutter (2010) also pointed out that the concept of agroecology includes the participation and empowerment of food-insecure groups, because it is impossible to improving their situation without involving the affected people in the process.

Hence, agroecology is neither a defined system of production nor a uniform production technique. It is a set of principles and practices intended to enhance the sustainability of a farming system, and it is a movement that seeks a new way of 'nature-smart' food production, developing and adapting it to the changing environment – an approach which is vital for global food security. In principle, agroecological systems should be based on five ecological principles: 1) recycling biomass and balancing nutrient flows and availability; 2) securing favourable soil conditions for plant growth by enhancing organic matter and allowing soil processes to ensure continuing, optimal soil fertility; 3) minimizing losses of solar radiation, water and nutrients by managing the microclimate and soil cover, and practising water harvesting techniques; 4) enhancing biological and genetic diversification on cropland; and 5) enhancing beneficial biological interactions and eliminating the use of pesticides.

References:

  • Altieri, M. A. (1983). Agroecology: the scientific basis of alternative agriculture, Div. of Biol. Control, U.C. Berkeley.
  • McIntyre, B. D. (2009). International assessment of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for development (IAASTD): global report.
  • De Schutter, O. (2010). Agroecology and the Right to Food. United Nations.