Agroecology and Sustainable Development


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Agroecology and Sustainable Development

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Agroecology and Sustainable Development

  1. 1. Agroecology and Sustainable DevelopmentFindings from the UN-led International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development Agroecology provides a robust set of solutions to the environmental pressures and crises facing agriculture in the 21st century.Agroecology is the science behind sustainable agriculture.Drawing on the natural and social sciences, agroecology Ecologically-based management of agroecosystemsprovides a framework for assessing four key systems prop- supports resource conservation and sustainable pesterties of agriculture: productivity, resilience, sustainability management.and equity.Taking account of agriculture’s multi-functionality, agroecol-ogy measures sustainability in terms of social, environmen-tal and economic impacts. Because these impacts are con-text-dependent, agroecology is a place-based, pragmaticscience, uniquely suited to delivering on the promise of pro-poor development.Agroecology combines scientific inquiry with indigenousand community-based experimentation, emphasizing tech-nology and innovations that are knowledge-intensive, lowcost and readily adaptable by small and medium-scale pro-ducers. These methods are considered likely to advancesocial equity, sustainability and agricultural productivity overthe long term.Agroecological farming encourages the cultivation of resil-ience and maintenance of healthy ecosystem function overreliance on external inputs such as synthetic chemical pes-ticides, fertilizers and fossil fuels that can have high energy,environmental and health costs. The approach is thus well- Source: IAASTD Global Report Figure 3-6, from Altieri, M.A., and C.I. Nicholls, 1999.suited to withstanding environmental and economic stress- Biodiversity, ecosystem function, and insect pest management in agricultural systems. p. 69- 84. In W.W. Collins and C.O.Qualset(ed) Biodiversity in Agroecosystems. CRC Press, posed by climate change, shifting pest pressures (seeFigure), and volatility in petroleum and commodity prices. An agroecological approach recognizes the multifunctional dimensions of The International Assessment of agriculture and facilitates progress toward a broad range of equitable and Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) sustainable development goals: provides policy options for how agricultural knowledge, • Increased ecological resilience and reduced risk in weathering changing science and technology environmental conditions; can reduce hunger and • Improved health and nutrition (more diverse, nutritious and fresh diets; poverty, improve rural livelihoods and reduced incidence of pesticide poisoning among workers, communities human health, and and consumers); facilitate equitable • Conservation of natural resources (biodiversity, soil organic matter, water and environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development. quality and quantity, ecosystem services, e.g. pollination, erosion control); The Assessment was conducted by • Economic stability (more diverse sources of income; spread of labor over 400 scientists and development requirements and production benefits over time; reduced vulnerability to experts from more than 80 countries. single commodity price swings, etc); It was sponsored by five United Nations agencies, the World Bank and • Climate change mitigation through increased energy-efficiency, reduced the Global Environment Facility. The reliance on fossil fuel and fossil fuel-based agricultural inputs, increased IAASTD findings were approved at an carbon sequestration and water capture in soil; and Intergovernmental Plenary in April 2008. • Increased social resilience and institutional capacity (increased ecological For more information on the IAASTD, literacy and social support networks). please see
  2. 2. Productive and ProfitableCommon assumptions that “alternative” or agroecologicalmethods are necessarily less productive than high-input con-ventional systems are incorrect. Farmers adopting agroeco-logical methods have produced equal and sometimes sub-stantially increased yields per unit area compared to thoseusing conventional methods in many parts of the world, al-though research challenges in specific crops and some agro-ecosystems remain.Benefits have been greatest for small-scale producers in re-source-limited areas of the tropics, i.e. in most developingcountries. An Essex University study of 286 resource-con-serving projects in 57 countries found that agroecologicalfarming achieved average production increases of 79% perhectare, with all projects achieving increased water efficiencyand 77% showing significant reductions in pesticide use. An organic farmer in Mexico practices crop rotation, applies mulch for weed control, uses organic fertilizersSimilarly, a comprehensive examination of nearly 300 stud- and maintains an agroforest to protect local springsies worldwide by the University of Michigan concluded that that provide clean irrigation water. Source: Ivette Perfectoorganic agriculture could produce enough food, on a percapita basis, to provide 2,640 to 4,380 kilocalories per per- For economic and nutritionallyson per day (more than the suggested intake for healthy vulnerable populations, agroecologyadults). Organic farms in developing countries were found tooutperform conventional practices by 57%. These promising supports production of both afindings may underestimate the full potential of agroecologi- greater quantity and diversitycal farming to contribute to increased farm-level productivity, of high quality food, fiber andhousehold income and food security, as only a very small medicinal products, both for familyfraction of public and private sector agricultural investment consumption and the market.has thus far gone towards agroecological research. Push-Pull System of Maize Pest Management in Africa The push-pull system of ecological pest management in Africa illustrates the productive, economic, food and livelihood security, health and environmental benefits of an innovative agroecological approach. Kenyan maize farmers have tripled their yields by intercropping maize with plants that deter pests and support pest predators. Farmers plant nitrogen-fixing legumes, such as silver leaf desmodium, that improve soil fertility while inducing ‘suicide Push Pull germination’ of seeds of the highly damaging Chemicals from Chemicals from Napier desmodium intercrop border rows attract parasitic weed, Striga hermontica. Napier grass repel moths moths to lay eggs and Sudan grass planted around field borders attract (“pull”) stemborers away from the crop; stemborer larvae trapped inside the Napier grasses’ sticky interior die. Meanwhile, molasses grass planted within the crop chemically repels (“pushes”) stemborers away, while attracting a parasitic wasp of stemborer larvae. The inclusion of these grasses in the farming Desmodium Desmodium Napier grass Maize Maize Maize Napier grass system reduces synthetic pesticide use and can help augment livestock feed, providing families Source: with additional milk and meat for consumption or sale. Additional benefits include reduced run-off and soil erosion, enhanced soil fertility, improved food security and family nutrition, and increased household income. More than 12,000 farmers across eastern Africa have adopted the technology, with another 100,000 expected to do so over the next three years.
  3. 3. Knowledge-Intensive and Inclusive ResilientAn agroecological approach is particularly well Agroecology improves the adaptive capacity of agroecosystemssuited for rural communities and developing econo- and reduces vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change im-mies. It recognizes the value of high quality scien- pacts, and new and emerging environmental and economic sys-tific research and of advanced technological explo- tem stresses and shocks. This resilience can be accomplishedration and innovation. It also emphasizes the soci- through physical and biological means (habitat and crop diversi-etal and knowledge gains from dialogue between fication, in situ conservation of local/indigenous seed and germ-researchers, farmers and indigenous communities. plasm diversity, maintenance of natural enemies’ species diver-Indigenous knowledge systems and traditional sity, increased carbon sequestration, improved water capture andfarming practices often yield site-specific insights retention, etc.) and socio-cultural and political means (diversifica-that would otherwise be outside the purview of for- tion of farming systems and local economies; technical, legal andmal science. social support networks for small-scale farmers, rural communi- ties and indigenous peoples that reduce socio-economic vulner-Successful agroecological research, education and ability and strengthen adaptive knowledge processes, etc.)extension programs have been building for de-cades on local and traditional knowledge systems,often through participatory and experiential learn- Central American Farmersing processes and multi-organizational partner- Withstand Hurricane Mitchships that integrate formal and informal agriculturalknowledge, science and technology (AKST). Ex- In Central America, small-scale farmers usingamples include Farmer Field Schools in Integrated agroecological methods were significantly more able toPest Management, Plant Health Clinics, farmer- withstand the adverse effects of Hurricane Mitch than plotsto-farmer extension programs, and agroecological farmed conventionally.studies in school and urban gardens. A participatory action researchCollaborative structures that emphasize co-learn- study found that in the aftermathing, social networks of innovation, and building of the hurricane, agroecologicallycapacity in flexible place-based decision-mak- managed plots in Guatemala,ing have proven more effective than conventional Honduras and Nicaragua retainedtop-down transfers of technology in the develop- more topsoil, field moisture anding world. Partnerships that focus on inclusion and vegetation and experienced lessmeaningful participation, particularly by historically erosion and lower economic losses Eric Holt-Gimenezmarginalized groups, contribute to the design and than plots on conventionally-implementation of solutions that are robust precise- managed resource-extractively because they are appropriate. farms. Furthermore, the difference in ecological resilience and beneficial results experienced in the agroecological plots in comparison with the conventional plots tended to increase with increasing levels of storm intensity and increasing slope of the land. The number of years that a plot had been cultivated with agroecological methods also contributed positively to its ability to withstand and recover from the hurricane. The study also illustrates the capacity of farmer-based participatory research to provide significant amounts of highly relevant data: 40 NGOs, 99 farmer-technician teams and over 15,000 farmers collaborated to measure agroecological indicators in 360 communities from southern Nicaragua to eastern Guatemala. After analyzing the results from the study, agroecological and conventional farmers together designed strategies for participatory, sustainable reconstruction. This participatory research mobilization was made possible by the existence ofIndonesian Field School farmers discuss the a widespread smallholders’ network for sustainableecological management of insect pests found in agriculture, known as Movimiento Campesino a Campesinotheir paddy fields. Source: Hery Christanto (Farmer to Farmer Movement).
  4. 4. Growing Agroecology at HomePolicy Options to Build Local and National Capacity Pro-poor sustainable development in the 21st century requires a redirection of institutional and policy support towards ecologically-sound decision-making by farmers; stronger and enforceable regulatory frameworks to reverse the damaging effects of resource-extractive agriculture; and significant new investments by public sector, donor, and commercial agencies in agroecological research, extension, education, product innovation, and marketing.Build local and national capacity in agroecological increased market opportunities for farmers adoptingresearch, extension and education agroecological practices. • Establish a national framework for the implementa- • Reduce volatility in commodity and food prices by tion of agroecological production; invest in agroeco- establishing grain reserves, price bands and other logical research, extension and education. supply management mechanisms. These measures • Encourage collaboration among farmers, indigenous enable farmers to invest in longer-term resource-con- peoples, extensionists, educators and researchers in serving strategies and support national food security problem-identification, experimentation and innova- goals. tion. Strengthen institutional supports • Revise institutional priorities, professional incentives • Revitalize local and regional food systems: Establish and budget allocations to support these goals. democratic food policy councils; encourage urban and peri-urban agriculture projects; regionalize foodSupport small-scale farmers and their organizations procurement. • Strengthen women’s, farmers’, indigenous and com- munity-based organizations; invest in rural areas. • Establish fair regional and global trade arrangements that enable farmers to meet food and livelihood secu- • Ensure farmers have secure access to productive re- rity goals and diversify production. sources, information, credit, certification and market- ing infrastructure. • Revise laws of ownership and access: Implement ef- fective land reform; revise intellectual property rights; • Provide technical assistance in agroecological pro- devise equitable resource use policies; distribute duction and agro-processing, and in adjusting to and credit to enable small-scale farmers to compete more mitigating climate change and other system stress- effectively. es. • Establish social and environmental standards forEstablish supportive economic policies, financial production, food quality and procurement, with liabil-incentives and market opportunities ity mechanisms to address health or environmental • Use full-cost accounting measures to evaluate and harms arising when standards are not applied. compare the social, environmental and economic • Guide and regulate private sector: Reward private in- costs of different agricultural production systems. vestment in safe, sustainable products, technologies, • Provide financial incentives (credit lines, crop insur- in situ reserves and markets; initiate competitive bid- ance, income tax exemptions, payment for ecosys- ding for public funding based on capacity to meet eq- tem services) for resource-conserving practices, and uitable, sustainable development goals; implement for reducing reliance on chemical, fossil fuel and wa- anti-trust and competition regulations. ter-intensive production methods. • Enhance institutional integrity: Enforce codes of con- • Encourage geographic, fair and sustainable produc- duct to preserve public institutions’ capacity to per- tion labels, affordable third-party certification, and form public-good research. This Issue Brief was prepared by Pesticide Action Network North America (April 2009), and is based exclusively on findings presented in the IAASTD Reports. PAN is a worldwide network dedicated to advancing environmental justice, sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. Printed on recycled paper. Pesticide Action Network North America • 49 Powell St. #500, San Francisco CA 94102 USA •