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Agroecology and the Sustainable Development Goals

In this second part of a three part blog series, we discuss how agroecology supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a dissection of each of the 17 goals and their targets. The SDGs are important because they are the primary international framework for galvanizing action toward eliminating poverty in all its forms by 2030. Agroecology incorporates ideas about a more environmentally and socially sensitive approach to agriculture, one that focuses not only on production, but also on the ecological sustainability of the productive system. This definition by the USDA implies a number of features about society and production that go well beyond the limits of the agricultural field, demonstrating that agroecology reaches beyond the farm and impacts the societal, economic and political aspects of the SDGs. To begin, let’s look at the SDGs broadly.

The Sustainable Development Goals Broken Down


Source: Stockholm Resilience Center

As the figure demonstrates, the SDGs can be classified into the level they affect.

Biosphere: Goals 15, 14, 6, and 13

Society: Goals 1, 11, 16, 7, 3, 4, 5, and 2

Global Economy: Goals 8, 9, 10, and 12

As with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there are synergies between the SDGs, whereby progress toward one goal promotes progress toward another goal. Agroecology supports progress at each level. The list below gives an overview:

Goal 1: Eradicate Poverty in all its Forms Everywhere
Over 1 billion people in the world are hungry, and 80% of them are rural farmers and food producers. Agroecology can improve soil quality which increases crop yields and allows farmers to generate more income.

Goal 2: End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture 
With larger crop yields, agroecology can be the key to reducing global stunting, wasting and malnutrition rates. By empowering people to be closer to their food and teaching sustainable agricultural practices, agroecology ensures that food security increases.

Goal 3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being for All at All Ages 
Agroecology implies moving away from GMO-laden crops and emphasizes locally-grown, organic produce that is nutritious and can reduce rates of cancer and other diseases. Agroecology also emphasizes diversified crops which improves nutrition.

Goal 4: Ensure Inclusive and Quality Education for all and Promote Lifelong Learning
The transition toward a diversified agroecological system requires extensive farmer-to-farmer education on sustainable agroecological practices, but it also includes education on micro financing and basic literacy skills.

Goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls
Globally, women make up 43% of the world’s agricultural labor force and in some countries this percentage is as high as 70%! Women are predominantly farmers in Africa, the largest agricultural producer. Agroecological practices can empower women to become sovereign over their food production and can improve their livelihoods through increased income.

Goal 6: Ensure Access to Water and Sanitation for All
Industrial agriculture is draining our water tables and polluting our waters. Agroecology can help the soil achieve higher water retention and keep our rivers clean for all to enjoy.

Goal 7: Ensure Access to Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable and Modern Energy for All 
Human activity and the burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change. Agroecology reduces the agricultural carbon footprint by shortening the producer-consumer pipeline through farm-to-table initiatives, strengthening farmer’s markets, and by emphasizing locally-grown indigenous foods.

Goal 8: Promote Inclusive, and Sustainable Economic Growth, Employment and Decent Work for All 
Agroecology is at the very heart of sustainable economic growth. Further, it provides farmer sovereignty over their crops, as they don’t rely on large agricultural manufacturers for fertilizer and seeds.

Goal 9: Build Resilient Infrastructure, Promote Sustainable Industrialization and Foster Innovation 
Being food secure ensures that we are healthy enough to focus on bringing new ideas, pursuing passions, and supporting our communities.

Goal 10: Reduce Inequality Within and Among Countries 
A Rodale Institute study showed average net return for organic systems was $558/acre/yr versus $190/acre/yr for conventional systems, mostly due to lower input costs. With higher returns on crop yields, agroecology is able to reduce income inequality within and among countries by distributing prosperity among marginalized farming communities.

Goal 11: Make Cities Inclusive Safe, Resilient and Sustainable 
Urban, organic farms are popping up in major cities such as New York and Berlin. Through the use of sustainable farming practices, we make cities more resilient and its people more connected as a community, as everyone has a stake in the harvest.

Goal 12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns
Farmers markets and urban community gardens shorten the production to consumption pipeline by eliminating large-scale retailers that predominantly provide mass-produced food.

Goal 13: Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and it Impacts 
The current industrial agricultural system is largest emitter of Greenhouse gases. Implementing agroecological practices can improve soil quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and teach farmers to adapt their crops to be climate smart and resilient. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, diversified and indigenous crops are typically more resilient to extreme weather conditions, including drought, flooding, and high temperatures resulting from climate change.

Goal 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development 
Agroecology advocates for limited external inputs like pesticides and chemical fertilizers which seep into water tables and runoff into our streams. With cleaner water through more sustainable and organic farming practices, we preserve aquatic biomes and secure a healthy future for ourselves.

Goal 15: Protect, Restore and Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, and Halt and Reverse Land Degradation and Halt Biodiversity Loss 
Organic farming contributes to better soil stability with an average of 30% higher soil organic matter and 14% higher soil organic carbon, making organic farming more resilient to drought, more resistant to soil erosion, and more efficient at water infiltration (USC Canada).

Goal 16: Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for all, and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions at All Levels 
Insecurity drives conflict. If more people are food secure, feel that their work is meaningful, and collaborate to promote a sustainable future, there is likely to be less conflict in the world.

Goal 17: Strengthen the Means of Implementation and Revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development 
As public and private stakeholders and action agents collaborate to usher in the agroecological transition, world leaders will be able to coalesce these groups to continue the global partnership for sustainable development.

Whether it is promoting gender equality or achieving food security, transitioning toward diversified agroecological systems can have rippling effects on all levels of the SDGs. However, in order for this change to be impactful, we need to make the transition sooner rather than later. Johan Rockström and Pavan Sukhdev, advocates for resilient global solutions at the Stockholm Resilience Center, believe that food is at the root of all SDGs. They highlight synergies among the goals. For example, eradicating poverty (SDG 1) and zero hunger (SDG 2) require gender equality (SDG 5) and decent jobs (SDG 8). Reduced inequality (SDG 10) is crucial to promoting all of the SDGs. Rockström and Sukhdev echo the belief that a transition from our industrial agricultural system to a more diverse agroecological alternative is key to promoting a more sustainable global future. They presented their perspective at the 2016 Stockholm EAT Food Forum. To watch the video in full, click here.

The next blog post in this series will dive deeper into SDGs 2, 5, and 13 and how agroecology works within them to promote sustainable progress. Stay tuned!


This blog post is written by one of our 2016 Communications and Development Interns, Paola Salas Paredes. Paola is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Political Science. Her professional interests include international sustainable development, non-profit management, humanitarian assistance and diplomacy. She has expertise in international frameworks such as the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is a nomad who currently calls Asheville, NC home. 


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