The global food and agricultural system is broken and we need to fix it. The good news is that we can. Farmers and communities around the world are showing the way. There is a growing wave of evidence and research demonstrating that:
- “Business as usual” of expanding industrialized agriculture is not a viable option for meeting the challenges we face in the future.
- We must transition to greener agriculture and food systems.
- Family farmer agroecology works and is a vital part of the solution.
The Challenges of Industrialized Agriculture
The current industrialized food and agriculture system is generating over 1 billion hungry people, and an equal number who are overweight and suffer the related effects on their health. Almost half the world’s population, or 3 billion people, lives in poverty. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, which in turn is affecting the livelihoods of family farmers around the world. Limited oil supplies and increasing prices are making inputs like fertilizer too expensive for most family farmers – and are contributing to spikes in food prices. By 2050 the world’s population will increase from its 2010 levels of 6.9 billion people to over 9 billion people. Will we feed them by continuing the trends created by industrial agriculture, or through a transition to more sustainable and agroecological production?
The reality is that hunger in the world today is not a question of production – there is enough food on the planet, but under our current system the hungry cannot purchase it or produce enough of it. Yet the 3 billion small-scale farmers and food producers are already the ones producing 70% of the world’s food. And agroecological farming by family farmers has been demonstrated to be highly productive and sustainable. It just needs more support to spread. By contrast, industrial farming currently produces only about 30% of the food consumed globally. Expanding it as the solution to the global challenges of hunger, health, climate change, environmental destruction and inequity would just worsen current trends.
What is Agroecology? Why does it work?
Agroecology is one of many terms people use to describe an approach to farming – others being sustainable agriculture, ecological agriculture, low-external input agriculture or people-centered agriculture.
Agroecology is: farming that “centers on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while not damaging these resources.” It applies ecology to the design of farming systems; uses a whole-systems approach to farming and food systems; and links ecology, culture, economics and society to create healthy environments, food production and communities. (Source: http://www.moreandbetter.org/en/news/a-viable-food-future ).
That may sound like a complicated process for extremely poor family farmers around the world to manage. But the reality is it works because it builds on farmers’ skills and knowledge: they have long experience working with nature, understanding the dynamics of their local environments, producing food and other products they need, maximizing the use of available resources, solving problems, and weighing risks, costs and benefits. Therefore they can manage the process and become lifelong innovators.
Groundswell’s partners and founders have been supporting family farmers to improve farming through agroecological practices for decades. We have developed this commitment because we discovered, alongside the farmers, that it works. More food is produced. Fewer inputs are required – meaning reduced expenses. Soil fertility is improved. Rainfall is captured and managed better. Pests are managed better. Greater income is generated. Farming systems are diversified and produce synergistic benefits. Farms and communities are more resilient to climate change and shocks such as hurricanes, droughts and food or fertilizer price spikes. Carbon is sequestered in soils rich in organic matter and the integration of trees into farming systems. And farmers and their organizations use their skills, knowledge and creativity to learn and manage the process. These women and men are the innovators and leaders creating healthy farming systems for their communities and countries. Agroecology is not just “farming the traditional way,” but it is a constant process of farmer-led innovation, in the face of evolving circumstances, to determine how to farm well and to improve life.
Agriculture and food production are the base of life and the economy and have multiple functions in creating healthy societies. They are at the center of addressing challenges like hunger and poverty, climate change and environment, women’s wellbeing and community health, income and employment. A transition to greener, more productive, agroecological farming allows local people to lead in creating solutions.
How does Groundswell support the transition to Agroecological farming?
We support the spread of agroecological farming by promoting:
- Farmer experimentation to improve soil management, seeds, water management and farming systems.
- Generating early success to create enthusiasm in communities.
- Maximizing the use of local resources and knowledge, but integrating useful new practices as well.
- Focusing on a limited number of technologies and practices so that farmers can manage the process of change. To create a self-spreading effect, it is better to teach 100 farmers a few practices that work, rather than a few farmers 100 practices that work.
- Farmer-to-farmer sharing of successful practices.
- Diversifying farming systems.
- Reaching a critical mass of adopters in communities, leading to a multiplier affect.
- Strengthening local organizations to manage the process.
In recent years, research and evidence is accumulating that agroecological farming is not only a viable alternative for the future, but a necessary one. We have provided links to some of the key documentation here:
- The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), Global Summary for Decision Makers (2009), http://www.agassessment.org/
- Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; 08/03/2011: “Agroecology and the Right to Food”, Report presented at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council [A/HRC/16/49] http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20110308_a-hrc-16-49_agroecology_en.pdf
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), “Sustaining African Agriculture: Organic Production,” February 2009. http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/presspb20086_en.pdf
- A Viable Food Future, 2010, The Development Fund/Utviklingsfondet, http://www.moreandbetter.org/en/
- Jules Pretty et al., “Sustainable intensification in African agriculture,” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 2011, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/earthscan/ijas