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Putting Agroecology into Practice

The following is the fifth blogpost in Groundswell International’s series “Considerations for the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference”. In this post, Peter Gubbels re-emphasizes how agroecology can simultaneously improve the food and farming system, nourish the world, and significantly reduce carbon emissions. He outlines some of the steps that policy makers and leaders should take to realize this transition.


There is growing interest in how agroecology can feed the world, transform the currently unsustainable food and farming system, and make a huge contribution to reducing the emissions that are causing climate change. As I have stressed in the previous posts in this series, for this to succeed, the focus must be on the small-scale farmers who are already feeding more than 70% of the world’s population, and who are best placed to intensify agroecological farming in their countries.

There are already successful examples of farmers using agroecology. From the grassroots, these practitioners are promoting change. In addition to their efforts, though, broad political support for agroecology is needed.

Political leaders must ask the following questions in order to achieve a successful transition to agroecology:

  • How can the major impediments to the progress of agroecology be overcome?
  • What are the radical changes needed in agricultural policies, the new priorities for research and innovation, and the strategies for bringing consumers closer to producers?
  • How can the use of agroecological production systems be scaled up in ways that are specific to each major context and include the participation of farmers?

Entrenched interests, including agribusinesses, commercial seed and fertilizer companies, philanthropic organizations, and the World Bank, among others, are promoting a misleading narrative that large scale industrial agriculture will be necessary for “feeding the world” when the global population reaches 9 billion in 2050. This is not the case. The world already produces enough to feed 9 billion people. Hunger is a result of a globally dysfunctional agro-food system, not a lack of overall supply of food. Much of today’s agricultural production is either used for feeding animals, or for biofuels, or is wasted. Countries like India have huge surpluses of grain that are rotting in warehouses, while there are still a large number of citizens suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

It is essential that political energy be focused in the right direction–not simply on producing more food, but in adapting the entire food system to be more effective in the ways that count–nourishing people and the planet.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 2.08.19 PMA new book by IFOAM (The International Foundation for Organic Agriculture) addresses this idea and provides recommendations for the transformation to agroecology. The book discusses, among other things, significant investment in research and develop of new economic paradigms that penalize environmental degradation and reward practices that protect and promote biodiversity and ecological wellbeing. The authors also call for a flagship research program on agroecology and agroecological transition. This is essential to overcoming the disadvantaged position – even exclusion – of agroecological research from major funding mechanisms, including climate finance. Groundswell International fully endorses the suggestions from IFOAM, which are presented below with a link to the full publication. 


The following is an excerpt from IFOAM’s new book Feeding the People: Agroecology for Nourishing the World and Transforming the Agri-Food System:

Just as the industrial, mechanized systems of monoculture that transformed post-war global agriculture could only be installed with massive public investments and the concerted efforts of all the relevant segments of society, so too will the next transformation of agriculture in a world beset by climate change and persistent hunger require a similar concerted effort for its success – an effort that involves science, research and technology combined with adequate policies and economic incentives.

The Way Forward for Agroecology and the Transformation of the Global Industrial Agro-Food System

  • Funds must be provided and opportunities created for scaling up the best agroecological systems and integrating them into a coherent supply and value chain.
  • National and international trade agreements must support the development of regional food systems.
  • Training and extension work for agroecological production and fair trade must be integrated into academic and vocational education programmes.
  • Significant investment is now needed to research and develop new economic paradigms that penalize business models contributing to environmental degradation, and reward those that protect and promote biodiversity, and eliminate environmental pollution and other harmful practices. While research into agroecology in its broadest sense has delivered results, that research has been largely decoupled from the study of economics.
  • Final product prices must reflect the true costs of production by internalizing all the externalities, particularly pollution, and carbon emissions of industrial farming systems.
  • A detailed review is needed of the existing WTO rules, including its trade and agricultural policy measures, in order to strengthen food security, food sovereignty and sustainable rural development. Other relevant agreements should also be examined, such as those on anti-dumping, public procurement and the agreement on services.
  • The disadvantaged position – even exclusion – of agroecological research from major funding mechanisms must be overcome. Agroecology is an innovative form of food production that offers huge potential, not only to provide better food but also to remedy the environmental destruction that now threatens human societies.
  • It is imperative that we break free of our collective dependency on the industrial agro-food systems that is under-serving the people and destroying the environment – it is also achievable, because the necessary agroecological systems do exist and are ready for deployment as soon as we have a conducive institutional and political environment. 

Missing this opportunity would be unforgivable to future generations.

Click here to download the full publication by IFOAM EU Group

To read previous posts in Groundswell International’s climate change series, click here

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