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Groundswell’s FAO Delegates’ 11 Recommendations for the future of Agroecology

Last month, from April 3-5 the FAO held the second International Symposium on Agroecology: Scaling Up Agroecology to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Rome, Italy. The symposium brought together representatives from the UN, governments, NGOs, farmers and women’s movements and academics. Groundswell International sent four delegates representing our staff, board and partner organizations.
“My general perspective is there is a global awareness on the need for a different path, both globally and locally around the world, for our food systems,” says Bernard Guri, Groundswell board member, Director of our partner organization CIKOD in Ghana, and delegate at the FAO symposium. “Agroecology is that pathway.”

With growing interest in the benefits of of agroecology, participants in the meeting engaged in important discussions about what it would mean to achieve scale and how to transform our agricultural and food systems. Significant debates on goals and strategies for spreading agroecology continue, even as many actors seek to define practical next steps for moving ahead.

According to our delegates, the growing interest in agroecology shows that it has made significant inroads as a viable alternative to industrial farming. But many issues remain contested: the central role of family farmers; prioritizing the role of women, and nutrition; how to promote positive collaboration with scientists and state policy actors. Additionally, the symposium spurred important discussions about what “scaling up” actually means.

To Guri and many delegates representing grassroots perspectives, it means increasing the number of small family farmers engaging in agroecology, and not just expanding the acreage of a few farmers. Part of this process is supporting farmers to experiment with agroecological innovations on their own farms, and then giving them the means to teach other farmers what they learned. “In promoting agroecology,” he says, “we recognize that formal scientific research is important. But the knowledge of farmers is more important. The farmer experiments and investigates not to publish, but to live.”

Another delegate from our partner organization Ekorural, Stephen Sherwood , warns against adopting the problematic assumption that agroecology needs to be scaled-up by means of the state, science and industry. “We have to remember that agroecology, and the responsibility for spreading it, is rooted in families – both farming families as well as ‘people who eat’ – all of us – all over the world. Agroecology is really about ‘food for the people, by the people, of the people,’ a radical form direct democracy, ” Sherwood says. “Ultimately, what is at stake is people’s ownership of and control over their food. In addition to resource poor farmers, we all have a role to play through responsible consumption.”

Outside of the debate about who has agency to implement agroecology moving forward, various key recommendations emerged out of the symposium from on the ground actors and farmers’ movements about what needs to be present for agroecology to thrive.

The following eleven recommendations are adapted from our delegates:

  1. Women lead the charge. Women play a crucial role, and scaling agroecology must start with women’s work.
  2. Knowledge is spread from farmer to farmer. Family farmers in general should take on the responsibility for scaling agroecology, as governments are not likely to take the lead.
  3. Solutions come from within the community. We need to strengthen support for local food systems grounded in local biology and culture that emphasize indigenous production. We also need processing and marketing systems that are created by and serve local people. We call this ‘endogenous food value chains’.
  4. Link community resilience with local government support. In general, we work to support initiatives that contribute to building resilient communities that are able to design and implement their own agroecological initiatives. At the same time, it is also important to strengthen local government structures and viable rural institutions as spaces for participation by these communities.
  5. Some farmers may need subsidies to transition to agroecology. This is particularly true for smallholder farmers who have become dependent on chemical inputs of industrialized agriculture.
  6. Agroecology is a political and social project. Therefore, there is a need for appropriate governance systems from the village to the nation-state that guarantees participation. This includes the need for democratic spaces for civil society organizations, food producers and consumers to shape agricultural systems.
  7. Agroecology creates jobs, especially for youth. Where there is youth unemployment, there is need a need to open up markets to agroecological produce. Strengthening local value chain and market development- the local food web- are crucial. Agroecology can viable economic and ecological alternatives for many who seek to return and work in rural villages.
  8. Access to local markets is key. The demand for native crops needs to be strong to incentivize agroecological farming.
  9. Knowledge transfer to youth. Youth are the next generation of family farmers. It is important to support youth organizing for intergenerational knowledge transfer. School curriculums are important spaces to promote agroecology.
  10. Agroecology must be thought of outside of capitalistic and colonial structures. Agroecology contributes to creating healthier economic and political dynamics.
  11. Invest in family farmers as agents of change. Smallholder farmers must remain at the center of the process to generate agroecological systems change, in alliance with consumers and other allies.

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