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Agroecology is considered a guiding path for sustainable food and agriculture. It has entered the discourse of international and UN institutions and is recognized worldwide as an alternative approach to reduce massive deforestation, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Food and Agriculture Organization defines agroecology as an integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It seeks to optimize the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.
FAO has also highlighted the following 10 elements of Agroecology for guiding countries to transform their food and agricultural systems, to mainstream sustainable agriculture on a large scale , and to achieve Zero Hunger and multiple other SDGs..
Diversity; Synergies; Efficiency; Resilience; Recycling; Co-creation and sharing of knowledge
Human and social values; Culture and food traditions, Responsible governance; Circular and solidarity economy
Below are some outstanding practices in Agroecology followed in the World:
Developed by the NGO Centre d’Actions pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable (ACED), this practice turns the biological control of the highly invasive plant species water hyacinth into an economic opportunity. The practice recently developed a new technique to increase collection productivity by a further 39% and trained 214 gardeners (many women and young people) to use that innovation to make and use water hyacinth compost. Thanks to its action, a 20% reduction of water hyacinth was achieved by 2016. By 2017, more than 5,400 tons of water hyacinths were collected, and more than 3,200 tons of compost was produced. Through the compost, gardeners measurably increased crop productivity and produce quality. Furthermore, smallholders are also connected to market opportunities. There is a high potential for replication in countries affected by water hyacinth, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, etc.
The ‘Revolution of the Buckets’ is a community project that collects domestic organic waste for usage in urban agriculture in socially troubled areas of Florianópolis, Brazil. With the training of local people, this highly cost-effective practice ensures the monthly recovery of 10 tons of organic waste and its transformation into 3 tons of fertilizer that supply the need of 25 yards, 4 school gardens and community space. It considerably reduced the number of rats and subsequently the incidences of diseases. Through its promotion of urban agriculture, this decentralized and participatory waste management system has already treated 1,200 tons of organic waste and contributed to the production of nutritious food for participating families, benefitting over 1,600 people. In the past 10 years, 30 young offenders were integrated in the project. It is being implemented by other organizations in other cities across Brazil.
Roseli Nunes is an agrarian reform settlement in southwestern Mato Grosso, which has resisted Brazil’s hegemonic agribusiness model for almost 20 years. It is surrounded by large, intensive farms in a state that has been heavily deforested; it has the largest cattle herd in the country (about 31 million); and it produces more soybeans, corn and cotton than any other Brazilian state. Roseli Nunes is a symbol of peasant resistance and the struggle for land. Once a cattle ranch where rural workers were held in slave-like conditions, it was expropriated by the Brazilian state in 2000 following a battle led by the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). The ranch’s 11,000 hectares were divided equally between 331 families, with each receiving a 25-hectare plot. Agroecology at Roseli Nunes is the antithesis of the surrounding industrial farms. It involves productive smallholdings, agroforestry systems, pasture management, creole seed production, women’s empowerment, the production of a diverse range of fruit and vegetables and raising a range of drug-free and heritage breeds of livestock and farm animals. The Regional Association of Agroecological Producers (ARPA) supports many families at Roseli Nunes and two other agrarian reform settlements with the aim of achieving food sovereignty through socially just methods of production. Recent setbacks imposed by conservative forces and accelerated by the Bolsonaro regime have had direct implications for agroecological systems there and have reduced the number of families that ARPA is able to support. However, for those still involved, agroecology remains the most politically, economically and environmentally viable option available.
Started by the World Agroforestry Centre and local partners, this project tackles land degradation and social deprivation by enabling farmers to implement agro-forestry techniques. In Rural Resource Centres (RRCs) capacity building and knowledge exchange between farmers, NGOs, governments and private are encouraged, as well as livelihood diversification through the creation of new, local micro-enterprises. In Cameroon, the project helped communities open 10 RRCs, host 150 nurseries and serve over 10,000 households, and plant over 1.6 million trees. The average income of participating communities rose to over USD 26,000. The project inspired the inclusion of more than 50 indigenous food trees species in domestication programmes worldwide. In 2016, it started operations in Mali, establishing 14 RRCs, planting 4 million trees of 25 species and engaging 80,000 farmers in 183 villages.
The social enterprise Shared Harvest was initiated by the leader of China’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Network. It promotes a community-owned socio-economic mode of agriculture, where producers and growers provide mutual support and share the risk of food production. Operations are based on the Shared Harvest farm, with a system of weekly delivery of organic and locally produced food to 800 consumer members in Beijing. The farm, which currently has 50 employees (producers, food service and traders) and 1,000 supporting members, guarantees each subscriber at least 200 kilograms of fresh organic food, including over 60 categories of vegetables. Through its sustainable agricultural methods, it reduced the use of synthetic pesticides by 2,500 thousand tons. Shared Harvest is the foundation of China’s CSA movement and since its start, 1,000 farms have converted to CSA methods.
This practice aims to increase the capacity for self-regulation of pests and to increase the capacities of farming, specifically by diversification of the use of biological control agents, integration of soil management using rotation systems, soil laboratories, design and management of the cultivation with polyculture or mixed cultures, cultivation of natural enemy pest regulation and increasing biodiversity by enhancing the complexity of the production systems matrix. APM increases the diversity and regulatory activity of natural enemies by 25–35%. From 2003–08, 30,780 farmers were trained and diffused APM to others. Furthermore, 1,704 municipal plant health specialists and 2,736 technicians of farmers’ organizations are now qualified in APM. As of today, APM is adopted on 373,800 hectares (40% use four, whilst 22% use all APM components). APM led to reduced costs of pesticides and pests in 75 % of the Cuban agrarian production. A similar programme is being conducted in Nicaragua and will give results within 1–2 years.
The SEKEM Initiative works to realize its vision of sustainable human development, by using biodynamic agricultural methods to revitalize desert land and develop agricultural business, and by enabling knowledge transfer, education and conscious consumption. Today, SEKEM is a leading social business worldwide. About 684 hectares of desert land have been reclaimed, of which 100% is operated by biodynamic agriculture methods. 477 farmers have been trained in these methods. More than 70% of SEKEM’s reclaimed land produces food and raw materials for the local market. Its products respect highest possible ethical, ecological and social standards. 10% of profits go back to the community. SEKEM contributed to the reduction of artificial pesticide use in Egypt’s cotton industry by 90%, whilst boosting yields by 30%. Since 2007, SEKEM has set up three new model farms.
The Drylands Natural Resource Centre (DNRC) works with over 600 smallholder farmers, in order to restore their land through agricultural and agroforestry best practices, to enhance income generation, build social capital and provide food security. The Centre educates farmers and schoolchildren on agroecological techniques by means of shared learning and a demonstration farm, and promotes tree planting, rainwater harvesting and livelihood diversification. Thanks to DNRC, over 100,000 tree seedlings of over 30 different local species are planted each year, with a survival rate of 80%. Its Rainwater Harvesting Programme installed 90 water cisterns, each of 10,000 litres, in schools and households providing clean drinking water to over 1,900 children and parents. It increased and diversified the income of farmers by the sale of firewood, moringa powder, oil and seeds, aloe vera, baskets, carvings, and more. Two Catholic organizations, Trócaire and Fastenopfer, have trained their staff in DNRC’s approach and spread it around Kenya.
Inclusive investment for agroecology aims to facilitate access to financing for farmers wishing to produce a transition towards agroecology. Based on a combination of individual and collective investment, risk sharing and a process of consultation and negotiation, the practice facilitates a transition to boost agroecology, strengthens local institutions for self-determination, facilitates higher level of aggregation and diversifies production and markets. By June 2018, 180 smallholders had been trained in agroecology, 3 permanent trainers had been secured, 30 contractual agreements of agroecology investments were signed and fulfilled, and 120 ha of land were in transition to agroecology. Cooperation with a local Slow Food organization was started. The practice is currently being replicated in the Nampula region and provides a 12-step guide for global implementation.
Started by the Mountain Institute (TMI), this practice trains highland farmers in growing Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) as a profitable alternative to traditional wild harvesting of MAPs. This highly community-based participatory approach aims to support the conservation of MAP species, enterprise development and fair trade through technical and financial support and knowledge exchange. As many as 18,000 farmers have been trained in cultivating MAPs (11,000 farmers directly trained and 7,000 farmers replicated) in over 100 Nepali villages, of which 35–40% are women. Over 2,500 hectares of degraded land are now covered with 13 different MAP species and 4 MAP farmer cooperatives have been established. By 2010 TMI found an 80% cumulative improvement in wild MAP populations relative to the baseline and in 2016 the combined earnings totalled USD 4,300,000. TMI is also promoting the MAP approach in Peru.
The farmer-owned NGO Agro-Eco Philippines addresses the gaps in rural development by focusing on conservation, organic production, social entrepreneurship and marketing hubs. Agro-Eco Philippines entails key features, including but not limited to seeds and plant genetic conservation, farmer-led and participatory plant breeding, community-based seed banks and learning farms, training of young farmers and students, and organic products processing. The NGO has trained a total of 3,048 small-scale farmers in climate-resilient agriculture. It developed 73 farmer breeders and 420 farmer-bred lines (varieties) for rice/corn, initiated 22 farmers’ organizations now engaging in social entrepreneurship and established 5 marketing hubs in Mindanao. It has increased the regular income of farmers and influenced local policy. Agro-Eco currently works with 300 organizations across the Philippines.
The Africa Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM) supports the dissemination of holistic management planned grazing in Africa, foremost in Zimbabwe. In 2005, it started to work directly with farmers. Based on a 3,200 ha ranch, ACHM works with local farmer communities, government agencies and NGOs to offer innovative training and outreach programmes based on practical learning sites that provide evidence of land water and wildlife restoration using livestock. The Centre has trained 100 facilitators so far and reached 15,000 communal farmers in 16 Zimbabwean communities, who have been able to increase their revenues by 3–5 times. ACHM implements holistic grazing on 10,000 acres and influences another 500,000 hectares with its partners. Holistic grazing results in a 31% decrease in bare ground, a 56% increase in litter cover, and a 12% increase in perennials, which means there is much less surface loss of rainfall and surface evaporation. This practice is being adapted by other organizations in other regions, as it is a low cost, replicable method.
In Mexico, there are four million small rural producers using traditional agricultural activities that do not fit into industrial models of production. This is because the size of their production units is limited by the amount of land each family owns and local agro-ecological conditions. They usually work with family labor and involve women and children in the management of their natural and financial resources; their objective is to achieve optimal use of natural resources instead of the maximization of profits. Agroecological systems generally support low loads of cattle. The vegetative cover tends towards diversity, and when tree species are present, they provide shade for cattle and enable the production of fruit, medicinal plants and even wood for fuel. Agroecological systems make use of green water to grow vegetative cover and blue water for animals’ troughs. They also favor the botanical composition of vegetative cover, the biodiversity of the ecosystem, and in some cases, constitute reserves for wildlife and endangered species. When they are well managed, they contribute to reducing soil erosion and improving fertility due to the absorption of nitrogen from manure, while the hoof prints of cattle turn the soil and promote green water infiltration. Due to the low animal load, GHG emissions are reduced, and the vegetation favors carbon sequestration into soils. Agro ecological models of production are sustainable and designed for a more efficient and effective use of natural resources.
Paraguay’s population is 38% rural, a figure that is very high for the region. The rural population resists advances of agricultural extractivism and maintains productive practices in harmony with nature, with low-impact consumption patterns. Majority of the peasant families have few cattle. These small herds, which are adapted to the environment and linked to local livelihoods, contribute to family subsistence through the sale of by-products, and their care is mainly the responsibility of women, who traditionally own and manage this good. It is not known how many cattle are in the hands of the peasants, since they are often not included in official statistics. The animals on these farms are not branded, and in some cases, are completely outside of the state’s health system. On peasant farms, slaughtering is done through municipal permits and the distribution and/or sale of meat obeys the criteria of a solidarity economy before those of the market. The livestock industry is spreading across the national territory thanks to fraudulent land titles, the support of security forces paid for by investors, and judges and prosecutors who consistently rule in favor of the highest bidder. Meanwhile, the ‘other’ ranching carried out by small farmers Paraguay: Abandoned by the state, peasant agriculture endures resists despite the total lack of public policies that favor it; peasants in Paraguay lack access to credit or agricultural insurance, training or technical assistance. Peasants communities are isolated and do not even have nearby municipal markets that offer sanitary conditions in which to sell their products. This abandonment by the state constitutes in itself a public policy aimed at exterminating the peasant population from rural land, identified as a ‘nuisance’ for the expansion of capitalist extractive industries.