Agroecology is the science and practice of applying ecological concepts, principles and knowledge to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.
As a science, agroecology includes the study of ecological as well as social and economic processes in farming systems. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, agroecology examines the roles and interactions among all relevant biophysical, technical and socioeconomic components of farming systems and their surrounding landscapes.
As a practice, farmers combine scientific inquiry with direct community-based experimentation, innovation and adaptation to the context-specific social and ecological realities of their environment.
Agroecology is also increasingly recognized as a growing social movement, epitomized by the visionary leadership, rich knowledge and engagement of peasant farmers across much of Latin America, Africa and Asia, as clearly articulated by the international peasant movement, La Via Campesina.
Agroecological farming supports the multifunctional dimensions of agriculture, which include not only food, jobs and economic well-being, but also culture, social and environmental benefits, and important ecosystem services such as pollination, natural pest control, nutrient and water cycling and erosion control.
Knowledge-intensive and inclusive
Agroecology recognizes the value of formal scientific research and of advanced technological innovation. It also values the importance of dialogue and collaboration between researchers, farmers, indigenous communities and historically marginalized groups. Indigenous knowledge systems and traditional farming practices often yield crucial site-specific insights, easily overlooked by lab-based research.
Examples of effective farmer-scientist collaborations and participatory learning processes include the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA), Farmer Field Schools, Community-based Integrated Pest Management, Plant Health Clinics, Brazilian farmer- to-farmer education programs, and agroecological studies in school and urban gardens.
Agroecology improves the adaptive capacity of agroecosystems and reduces vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change impacts, and new and emerging environmental and economic system stresses and shocks. This resilience can be accomplished through
A good example is the ability of small-scale farmers using agroecological methods to withstand the adverse effects of Hurricane Mitch. In the aftermath of the hurricane, agroecologically managed plots in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua retained more topsoil, field moisture and vegetation and suffered less erosion than conventionally-managed resource-extractive farms. Agroecological farmers also experienced lower economic losses as a result than conventional farmers.
According to the most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date, agroecological farming is one of our best hopes for feeding a hungry world - especially under conditions of increasing social and environmental stress. The science behind this field of practice and investigation runs both deep and broad.
The UN- and World Bank-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) took place over 5 years, included over 400 scientists and development experts from more than 80 countries. PAN was a lead author on this report. Its major conclusion? "business as usual is not an option" for world agriculture.
Fundamental changes in the world's agricultural systems are necessary if we expect to feed a growing population, on a warming planet with limited resources. The IAASTD named agroecological practices as being among the most likely to actually feed the developing world.