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Agroecology works — citizens are proving it

How will we feed over 9 billion people by 2050, and who exactly will feed whom?

One thing we do know: business as usual is not the answer.

As the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General, José Graziano da Silva said in a speech earlier this year, “The model of agricultural production that predominates today is not suitable for the new food security challenges of the 21st century.”

When the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) convened hundreds of scientists from around the world they concluded that small-scale, agroecological farming is one of the most promising paths toward a resilient, productive and sustainable agricultural future.

So what exactly is agroecological farming? Occasionally referred to as ‘ecological farming,’ it is — according to our partner organization Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International — “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts, principles and knowledge to the design and management of sustainable farms”.

PAN has just released a new book; “Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with agroecology”. The first publication of its kind, it makes a compelling case for eliminating dependence on toxic pesticides by showcasing success stories of agroecological farming from around the world.

Senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and contributor of the book, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, explains why the world needs agroecology now:

Why Agroecology?

Agroecology offers freedom from pesticide dependence, and a path towards healthy, vibrant and resilient food and farming systems. Agroecological practices can increase farm productivity, food security and food sovereignty; improve rural livelihoods and adaptation to climate change; and reduce the health and environmental harms of chemical-intensive agriculture. 

With the world using nearly 50 times more pesticides today than six decades ago, the harmful impact of these chemicals on the environment and human health has increased alarmingly. “Replacing Chemicals with Biology”makes a compelling case for policymakers — and anyone concerned with the future of our food — for getting off the pesticide treadmill by adopting agroecological farming. The extensive documentation provides ample proof that this is not only vitally necessary, but eminently possible.

Agroecology makes sense

The book presents dozens of case studies of successful agroecological farming in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States. Here are highlights from just a few:

  • Over 10 million farmers practicing Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh, India, have replaced highly hazardous pesticides with biological, botanical and physical controls, while diversifying their crops to include peas, beans, lentils, millets, spices and vegetables, and improving both soil fertility and community food security.
  • Small-scale organic cotton farmers in Benin have eliminated use of pesticides responsible for numerous poisoning fatalities in Africa every year, using locally available natural resources for ecological pest management, crop rotations and collaboration with cattle herders for manure. Women have assumed greater control of their fields and production income in the process, and are becoming active leaders in organic co-operatives.
  • Farmers in Idaho are producing certified organic produce (potatoes, beans, squash and numerous fresh market vegetables, alfalfa, wheat and barley) in a 7-year crop rotation with pasture-fed cattle that builds soil and provides excellent weed control and steady income year-round.

The authors discuss key principles behind agroecology, drawing on both peer-reviewed literature and the experiences of farmers’ networks, development agencies and NGOs working in the field. The multifunctional benefits of agroecology highlighted include healthy soil, farms and communities; dramatic reductions in pesticide use; increased yield and profit; and greater resilience in recovering from drought, floods and climatic stress. Agroecology also includes multidimensional social and political goals of equity, often resulting in farmers’ improved access to and control over land, seeds and water, women’s empowerment, defense of cultural rights and food sovereignty.

Agroecology for the win

By integrating state-of-the-art science with local and traditional knowledge, agroecology offers a powerful solution to today’s mounting social, economic and environmental stresses of climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and rural poverty.

For these reasons, agroecology has been affirmed by countless reports and high-level meetings as one of the best ways forward for farming in the 21st century. PAN’s new book adds to a growing global body of evidence, including:

Clearly, agroecology works. The final chapters of PAN’s book include specific policy recommendations for national leaders; it’s time for these decision makers to take the lead from successful practitioners around the world.


 A version of this blog was originally posted on Goldman Environmental Prize website.

Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

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Pesticide Action Network

Pesticide Action Network is dedicated to advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide. Follow @pesticideaction

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