Agro-Ecology

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Discussion

Miguel A. Altieri and Eric Holt-Giménez:

" the roots of agroecology lie in the ecological rationale of indigenous and peasant agriculture still prevalent in many parts of the developing world today.[iii]

Thirty years ago, Latin American agroecologists argued that a starting point for a better, pro-poor agricultural development strategies were the systems that traditional farmers had developed over centuries. From the early1980s on, hundreds of agroecologically-based projects incorporating elements of both traditional knowledge and modern agricultural science have been promoted throughout Latin America and other parts of the developing world. A variety of projects emerged showing that over time these agroecologically-managed systems bring benefits to rural communities by enhancing food security with healthy local food, strengthening their resource base (soils, biodiversity, etc.), preserving cultural heritage and the peasant or family farm way of life, and promoting resilience to climate change.[iv]

Because they are often developed and shared through extensive Campesino a Campesino (farmer-to-farmer) social networks, peasant-based agroecological approaches are an integral part of many agrarian struggles for land and market reforms… For them, agroecology is… a science, a practice and a movement.

Agroecology also contributes towards the process of “re-peasantization” in which, contrary to the general tendency of migration from the countryside to the city, smallholders are returning to the land. For peasant organizations, agroecology has proven vital in their struggle for autonomy by reducing their dependence on external inputs, credit and indebtedness and also by recovering their territories.[v]Because they are often developed and shared through extensive Campesino a Campesino (farmer-to-farmer) social networks, peasant-based agroecological approaches are an integral part of many agrarian struggles for land and market reforms as well as peasant movements against land grabs and extractive industries. For them, agroecology is not just a scientific or technological project, but a political project of resistance and survival. It is a science, a practice and a movement.

Agroecology is spreading in the US and Europe. This is good news. But similar to the southward spread of the Green Revolution, the northward spread of agroecology has encountered a mismatch, and it is political.

In Latin America, agroecology is often viewed as an applied science embedded within a social context that challenges capitalist agriculture and is allied with agrarian movements. Deeply engaged with ongoing agrarian debates, Latin American agroecologists typically support both bottom-up agricultural development and peasant resistance against the corporate, industrial agriculture and neoliberal trade policies.

Agroecology is spreading in the US and Europe. This is good news. But similar to the southward spread of the Green Revolution, the northward spread of agroecology has encountered a mismatch, and it is political.

The political dimension of agroecology is problematic in the Global North—particularly in the United States—because challenging the root causes of industrial agriculture’s socio-environmental destruction implies challenging capitalism itself.

The political dimension of agroecology is problematic in the Global North—particularly in the United States—because challenging the root causes of industrial agriculture’s socio-environmental destruction implies challenging capitalism itself. It requires a radical (i.e. going to the root) critique that transcends the notion that minor adjustments or ‘greening’ the neoliberal economic model will bring about substantive change. It situates agroecology outside mainstream academic, government and non-governmental programs and within the resistance struggles of the social movements fighting for food sovereignty, local autonomy, and community control of land, water and agrobiodiversity.[vi]

But, agroecology in the US and Europe is not anchored in strong agrarian movements. The northern arena of agroecological debate is dominated by an eclectic soup of apolitical narratives (read: avoiding the subject of capitalism), largely promoted by consumers and academics, global institutions, big NGOs and big philanthropy. This institutional camp uses a variety of terms (sustainable intensification, climate-smart agriculture, diversified farming systems, etc.) to promote a reformist definition of agroecology as a set of additional tools to improve everyone’s toolbox. Big, small, organic, conventional… will all get along better with a little more agroecology.

Agroecology—as a countermovement to the Green Revolution—is at a crossroads, struggling against cooptation, subordination, and revisionist projects that erase its history and strip it of its political meaning.[vii]

The cooptation of agroecological practices will make industrial agriculture a bit more sustainable and a little less exploitative, but will not challenge underlying relations of power in our food system. Further, agroecology “lite” ignores the ways in which large-scale, industrial monocultures undermine the existence of the smallholder farmers who farm agroecologically. The voices of agroecological practitioners —Afro-American, Latino, Indigenous and Asian communities, smallholders and urban farmers—and of low income consumers, progressive academics and NGOs critical of conventional agriculture, are marginal or muted in this discourse.

Agroecology—as a countermovement to the Green Revolution—is at a crossroads, struggling against cooptation, subordination, and revisionist projects that erase its history and strip it of its political meaning.[vii] De-politicized agroecology is socially meaningless, divorced from agrarian realities, vulnerable to the corporate food regime and isolated from the growing power of global food sovereignty movements.

Whether one recognizes the politics of agroecology—or tries to hide them—it is precisely these agrarian politics that will determine our agricultural future.

Agroecology has a pivotal role to play in the future of our food systems. If it is co-opted by reformist trends in the Green Revolution, the agroecological countermovement will be weakened, the corporate food regime will likely be strengthened, and substantive reforms to our food systems will be highly unlikely. However, if agroecologists build strategic alliances with food sovereignty and agrarian movements—at home and abroad—the countermovement will be strengthened. A strong countermovement could generate considerable political will for the transformation of our food systems.[viii]

Whether one recognizes the politics of agroecology—or tries to hide them—it is precisely these agrarian politics that will determine our agricultural future." (https://foodfirst.org/agroecology-lite-cooptation-and-resistance-in-the-global-north/)

References

[i] Jennings, B. (1988) Foundations of International Agricultural Research: Science and Politics in Mexican Agriculture. Boulder CO: Westview Press.

[ii] Wezel, A., S. Bellon, T. Doré, C. Francis, D. Vallod and C. David. (2009) Agroecology as a science, a movement, and a practice. A Review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 29(4): 503–515.

[iii] Altieri, M.A. (2002) Agroecology: the science of natural resource management for poor farmers in marginal environments. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 93: 1–24.

[iv] Altieri, M.A. and C.I. Nicholls. (2008) Scaling up Agroecological Approaches for Food Sovereignty in Latin America. Development, 51(4): 472–80. URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/dev.2008.68

[v] Van der Ploeg, J.D. (2009) The New Peasantries: Struggles for Autonomy and Sustainability in an Era of Empire and Globalization. Earthscan, London, 356 p.

[vi] Rosset, P.M. & Martinez-Torres, M.E. (2012) Rural Social Movements and Agroecology: Context, Theory and Process. Ecology and Society, 17: 17-26

[vii] Roland, P. C, and R. W. Adamchak. (2009) Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Tomich, T., S. Brodt, F. Ferris, R. Galt, W. Horwath, E. Kebreab, J. Leveau, et al. (2011) Agroecology: A Review from a Global-Change Perspective. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 36(15): 1–30.

[viii] Holt-Gimenez, E and M.A. Altieri 2013 Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, and the New Green Revolution. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37: 90-102