Global agriculture is challenged by a combination of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the growing demand for food, feed, fibre and energy. The research and development community has been looking into various ways of making agriculture more sustainable, and agro-ecological approach gives high expectations.
Agro-ecology is a scientific approach to sustainable agriculture which follows ecological principles such as diversity and regeneration. This “nothing wasted, everything transformed” approach preaches for low input, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Agro-ecology is also a system approach, and has a strong social focus, paying attention to public health, cultural values, and community resilience as well as to social and economic justice.
There are Seven steps for an agro-ecological transformation of farming to feed the world within the planet’s limits:
1. Raise awareness among policy-makers and extension agents of the benefits of agro-ecological farming, focusing on its contributions to rural livelihoods, ecological sustainability, climate change adaptation and the resilience of food systems.
2. Provide a new perspective on agriculture – particularly what is a ‘productive’ and ‘efficient’ system – among financial partners, governments and farmers. Instead of a short-term focus on maximising production (and profits), they should consider the benefits of farming practices that support ecosystem services and resilience and use fewer resources.
3. Provide economic incentives to adopt agro-ecological practices on a landscape level, e.g. subsidies for actions that support ecosystem services, and taxation of actions that reduce them. Other helpful measures include integrating agro-ecological farming in public food procurement schemes (e.g. for schools, hospitals or public catering); supporting agro-ecological extension services; and supporting local business development and markets for agro-ecological products.
4. Sharpen environmental laws and regulations (and their enforcement on a landscape level) to better protect ecosystem services. Revise trade regulations and agreements so that they support markets for environmentally friendly agricultural products. Amend regulations that distort local markets for agricultural products.
5. Build strong farmer-led, bottom-up knowledge and research systems. Farmers should be at the centre of the agricultural innovation system, setting the agenda for research and extension services and shaping policies and investments.
6. Mainstream agro-ecology in agricultural education at all levels (from pre-schools to universities) and encourage interdisciplinary research on the social, environmental and economic aspects of food production.
7. Provide incentives for more sustainable diets and consumption patterns. Rising meat and dairy products consumption, as well as food waste, are increasing pressures on the land; these trends need to be reversed as part of an agro-ecological transformation of our food systems.
Courtesy of Ecosystem Based Adaptation conference in Kenya, July 2015.