Wednesday, 16 May 2018

BioDesign/Graham Knight: AE is 'political'?

AE 16.5.18  

AE is 'political'? 

What makes agroecology different, potentially, is the combination of its scientific bona fides and its rootedness in the practices and political organization of small-scale food producers from across the globe. The former—as seen in multiplescientific elaborations of agroecology’s principles, such as improved soil health, crop rotation, and diversification—is complemented by the latter, which gives agroecology meaning beyond the combination of “ecological” and “agriculture.”

As José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO put it recently: “When we speak of agroecology, we are not speaking of strictly technical matters.”

Placing a much stronger emphasis on the off-the-farm social, political, and cultural changes needed to support ecological farming, agroecology in its maximal form demands a holistic view of agriculture, linking issues such as poverty, gender inequality, access to land, and human rights. It’s as much about preserving food cultures, respecting indigenous land tenure, and dismantling the power of multinational agribusiness corporations as it is about cover cropping and compost.

Over the past few decades, agroecology had been slowly advancing thanks to small hubs of alternative-minded scientists (mainly in Latin America) and the global farmer social movement La Vía Campesina—which promotes agroecology as a central tool to achieve “ food sovereignty.”

But it is now gaining traction in international science and policy. Since its favorable reception in the “International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development” (IAASTD) in 2009, written by an international team of 400 scientists, agroecology has also received praise from intergovernmental agencies such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the UN Environment Program, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

And yet in this process of mainstreaming, the very definition of agroecology is being contested. Scholars agree that it includes aspects of science, farming practice, and social movement. But debate rages about whether or not agroecology can be incorporated into conventional agriculture without losing its transformative meaning. And because no labels or certifying bodies are involved (as in the case of organic and fair trade), agroecology’s exact meaning and practice is easy to argue over.

At the symposium, Paulo Peterson—a farmer-educator from Brazil whose family farming nonprofit has been pushing agroecology for 30 years—came squarely down against the idea that conventional agriculture can be easily transformed into agroecology, given vested interests and conflicting views on how to best empower the world’s food producers. Like many other members of civil society I met at the symposium, Peterson worries that FAO’s newfound attention to agroecology could threaten its potential, because FAO officials seem tied to the idea of agroecology as a big tent that includes all “stakeholders.”

Etc, etc

What can agroecology offer?

A growing body of evidence reveals agroecology’s multiple advantages over conventional high-external input farming:•  a multi-functional approach to farming, capable of meeting environmental, economic and social needs•  greater environmental sustainability and resilience, especially in marginal areas subject to environmental degradation and extreme climatic events, and higher agrobiodiversity•  the ability to support farmers’ food sovereignty, reducing their dependence on costly and sometimes difficult-to-access chemical inputs •  higher overall productivity (at farm rather than crop level) achieved through a diverse range of agricultural products and environmental services, which reduce risks of crop failure in the long term

<style type="text/css"> .wpb_animate_when_almost_visible { opacity: 1; }</style> If everything sucks, and agroecology is so great, then why isn’t everyone doing it?

The world’s food supply depends on about 150 plant species whereas there are roughly a quarter million plant varieties available for agriculture. So less than 3 percent of these are in use today! Of those 150 in use, just 12 provide 75 %  of the world’s food. More than half of the world’s food energy comes from a limited number of varieties of three “mega-crops”: rice, wheat, and maize. No need to mention that for our rising population, exploiting this potential can be key, and to keep our lands farmble, it is almost a necessity to change the way we work the ground.

Cricital attitudes against mass production, GMOs and large scale commercial agriculture seem to finally take on a more important role around the globe. We finally realize that in the future, food might not simply taste like nothing, but it might be harmful or there might not be any food on the table at all, something that is already the case in so many places of the world.

This is why agroecology, permaculture and its likes are winning ground around the globe.

The most simple underlying principle of Permaculture and Agroecology is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature, which is consequently focused on creating small-scale closed ecosystems instead of large monocultures that only rely on inputs without feeding back into the cycle.

So, instead of pushing the lands to maximize its yields with chemical fertilizers, growing one or two crops on vast fields, you create smaller, garden-like ecosystems where one tree can feed another, where the spacial design of plants will make sure fragile ones are protected by more robust ones and where every small species has a dedicated role.

According to the United Nations, Agroecological farming is the only way to feed a future population of 10 Billion people. So, if this is so certain, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Luckily, some people do:

Solutions for Food Security

 In Africa, there are certainly many major macoreocnomic reasons as to why agroecology and permaculture are still rare practices, but most dominant is the cultural aspect according to Isis Noor Yalagi, permaculture and agro-ecology specialist and founder of Duniama.

“The African memory has known the collective and the solidary very strongly. Its now time for an African renaissance: Lets remember our collective spirit!”

Permaculture and agro-ecology specialist Isis speaks from her heart: the chaos of urbanization, the focus on the individual instead of the relationship to others, the focus on the possessing instead of the sharing. All of this are for her factors that loom dangerously over the promising path of Africa’s economic development. Without intelligent ecological politics and urban planning, African cities will increasingly become centres of pollution, extreme inequality and failed construction.

The global revival of agroecology and most prominently the concept of permaculture is seemingly just as much gaining ground in Africa as in Europe . Even more so, it is a return to being one with nature, a reliance on traditional skills and knowledge to grow, build and live in one’s environment that could be a key element for African food security. What better way to eradicate hunger than ensuring that everybody knows how to grow his own food in practically any circumstances ?

In Senegal

Cheikh Thiam, Slowfood Convivium member in Senegal, as well as Founder of Bégué Coco believes that this philosophy of growing food is the only way to bring his country to a sustainable food system.

With Bégué Coco he adapts the agroecological philosophy by producing 100% organic products from coconuts. One of the main pillars of his social enterprise is to give nature time to produce what is best for the environment and humans.

His challenge relates to the reason why people are still finding it hard to engage in agroecology. A young coconut, as it is mainly harvested in Senegal, has only the use of using its flesh as baking ingredient and drinking its water. A ripe coconut as it is bearly found, can yield material for oil, cremes, jewlery, furniture, coconut milk, a very nourrishing nut and much more. Farmers in Senegal however, are mainly driven by the capitalist desire to make quick profits.

How to make local producers understand the value added by letting coconuts mature to exploit its full potential?

Have you got some thoughts on AE?  Let me know them!

Graham K


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