Agroecology can feed the world

While currently being held in Rome on 2nd International Symposium devoted by the FAO to agro-ecology in the service of sustainable development objectives (SDO), the UN announces that agro-ecology could be one of the solutions to meet the future challenges of humanity: feeding and saving the planet. To meet the food and economic needs of growing rural and urban communities, to respond to increasingly demanding consumers, to preserve natural resources and to adapt to climate change, it is becoming urgent to produce differently.
Po feed the world while preserving the planet from global warming, the United Nations is promoting agro-ecology: a historic turning point after several decades of "green revolution" based on intensive agriculture, now in the dock.
"We need to promote sustainable food systems (...) and to preserve the environment: agro-ecology can help to achieve this", said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO), opening the Second International Symposium on Agroecology in Rome on Tuesday 3 April.
"Since the end of the Second World War, the development of agriculture based on the massive use of fertilizers and chemical resources (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, ...) to increase yields in order to achieve global food security has come at a high price for the environment, he pointed out.
"Soil, forests, water, air quality and biodiversity continue to be degraded while this increase in production at all costs has not eradicated hunger in the world.« he admitted.
Former French Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll, guest of honour at the opening session of the symposium for his active support of agro-ecology since 2012, called for a "doubly green revolution, based on nature": "FAO was the site of the first green revolution, it must be the site of a doubly green revolution. »

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Starting from each farmer's knowledge of his plots, combined with the latest scientific developments, using better care of the soil so that it is more fertile and stores more carbon, as well as a biodiversity of the species planted, agroecology is turning its back on synthetic fertilizers. It is also trying to reduce dependence on excessive mechanisation, which increases farmers' financial burdens.
"We have to move away from the monoculture system as it dominated the previous century", said the President of IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) Gilbert Houngbo, another UN agency responsible for supporting agriculture in developing countries.
The symposium, which brings together several hundred delegates from around the world, is expected to conclude on Thursday with a "final declaration" that will be brought to the (U.N.) Committee on Agriculture for consideration in September, Graziano da Silva said.

Some 30 countries to date, including most Latin American countries, South Korea, China, Côte d'Ivoire, as well as Austria, Germany, Denmark, France, Switzerland and Italy, have adopted a legislative or regulatory framework to facilitate the development of agro-ecology, he said.


Agroecology to meet the challenges of the 21st century

In the preface to a book by Lionel Astruc (1)Olivier de Schutter, former FAO rapporteur to the United Nations, explains that, as practised today, agriculture is responsible for 14 % of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, attributable in particular to the use of synthetic fertilizers, a source of nitrous oxide, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. In sixty years, the energy efficiency of industrial agriculture has been divided by twenty: according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1940 it took one calorie of fossil energy to produce 2.3 calories of food, and in 2000 it took 10 calories of fossil energy to produce one calorie of food. Today's oil-based agriculture is rapidly destroying the ecosystems on which it depends, and has developed an addiction to energies that are becoming scarcer and whose prices will be both more volatile and higher in the future.
In contrast, agro-ecology is a source of resilience, both at the regional, national and individual household levels. But why is it not more widely disseminated to date? How can we understand why it is not at the top of the agricultural agendas of countries that are now trying to revive or change their agriculture? Various factors explain this resistance.
First, the conviction, strongly rooted in a certain conception of what agricultural modernization represents, that progress necessarily involves more inputs, and irrigation and extensive mechanization, along the lines of the green revolution of the 1960s.
There is also resistance from some quarters, particularly input producers, who would see the large-scale deployment of agro-ecological practices as a promising market that is running out of steam.
Secondly, some agro-ecological practices are labour intensive: they are easier to practice on smaller plots, where the farm worker is tied to the land, on which he invests for the long term.
Agroecology is thus opposed to the idea that progress necessarily means increasing the productivity of labour, i.e. producing more with less labour and more capital. How can we fail to see, however, that we urgently need today to develop rural employment and to rely on better productivity, not by men and women, but above all of natural resources, which are rapidly being depleted?

But there is something else again: Agroecology is labour-intensive, but also knowledge-intensive: it implies knowledge transfer, it relies on exchanges between farmers, it sets them up as experts - instead of good practice coming from laboratories, it has its source in these experimental places that are the fields that are cultivated. In this respect, agroecology is a source of emancipation for farmers.


The example of Andhra Pradesh in India

According to Stéphane Le Foll, "a lot remains to be done" to convince a majority of conventional farmers that the system is viable and profitable: "Something is happening, we must continue the battle. »
Coming from India, Vijay Kumar, adviser for agricultural issues to the government of the state of Andhra Pradesh, in south-eastern India, illustrates both the enthusiasm and the scale of the revolution to be accomplished : "We have decided that 80% of the 6 million farmers in the state should switch to agroecology by 2024, he explained to AFP. "The Green Revolution was based on false principles, with a continuous dependence on inputs, yet our peasants earn nothing, (...) and worse, we had waves of peasant suicides in India." he adds.
"We want food production to increase among happy peasants", he sums up, saying that he himself is delighted to see more and more young graduates "coming back" to earth "with good ideas".
But there is still a long way to go: in 2017, Andhra Pradesh had about 40,000 farmers working according to the principles of agroecology, 163,000 in 2018, a figure that should rise to 300,000 in 2019. Still far from the goal.

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The main levers of the agro-ecological transition

For François Côte, Director of the Production Systems Performance Department at CIRAD, the main levers are both organic and organizational and institutional in nature.
As far as biological levers are concerned, the main aim is to enhance functional biodiversity and the natural regulations associated with it, to maximise biomass production, to promote complementarity between crop and livestock farming, etc. However, these technical approaches will have great difficulty emerging without organisational and institutional innovations capable of changing production or processing systems. Public action is an indispensable relay for the success of this transition.
Another major lever concerns training and the capitalisation of knowledge. The green revolution designed artificial systems using chemical inputs, with technical itineraries like " avantage " that can be applied almost everywhere. On the other hand, agro-ecological methods must be contextualized to adapt to the specific expectations of producers and the constraints and assets of agro-ecosystems and associated territories. The implementation of these solutions must therefore be thought out " sur mesure ".

"We are seeking both to understand the influence of local conditions and to identify generic rules that are applicable in different contexts and that underpin the success of the agro-ecological transition. To carry out this work, CIRAD is in a privileged position thanks to its close collaboration with its partners and its presence in many fields in the South, in partnership mechanisms (dP) and in the French overseas departments and territories ". he explains in a interview last February for the CIRAD website.

In order to set up the conditions for the success of projects in favour of agro-ecological transition, the main requirement is undoubtedly the inclusion of stakeholders: producers of course, but also agricultural advisers, markets and public decision-makers. These new systems must be co-constructed through participatory approaches and negotiations between beneficiaries and users of the same resources and spaces. The agro-ecological transition will be diverse in its forms and modalities, it will also be gradual over time.
(Sources: AFP, 03/04/2018 - CIRAD)
(1) Book " Vandana Shiva - Pour une désobéissance créatrice " by Lionel Astruc - Preface by Olivier de Schutter - Edition Actes Sud
(2) Release on April 11, 2018 of the documentary "On a 20 ans pour changer le monde", by Hélène Médigue who followed in her fight Maxime de Rostolan. Objective: to show that agroecology is more profitable than conventional agriculture:

To go further :
- Crossed views on agro-ecology" by Maxime de Rostolan - Rustica Edition
- Bernard Bertrand's "Le génie du sol vivant" ("The genius of living soil")
- Le vivant comme modèle" by Gauthier Chapelle - Edition Albin Michel
- Biodiversity, when European policies threaten the living" by Inès Trépant - Preface by Olivier de Shutter - Edition Yves Michel
"The harvests of the future - Comment l'agro-économie peut nourrir le monde" by Marie-Monique Robin - Editions La Découverte
- Agro-ecology, an ethic of life" by Pierre Rahbi - Interviews with Jacques Caplat - Edition Actes Sud

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