Agroecological approaches to agriculture improve rural livelihoods, regenerate ecologies and increase the resiliency of communities, while providing healthy and sustainable food. Policy support for agroecology in the UK has been piecemeal and many policies undermine the potential for developing agroecology in the UK. This agriculture bill marks an opportunity for the UK to participate in the growing global recognition of agroecology as a model for agricultural development. For agroecology to thrive in the UK, we need a concerted investment and an enabling policy and regulatory environment to begin to, over the long-term, transition to a more sustainable food system through agroecology. Based on our experience and our research, we urge DEFRA to build agroecology into the Agriculture Bill and future policy work.
Contributors: Colin Anderson, Iain MacKinnon
at The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Preliminaries (also see)
Also see: https://www.peoplesfoodpolicy.org for important recommendations on incorporating agroecology into policy and emphasising: a) addressing agriculture from an integrated policy perspective; b) democratising policy making.
Consider supporting this initiative by the Landworker’s Alliance: https://www.amendagbill.uk
Also see: https://www.sustainweb.org/brexit/
And see our ongoing work on incorporating social justice into consideration on food and farming policy.
Introduction: What is agroecology?
Agroecology applies ecological concepts to the design and management of sustainable agricultural production systems[i]. As a scientific discipline agroecology has been around for almost 100 years , but agroecological practices have been used for much longer around the world. Today there is a global recognition of agroecology as a model for agricultural policy and practice.
The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the World Committee on Food Security defines agroecology as follows:
From a scientific and technical perspective, agroecology applies ecological concepts and principles to food and farming systems, focusing on the interactions between microorganisms, plants, animals, humans and the environment, to foster sustainable agriculture development to make sure food security and nutrition for all, now and in the future…
The French government, who has made agroecology the central plank of their agriculture policy describes agroecology as having triples performance[ii],[iii]:
- Economic advantages, improving yield and efficiency – especially for small-medium family farms
- Societal – beneficial to society at large including health and nutritional benefits
Agroecology is a particularly important and promising approach for family farmers and other smallholder and medium scale agricultural producers who are vital stewards of biodiversity, the environment and food security. Agroecology, practiced by family farmers and smallholder food producers, has been found to have the potential to contribute to many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[iv],[v]. Researchers, policy-makers and civil society organisations at national and international levels are converging around to consider how to scale up agroecology in the transition towards sustainable food systems.
Benefits of Agroecology:
There is now much evidence of the multiple benefits and potential of agroecology.
There is growing evidence that, despite being marginalized in policy-making and in a regulatory environments that favours the industrialisation of agriculture, that agroecology can produce comparable or superior yields at lower cost with greater profitability, sustain more diverse and nutritious diets than other production systems and regenerate the natural basis of agriculture[vi].
Ecologically, these systems are low-impact; they are often regenerative of biodiversity, soils and the environment, in contrast to highly degrading forms of external input, intensive agriculture. Through the minimal use of fossil fuels and high-energy (chemical) external inputs, as well as sequestering carbon, agroecology can also contribute to climate change mitigation. The complex adaptive systems in agroecology are also highly resilient to flooding, hurricanes, pests and drought. Studies have shown that agricultural producers using agroecological practices such as crop diversification, maintaining local genetic diversity, animal integration, soil organic management, water conservation and harvesting are more resistant to ecological disasters than monocropping[vii].
There is growing evidence of the benefits of agroecology including for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 2 to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture[viii].
There has been very little investment in measuring the multiple benefits and/or drawbacks of agroecology where instead funding for agriculture research has emphasised high-tech/input agriculture. Despite this handicap, the existing body of literature indicates that agroecology has significant potential to address many of the problems faced by agriculture and food systems in the UK.
The global precedents: Agroecology is being taken up around the world[ix]
Between 2014 and 2017, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has facilitated a global dialogue on agroecology, bringing together more than 1400 participants from 170 countries in six regional symposia, taking the political debate about agroecology to a new level. At the October 2018 COAG meeting – one of the highest governing bodies of FAO – 192 members of FAO adopted a resolution[x]to ask that FAO develop action plans with partners to scale up agroecology around the world.
There is plenty of evidence that a growing number of governments are getting behind agroecology. For example, the Friends of an informal group of countries that work together and have provided financial and political support for FAO’s agroecology process over the years. It consists of France, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Senegal, Kenya, Algeria, Mexico, China and Japan.
Some examples of countries adopting agroecology policies include:
France has been at the forefront of adopting agroecology in agricultural policy. It not only launched a new agroecology initiative in West Africa, but also has its own agroecology transition law putting agroecology at the centre of its agriculture policy. Additionally, France has a dedicated research program led by their national research institute INRA and CIRAD on agroecology.
- Austria is interested in agroecology because of its strong connections with agricultural tradition and landscape, and is organising a major food policy conference in November 2018.
- In the Czech Republic in 2015, the Minister of Agriculture announced an increased support to farmers who practice agroecological farming. Concretely, the government uses the second pillar of the CAP to financially encourage farmers to invest in innovative farming methods, and agroecology-related agri-environment measures.[xi]
- Italy made progress towards adopting agroecology at the municipal level with the Milan Pact.
- Brazil has a dual-track approach to agricultural policy, with support given to agroecology and to industrialised agriculture. This approach has translated into major support to agroecology over the past years.
- In Uruguay, the parliament has discussed a national plan for agroecology for 2 years.
- Senegal is working on a network of agroecological cities to promote sustainable food systems.
- In India (the State of Andhra Pradesh) the Zero Budget Natural Farming program is committed to move towards 6 million agroecological farmers, improve resilience to climate change and make Andhra Pradesh a Green State by 2027 on 8 million hectares.
- China wants to support farmers in 129,000 villages in their transition to agroecology.
What is needed in the UK to support agroecology
Until now the UK Government has largely considered ‘agroecology’ as something to be promoted elsewhere in the world – in particular in the Global South. However, the current Agriculture Minister recognises that much of the UK’s agricultural soils could be destroyed in less than half a century. Moreover, the prevailing heavy application of pesticides and fertilisers in many agricultural systems are implicated in a range of significant ecological and economic concerns. The Government is aware that these fundamental challenges to the country’s food security and social and economic well-being must be addressed as a high political priority.
However, these challenges are complex and interlinked and a judicious approach to seeking to resolve them effectively would be to support a diversity of approaches. As we have previously outlined, it is clear that at the international level agroecology is increasingly being considered an effective means to transition to a more sustainable and resilient system for growing the food we all rely on. Therefore, CAWR believes the UK Government should support the inclusion of agroecology in the Agriculture Bill as part of a more substantial transition towards a more sustainable and resilient food system.
About The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
We would be delighted to provide further inputs and advice from our extensive research program(s) related to agroecology. Email: [email protected] with requests, questions or comments.
The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University is a global research centre made up of 100+ people working on 50+ projects in 45+ countries. Through its focus on food and water, the Centre’s research develops and integrates new knowledge in social, agroecological, hydrological and environmental processes, as well as the pivotal role that communities play in developing resilience. We emphasise the integration of citizen-generated knowledge into research processes including through the participation of farmers, water users and other citizens in transdisciplinary research. CAWR also aims to advance resilience science through creative work on a new generation of key issues linked to the governance of food systems, hydrological change, urban agriculture and water, biodiversity, stabilisation agriculture, river processes, water quality and emerging pollutants.
CAWR’s ambition is to contribute new knowledge to address some of the most pressing problems of the 21st century, – how, and under what conditions, can the availability, access, and quality of food and water be ensured for all in an increasingly globalised and uncertain world. Working with research partners in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, CAWR researchers is working to support policies, practices, institutions, and technologies needed to reverse destabilizing processes that adversely affect food and water security, community and socio-ecological resilience, and human well-being.
Since its launch in 2014 the CAWR has developed a distinctive global reputation as the largest centre of its kind in the world. It is home to a large and growing international team of full-time researchers and Doctoral students from both the social and physical science disciplines.
Located at Ryton Organic Gardens, south of Coventry City Centre, the site for CAWR has made a significant investment in research facilities. The physical infrastructure includes generous multi-purpose and specialised spaces and resources in which the Centre’s staff, associates, visitors, and postgraduate students can work.
[i]Gliessman, S. R. (2006). Agroecology: the ecology of sustainable food systems. CRC press.
[ii]Guillou, M,, Guyomard, H., Huyghe, C. & Peyraud, J.L..2013. Vers Des Agricultures Doublement Performantes Pour Concilier Compétitivité et Respect de L’Environnement. Propositions Pour Le Ministre. Available at: http://agriculture.gouv.fr/file/agroecologie-rapportguillou2013-0
[iii]Lamine, C. 2017. La fabrique sociale de l’écologisation de l’agriculture. Éditions la Discussion, Marseille.
[iv]Farrelly, M. 2016. Agroecology contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals. Farming Matters. 32(3): 32-34.
[v]FAO.2018b. FAO’s work on agroecology: A pathway to achieving the SDGs. Rome, FAO. 34 pp. (also available at http://www.fao.org/3/I9021EN/i9021en.pdf).
[vi]IPES. 2016. From uniformity to diversity: a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems.International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES). Retrieved from http://www.ipes-food.org
[vii]Holt-Giménez, E. 2002. Measuring farmers’ agroecological resistance after Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua: a case study in participatory, sustainable land management impact monitoring. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment,93(1-3):87-105.
[viii]FAO.2018b. FAO’s work on agroecology: A pathway to achieving the SDGs. Rome, FAO. 34 pp. (also available at http://www.fao.org/3/I9021EN/i9021en.pdf).
[ix]Information in this section derived from: Bruil, J., Anderson, C.R., Bernhard, A., Quiroz D. and M. Pimbert. 2018. Strengthening agroecology through FAO. Reclaiming Diversity and Citizenship Series. Coventry: Coventry University.
Anderson, C.R., Bruil, J., Chappel, J., Kiss, C. and M. Pimbert. 2018.Transitions to Sustainable Food Systems Through Agroecology. Report prepared for the Food and Agriculture Organization by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience Coventry University,
[xi]Wezel, A., Goris, M., Bruil, J., Félix, G., Peeters, A., Bàrberi, P., Bellon, S. & Migliorini, P. 2018. Challenges and Action Points to Amplify Agroecology in Europe. Sustainability,10.