Part of Solution
- Introduction: Agroecology as a transdisciplinary, participatory and action-oriented approach
Introductory chapter of the book Agroecology: a transdisciplinary, participatory and action-oriented approach
- Agroecology at the Crossroads: Challenges for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Special Issue in the Journal Sustainability
Agroecology is a scientific approach that comes to studying agrarian production from an ecological perspective through the coordination of different disciplines. It is a hybrid discipline that, together with Ecological Economics, Political Ecology, and Environmental History, seeks to promote sustainable solutions to the environmental crisis. It is an emerging field that has not yet developed an articulated corpus of theoretical and methodological assumptions capable of offering solutions to the serious problems that compromise the future of agriculture and food in the world. In spite of this, Agroecology has undergone major development, particularly in its practical strand, developing new management strategies for agroecosystems and alternative ways of organising the food distribution. However, equal progress has not been made in other relevant aspects. Within the purely scientific sphere, there are certain underdeveloped issues such as: the design of sustainable management for agroecosystems at more aggregated scales than the individual farms or local communities; the establishment of an ‘agroecological microeconomy’, adapting the approaches and tools of Ecological Economics to the peculiarities of agriculture and rural world; and, similarly, the proposition of agroecological policies and a new institutional framework on the basis of Political Ecology. Within the more practical or applied sphere, the creation of strategies capable of constructing more sustainable food systems, based on a closer and more direct relationship between production and consumption, has not been developed to the extent one might expect given the multitude of local agroecological experiments developed everywhere, etc. Following its initial success, and urged on by the severity of the global food crisis, Agroecology is facing some very important challenges that it must tackle and debate as collectively and broadly as possible. For example, how to avoid the academic and political co-optation it has been subject to as a scientific approach for some time now. This attempt to co-optation aims to strip Agroecology of its potential for change from an epistemological perspective and also from the perspective of its unavoidable social commitment to sustainability, fostering a ‘weak’ or merely ‘technological’ version of agrarian sustainability and separating it from its inescapable commitment to transform the conventional food system. In this respect, there is on-going debate around so-called ‘ecological intensification’ and how it fits into Agroecology. It is also facing more practical but equally important challenges. How, for example, to prevent agroecological experiences reverting to conventional production and distribution, a process called by the scientific literature as ‘conventionalisation’ process.
- New Pathways to Sustainability in Agroecological Systems, a Special Forum in the Journal Elementa
Agricultural systems of the future will need to withstand increasing challenges brought by climate change and much greater demands for limited resources: water, nutrients and energy. Research and creative collaborations among researchers, farmers, and other practitioners demonstrate new approaches to improve the function and resilience of plant- and animal-based agroecosystems. These approaches also increasingly examine how social dimensions of agrifood systems offer new opportunities to improve health, communities and livelihoods. This Elementa Forum invites researchers and practitioners to share their work addressing biophysical and socio-cultural questions, approaches and leverage points to help define pathways to sustainability in agroecological systems. The Forum launched with a Commentary by Matt Liebman and Lisa Shulte Moore of Iowa State University, presenting their work on the role of increased biodiversity and other agroecological approaches in improving farm productivity and landscape ecosystem services. Their analyses pose key questions to prompt other researchers and practitioners to share their ideas and work, including: 1. How does increased biodiversity affect ecological function and resilience? How can this information be used to promote crop productivity and build natural capital over the long term? What is the value of an agroecological approach to agriculture, such as increased crop and non-crop diversity, compared to other approaches? 2. What kinds of policies, informal governance structures and educational activities support the adoption of regenerative, diversified agroecological approaches? 3. What strategies can be employed to garner greater cooperation among scientists, farmers, and other stakeholders in answering these questions at farm, landscape, and regional scales?