Agroecology and Why We Should Care About It
Research has shown that our planet has the ability to produce enough food to feed all those that inhabit it. So why then are there millions of people suffering and even dying from starvation and thirst? The answer comes down to the idea that food production in today’s society is a business commodity that has been industrialized by profit-seeking companies at the expense of small farmers, communities and the sustainability of the soil.
Unlike industrial agriculture, agroecology starts with the premise that food should be a basic human right that is determined by communities and their farmers. What’s more, that right can feed people with healthy food.
Not only do we live in a world where half of its population suffers from food insecurity, but we live in world that is dominated by increased industrialization of agriculture and economies that focus on agribusiness.
Industrial agriculture uses technology like chemical pesticides and (often genetically engineered) monocultures that is harmful to the earth and people, and is operated on commercial principles. This creates a myriad of problems. Multinational agribusinesses reap huge profits while farmers become swamped in debt and dependent on expensive inputs such as nitrogen-intensive fertilizers, pesticides and corporate seeds. Industrial agriculture – from manufacturing chemicals to applying pesticides to transporting materials across the globe –has become a leading global cause of greenhouse gasses.
Meanwhile consumers lose access to healthy and culturally appropriate food. And the earth suffers because the industrial agriculture pollutes lands and waters and drives deforestation.
Agroecology: Holistic and Community-Centered Food Production
We are learning from our partners that there’s another way to produce food that can heal and restore communities and the planet – agroecology.
Simply put, agroecology is a whole-systems approach to healthy, environmentally friendly, viable food production within a community. Agroecology relies on a community’s own knowledge and understanding of their land that allows for self-sustainability and organization. By linking traditional knowledge, sustainable farming methods, experiences with local food systems, culture, and economics, agroecology allows for community self-determination as well as food production.
Food sovereignty, which can be described as people’s rights to define their own food and systems of production, is an issue faced throughout the world. Agroecology, a major component of food sovereignty, offers a solution that allows for culturally appropriate and healthy food to be produced through sustainable and ecologically safe means of production.
Peasants and small-scale farmers are at the center of this issue and agroecology has the potential to restore a community’s dignity in the manner in which it supplies and produces its own food through their own solutions. Agroecology boosts local incomes and improves the livelihoods of the poorest populations, such as small scale farmers in developing countries.
How Grassroots International is Involved
By funding and supporting partners around the world, Grassroots International is able to promote agroecology training and practice. With funds provided by our numerous donors, partners from West Africa to Haiti are able to offer trainings and learning exchanges along with other organizing methods to local communities on the benefits and approaches in which agroecology can increase and strengthen their food sovereignty and production. Through the support of partners in Guatemala, Haiti, West Africa, and Brazil, Grassroots International is able to take part in the fight to raise awareness of the benefits of agroecology. By boosting agroecology, Grassroots also helps to improve the livelihoods of family farmers by standing alongside them in the struggle for their rights to land, food, and water, while also creating practices that lead to food sovereignty and climate justice. Here are some examples.
Peasant Unity Committee/Comite de Unidad Campesina (CUC), Guatemala
CUC fights to reclaim the rights of family farmers and Indigenous communities to land, while implementing rural development practices like agroecology throughout Guatemala. Aimed at assisting those harmed by practices of agribusinesses (such as loss of infrastructure, homes and farm land) CUC has built a movement to defend resource rights of these people. With the assistance of Grassroots International, CUC organized a march against the privatization, diversion and pollution of rivers and the human rights violations that result due to such actions. Not only did it create a unified front for the demand of the right to water, but the march was a representation of community organizing and the efforts this type of advocating can have on the communities. CUC aims to strengthen the struggle of the Guatemalan people for water, land, territory, and food sovereignty. With a goal of bringing awareness to the issues, CUC denounces the involvement of the state government and companies in these actions that violate the rights in which Grassroots International globally stands for.
In addition to assisting with the march, Grassroots International funding will benefit many other community efforts organized by CUC. CUC will conduct organizational, advocacy, political and legal efforts in local communities. Along with continuing to raise awareness regarding the issues faced by the Guatemalans within these communities, CUC will demand for the restoration of the natural course of all primary rivers, repair of the environmental damage, and legal repercussions for the diversion and pollution of the rivers. With the help from Grassroots International and our supporters, this is all possible.
Peasant Movement of Papaye, Haiti
Similar to CUC, the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) supports agroecology practices to defend food sovereignty in the central plateau of Haiti. With an understanding of the consequences of climate change to Haiti, MPP works to restore the environment to a level where peasant farmers are able to produce enough healthy food to feed the Haitian people. This is accomplished through the protection of drainage basins, fighting against erosion and deforestation, along with teaching peasant farmers about agricultural production and agro-ecological work through the agroforestry program. With Haiti devastated by deforestation, along with facing a political and economic crisis, these practices are essential to increase Haiti’s local food production beyond the 20% rate it saw in 2015.
After the earthquake, the MPP established of eco-villages that enabled survivors to live in a sustainable community that grew their own food. MPP has planted 50,800 trees, built and distributed solar lamps along energy efficient stoves, constructed community shelters, served 550 families with a new water source, and lastly conducted numerous trainings for women, youth, and men.
With the help of Grassroots International, MPP will continue to train farmers in adaptation strategies and interventions in relation to climate change, creating water systems, building alternative energy sources, and training peasants to maintain home gardens that require little water. As part of their agriculture and forestry programs, these initiatives will help promote and maintain community farming throughout Haiti, and continue to seek agricultural methods that rebuild a degraded environment. These vital practices will combat climate change and through the food and seedling distribution program, food sovereignty will continue to increase. These projects are not only embodying practices of agroecology by working to enforce the abilities and knowledge of farmers, but they are additionally paving the way for food sovereignty to be reached. Grassroots International stands by these ideals and supports MPP and the struggles in which they fight against.
Landless Workers Movement-Maranhao (MST-MA), Brazil
Maranhao has the highest rate of poverty within Brazil and suffers from issues such as unequal land distribution, political mistrust with a government that favors investment in macro-economic growth through agribusiness and neglect of basic things like sanitation, health, education, and public transportation, especially in rural areas. MST-MA promotes an increase agroecology in agrarian reform settlements within the Maranhao region. Through an educational process that builds inclusive and sustainable agriculture, MST-MA is able to generate and diversify incomes for the family farmers living within the settlements. MST-MA has implemented an integrated system of food production in two settlements, and with the help of Grassroots International, they will be able to continue and further such efforts.
Janaiana Stronzake, a member of the Landless Workers Movement writes,
“Agroecology is a path for better relations between women, men, young children, and the elderly. Agroecology must be an alliance between the countryside and the city, it must be part of the social movements for structural changes against racism and for the end of violence against women.”
With an amplification of organizing work and the implementation of agroecological practices, MST-MA will be able to build food sovereignty and climate justice. With the continued support from Grassroots International, MST-MA will further develop programs to include greater participation of families that represent a larger number of settlements to work with food production, in addition to planning alternatives for the enhancement of food production systems based on agroecological practices.
We Are the Solution Campaign (WAS), West Africa
In collaboration with the WAS Campaign, Grassroots International is attempting to build and solidify the women’s agroecology movement in West Africa. WAS spans five West African countries and aims to coordinate and plan campaign activities while developing strategies for building greater autonomy within the movement. Recently, WAS has strengthened their message and began promoting more support and advocacy within the countries, while encouraging the government to create policies to subsidize organic inputs. Through the use of trainings at the national and local level and scheduled learning exchanges, WAS deepens community engagement while allowing the practice of agroecology to be spread and expanded upon. These goals and desired outcomes are reached through various programs and initiatives in places such as Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
In Ghana, a recent relaunch of the campaign has allowed for an increased presence of agroecology workshops and trainings, in addition to advocacy and organizational within family farming communities. With a merging of Ghanaian projects, the Rural Farmers Association of Ghana has organized a peasant seed fair in Accra, leadership workshops, and other community activities that have allowed the campaign for agroecology practices to push forward. Both Mali and Senegal have also seen an increase in campaign advocacy within farming communities.
Ibrahima Coulibaly, the President of the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Mali writes,
“Agroecology is beneficial for the whole world. Our future will depend on the attention that we give to family farms… it represents a chance for all the producers of food in the world.”
In addition to these improvements, civil society organizations in Guinea are in the midst of developing model agroecology demonstration sites that would call attention to their agroecological products and the importance of the contribution of women in agriculture and their role in feeding the nation. In Burkina Faso, agroecology trainings have grown tremendously and there have been improvements within the campaign as a result of leadership trainings and a growing amount of women involvement.
Through such programs, it is evident that community organizing and advocacy has greatly improved, and with the continued support from Grassroots International, WAS throughout West Africa can make even more growth in agroecology practices and awareness.
About the author: Jena Doyle has been volunteering at Grassroots International since January 2017. She is a current undergraduate at American University studying international relations with a focus in development and foreign policy within Latin America.