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Agroecology, Food Sovereignty and the New Green Revolution

December 2012

Eric Holt-Giménez, from Food First, and Prof. Miguel Altieri, UC-Davis, published another powerful article that certainly will serve as food for thought and action by those working to change the current [corporate] food regime. According to the article, the Green Revolution – with its stranglehold on seeds, land and global markets – is anything but a solution to hunger for the 2.5 billion small farmers likely to be displaced in the process. Agroecology and food sovereignty, on the other hand, hold the potential to transform the food system to the benefit of farmers, the world’s hungry people and the planet.   Holt-Giménez and Altieri pose this critical question: if 50,000 industrial farms can produce all the “food” we need, “how would 2.5 billion displaced farmers buy this food?”   The answer is that many of them would go hungry. In fact, we are already witnessing the results of the Green Revolution as it plays out, including less farmers and more hungry people.   One of the solutions to end hunger, affirm the authors, is supporting farmer-led movements that are developing agroecological practices and enhancing food sovereignty. Agroecology, as I learned from many peasant farmers and Miguel Altieri’s writings, is based on the holistic intersection of social, environmental and economic justice. It is based on democratic control of land, water and seeds; the dismantling of patriarchy; and an environmental perspective very different from what bio-tech companies believe. The flourishing of agroeocology is the end of industrial agriculture, the chronic problem of landlessness and hunger.   Food Sovereignty, as the Via Campesina describes it, is “the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.”   Farmers, organized in different places and movements such as the Via Campesina advocate for a food system based on “knowledge-intensive” agroecology that can feed the world’s population and sustain the earth’s natural resources.   The article denounces the co-optation of agroecology by the same actors that brought us the false solutions of the Green Revolution. The current trend is to show that small-scale farming can be viable if they are able to combine agroecology, [industrial] organic farming and bio-technology. This “marriage” asserts Eric Holt-Giménez and Miguel Altieri would “subordinate agroecology to conventional agriculture,” advancing a perspective of functional dualism. “This functional dualism between peasant and capital-intensive agriculture accelerates industrial expansion, resulting in the differentiation and displacement of the peasantry and the subsumption of peasant agriculture to capitalist agriculture.”   Instead of making agroecology subservient to capital-intensive practices, the authors suggest it should be front and center, as advocated by global movements of small farmers. “This transformation,” assert the authors, “will likely require a combination of extensive on-the-ground agroecological practice and strong political will to overcome opposition and co-optation from the Green Revolution.”   In sum, the co-optation process of agroecology forces us to understand why we can’t dissociate agroecology from the fundamental work of social movements for food sovereignty and the human right to land and water.  

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