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The Sustainable Path Forward

May 2015

People who are concerned about climate disruption and hunger are talking more and more about agroecology, that is, using ecological, economic, cultural, and gender justice principles to inform agricultural practices and systems.  And those people are joining Grassroots International and our global partners in advocating for a shift toward agroecology to create a more sustainable future.

Scientifically speaking, agroecology offers alternatives to the corporate agribusiness model and its attendant traits of grossly inefficient water consumption, yield inefficiency, soil depletion/erosion and unnatural nutrient reintroduction.  Part of the genius of agroecology is its emphasis upon “best use of volume” wherein layered, complimentary cropping conservatively yields up to six times as much as monocropping and, by design, yields a more bio-diverse food supply.

Those same insights were outlined during presentation entitled Agroecology: Science, Policy and Politics by Dr. Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.  The talk was part of a seminar series sponsored by Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition, Science, and Policy.  As the seminar progressed, I was keen to highlight several points that resonate with the work of Grassroots International and our global partners.

Politically and culturally speaking, agroecology inspires us to challenge agribusiness’ manipulated markets, land seizures and population displacements, while pressing for women’s leadership, indigenous rights and protection from repressive elements of the corporate state.  In the U.S., a series of governmental policies have led to our agricultural status quo, from Lincoln’s well-intentioned establishment of the Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences to the ill-begotten Indian Removal and Homestead Acts.  Fast forward to the subsidization of monocropping and commodity-centered agriculture, as well as the cynical copyrighting of nature by Monsanto et al., and we find ourselves at a dire crossroads.

Internationally, impacts from industrial agriculture and trade policies are even more insidious.  From NAFTA to the currently contentious Trans Pacific Partnership, the global agricultural reality is one of resource and labor exploitation combined with the undermining and repression of grassroots democracy.  A sequence of misguided and corrupt policies, accentuating a dangerous rise of corporate power and influence, has led us to our current predicament: an unsustainable agricultural system built on profit, threatening biodiversity and acting as a leading contributor to climate change in the process.

The barebones politics of the situation is this: deeply invested and highly leveraged corporations wish to maintain the status quo and their profits, even if it means the exploitation and degradation of ecosystems, cultures and communities.  While we must pressure our governments to subsidize a conversion away from industrial monocropping to agroecology, grassroots efforts will continue to cultivate at the margins and create more space for agroecology.  While agronomists continue to discover the structures and functions relative to the science of agroecology, a preponderance of evidence exists that agroecology is the sustainable path for our food system future.  Grassroots International and its partners are committed to this paradigm shift, a social re-organization toward the principles of commonwealth and cooperation, ecological wisdom and social justice. 

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