Transformative actions need to be taken in a way that will ‘address a complex set of interconnected objectives encompassing economic, social and environmental dimensions
On 15 May the world celebrates the International Day of Families. This year its focus is on new technologies, their role in sustainable development, and in particular their importance for the wellbeing of families. At the same time, there is an ongoing United Nations Decade of Family Farms (2019-2028) which calls for states and actors to support family farmers. One of the ways to do so is to support the development of agroecology which is a different, albeit a very promising, type of technological innovation.
One of the main challenges that humanity faces today is ‘to feed the world and do it sustainably’ – something that requires a radical shift in the world food system which despite producing sufficient food for all, fails to address hunger, wastes one-third of the produced food, contributes to malnutrition and at the same time generates social inequalities.
For this purpose, transformative actions need to be taken in a way that will ‘address a complex set of interconnected objectives encompassing economic, social and environmental dimensions. As a third of the world’s food is produced by small family farms which account for 90% of all farms worldwide, or 547 million, this category and type of producer deserves particular attention for their role in sustainable food systems. In this context,
“Family farmers – including pastoralists, fishers, foresters, indigenous people, and other groups of food producers – are at the heart of this issue. They provide the majority of the world’s food, are the major investors in agriculture and the backbone of the rural economic structure,” says FAO Global Action Plan for the Decade of Family Farming.
In the same document, the FAO and IFAD emphasize that there is a need for affirmative policies and programs to support family farmers who ‘have a unique capacity to redress the failure of a world food system’. To do so, the action plan mentioned defines seven pillars, two of which include agroecology as a sustainable agriculture practice. Among other things, this is a source of innovative and context-specific knowledge allowing producers to optimize the diversity and complementarity of crops, livestock, and trees thereby increasing resource use efficiency, productivity, and resilience to environmental and economic shocks. Furthermore, the Second International Symposium on Agroecology held by FAO was specifically aimed at
‘moving agroecology from dialogue to activities […], while discussing policies and actions that can support agroecology in achieving the SDGs and accompany the decade of Family Farming’
Attila Szocs: agroecology brings society in its midst
In conversation with DevelopmentAid, Attila Szocs, the President of Eco Ruralis, a grassroots peasant’s association in Romania of around 14,000 members, shared the vision of producers with regards to the agroecology practiced by small and family farms.
According to the association, agroecology is a somewhat disputed concept. From the producers’ perspective, peasant agroecology encompasses much more than the farming techniques and modern technologies used in agriculture. The peasant agroecology, as agreed by the largest farmers’ movement in the world, Via Campesina, of which Eco Ruralis is a member, is based on democratic values. This is something farmers and peasants have always done and is defined independently of academic and scientific concepts. It is the concept that they have advanced on the global agenda and in particular with the FAO initiative for agroecology. This fact is important to consider in order to distinguish it from the corporate capture of the term.
“It is a concept that defines a social movement through which the peasants find themselves”, emphasized Attila.
In this context, rather than being a ‘technology’, agroecology represents ‘a concept of innovation that peasants have developed themselves’:
“We have been doing agroecology for a very long time. The conceptualization of our thinking, our life with the land, our relations with the seeds – was defined as agroecology. However, agroecological practices that we have been doing for a very long time have been passed on to us by our ancestors, and we practically innovate every day. The peasant household is at the same time a production interface for food, a laboratory through which we try our practices, adapt them, carry them on, show them to others, and on the other hand, it is our cultural center,” explains Attila.
Based on this philosophy, Eco Ruralis has conducted a Campaign for Agrobiodiversity since 2009. The campaign has made it possible to create a network of 15 ‘seeds saviors’ who, through their agricultural practices, breed-specific traditional seed varieties whose numbers had been on the decline. The National Bank of Gene of Suceava provided seeds to the project. Moreover, Eco Ruralis received small plots of land from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Cluj-Napoca (USAMV) which were used to build gardens for seed breeding and housed seed preservation workshops.
Attila notes that in Romanian the term “peasants” is tightly linked to agroecological innovation. The Romanian version for peasants is tarani, the word coming from tarina – land, hence defining peasants as people of their land. In this context, the territory where producers live is the first part of their culture, and then it is also the limited natural resource that they use. Thus, peasant agroecology is about how peasants make use of the land and the given natural resources; it is about caring deeply:
“We are more than landowners; we are land stewards,” emphasizes Attila.
Agroecology – a different form of technology
Thus, agroecology appears to be of high importance for family farms. While some farmers’ organizations consider it ‘inseparable from the promotion of family farming’ and see agroecology as science and peasant knowledge and innovation, some experts call it a systemic technological innovation.
“Knowledge-intensive agroecological farming systems, therefore, are advanced forms of human technology,” say the authors of the report, Farming Smarter: the case for the agroecological enterprise.
This form of technology helps producers to enhance labor productivity by farming smarter and therefore constantly improve the quality of their work. It is by learning with nature that they become part of the progressive transformation of their agricultural system.
Source: By Ana Benoliel Coutinho