Agroecological solutions for future farming

Prof Christine Watson (ORC): Chair

Session summary

Pablo Tittonell, professor in the Farming Systems Ecology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, gave a stimulating and energetic presentation setting out a global perspective of the agroecological approach for future farming. Agroecology can be described as farming with nature, incorporating diversity, resource efficiency, recycling, natural regeneration, and synergies between crops, livestock and trees. Agroecology started as a scientific discipline in the 1920s, with principles inspiring the adoption of agroecological practices in the 1970s, and the spread of practices being closely entwined with the development of social movements from the 1980s onwards.

The key messages that came from through, are that an agroecological approach is knowledge-intensive; it can also be high tech with scientists and farmers working together to design agroecological landscapes and food systems based on latest research and technologies. For example, pest-suppressive landscapes can be designed using GIS and information on species resource use, and through a participatory approach to modify the landscape (e.g. by planting hedges) to enhance predator/parasitoid populations in areas of high pest pressure.

The evidence supporting the many benefits of an agroecological approach is substantial and in some countries, Agroecology is already accepted as the future of farming; for example, Brazil has developed a national programme of Agroecology. Addressing the question of what prevents change, Pablo highlighted the difference in research investment between organic and conventional agriculture, e.g. the Dutch government contributes 4 million euros a year to organic vs and annual fund of 980 million dollars a year invested by Monsanto. Pablo stressed the need for policy innovation to support the development from conventional systems to agroecological landscapes and food systems, where the carrot is bigger than the stick./p>

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Most organic farmers already follow agroecological principles
  • An agroecological approach is knowledge-intensive
  • It can also be high tech with scientists and farmers working together
  • Policy innovation is needed to encourage the development towards agroecological landscapes and food systems.
Prof. Pablo Tittonell (Wageningen University)Agroecological solutions for future farming (8.8mb pdf file)

Agroecology makes use of concepts and principles of ecology for the design and management of sustainable agricultural and food systems. Agroecology provides no recipes, no technical packages, no standards and no prescriptions, and relies on the application of five basic principles: recycling, efficiency, diversity, regulation and synergies. Agroecology is also the term used to describe a movement that sees an increasing number of adept family farmers and related social organisations in the Americas. Agroecology is thus science, practice and movement. Although discrepancies between organic agriculture and agroecology have been repeatedly pointed out in the past, I postulate that (i) agroecology can offer the foundations for the design of sustainable organic farming systems by helping farmers escape the ‘input substitution’ trap; (ii) that organic farming already offers excellent examples of application of agroecological principles in a context of large scale commercial farming in developed regions; and (iii) that designing future organic farming systems with agroecological principles requires a dialogue of wisdoms between farmers and scientists. I will provide evidence to sustain these postulates using examples from around the world, and exhort the audience to reflect and explore ways in which agroecological principles could be used to inform management practices, the design of innovative value chains, and new certification standards (e.g. IFOAM’s Organic 3.0).

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