The global food and agricultural system as we know it, is outdated, outmoded and now a seeming detriment to the planet and humans, and we need to fix it before it is too late.
The good news is that we can. Farmers and communities around the world are showing the way.
There is a growing wave of evidence and research demonstrating that:
- “Business as usual” of expanding industrialized agriculture is not a viable option for meeting the challenges we face in the future.
- We must transition to greener agriculture and food systems.
- Family farmer agroecology works and is a vital part of the solution.
Agroecology is one of many terms people use to describe an approach to farming – others being sustainable agriculture, ecological agriculture, low-external input agriculture or people-centered agriculture.
Agroecology is: farming that “centers on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while not damaging these resources.” It applies ecology to the design of farming systems; uses a whole-systems approach to farming and food systems; and links ecology, culture, economics and society to create healthy environments, food production and communities. (Source: http://www.moreandbetter.org/en/news/a-viable-food-future ).
Agroecology is the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. The prefix agro- refers to agriculture. Bringing ecological principles to bear in agroecosystems can suggest novel management approaches that would not otherwise be considered. The term agroecology can be used in multiple ways, as a science, as a movement and as a practice. Broadly stated, it is the study of the role of agriculture in the world. Agroecology provides an interdisciplinary framework with which to study the activity of agriculture. In this framework, agriculture does not exist as an isolated entity, but as part of an ecology of contexts. Agroecology draws upon basic ecological principles for its conceptual framework.
Agroecologists study a variety of agroecosystems, and the field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be organic, integrated, or conventional; intensive or extensive. Furthermore, it is not defined by certain management practices, such as the use of natural enemies in place of insecticides, or polyculture in place of monoculture.
Additionally, agroecologists do not unanimously oppose technology or inputs in agriculture but instead assess how, when, and if technology can be used in conjunction with natural, social and human assets. Agroecology proposes a context- or site-specific manner of studying agroecosystems, and as such, it recognizes that there is no universal formula or recipe for the success and maximum well-being of an agroecosystem.
Instead, agroecologists may study questions related to the four system properties of agroecosystems: productivity, stability, sustainability and equitability. As opposed to disciplines that are concerned with only one or some of these properties, agroecologists see all four properties as interconnected and integral to the success of an agroecosystem. Recognizing that these properties are found on varying spatial scales, agroecologists do not limit themselves to the study of agroecosystems at any one scale: farm, community, or global.
Agroecologists study these four properties through an interdisciplinary lens, using natural sciences to understand elements of agroecosystems such as soil properties and plant-insect interactions, as well as using social sciences to understand the effects of farming practices on rural communities, economic constraints to developing new production methods, or cultural factors determining farming practices.
The problems of current Industrialized Agriculture
- The current industrialized food and agriculture system is generating over 1 billion hungry people, and an equal number who are overweight and suffer the related effects on their health.
- Almost half the world’s population, or 3 billion people, lives in poverty.
- Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, which in turn is affecting the livelihoods of family farmers around the world.
- Limited oil supplies and increasing prices are making inputs like fertilizer too expensive for most family farmers – and are contributing to spikes in food prices.
By 2050 the world’s population will increase from its 2017 levels of 7.4 billion people to over 9 billion people, will we even be able to feed them all by continuing the trends created by industrial agriculture, or through a transition to more sustainable and agroecological production?
The reality is that hunger in the world today is not a question of production – there is enough food on the planet, but under our current system the hungry cannot purchase it or produce enough of it.
This is directly due to Structural Violence & Abuse.
– Structural abuse is the process by which an individual is dealt with unfairly by a system of harm in ways that the person cannot protect themselves against, cannot deal with, cannot break out of, cannot mobilize against, cannot seek justice for, cannot redress, cannot avoid, cannot reverse and cannot change.
Every current socio-economic system in action contains at least one level at which structural abuse occurs, when the actions of the system takes over the actions of individuals within that system to create structures by which abuse of others occurs. Structural abuse should not be confused with structural violence. Structural violence refers to action committed by a larger society, such as racism or classism in an entire society. Structural abuse refers to actions that are not necessarily endorsed by the broader society.
– Structural violence is a term that refers to a form of violence wherein some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized adultism, ageism, classism, elitism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, speciesism, racism, and sexism are negative systemic effects of structural violence.
Structural violence is an “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs”. As it is avoidable, structural violence is a high cause of premature death and unnecessary disability. Because structural violence affects people differently in various social structures, it is very closely linked to social injustice. Structural violence and direct violence are said to be highly interdependent, including family violence, gender violence, hate crimes, racial violence, police violence, state violence, terrorism, and war.
Learn more about Structural violence and clinical medicine.
This exponential rise in population is also not to say we are “over-populated”, or that we will not be able to feed the entire population either now or in the near future, it just means we need to take into account the carrying capacity of our species according to environments inhabited.
The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water, and other necessities available in the environment. In population biology, carrying capacity is defined as the environment‘s maximal load, which is different from the concept of population equilibrium.
– Carrying capacity was a term originally used to determine the number of animals that could graze on a segment of land without destroying it. Later, the idea was expanded to more complex populations, like humans.
For the human population, more complex variables such as sanitation and medical care are sometimes considered as part of the necessary establishment. As population density increases, birth rate often increases and death rate typically decreases. The difference between the birth rate and the death rate is the “natural increase”. The carrying capacity could support a positive natural increase or could require a negative natural increase. Thus, the carrying capacity is the number of individuals an environment can support without significant negative impacts to the given organism and its environment. Below carrying capacity, populations typically increase, while above, they typically decrease. A factor that keeps population size at equilibrium is known as a regulating factor. Population size decreases above carrying capacity due to a range of factors depending on the species concerned, but can include insufficient space, food supply, or sunlight. The carrying capacity of an environment may vary for different species and may change over time due to a variety of factors including: food availability, water supply, environmental conditions and living space.
Intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production, also colloquially known as factory farming, is a production approach towards farm animals in order to maximize production output, while minimizing production costs. Intensive farming refers to animal husbandry, the keeping of livestock such as cattle, poultry, and fish at higher stocking densities than is usually the case with other forms of animal agriculture—a practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses. The main products of this industry are meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. There are issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable or ethical.
Confinement at high stocking density is one part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. There are differences in the way factory farming techniques are practiced around the world. There is a continuing debate over the benefits, risks and ethical questions of factory farming. The issues include the efficiency of food production; animal welfare; whether it is essential for feeding the growing global population; and the environmental impact (e.g. agricultural pollution) and health risks.
Over the last two decades, small- and medium-scale farms raising animals for food have given way to factory farms that confine thousands of cows, hogs and chickens in tightly packed facilities.
Factory farms produce millions of gallons of manure that can spill into waterways from leaking storage lagoons or fields where manure is over-applied to soil. Manure generates hazardous air pollutants and contains contaminants that can endanger human health. Neighbors of factory farms, as well as the workers in them, often suffer intensely from overwhelming odors and related headaches, nausea and other long-term health effects even PTSD.
Factory farms can create other health hazards because they are over-crowded and stressful to animals, making it easy for disease to spread. When thousands of beef cattle are packed into feedlots full of manure, bacteria can get on their hides and then into the slaughterhouses. Contamination on even one animal can contaminate thousands of pounds of meat inside a slaughterhouse.
Factory farms also are just plain detrimental to the animals themselves. Most factory-farmed hogs and chickens have no access to the outdoors and never see daylight. Beef cattle and dairy cows spend time outside, but they are confined to feedlots with no access to pasture or grass, which is what they are built to eat. The lack of outdoor access, inability to express natural behaviors, health problems and stress caused by production practices, and breeding designed to maximize weight gain or egg and milk production take a toll on animal welfare.
The #1 cause of anthropogenic ecocide (human caused environmental destruction), which is also ironically the sole plant production method utilized globally currently, is the act of Monocropping.
“Monocropping is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops or growing multiple crops on the same land (polyculture). Corn, soybeans, and wheat are three common crops often grown using monocropping techniques.
While economically a very efficient system, allowing for specialization in equipment and crop production, monocropping is also controversial, as it can damage the soil ecology (including depletion or reduction in diversity of soil nutrients) and provide an unbuffered niche for parasitic species, increasing crop vulnerability to opportunistic insects, plants, and microorganisms. The result is a more fragile ecosystem with an increased dependency on pesticides and artificial fertilizers.”
“Monocropping as an agricultural strategy tends to emphasize the use of expensive specialized farm equipment—an important component in realizing its efficiency goals. This can lead to an increased dependency on fossil fuels and reliance on expensive machinery that cannot be produced locally and may need to be financed. This can make a significant change in the economics of farming in regions that are accustomed to self-sufficiency in agricultural production. In addition, political complications may ensue when these dependencies extend across national boundaries.
The controversies surrounding monocropping are complex, but traditionally the core issues concern the balance between its advantages in increasing short-term food production—especially in hunger-prone regions—and its disadvantages with respect to long-term land stewardship and the fostering of local economic independence and ecological sustainability.”
Here are another 6 Problems with Monoculture Farming.
Why is Agroecology Beneficial?
Because the food system affects our health and the entire ecosystem so profoundly, it is critical to make certain of the bio-diversity of the soil in which our food is grown as well as make sure the environments we use for foodstuff productions are optimally functioning. The current 3 billion small-scale farmers and food producers are already the ones producing 70% of the world’s food. And agroecological farming by family farmers has been demonstrated to be highly productive and sustainable. This application just needs more support to spread to the general population and everyday neighborhoods. By contrast, the practice of industrial farming currently produces only about 30% of the food consumed globally. Expanding it as the solution to the global challenges of hunger, health, climate change, environmental destruction and inequity would just worsen current trends.
As well as because we discovered, alongside the farmers, that it works. More food is produced. Fewer inputs are required – meaning reduced expenses. Soil fertility is improved. Rainfall is captured and managed better. Pests are managed better. Greater income is generated. Farming systems are diversified and produce synergistic benefits. Farms and communities are more resilient to climate change and shocks such as hurricanes, droughts and food or fertilizer price spikes. Carbon is sequestered in soils rich in organic matter and the integration of trees into farming systems. And farmers and their organizations use their skills, knowledge and creativity to learn and manage the process. These women and men are the innovators and leaders creating healthy farming systems for their communities and countries. Agroecology is not just “farming the traditional way,” but it is a constant process of farmer-led innovation, in the face of evolving circumstances, to determine how to farm well and to improve life.
Agriculture and food production are the base of life and the economy and have multiple functions in creating healthy societies. They are at the center of addressing challenges like hunger and poverty, climate change and environment, women’s wellbeing and community health, income and employment. A transition to greener, more productive, agroecological farming systems, methods and applications allows for local people to lead in creating solutions to a myriad variety of issues all at once, and either individually and/or collectively.
Agroecology and the methods presented within that field of study, are more commonly referred to and usually what you probably hear of as Permaculture / Carbon farming / Food forestry / Edible landscaping / Noxious greenhouse gas mitigation / Phytoremediation / etc, etc, these terms are what is slang and/or otherwise used in presenting any variation of the methods presented by agroecology – the study of agricultural ecology.
The main methods of agroecology being that of ‘PPMAAS’ – Perennial Polyculture Multistrata Agroforestry, Aquaculture, Silvopasture.
Perennial Polyculture Multistrata Agroforestry – An agricultural system integrating various trees, shrubs, and/or perennial herbaceous plants to produce high-value food products and ecosystem services. What “permaculture” mainly focuses upon.
Aquaculture – Symbiotic / sustainable aquatic edibles(including fish and plant) production.
Silvopasture / Intensive Silvopasture – Silvopasture is the action of integrating livestock with trees / foliage. Whereas Intensive Silvopasture is the act of integrating livestock in a meticulous and symbiotic fashion with edible forestry, much like a natural and wild environment for the animals.
The act of incorporating these agroecological techniques allows for not only a Symbiotic relationship between the animals, plants and the environment, but this includes humans as well to benefit from applying such meticulous and purposeful minute details into play.
And for the “cherry on the top” about these agroecological cultivation methods, is that they not only allow for a natural abundance, enact phytoremediation, mitigates noxious greenhouse gases, but also reduce a reliance upon oppressive constructs for access to resources which can in turn potentially render an oppressive construct obsolete.
We have the current ability for Understanding and Actualizing the knowledge and wisdom we have accumulated over our millennium of practicing agriculture, it is about time we apply it..
Here are a few studies proving the efficacy of agroecology:
1. The agroecological matrix as alternative to the land-sparing/agriculture intensification model
2. Biodiversity and agro-ecology in field margins. – PubMed – NCBI
3. Prospects from agroecology and industrial ecology for animal production in the 21st century
4. Greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture
5. Chapter Five – Carbon Sequestration in Agroforestry Systems
6. Evolutionary agroecology: individual fitness and population yield in wheat (Triticum aestivum). – PubMed – NCBI
7. Amplifying the benefits of agroecology by using the right cultivars. – PubMed – NCBI
8. The role of trees in agroecology and sustainable agriculture in the tropics. – PubMed – NCBI
9. Study claims agroecology closes organic yield deficit with conventional farming | Genetic Literacy Project
10. Review: Towards the agroecological management of ruminants, pigs and poultry through the development of sustainable breeding programmes: I-selectio… – PubMed – NCBI