Scientists, policy-makers, food businesses, chefs, funders, and farmers are contemplating the best way to grow food, provide nutrition, and increase incomes for farms—small and large—all over the world.
It’s clear that our current methods of food production—aren’t working for people or the planet—nearly 1 billion people are hungry; another 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese; half of the world’s topsoil has been lost over the last 150 years; and the world’s biodiversity is disappearing at 100 to 1000 times the natural extinction rate.
The business as usual approach of high input, resource intensive, monoculture cropping is no longer an option. We need better, holistic, more agroecological and environmentally-smart agricultural practices to nourish the planet.
There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for a sustainable farm. Instead, agroecological farmers are taking into consideration the surrounding ecosystem and region in which their farms exist. In California, on Singing Frogs Farm, Paul Kaiser grow fruits and vegetables for 110 community supported agriculture (CSA) members. On his farm, Kaiser provides a habitat for important pollinators, including bees, by planting flowering hedgerows throughout his fields.
Farmers in Central America are using agroecological methods including contour cropping to conserve water, planting leguminous cover crops that provide a natural source of fertilizer for maize and cacao, and incorporating trees to increase resistance to hurricanes. After a hurricane hit Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala in 1998, farmers using agroecological practices retained 20-40 percent more top soil and experienced less erosion than conventionally managed, monoculture farms in the same region.
Small farms in Africa are implementing ecological pest management, by planting maize with plants that repel pests and support natural pest predators, which provides economic, health, and environmental benefits. More than 12,000 farmers in eastern Africa have started using this method, which also reduces the use of the synthetic pesticides, reduces soil erosion, and increases food security.
In the Philippines the Oray family went from managing a monoculture of sugarcane crops to a diverse farm with a variety of plants and animals. This allowed them to survive the collapse of sugar prices in the 1980s as well as improve crop resilience and soil fertility. The Oray family integrates drought-resistant, indigenous species on their farm to further mitigate effects of climate change.
In a recent report, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter emphasized how agroecology, if sufficiently supported, could double food production within ten years.
“Scaling up agroecological practices can simultaneously increase farm productivity and food security, improve incomes and rural livelihoods, and reverse the trend towards species loss and genetic erosion. Agroecological practices are best adopted when they are not imposed top-down, but shared from farmer to farmer,” explains De Schutter.
The benefits and use of agroecological farming will be further investigated and shared at the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on September 18 and 19 at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy. Food Tank is excited to be participating in this event.
The Symposium is bringing together agroecology experts from around the world to “increase and improve provision of goods and services from agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in a sustainable manner.” The symposium will also allow international agroecological initiatives to be displayed to a global audience of scientists, civil society members, private sector members, and FAO staff.
- Miguel Altieri, professor of agroecology, University of California Berkeley
- Edmundo Barrios, senior scientist in land and soil management, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
- Fabrice DeClerck, program leader of agrobiodiversity and ecosystem services, Bioversity International
- Hans Herren, president, Millenium Institute
- Peter Kenmore, agricultural entomologist, FAO
- Danielle Nierenberg, president, Food Tank
- Ravi Prabhu, deputy director general, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
- Lori Thrupp, executive director, Berkeley Food Institute
- Marcela Villareal, director of office of communication, FAO