Agroecology Delivers Antidote to ‘Climate-Smart’ Agriculture
Agroecology and food sovereignty have taken centre stage over the last five years in the global conversation about food and farming, providing a counterpoint to approaches to “climate-smart” agriculture (CSA) driven largely by large corporate interests and conventional modes of development, reports Michel Pimbert, executive director of Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience.
“Agroecology in the context of food sovereignty goes much further than CSA’s focus on agricultural production alone: it questions the structure of the entire food system,” Pimbert writes in a recent post for the Netherlands-based Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture (ILEIA). “From field to plate, the globalized supply chains that feed the world rely on the intensive use of fossil fuels for fertilizers, agrochemicals, production, transport, processing, refrigeration, and retailing. Together, these are a major contributor to climate change and air pollution.”
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CSA advocates “realize that approaches that focus exclusively on agricultural production without taking into account environmental sustainability are likely to have negative, possibly irreversible consequences,” Pimbert acknowledges. But the corporate version of CSA, in particular, “represents a continuation of business-as-usual industrial agriculture in which farmers are increasingly dependent on agrichemical corporations for external inputs and global commodity markets for the sale of their farm produce. Moreover, the corporate drive to expand CSA markets for nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, as well as genetically uniform seeds, is likely to further destabilize the earth system and its capacity to support contemporary human societies.”
Pimbert says CSA models expect the world’s 2.5 billion small-scale producers and Indigenous people to largely disappear, as rural populations decline, farm operations “modernize” and industrialize, and local food systems giving way to “a few transnational corporations gaining monopoly control over different links in the food chain.” But that future is “a political choice that is disputed and rejected by social movements working for agroecology and food sovereignty. A process of ‘re-peasantization’ is slowly unfolding as more national and regional organizations proudly embrace the term ‘peasant’ to describe themselves, projecting an alternative identity and modernity rich in meaning and hope for the future.”
He describes agroecology as “the idea that agroecosystems should mimic the biodiversity levels and functioning of natural ecosystems.” Its key features include greater awareness of the environmental impacts of industrial farming, stronger focus on ecological science, respect for farmers’ and Indigenous peoples’ experiential knowledge, a focus on whole food systems, closer links between farm, community, and social movements, and explicit linkages to food sovereignty.
But as agroecology gains prominence, Pimbert warns, its definition has shifted in some circles, with CSA advocates attaching some parts of a fundamentally different approach to old models of development. In contrast to a future of greater “uniformity, centralization, control, and the expansion of global markets,” including carbon markets, he argues that “a truly transformative agroecology aims to rebuild a diversity of decentralized, just, and sustainable food systems that enhance community and social-ecological resilience to climate change.” (h/t to Faris Ahmed for first pointing us to this story)