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Natural Resource Governance around the World

Agroecology: A Response to the Agricultural and Food Challenges of the 21st Century

A report of the C2A (Agriculture and Food Commission), Coordination Sud

Faced with the negative impacts of and limits to agriculture based on the agricultural revolution of the 20th century – known by the term ”Green Revolution” in the Southern countries and often qualified as ‘productivist’ agriculture – many approaches around the world are seeking to implement a type of agriculture that reconciles production objectives with ecological or even social objectives (such as job generation, standard of living and life quality, and food security). The practices claiming to draw inspiration from agroecology are diverse, as are the terms for describing them. The concept of agroecology makes it possible to associate a large number of these practices with several fundamental principles.

Agroecology is also a scientific approach : ‘ecology applied to the plant population in cultivated fields’ or ‘cultivated field ecology’1. In other words, it is agronomics that rediscovers that agriculture is based on an ecosystem (an ‘agrosystem’). Depending on the approach, the scale considered can be a cultivated plot of land, a farm, an entire region, or even the agri-food value chain.

Agroecology is often considered to be a movement that promotes more sustainable agriculture and forms of production/consumption. Many studies have been carried out on agroecology and its impacts. The member organisations of the Agriculture and Food Commission (C2A) of Coordination Sud2, (the platform of French international solidarity NGOs), are convinced of the importance of supporting family farming for the Southern countries. They are arguing for public policies favourable to their development. They are also often witness to the negative impacts of and limits to ”productivist” agriculture as well as to the positive effects of agroecological approaches implemented for family farming.

Critics of agroecological approaches often say it is unrealistic to claim to ”feed the world” or generate enough income with agroecology. Agroecological experiences at the local level also sometimes have trouble becoming more widespread. In a way, it is difficult for agroecol- ogy to ‘change scale’. Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, emphasises that ‘the scaling up of these experiences is the main challenge today’.3

This is why the C2A wishes to review the situation regarding the two main questions below:

  • The ability of agroecology to respond to the major challenges of humanity in the 21st century: food security for a growing population whose modes of consumption are changing, economic and social development of the Southern countries and their populations, transition in modes of production and consumption faced with the current ecological crisis (deterioration of cultivated ecosystems, exhaustion of non-renewable resources, deterioration of biodiversity, environmental contaminations and global warming);

  • The conditions required for the spread of agroecology: most suitable type of agriculture (family or capitalist) for implementing ecological practices, systems for supporting and working with farmers (technical and financial support for innovations and risks related to the transition, research, and information exchange), economic environment and agricultural policies, and international development cooperation.

This report covers these two issues based on a literature review carried out by Gret and the Centro de Desarrollo e Investigacion Rural (CEDIR)4, with support from the Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF) association and the AGRECOL Andes foundation, and on the results of the seminar held on 11 December 2012 in Nogent-sur-Marne, France.

It should be noted that in this document we are concerned mainly with agroecology as a set of approaches and practices. Nevertheless, the ‘social movement’ dimension is never far away, as the social dynamics linked to agroecology are also sometimes a condition for the development of certain practices, especially through the networks for exchanges of experiences and for participative selection and exchanges of seeds, or for alternative marketing channels.

This report has been edited and coordinated by Laurent Levard (GRET) and Frédéric Apollin (AVSF).

Translated from French by: Eric Alsruhe.

The full report and a 4 page brief can be downloaded on this page.

1Stéphane Henin, quoted by Christophe Naudin, at the C2A Agroecology Seminar held on 11 December 2012 (hereinafter ‘Agroecology Seminar’).

2aGter is a member of the Agriculture and Food Commission of Coordination Sud.

3Olivier De Schutter, 2010.

4The study by Maria del Carmen Soliz, Daniel Vildozo, and Pierril Lacroix, ‘Estudio bibliografico de agroécolo- gia en América latina y el Caribe’, CEDIR-AVSF-AGRECOL Andes, 2012, is available on the AVSF editorial site, at

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