Agroecology

The analyses of the IAASTD show the need for an agro-ecological evolution in agriculture, food production and consumption.
Since its origins 10,000 years ago, agriculture has always adapted to its respective environmental conditions. It is only in the past 100 years that this adaptation, along with the development of agriculture, has experienced a radical transformation in conjunction with the environmental changes that have occurred.
The development of fossil fuels as energy sources allowed some to replace existing practices which involved careful interaction with nature, with the use of machinery and modern chemicals. Over the past 50 years, this has led to an unprecedented global transformation and exploitation of natural habitats, as well as regional agricultural and food systems. Today the consequences of this transformation have become a central problem of everyone on the planet. >>more

 

Agro-ecological Approaches

Agro-ecological concepts are primarily based on traditional and local knowledge, and its corresponding cultures. Agroecology combines this knowledge with the findings and methods of modern science, for which traditional and local knowledge provides an important impetus. The strength of agroecology lies in the combination of ecological, biological and agricultural sciences, along with medicinal, anthropological, social and communication sciences. Agroecology incorporates the knowledge of all stakeholders. Their practical contribution to solving complex problems, combined with locally available resources, is crucial. Apart from the sun, water, soil, people and their communities, other resources that are particularly important are the natural and cultivated diversity of plant species and varieties, along with knowledge on how they interact.
Since the 1980s, agroecology as a scientific discipline and economic concept for success has received growing support worldwide. The IAASTD attributes a crucial role to agroecology in shaping the future of sustainable agriculture, demonstrating that it is now at the heart of scientific and political debates.

Facts & Figures

Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. It was created by the convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. As a science, agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.” As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem.

In Cuba, it is estimated that agro-ecological practices are used in 46-72% of peasant farms, generating over 70% of the domestic food production. This equates to 67% of roots and tubers, 94% of small livestock, 73% of rice, 80% of fruits and the majority of honey, beans, cocoa, maize, tobacco, milk and meat production.

A study by Pretty et al., released in 2011, analysed 40 projects in 20 countries where sustainable intensification has been developed during the 1990s and 2000s. These projects included agroforestry, soil conservation, integrated pest management and horticulture. By early 2010, the projects had benefited 10.39 million farmers and delivered improvements on around 12.75 million hectares. By combining the use of new and improved varieties and new agronomic-agroecological management, crops yields per hectare have increased on average by 2.13-fold.

Sales of organic products in the United States rose to $35.1 billion in 2013, up 11.5% from the previous year's $31.5 billion and the fastest growth rate in five years. Fruit and vegetables account for $11.6 billion in sales, up 15% from 2012.

On average, organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms, according to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The researchers looked at data from 94 previous studies covering 184 farm sites dating back to 1989 and found that this effect has remained stable over time.

A meta analysis assessing 114 cases of organic farming in Africa showed that conversion of farms to organic methods increased agricultural productivity by 116%. This figure rose to a 128% increase for projects in East Africa. In Kenya, maize yields increased by 71% and bean yields by 158%.

A report by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food, drawing on an extensive review of the scientific literature published in the last five years, arrived at the following findings: Agroecology raises productivity at field level; agroecology reduces rural poverty; agro-ecological methods contribute to improving nutrition and to adapting to climate change.

Civil Society

Literature

Videos: Agroecology

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M. Altieri: Why is agroecology the solution to hunger&food security?

Can organic feed the world?

Graphics

  • UNEP Peat DistributionUNEP Peat Distribution
  • UNEP Land Use ChangeUNEP Land Use Change
  • UNEP Natural Resource treeUNEP Natural Resource tree
  • UNEP Season VegetableUNEP Season Vegetable
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