04.07.2019 |

Agroecology is key to transition to sustainable food systems, HLPE report

We need to transform the way food is produced (Photo: CC0)

Agroecology has the potential to make agriculture and food systems more sustainable. This is the message of a new UN report launched by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome on July 3rd. The report, which was compiled by the committee’s High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) in an almost two-year process, looks at agroecological and other innovative approaches that can enhance food security and nutrition and achieve global sustainability goals. “Food systems are at a crossroads,” says the summary of the report. “Profound transformation is needed to address Agenda 2030 and to achieve food security and nutrition (FSN) in its four dimensions of availability, access, utilization and stability, and to face multidimensional and complex challenges, including a growing world population, urbanization and climate change, which drive increased pressure on natural resources, impacting land, water and biodiversity.” At the launch of the report, HLPE Project Team Leader Fergus Sinclair pointed out that current food systems result in widespread malnutrition and are a major driver of exceeding planetary boundaries. “That means unless we have a major transformation of food systems that affects what people eat and how it is produced, transported, processed and sold we are not going to solve current problems.”

The HLPE writes that agroecology is a dynamic concept that has gained prominence in scientific, agricultural and political discourse in recent years. “It is increasingly promoted as being able to contribute to transforming food systems by applying ecological principles to agriculture and ensuring a regenerative use of natural resources and ecosystem services while also addressing the need for socially equitable food systems within which people can exercise choice over what they eat and how and where it is produced.” Although the authors highlight that there is no single, consensual definition of agroecology, nor agreement on all the aspects embedded in this concept, they come up with a set of 13 agroecological principles. They relate to recycling; reducing the use of inputs; soil health; animal health and welfare; biodiversity; synergy (managing interactions); economic diversification; co-creation of knowledge (embracing local knowledge and global science); social values and diets; fairness; connectivity; land and natural resource governance; and participation. The report divides the innovative approaches to sustainable food systems into two categories: First, the sustainable intensification of production systems and related approaches (including climate-smart agriculture, nutrition-sensitive agriculture and sustainable food value chains) and second, agroecological and related approaches (including agroecology, organic agriculture, agroforestry, permaculture and food sovereignty).

According to the report, many transitions need to occur in particular production systems and across the food value chain to achieve major transformation of whole food systems. Supportive public policies need to be designed that foster transitions towards sustainable food systems, including a shift of public support towards more diversified farming systems. “Given that many smallholder farmers are vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition, encouraging them, through appropriate public support to use agroecological methods would have a double impact, addressing both food security and nutrition and transitions to sustainable food systems simultaneously.” Public support measures that enable producers, regardless of their scale of operation, to make greater use of sustainable food production methods could include removing subsidies for synthetic inputs while giving incentives for sustainable food production methods, and for managing multifunctional landscapes including wild species. The authors stress that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to transforming food systems but they put together a series of recommendations to help decision-makers develop concrete actions.

The report recommends that agroecological and other innovative approaches should be promoted in an integrated way. Support is needed to bring about transitions to diversified and resilient food systems. States and NGOs should, for example, support diversified and resilient production systems, including mixed livestock, fish, cropping and agroforestry which preserve and enhance biodiversity, as well as the natural resource base. Subsidies and incentives that currently benefit unsustainable practices, should be redirected to support transition towards sustainable food systems. In addition, international agreements and national regulations on genetic resources and intellectual property should be adapted to better take into account farmers’ access to diverse, traditional and locally adapted genetic resources, as well as farmer-to-farmer seed exchange. Another recommendation is to strengthen the regulations on the use of chemicals harmful for human health and the environment, promoting alternatives to their use and rewarding practices that produce without them. Moreover, States and NGOs, in collaboration with academic institutions, civil society and the private sector, should increase investments in public and private research and development to support programmes in agroecological and other innovative approaches. The report acknowledges that there has been much less investment in research on agroecology than on other innovative approaches, resulting in significant knowledge gaps including on yields and performance of agroecological practices. These are just a few of the recommendations of the report to be presented and discussed at the CFS46 Plenary session in October 2019, when the recommendations are expected to be adopted. (ab)

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