09.09.2020 |

Study shows the potential of agroecology to adapt to climate change

Small farmers from Meru County, Kenya, practicing agroecology (Photo: Peter Lüthi/Biovision)

Agroecology can increase the ability of agricultural systems to adapt to climate change and strengthen their resilience. This is the main finding of a study published in August by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Biovision Foundation. The study warns that climate change has negative impacts on food systems and the livelihoods of farmers worldwide, undermining current efforts to improve food security and nutrition. It is increasingly posing problems for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who are faced with irregular rainy seasons, droughts, storms and floods which destroy their harvests. The authors point out that there is an urgent need for a transformational change of our food systems towards more sustainability and resilience. “The study at hand, mobilizing international and national level assessments and scientific methodologies, provides solid evidence that biodiverse agroecological systems built on local communities increase resilience to climate change,” FAO’s René Castro and Frank Eyhorn, CEO of Biovision Foundation, write in the foreword to the report. “Agroecology is not a silver bullet, but it provides urgently needed impulses and principles to transform food systems in line with the sustainable development goals.”

The research question of the study was: “How can agroecology foster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience through practices and policies?” In order to find answers, the authors analysed the international policy arena, in particular in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and they conducted a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed scientific studies on agroecology. In addition, they looked at two case studies in Kenya and Senegal that assess both, the policy potential of agroecology and the technical potential of agroecology to foster climate resilience on farm-level in the respective countries. Their main finding from the meta-analysis was that there is robust scientific evidence which demonstrates that agroecological methods including organic farming increase climate resilience. This is because they build on key elements that involve adaptability to climate change. “Agroecology increases the adaptive capacity and reduces the vulnerability of agroecosystems, mainly through improved soil health, biodiversity and high diversification of species and genetic resources within agricultural production systems,” the authors write. For example, agroecological methods increase soil organic matter (carbon sequestration). “Healthy soils are the key to sustainable agriculture and to food systems that can deal with the challenges of climate change and guarantee food security,” said Adrian Müller, co-author of the meta-analysis who works for the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) that also contributed to the study. “Implementing agroecology in practice, and organic farming, results in soil health and therefore deserves comprehensive support.”

The two case studies from Kenya and Senegal also showed that farmers who participated in agroecological projects were able to cope better with the consequences of climate change and ensure their food security. Another finding of the report is that that the interdisciplinary and systemic nature of agroecology is key for its transformational power. But those characteristics also present a challenge: The implementation of agroecological methods is knowledge-intensive, and its promotion in education, extension services and research therefore requires appropriate strategies. However, current laws, policy instruments and strategies are not yet adequate. The authors also provide some recommendations on how to take full advantage of agroecology’s potential. They argue that, given the sound knowledge base, fostering agroecology to build resilience should be recognised as a viable climate change adaptation strategy. Second, they stress the need to address barriers to the scaling-up of agroecology: Improved access to knowledge and understanding of systemic approaches should be fostered across all sectors, stakeholders and scales. “Policies need to provide an enabling environment and a level playing ground for enhancing the adoption of agroecological principles. Evidence-based policy setting is therefore the need of the hour,” Castro and Eyhorn stress in the foreword. In addition, the authors highlight that further comparative research on the multidimensional effects of agroecology is needed. Decisive action is required now. “The decision-makers are now being called upon to set a new course – in the direction of agroecology,” urges Eyhorn. (ab)

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