Agroecology: Scaling-up, scaling-out

ActionAid joins growing global calls to ‘scale-up’ and ‘scale-out’ agroecology. As governments and donors meet at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2nd International Symposium on Agroecology we urge them to join forces to support agroecology on a large scale. At least 500 million family farms produce about 80 percent of the world’s food. Comprised of smallholders, pastoralists, landless, fisher folk, forest dwellers and tribal and indigenous peoples, about half of them are women. Peasant agriculture plays a multifunctional role, providing food, fiber and other goods, as well as employment, culture, and a way of life. There is now extensive evidence that peasant-based agroecological systems are superior to high external input industrial agriculture and are highly productive, highly sustainable, empower women, create jobs, engage youth, provide greater autonomy, climate resilience, and multiple social, cultural and environmental benefits for women and men in rural and urban communities. Key benefits of agroecology include:

  • Year-round access to healthy, fresh, diverse and culturally-appropriate food for local populations;
  • Reduced poverty and a key contribution to the realization of the right to adequate food and nutrition;
  • Increased climate resilience and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions;
  • Empowerment of women and reduced workload burdens;
  • Diversified livelihoods and valued local, tribal and indigenous cultures;
  • Improved health through reduced exposure to harmful agrochemicals;
  • More resilient ecosystems, healthier soils and improved water management;
  • Lower costs, less debt and greater autonomy;
  • Enhanced stewardship of seeds, crops, biodiversity, forests and natural resources.

A science, a set of farming practices and a social movement, agroecology promotes food sovereignty and can also significantly contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda. Based on our positive experiences of agroecology in 25 countries1 and the wider body of evidence, we urge decision makers to cast aside any ideological bias or skepticism and embrace agroecology as a key policy priority. Seeking a major transformation in agricultural and food systems, we call for increased public investment and adoption of public policies, strategies, programs and incentives to scale-out agroecology. We highlight six key barriers that need to be challenged and seven key steps required to achieve agroecology at scale. We also highlight ActionAid case studies from Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal. The six key barriers we identify are: ideological barriers, international trade and export orientation, marginalization of women, monopoly seed laws, lack of agricultural Research and Development (R&D) on agroecology and concentration of power amongst agribusiness TNCs. The seven key steps required to achieve agroecology at scale are:

Support peasant social movements to ‘scale- out’ agroecology

Decision makers should support broad-based peasant social movements and rural women’s movements to help ‘scale-out’ agroecology at the grassroots level.

Prioritize implementation of CEDAW commitments on the rights of women living in rural areas

Governments should prioritize implementation of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation 34 (2016) on the rights of women living in rural areas. It includes rights to participate and benefit from rural development, rights to health, education, employment, economic, social and public life, protection from violence, and rights to land and natural resources.

Adopt public policies that support agroecology

Decision makers should adopt public policies that encourage the transition to agroecology at scale, such as framework right to food and nutrition laws, national plans that encourage agroecological production and consumption, and public procurement schemes.

Include agroecology as a key tool for climate adaption

Decision makers should ensure agroecology plays a central role in national climate adaption plans and strategies.

Prioritize local food systems and territorial markets

Decision makers should prioritize and support broad- based peasant social movements, women’s groups and smallholder food producers to re-localize food systems and foster short food supply chains.

Increase public finance and prioritize agroecology in agricultural R&D and extension services

Donors, governments, multilaterals and philanthropists should significantly increase finance for agroecology and prioritize agroecology in their Overseas Development Aid (ODA), agricultural R&D and rural extension portfolios.

Repeal IPRs on seeds, protect resource rights and break up monopoly power of agribusiness TNCs

Governments and decision makers should repeal intellectual property right rules (IPRs) on seeds, secure women and peasants’ access and control over natural resources and other productive resources, and act to break up the monopoly power of agribusiness TNCs.