• Español
  • Français
  • English
  • Português

Sustainable Farming through Agroecology

Dear TECA members,

We would like to invite you to participate in the upcoming discussion on “Sustainable Farming through Agroecology”, particularly addressing the role of agroecological farming practices in contributing to sustainable agriculture and food systems. Agroecology is based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimize interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while considering the social aspects required for a sustainable and fair food system. The role of farmers in this context is extremely pivotal: apart from being responsible for food production, they can also play a crucial role in protecting the environment.

The objective of this discussion is to identify successful agroecological farming practices, and exchange knowledge and experiences among involved stakeholders. We encourage individual farmers, farmer organizations, extension services, NGOs, researchers and every individual interested in agroecology to participate in the upcoming discussions and share your practices which have given positive results.

We would like to start with an introductory post from 23-Jan-2017 to 10-Feb-2017 in order to ensure a common understanding of agroecology, offer the opportunity to get familiar with the topic and ask questions to our technical experts. This discussion will be structured along the following topics:

  • Need of sustainable farming and agroecology (available from 23 Jan)
  • Agroecology and sustainable agroecosystems (available from 25 Jan)
  • Elements of agroecology (available from 30 Jan)
  • Agroecological farmer practices (available from 1 Feb)

Upcoming discussions:

  1. Agroecology and soil fertility – 20 Feb, 2017 to 12 Mar, 2017
  2. Agroecology and nutrition – 20 Mar, 2017 to 10 Apr, 2017

We are happy to introduce our expert who will be able to answer your questions and share their experiences with us during this introductory discussion.

  • Carolina Starr, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services, FAO
  • Mariane Carvalho Vidal, Empraba - Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply
  • David Ardhian, Research Analyst, Bogor Agricultural University

In your first post on TECA, kindly introduce yourself and tell us something about your background (your occupation, your country). If you feel more comfortable to post your contributions in French or Spanish, we will try to translate or summarize your post in English. We are looking forward for your enriching contributions to the discussion on “Sustainable Farming through Agroecology”.

Hanna & Prachi

TECA Team

Disclaimer: Kindly note that the objective of this discussion is to identify and share farming practices. It is not a political debate on agroecology. The views expressed in the discussions do not necessarily represent FAO’s views.

Comments

Kanna Siripurapu's picture

The indigenous millets-based, mixed agro-ecological systems found mostly in the rainfed and semi-arid agro-climatic zones of India are not only resilient but also sustainable (socially, economically, institutionally and environmentally). These indigenous agro-ecological systems are however at the verge of extinction and confiend to only tribal dominated and remote regions of the sub-continent. Fortunately we had the opportunity to capture few stories about the farmers (mostly women) who have been practicing millets-based, mixed agriculture in remote villages of the eastern Indian state of Odisha. For more information you may please click the link: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Nirman-Odisha-587847788046670/photos/?tab=al...

Images: 
Attached files: 

Thank you Kanna for sharing your practice on SRI techniques and Indigenous millets based mixed agro-ecological farming systems in Odisha, India. The success stories of implementation of these practices are indeed inspiring. If you are aware of more such practices illustrating the implementation of agroecological principles, it would be very nice to share them during this discussion. 

Kanna Siripurapu's picture

The annual indigenous traditional community seed festivals have been an ancient practice in India and an integral part of the indigenous farming culture. There is no gainsaying that conservation of agro-biodiversity and agro-ecology is indispensable for food security and indigenous farmers realized it long ago. As an ancient practice, the indigenous farmers in India have been exchanging indigenous heirloom seeds not only among themselves but also passing down the generations both the knowledge and heirloom seeds through observation of indigenous traditional community seed festivals. The indigenous traditional community seed festivals have an inbuilt conservation aspect to it, which acts as the indigenous agro-biodiversity keeper. The indigenous traditional community seed festivals act as a means of exchange of indigenous heirloom seeds and act as a repository to conserve and increase indigenous heirloom seed diversity, agro-biodiversity, and diversity of the traditional food basket.

The indigenous traditional community seed festivals creates also a platform for farmers to come together to share their indigenous knowledge, exchange their ideas and culture. In addition these festivals create spaces for identification of indigenous crops which are pest and disease resistant, gives better yields and income to the farmers. Unlike the conventional market based seed supply systems, exchange of indigenous heirloom seeds and knowledge at the indigenous seed festivals is free of cost. Furthermore, the ancient practice is socio-culturally, economically, institutionally and ecologically sustainable. However, the pervasive market driven, industry-based, modern agriculture system had been replacing not only the indigenous agro-biodiversity but also driving the intricately entwined socio-cultural practices with indigenous agro-biodiversity to extinction.

For more information kindly click the link: 

https://www.facebook.com/notes/nirman-odisha/bio-diversity-festival-unique-way-of-celebration-of-kutia-kondh-in-kandhmal-dist/588310538000395

Thank you, Kanna for telling us about the traditional community seed festivals in India. This is a very nice example of how socio-cultural aspects form a core part of agroecology.

Agroecology has been defined as “the use of ecological principles for the design of agricultural systems”. It is increasingly recognized that agroecology also addresses, in an indivisible way, economic and social dimensions in the food system. Agroecology offers more than a “design framework for sustainable agroecosystems”. Agroecological principles should suggest the general elements of a sustainable food system. In alignment with this approach, FAO has identified 10 key elements, derived from the general principles articulated for agroecology. As projects, programmes and policies are developed to support agroecology, different elements may come to play in various configurations, with a strong blend between ecological and socio-economic elements.

  • Efficiency: Farmers emphasize the conservation of soil, water, energy, and biological resources and use these natural resources more efficiently. For example, they need less external inputs (fertilizers, seeds, water etc.) to obtain a similar or even a greater yield and reduce the cost of production. Efficiency also recognizes the value in connecting consumers with producers in short circuits, promoting a more efficient food value chain, including reducing of post-harvest food waste.
  • Balance: Securing favorable soil conditions and self-regulation inside the food system. Natural ecosystems have the ability to self-regulate and attain a natural balance between pests, disease and natural enemies. Farmers take into account the ability of the community of organisms (plants, soil microorganisms etc.) and their interactions in order to dampen pest outbreaks, and manage pests, diseases and weeds and restoring the balance of the system.
  • Diversity: Farmers focus on increasing the variety of species and genetic resources (crop seeds, animals, plants) within a food systems. The biological and genetic potential of agricultural plant and animal species can furthermore be adapted to the ecological conditions of the farm. Crop diversity reduces the risk of crop failure and other climate-related shocks. On larger scales, agroforestry and land regeneration have been shown to effectively enhance farmers’ food security, income and resilience.
  • Co-creation of knowledge: Local and traditional knowledge and innovation to create sustainable food systems based on local needs and local ecosystems - Agroecology is knowledge-intensive. Agroecological practices are best adopted when they are not imposed top-down but shared from farmer-to-farmer. The co-creation of knowledge is necessary to facilitate agroecological transitions and the ownership of the knowledge should be protected through appropriate instruments.  Education – both formal and non-formal – plays a fundamental role in promoting the co-creation of knowledge, and should be shared in a horizontal way.
  • Recycling: Reutilizing nutrients and biomass existing inside the farming system and increased use of renewable resources. It also reduces the use of external (off-farm) inputs (e.g. mineral fertilizers) harmful for the environment or the health of farmers, farm workers, or consumers. Agroecology is based on the principle that the flow and cycling of nutrients within a farming system should enhance the system through biological means. Above-ground biomass is managed to maintain and restore natural fertility, even on degraded soils. Below-ground functional biodiversity is enhanced by amplifying biogeochemical cycles in the soil, recycling nutrients from the soil profile and increasing microbial activity. Recycling occurs at multiple levels; it can be augmented within farms and landscapes by integrating livestock with crops.  
  • Synergies: Designing food systems with an optimal crop/animal assemblage, while promoting ecological functions for self-regulation in foods system - Great strength can be drawn from building on synergies in food systems, including synergies between people and in managing different components of the system. For example, by assembling crops, animals, trees, soils and other factors in spatially/temporally diversified schemes, the agro-ecosystem may build its own capacity to enhance soil fertility, natural pest regulation, crop productivity, and community empowerment. Synergies can also be built in communities through cooperation, instead of competition, in food systems.
  • Human and social value: building food systems based on the culture, identity, tradition, innovation and knowledge of local communities and livelihoods, favoring social dynamics that focus on women’s and youth’s role in agricultural development which is vital to achieving food security and nutrition. Agroecology places an emphasis on values, such as the local, empirical knowledge of farmers and communities who are at the heart of food production, and on sharing this knowledge to empower communities.
  • Circular economy: A circular economy enhances short food circuits. They are mainly characterized by local production and local consumption. Local production also includes the use of inputs obtained from local sources, ideally naturally-occurring materials instead of synthetic, manufactured inputs. This also reduces the costs and increases the farmers’ income. Local consumption requires local markets which also ensure fair prices for products. Circular economies also take into consideration the role of diversity as a characteristic of resilient and productive systems.
  • Culture and food traditions: Healthy, diversified and culturally appropriate diets deliver good nutrition while assuring the health of ecosystems. Increasing production alone is not sufficient to eliminate hunger and food insecurity. Agroecology plays an important role in re-connecting tradition and modern food habits, bringing them together in a harmonious way that promotes healthy food production and consumption, supporting the right to adequate food.
  • Land and natural resources governance: Recognizing and supporting smallholder food producers as sustainable managers and guardians of natural and genetic resources. To ensure a fair and inclusive food system, farmers and food producers need to have access to natural and genetic resources, including land and water. Agroecology promotes fair and efficient use of surface and groundwater and applies a landscape approach to land governance, for example, discussing land tenure issues at the community level.

As a research area, agroecology focuses on agricultural systems. As a focus area of FAO, I am looking at FAO Strategic Objective One, which states as a matter of principle that the goal is to help eliminate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. FAO is formed on 16 October 1945 days after the conclusion of World War Two. We do not know whether will another full blown world war take place in the 21st century, which is why I will be discoursing from both historical and localised perspectives concurrently.

Historically, World War Two in the 20th century saw rapid modernisation of fascist regimes primarily in Italy, Germany and Japan. The underlying motivation had hunger as one of its causes. While Italy was mostly ideologically driven, Germany was facing crippling population woes due to stringent post World War One treaty clauses. While most cities today such as Singapore in 2016 are more densely populated than Berlin before 1939, the lack of scientific and technological advancements meant that substantial proportion of Germans were living in the suburbs and rural areas partially or entirely as farmers. Like Japan before 1939, the complexity of juggling industrialisation and modernisation in Fascist countries were made more complicated with starving folk populaces and imperfectly controlled state education systems.

War was and probably still may hence deemed as an ultimate necessity by starving regimes in expanding a nation's productivity, at the expense of neighbouring countries. The idea of starving regimes seemed simple, either we consume others, or others might consume us. What was evil about war was essentially what made the most wholesome sense as well, the world needed and needs farmers, the sometimes subtle question is who did and who does the farming.Since timeless beginnings, soldiers are one of the key elements of agroecology. Soldiers eat, like civilians. When soldiers are away from the warfronts, either the state caters in favour of their dietary habits, or they have been learning farming practices before Jesus Christ spoke of God. Civilian farmers complement farming soldiers. The governments and their agencies come into the picture as an authority is needed to determine how farming lands are divided amongst the farming populaces especially in landlocked countries or provinces. While the sun, wind, rain and soil looks after themselves, agriculture and / or agroecology still requires some degree of human or machine intervention. The vegetable seeds as an example, need sowing.

We can own cows or oxen as agriculturists, but most of their hooves cannot sow seeds, much lesser machines that need homo sapiens to fill up the gas tanks.

Even though agricultural plants as simple as peanuts and tapioca can reproduce themselves over a substantial surface area without human intervention, the ecosystem is not complete if there were only plants on this planet without any animals or homo sapiens; the earthworms may not appear significant to the naked eye, but a huge plot of fertile land near the North Pole can be totally useless for agriculture if all the unseen earthworms underground are frozen dead.

With the above described, I hence concur with the 10 key elements identified by FAO, and I further add with regard the following three localised perspectives, as well as FAO's comparative advantage with Singapore as a member nation:

Eliminating Hunger

As a republic, Singapore is one of the smallest countries in the world with a geographical area of only 768km2. A typical collective farmland in major nuclear powers is often bigger than the entire surface area of Singapore combined. We do not have natural access to drinking water and we rely on our reservoir networks and today desalination in eliminating thirst, which precedes hunger for survival of our nation. Where food and water are concerned, we import and depend on our trade partners for subsistence. The overall population of more than five million depends on agricultural produces from neighbours such as Johore for raw food and water supplies.

Ideally, sustainability in Singapore can only be possible with a peaceful, harmonious and cooperative framework and / or mindset. As a Maslow basic need, food and water can only account for a fraction of daily routine i.e. consumption and hydration, but hunger as well as thirst recur particularly along the equator as homo sapiens excrete according to the planet's weather patterns too. From a broader perspective, eliminating hunger as well as thirst can only be assailable in a law abiding framework, which is why Singapore values our cooperation and member status with United Nations programmes and specialised agencies such as FAO. Why?

In the absence of war, our bilateral and multi lateral agreements have room for diplomatic manuveurs. By sustaining a high national income, currency and employability, both our food and water sources can be traded for.

Eliminating hunger takes two hands to clap, the consumer has to be satisfactorily fed and contented, while the producer has to be adequately compensated and subsidised. Eliminating hunger is only wholesomely fulfilled when gets to keep his / her offsprings in order to get his produces delivered to the market. Good, uncorrupted governances are hence more than necessary in securing this.

I cite one obvious case of failure i.e. Somalia. Since the 1990s, the Somalian have been both corrupted and rogue, warlords kill one another due to faction wars. Even when the United Nations peacekeeping missions intervened, food supplies were less than able supporting the famine because the warlords confiscated the grains to feed their own militia. While this is not entirely a goner because the militia are paid food supplies in return of their allegiance to the warlords, this is unskilful because of all the human lives lost violently due to the lack of respect of human lives.

Hunger cannot be eliminated if leaders utterly fail to respect human lives, because they won't respect animal lives too. In Singapore, all forms of agricultural producers are agroecologies in practice because our farms are way too small compared with other big nations.

Food Insecurity

Enter agroecology once more. In a civil economic framework, agroecology can thrive because localised practitioners can complement importers and distributors. Agroecologists in Singapore that receive subsidies or grants from an uncorrupt and stable governance can then aid food insecurity be researching methods of industrialisation as well as go to market practices. In recent years, Singapore has been experimenting with growing vegetables in vertical farms as well as growing local grains in laboratory farms. How we cope with food insecurity is at least two pronged. We sustain our pre existing trade models if importing agricultural produces, water as well as exporting consumer products and petroleum, but we are also researching newer approaches to cater for emergencies. Our limitations and weaknesses turn out to be our strengths when we learn and improvise.

Hence, education and literacy is necessary in ensuring that locals understand our food and water sources. Security is often regarded by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a middle tier comparable with intimacy and love. This is different from eliminating hunger which is a primitive basic need like carnality and sleep. When we can have our water and food and consume them, we then look at economic models of sustainability. Outside of the UN and FAO framework, Singapore perceives ASEAN as a major economic cooperation partner since most Singaporeans are rice consumers. Our rice sources include Thailand, and we thus value regional stability as coup d'etats in Thailand can occasionally threaten the security of our rice imports.

 

Malnutrition

Nutrition or Malnutrition is a complex scientific study. As an old adage goes: one man's meat (hence medicine) is another man's poison. Theoretically, any food commodity that is available in the retail market is usually without a substitute. As an example, vegans do find substitutes for pork, chicken and other meat items in catering towards their nutritional needs. My mother herself used to suffer from thyroid, her condition is perhaps malnutrition but also genetic, i.e. it runs in the family.

Addressing malnutrition hence require a decent healthcare framework. In my mother's case, she does not like fish apparently which offers iodine that addresses thyroid conditions at times. A substitute of fish is seaweed, which is popular in East Asian societies. As most of nutrition information is already beyond my high school biology knowledge, I end here tentatively by proposing that one be mindful or watchful of what one partakes in consumption. Too much of a good thing at times is also ill advised.

Images: 

Quite interesting to read Prachi's latest comments.  All the points seem to match nicely what we do here in Malaysia with our organic waste processing and converting them to sustainable soil amendment and planting media which we use in our farms for growing vegetables and fruits organically.  I must say that through these practices, we have managed to reduce our cost and improve on our quality of produces, giving us better yields and a much happier and better workforce.  With organic farming, farmers are now more comfortable to bring their children to the farm where they can work with peace of mind, knowing that all is well on the home front with the land being safe for their kids to roam around as they work on the land.

Images: 

Thank you, Paul for sharing your experiences with organic farming in Malaysia with us. It is good to hear about the benefits you experienced with this practice. It would be nice to know more about the compost. Can you please elaborate on the practice you are using in Malaysia? Thank you very much!

For our compost, we make use of agricultural wastes readily available nearby.  These are initially broken down via heat treatment and vermicompost methods, following which we then treat it with our liquid soil enhancers to boost the nutrient levels, rebalancing the macro and micro nutirients.  After the variety of treatments, the compost should show an acceptable pH level organically before applying back to the land or used for seeding.

The picture shows the results of seeding using peat moss versus our compost.

Images: 

I am a PhD student at the University of Basel in Switzerland and would like to share with you some insights of our project biofertilization and bioirrigation (BIOFI) within the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology (ISCB). Biofertilizers or microbial inoculants are being tested since the 1980s and several groups have been found to improve plant growth in several ways like solubilizing nutrients (P, K, S) or by fixing nitrogen. In field trials in South India we are testing the application of both arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and P solubilizing bacteria in the mixed cropping system of pigeon pea and finger millet, common in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, India. The biofertilizers that we use originate in South India and are thus are endemic to this region as the introduction of new soil organisms may change the microbial community irreversibly. Although we could not always find an increase in yield due to mixed cropping, the biofertilizers allowed to sustain the yield levels with half of the mineral fertilizers.

Biofertilizers have a large potential to improve nutrient use efficiency, sparing the limited phosphorus ressources and reduce the input of nitrogen. The success of biofertilizer application have been inconsistent but in a meta analysis (not published yet) we were able to show that for example each group of biofertilizers have their optimum level of soil available phosphorus enabling them to improve yields by up to 40%. We also identified climate as an important factor and the application in general was more successful under arid and semiarid climate. Although the application of biofertilizers may seem a highly technical approach as they need to be reared and distributed to the farmers, agriculture is artificial in many ways by having times where the soil is bare or is tilled. These tecniques disturb the soil community and the reintroduction of preselected microorganisms seem to be an important element for future ecointensified agricultural systems. The great problem yet are missing quality controls and regulations of biofertilizer products and sometimes the storage time of such products.

Pages