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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

Intercropping refers to growing two or more crop species on the same pieces of land at the same time, which is one of the traditional farming systems practiced by farmers for more than 2000 years in China. To date, intercropping has been distributed not only in China, but also in other part of the world. Previous studies have shown that reasonable intercropping can use light, heat, water, fertilizer and other natural resources efficiently, enhance crop productivity, strengthen ecosystem services and functions in the agroecosystem by increasing crop diversity at field scale.

We conducted a four years field study and showed that maize (Zea mays L.) overyielded by 43% and faba bean (Vicia faba L.) overyielded by 26% when intercropped compared with respective monocultures in the low-phosphorus but high-nitrogen relatively fertile soil in Northwest part of China. Legume/cereal intercropping can improve the protein content of forage by mixing higher protein concentration of legumes into lower protein concentration of cereals. Intercropping can also control crop weeds and pests by increasing genetic and species diversity in agroecosystems, which help to reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides and alleviate environmental pollution.

Wheat/maize strip intercropping is also long-established major grain production systems in the northwestern part of China, especially in areas with irrigation, but with only one cropping season annually due to temperature limitation. The grain production in the intercropping can reach up to 15 tons per hectare and harvest two times in one year in the area, which benefits to farmers with very low land per capita.

There are above- and below-ground interspecific interactions between intercropped species. The above-ground interactions increase light interception complementarity across temporal and spatial scales. Below-ground interspecific interactions mainly include that the root distribution of intercropped crops in temporal and spatial differentiation to reduce the interspecific competition, that some species can enhance one or more limited nutrient (phosphorus, iron, manganese, or zinc etc.) availability in soil, and thereby improve the nutrition of associated species that has less ability to mobilize these sparingly soluble nutrients. Symbiotic N2 fixation of legumes intercropped with cereals is usually enhanced either by soil N competition or by stimulating effect of root exudates by associated cereals.

For small farming, with the help of intercropping, legumes may be involved in agricultural production systems to larger extend to develop ecological agriculture targeted at symbiotic N2 fixation in the area with limited arable land per capita. On the other hand, intercropping can be used for improving the utilization of phosphate fertilizer and micro element enrichment of crop seeds, which may benefit to micro-element of human body.

However, development of intercropping, two key issues must be solved for intercropping-based ecological agriculture in large scale of farms. One will be suitable machines for sowing, fertilization, and harvest etc. because mechanization is bottleneck for intercropping development. The other is suitable crop varieties for intercropping, which need to consider crop traits for intercropping, such as plant height, growth stage, leaf architecture and roots.

In summary, intercropping can be one of ways for developing ecologically sustainable agriculture, with reduction of chemicals applied, if some key issues will be solved.

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Dear all

I am a researcher with the Third World Network, an international NGO based in Malaysia. I would like to share with you one of our publications on agroecology : Agroecology: Key Concepts, Principles and Practices. It is available at http://www.twn.my/title2/books/Agroecology.htm

This booklet distills the main learning points from two training courses on agroecology organized by the Third World Network in Indonesia in 2013 and in Zambia in 2015. It is intended to serve as a resource document outlining the fundamentals of agroecology and how it can inform the design and management of truly sustainable agricultural systems.

I hope it is useful as a general resource. Some farming practices are described, but I hope to post more specific case studies in the next rounds of discussion. 

Kind regards,Lim Li Ching

Dear all,

On behalf of TECA and the agroecology team we would like thank you all for your enriching comments, sharing your experiences and agroecological practices with us.

It has been a pleasure to see how and where agricultural practices are already put in place.

No matter if waste processing, biofertilization, integrated crop management, or mixed or intercropping farming systems: All are concrete examples of how agroecology can contribute to more sustainable farming. They furthermore highlight the importance of manure and compost for sustainable agriculture in general and for soil health in particular.

In this context we would like to invite you all to our next discussion on “Agroecology and Soil Health” starting in one week on 20 Feb 2017.

http://teca.fao.org/discussion/agroecology-and-soil-health

I hope you enjoyed the discussion and got some new insights in agroecological practices!

More information and knowledge on agroecology can be found on: http://www.fao.org/agroecology/database/   

Best wishes,

Hanna and Prachi

TECA team 

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