All over the world, there are millions of farmers, peasants, artisanal fishers, and other people mobilising and organising around agroecology as a way of opposing agri-business control and takeover of our food system. Who produces food, how food is produced, processed and distributed and sold/ acquired are key political questions and sites of struggle in the 21st Century. Agroecology seeks to help peasants, farmers and small producers to move “beyond the domains and limits imposed by capital”.
FARMING AND AGRICULTURE AS A SIGHT OF STRUGGLE FOR SOCIO-ECONOMIC JUSTICE
Agriculture is one of the key areas where capitalism is trying to maximise profits. As a result, our food systems worldwide are being increasingly industrialised and controlled by agri-business multinational corporations (MNCs), turning food into a market commodity that millions cannot afford. This violates people’s inherent right to food and right to life, creating greater poverty and household food insecurity and unprecedented levels of hunger worldwide,
Industrial agriculture is also poisoning our bodies, our environments and attempting to make smallholder farmers consumers of and dependent on inputs (e.g. seeds, fertilisers, pesticides) supplied by agri-business often with the support of subsidies from our governments. The use of these inputs (which rely on fossil fuels) and large-scale destruction of forests across the world is also one of the main contributors to climate change.
Agriculture in developing countries in the global South (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America) is specifically targeted. Besides targeting national agriculture production, MNCs and some funders also target smallholder farmers and put them under pressure to “modernise”. They promote local projects based on the Green Revolution, dependent on the purchase of ‘improved seeds’, GMOs, and industrial fertilisers and pesticides. These destroy biodiversity and poison our soils. Once farmers start using these inputs it is very difficult to reverse these processes and stop dependency. These MNCs projects also promote mono-cropping, adoption of new technologies, contract farming, food and other crops for exports and even of food and other crops for agro-fuels. Some programmes also promote ‘organic mono-crop farming’ and ‘climate smart agriculture’. Not only do such programmes destroy traditional farming by promoting the use of expensive ‘organic inputs’, often produced by the same agri-MNCs that produce the agro-chemicals we reject, but they also destroy biodiversity and often produce for export.
All this is creating havoc in rural areas. Women are often the most badly affected as they are, traditionally, responsible for the production of food and for providing care in their households.
AGROECOLOGY AND TRADITIONAL FARMING
Agroecology seeks to counteract the many damages being done by industrial agriculture. Agroecology promotes sustainable farming practices, the production of food that promote health and varied diets that are in tune with our different cultures and seeks to ensure greater social and environmental justice in the world.
Agroecology encourages the use of traditional farming practices/ methods developed by our ancestors and that have sustained humanity for thousands of years. These practices vary widely across the world but they all try to work in harmony with nature and the surrounding environments, based on traditional scientific knowledge. We can say that all these methods are agroecological. This is our collective heritage developed and accumulated through a dialogue between different farmers.
Besides traditional farming methods, agroecology also incorporates new contemporary scientific knowledge and innovations, as long as they serve the interests and needs of smallholder food producers and the impoverished in general.
AGROECOLOGICAL GENERAL FARMING PRINCIPLES
Agroecological general farming principles include: the recycling of biomass; the preservation of healthy soils; recovering, propagating traditional seeds; biodiversity; integrated crop and livestock farming; increasing consumption of locally produced food; minimising water losses – all practices that can contribute towards reducing global warming and promote food sovereignty.
No ‘fixed recipes’: Agroecology does not prescribe ‘fixed recipes’– it is site specific. Therefore, farmer-to-farmer exchanges are key to agroecology, so that farmers can learn from each other and experiment with “best” practices.
Some political principle/ values in agroecology
While acknowledging the value of different traditional farming practices, which are often designated by different names (organic farming, natural farming, sustainable agriculture, etc), there are some political principles and values that we can say guide and distinguish agroecology: the call for land and agrarian reform; no to the private ownership of our natural resources but rather collective control of our commons (land, water, springs, lakes and seas, fisheries, forests and minerals); the right of farmers to save/ use/ multiply/ exchange/ sell their own seeds; no exploitation of labour; seeking ways to improve the livelihoods and standards of living of smallholder producers and ensure that they remain autonomous producers. Agroecology also promotes these principles regarding urban farming.
Historical relevance of agroecology for us, in the SADC region and Africa: Historically, under colonialism, many African farmers and people throughout the continent were dispossessed of their land and forced to grow cash crops rather than food. Besides impoverishing millions of people, this dispossession undermined and, in some places, even destroyed traditional African farming. In South Africa in specific, the legacy of colonial and apartheid land dispossession remain with us. In other SADC countries, where some land degree of land restitution was gained after independence, these gains are being lost as land and water grabs have been increasing for the last 30-40 years.
FEMINIST PRACTICES AND AGROECOLOGY
As a movement that promotes the self-organisation of women and fights to change the world and the lives of women, feminist practices in agroecology also include struggles against key manifestations of capitalism: patriarchy, racism, violence, oppression and exploitation of both peoples’ labour and nature as a whole. Feminists insist that while we need and rely on natural resources for our survival and livelihoods we must acknowledge and respect their limits and preserve nature.
Feminists question and reject the capitalist conception of the economy that only sees value in activities carried out in the capitalist market – ie. based on wage labour and buying and selling goods and services for profit but does not recognise the value of “invisible” work that is mostly carried out by women. For example, the work done by rural women on a daily basis – producing and preparing food for the household, nurturing and taking care of the family to ensure the next generation of farmers and workers – is never recognised.
While feminists assert the need for monetary income, feminist agroecologists seek different ways of organising the economy: to achieve a balance between self-consumption and sales and encouraging short circuits (whereby producers are as close as possible to consumers); a solidarity economy that incorporates and values reciprocity, self-management and overcomes the sexual division of labour. However, for women to enter new economic spaces they must have the right and access public services such as transport, health and education.