Why have we rejected the promises of “food security”?

In 2001 the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) defined food security as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. However, this did not take into consideration who should be producing food nor what and how food should be produced.

Besides, agricultural policies across the world have been promoting the industrialisation of agriculture relying on inputs (hybrid and genetically modified seeds, fertilisers, pesticides) controlled by big multinational corporations. Millions of people have lost access to land and water, unable to grow their own food, while having to buy food. As food has been turned into a commodity for profit and food prices continue to rise sharply, millions are going hungry across the world

What are the principles of Food Sovereignty?

1.Focuses on Food for People: Food sovereignty stresses the right to sufficient, healthy and culturally appropriate food for all individuals, people and communities, including those who are hungry or living under occupation, in conflict zones and are marginalized. Food sovereignty rejects the proposition that food is just another commodity for international agribusiness.

2. Values Food Providers: Food sovereignty values and supports the contributions, and respects the rights, of women and men, peasants and small scale family farmers, pastoralists, artisanal fishers, forest dwellers, indigenous peoples and agricultural and fisheries workers, including migrants, who cultivate, grow, harvest and process food.

3. Localizes Food Systems: Food sovereignty brings food providers and consumers together for a common cause; puts providers and consumers at the center of decision making on food issues; protects food providers from the dumping of food and food aid in local markets; protects consumers from poor quality and unhealthy food, inappropriate food aid and food tainted with genetically modified organisms; and resists governance structures, agreements and practices that depend on and promote unsustainable and inequitable international trade and give power to remote and unaccountable corporations.

4. Makes Decisions Locally: Food sovereignty seeks control over and access to territory, land, grazing, water, seeds, livestock and fish populations for local food providers. These resources ought to be used and shared in socially and environmentally sustainable ways which conserve diversity. Food sovereignty recognizes that local territories often cross geopolitical borders and advances the right of local communities to inhabit and use their territories; it promotes positive interaction between food providers in different regions and territories and from different sectors to resolve internal conflicts or conflicts with local and national authorities; and rejects the privatization of natural resources through laws, commercial contracts and intellectual property rights regimes.

5. Builds Knowledge and Skills: Food sovereignty builds on the skills and local knowledge of food providers and their local organizations that conserve, develop and manage localized food production and harvesting systems, developing appropriate research systems to support this and passing on this wisdom to future generations. Food sovereignty rejects technologies that undermine, threaten or contaminate these, e.g. genetic engineering.

6. Works with Nature: Food sovereignty uses the contributions of nature in diverse, low external input agroecological production and harvesting methods that maximize the contribution of ecosystems and improve resilience and adaptation, especially in the face of climate change. Food sovereignty seeks to heal the planet so that the planet may heal us; and, rejects methods that harm beneficial ecosystem functions, that depend on energy intensive monocultures and livestock factories, destructive fishing practices and other industrialized production methods, which damage the environment and contribute to global warming.

Why is agroecology important?

Agroecology is important in that it is sustainable as compared to industrial agriculture. It is relies on natural/organic inputs which do not contaminate the environment, including land and water. It also promotes biodiversity and allows organisms to co-exist in a mutual manner. The minimum tillage promoted in agroecology also allows for both water and soil conservation. This actually cuts on costs of land preparation as only appropriate technology is employed. Moreover agroecology promotes social cohesion as communal labour (Ilima) is the common practice.

How is the food produced through agroecology different from food produced through industrial farming?

There is a vast difference between food produced agro-ecologically and that from industrial farming. The produce from industrial agriculture does not have a long shelf life as compared to that from agroecology. Food that is industrially produced poses great danger of contamination from agro-chemicals that come with the practice. It has also been noted that food grown through agroecology tastes far better than that industrially produced.

Is agroecology only suitable for subsistence farming or can it be scaled up to feed entire populations?

It is a common myth that agroecology is only suitable for subsistence farming. Indeed agroecology can be scaled up to feed the entire populations. There is evidence nationally and across the world of big commercialised farms which practice only agroecology. In fact it is the only way of farming that can sustain the world with healthy food. There are techniques that can be employed when one is farming agro-ecologically on a medium or large scale. For example, live mulches such as ground covers can be used on big land instead of trying to lay grass or leaves as a mulch. There are also some light equipment that have been developed and are well adaptable to large scale agroecology.

Why is agroecology considered a climate change mitigation measure?

Agroecology is indeed a climate change mitigation measure for the following reasons:

  • It promotes afforestation (the planting of trees) instead of deforestation (destruction of trees) which is a common practice in industrial agriculture. Trees are the biggest carbon sinks and hence are valued much in agroecology. Trees are also part of the hydrological/water cycle and play a big role in rainfall received from area to area.
  • Agroecology promotes clean forms of energy instead of fossil fuels that contribute a great deal to climate change and global warming.
  • It also promotes land reclamation, builds soil resistance to erosion agents
  • Heavy agro-chemicals used in industrial agriculture are responsible, among others to accumulation of greenhouse gasses.
Is the government playing a role in supporting small-scale producers farming agro-ecologically?

Unfortunately, very few governments in Africa and the rest of the world are for agroecology. The majority of governments support industrial agriculture through dodgy deals with multinational corporates that manufacture agro-chemicals, genetically modified (GM) seeds and are responsible for massive land grabbing, which leaves the rural poor landless.

Are there guidelines that can help our agro-ecological practice?

Agroecology relies on traditional knowledge: The bases of agro-ecology are the practices and the knowledge of smallholder farmers and peasants, accumulated and adapted from generation to generation for many years.

Agroecology also uses new knowledge: Smallholder farmers have always improved their farming by adapting to their environments. However, smallholder farmers also face many problems, including the current challenges posed by climate change. Thus, new research and knowledge can help to improve their farming, as well as their socio-economic conditions and living standards.

Agroecology uses a range of practices: For example, agro-ecology promotes mulching; multi- cropping; intercropping; crop rotation; cover crops and green manures; using traditional seeds; minimum tillage; agro-forestry; integrated crop-livestock mixtures; etc. We will look at these issues in some detail in this manual.

Agroecology is site-specific: This means that we cannot just transfer technologies from one site to another because the local conditions may be different. Therefore, it is important for us to understand the PRINCIPLES (rather than just the technologies) associated with agro-ecology.

Farmers exchange and improve their knowledge of agro-ecology: Farmers can learn from each other by sharing experiences through farmer-to-farmer exchanges. They can then experiment, applying on their own farms practices and techniques developed by other farmers. In addition, farmers can get assistance from researchers and agro-ecologists.

Farmers must advocate for a new research agenda: The dominant agricultural research is oriented to the production of commodities and favour large-scale investments. Agro-ecology insists that the new research agenda must be oriented towards understanding the needs and ecological contexts of smallholder farmers. They need the support of agriculturalists and scientists involved in research in agro-systems to help them cope with new conditions such as climate change and to ensure they are kept abreast of new ideas and techniques that can improve the practice of agro- ecology.