What is Agroecology? 

19 April 2024 - // Beyond
Josep Crous Duran
Scientific Advisor at REVOLVE

The synergies between farming, nature and biodiversity lie at the heart of agroecology.

Agroecology is an interdisciplinary approach to agriculture that aims to integrate ecological principles into farming practices to create more sustainable and resilient food systems able to tackle climate change derived problems. These derived problems can be different depending on the region of the world but often can derive in alteration of the precipitation regime leading often to an increase in drought periods, raising temperatures extremes, soil desertification problems and wildfires appearance. Unlike conventional agriculture (which often relies heavily on synthetic inputs like pesticides and fertilizers) agroecology seeks to work with nature rather than against it, harnessing ecological processes to support agricultural production. 

At the origin of agroecology is the recognition that agriculture is deeply interconnected with the environment. By understanding and consider agriculture as a natural ecosystem, agroecologists aim to maximize the benefits of ecological processes while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. This involves 3 main points focusing in: promoting biodiversity, enhancing soil health and conserving water resources.  

One of the key principles of agroecology is biodiversity. In natural ecosystems, diversity is essential for resilience and stability, and the same happens in agroecological systems. Agroecologists defend diversified farming practices such as mixed farming, crop rotation, polyculture (growing multiple crops together), and agroforestry (integrating trees with crops and/or animals into the same agricultural systems). These practices not only help to reduce the spread of pests and diseases but also improve pollination, soil fertility, enhance water retention, and provide habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife. 

What is agroecology. Illustration: Dariana Guevara / REVOLVE

Another important aspect of agroecology is ensuring soil health. Healthy soils are the foundation of sustainable agriculture, providing essential nutrients to crops and supporting diverse soil life. Agroecological practices such as cover cropping, composting, and minimal tillage help to build soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and increase nutrient cycling. Healthy soils are more resilient to extreme weather events and more resisntant to survive in droughts and floods therefore making them more resilient in front a climate change. 

Water management is also a key consideration in agroecology. By capturing and conserving water on the land through practices such as rainwater harvesting, mulching (soil covering with bark, leaves, straw or any other organic material), and agroforestry (with trees helping create better microclimatic conditions), land managers can reduce the risk of soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance water availability for crops and livestock. Efficient water management is particularly important in regions with tendencies to droughts or water scarcity periods, and where these agroecological practices can help to increase agricultural resilience and reduce reliance on irrigation. 

Not only the natural aspect is considered and in addition to environmental benefits, but agroecology also prioritizes social and economic equity. By promoting localized food systems, supporting small-scale farmers, and fostering community-based decision-making, agroecology seeks to create fairer and more equitable food systems. This includes initiatives such as community-supported agriculture (CSA), farmers’ markets, and participatory research and extension programs that empower farmers to share knowledge and expertise. 

In this sense, agroecology offers a more holistic and sustainable approach to agriculture that addresses the complex challenges facing food production today. By harnessing the power of ecological principles, agroecology holds the promise of feeding a world’s growing population while creating a more resilient food production system and protecting the planet for future generations.  

The 10 principles followed by agroecology that serve as guiding pillars for the development of more sustainable farming systems: 

  1. Human and Societal Values: Agroecology prioritizes human well-being and societal values, aiming to create farming systems that are socially just and equitable. By placing importance on fair wages, safe working conditions, and community empowerment, agroecology fosters stronger connections between farmers and their communities. 
  1. Circular and Solidarity Economy: Agroecology promotes circular and solidarity economies within farming systems. By emphasizing resource reuse, local production, and fair-trade practices, agroecology contributes to the development of sustainable economic models that can benefit both producers and consumers. 
  1. Responsible Governance: Agroecology advocates for responsible governance of agricultural resources and practices. By engaging stakeholders in decision-making processes and promoting transparent and accountable governance structures, agroecology ensures that agricultural systems are managed in a sustainable and socially responsible manner. 
  1. Resilience: Agroecological systems are designed to be resilient to environmental and socio-economic challenges. By enhancing biodiversity and soil health, promoting adaptive management strategies, and fostering community cohesion, agroecology strengthens the resilience of farming systems to climate change, pests, and market fluctuations. 
  1. Recycling: Agroecology promotes the recycling of nutrients and organic matter within farming systems. Through practices such as composting, cover cropping, and crop rotation, agroecology enhances soil fertility, reduces waste, and minimizes the need for external inputs. 
  1. Efficiency: Agroecology prioritizes the efficient use of resources such as water, energy, and other inputs. By optimizing resource use efficiency and minimizing waste, agroecology improves the economic viability and environmental sustainability of farming systems. 
  1. Co-creation and Knowledge Sharing: Agroecology encourages co-creation and knowledge sharing among farmers, researchers, and other stakeholders. By fostering collaboration and exchanging information and expertise, agroecology facilitates the development of context-specific and innovative farming solutions 
  1. Diversity: Agroecology recognizes the importance of diversity in agricultural systems. By promoting diverse crops, livestock, and landscapes, agroecology enhances ecosystem resilience, pest and disease management, and nutritional diversity. 
  1. Culture and Traditions: Agroecology values and respects cultural traditions and indigenous knowledge systems. By integrating traditional farming practices and local knowledge with modern agricultural techniques, agroecology preserves cultural heritage and promotes cultural identity. 
  1. Synergies: Agroecology seeks to optimize ecological interactions and synergies within farming systems. By integrating different components such as crops, livestock, and agroforestry, agroecology enhances ecosystem services, reduces external inputs, and improves overall system productivity. 

Josep Crous Duran
Scientific Advisor at REVOLVE

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