Revisiting What IS Agroecology
Last post we focused on introducing agroecology through its key areas (production, environment, and society) and its foundational principles (systems, production, biodiversity, and resilience). The agroecology framework motivates sustainable crop production and natural resource management within resilient and biodiverse food systems. Our framework is intentionally broad to encompass the many facets of sustainability in philosophy and practice. Our approach considers agroecology as a process towards sustainability that clearly articulates a context or baseline to progress towards that lofty goal. The broadest context can be the goals of sustainability, while a more specific context and baseline can be the local environment conditions, the ecological interactions or dynamics of a defined agroecosystem, and the economic and political capital impacting the farming community.
Agroecology is NOT…
- resource-extracting mechanization of cropping systems.
- exclusively input and technology substitution.
- exclusively business-first development.
- unrestrained globalization of food systems.
What is NOT Agroecology
Agroecology is such a broad and nuanced discipline that it is sometimes difficult to define what is ‘not’ agroecology. Not agroecology is a question, technology, or practice that is made without reference to the necessary context required to make progress towards sustainability. Sustainability is achieved in a system framework by reducing dependence on external resources and social capacity through facilitating system resilience and regeneration. In this post we present some specific examples to consider the contrast between what is and is not agroecology.
How do we produce enough food? That’s a question asked often by farmers and production agriculture advocates. This question is often framed as a need for more food and described as a fundamental challenge for modern agriculture: there are more people in the world, so there must be more food to feed them. This remains an overly simple question and often misguided argument that ignores important environmental and social context. The agroecology framework can help provide some context. How do we produce more with less? How do we produce more nutritious food? How do we produce more available food? Answering these questions requires an understanding of the food system and demonstrates an intent to progress towards sustainability. The conversation about enough food is certainly developing with an emphasis on environmental consciousness in agriculture development and the social structures related to food distribution and waste.
The solution to feed the world is not just technology improvements, but appropriate technology adoption and implementation that respects the context of its application. One technology that seems obviously not agroecology is genetic engineering. But, can GMOs offer opportunities to move agriculture towards sustainability? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports that GMOs have the potential to limit chemical applications and GMO foods are safe to eat. But, the way in which the technology has been deployed, without a broader environmental or social context, results in undesired consequences such as development of herbicide resistance in pests and uncertain property rights for farmers. Up until Hurricane Irma, TREC had a successful planting of GMO papaya, a specialty crop that offers a unique setting for the discussion of genetic engineering. Although technology itself is not agroecology, the necessary context for appropriate adoption will certainly include the agroecology framework.
Think about your system and determine the kind of information you would require to establish the context defined by the agroecology framework.
How could you make your agroecosystem or food system more sustainable with new technologies or designs?