Agroecology, according to one of the world’s leading researchers and practitioners in the field, Professor Miguel Altieri, is ‘the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems’. It is a method of agricultural practice that eschews the uncritical embrace of corporate-led ‘high’ technology and large-scale mechanisation, in favour of a reliance on building and sustaining local human capacity and peer-based exchanges of knowledge.
According to Altieri in his seminal work, Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture, agroecology is aimed at developing ‘agricultural systems in which ecological interactions and synergisms between biological components provide the mechanisms for a system to sponsor its own soil fertility, productivity and crop protection’.In other words, farming systems operated according to agroecological principles increasingly become self-sustaining, thereby reducing farmers’ dependence on synthetic inputs, whilst diversifying their production and raising yields. These practices represent what Jules Pretty terms ‘sustainable intensification’; that is, ‘making better use of existing resources and technologies’ in order to increase agricultural production.
It is this capacity to combine high levels of production, whilst progressively reducing the ecologically destructive impacts of agriculture that gives agro-ecology its potentially ‘revolutionary’ character. In contrast to the privatization and commodification of knowledge associated with large-scale industrialised capitalist agriculture, the techniques associated with agroecology are an expression of what Ernst Friedrich Schumacher calls ‘intermediate’ or ‘appropriate, people-centred’, and locally-controlled, technology.As a labour and knowledge-intensive, rather than capital intensive, mode of production, agroecology encourages the development of ‘autochthonous technologies’ based on ‘diversity, synergy, recycling and integration’, as well as locally-available energy resources.
Agroecology is one of the foundational pillars of food sovereignty.
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