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Agroecology works, writes Gauthier, but in order for its promise to thrive, it will need supportive policies. (Photo: David Costa)

Agroecology: Radically Changing How We Face Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Food insecurity is largely driven by a food system that is highly controlled by agribusiness. But there's a better way.

Josianne Gauthier

What we need is a profound and radical transformation, or dare we say, conversion of the world food system. Around the world, people are migrating within and across borders, and for many of them, hunger and food insecurity are driving them. We know that climate change, conflict, and political instability are adversely affecting food security, but if communities are still facing hunger today it is because of the flawed and damaging way in which we produce and distribute food around the world. Indeed, at the heart of the problem, and perhaps the solution, is our very relationship to food and the land it grows on.

Food insecurity is largely driven by a food system that is highly controlled by agribusiness, believed to be the only model capable of producing large volumes of food – and waste. But more food is not the same as less hunger! The figures are clear: in 2016 the number of undernourished people in the world came to an estimated 815 million—from 777 million people in 2015. In addition, 75% of the world’s poor rely on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods yet, despite this, they are also the most food insecure, leading many to migrate to urban areas or other countries in search for better living conditions with great uncertainty for their own and their children’s futures. Hunger is not diminishing, it is increasing. We must be tackling its root causes, not increasing production.

"In different contexts around the world, agroecology has demonstrated the potential to increase productivity, yields and biodiversity; revitalize damaged soils, improve health and nutrition, enhance resilience and cohesion in communities while addressing climate change."

The question is, how do we move from this worrying prospect? We must make a radical change. The most difficult change is perhaps viewing the wealth and resources of this planet, not as commodities at our disposal, but as other living organisms with which we must interact and share the earth, our common home. As Pope Francis’ Laudato Si Encyclical reminds, “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.”

Why agroecology? We need a system and policies that enable people and small-scale farmers to access land, seeds and resources. We need to create the conditions that can allow rural communities to work, flourish and live. Agroecology offers us access to a truly sustainable food system and radically transforms how we understand and practice food production and consumption.

Agroecology works. In different contexts around the world, agroecology has demonstrated the potential to increase productivity, yields and biodiversity; revitalize damaged soils, improve health and nutrition, enhance resilience and cohesion in communities while addressing climate change. It not only revitalizes ecosystems, but also communities, as it empowers farmers and peasants, especially women. It also brings consumers closer to farmers and the food they eat, challenging current practices, by reconnecting us to local and seasonal produce and restoring our relationship to nature. These are essential ingredients for vibrant, sustainable, and just communities, where every person and every ecosystem counts and flourishes.  

But in order for agroecology to thrive, it will need supportive policies. Nevertheless, while leaders have signed and committed to the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 to tackle our most pressing challenges, we see an ever increasing concentration in the agribusiness sector, as two recent mergers—Syngenta-ChemChina and Dow Chemical-DuPont—show, limiting access, reducing small-scale farmer’s autonomy, weakening the social fabric of their communities, affecting our health and the planet.

Unfortunately, instead of supporting innovative practices such as Agroecology, false solutions such as ‘Climate-smart agriculture’ and other high-tech based solutions, continue to be favored by policy makers and big business. Behind such initiatives, what keeps being promoted is a food system dominated by large-scale industrial agriculture and monocultures that rely heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, making the agricultural sector a high GHG emitter. We already experience biodiversity loss, soil erosion and devastating yield losses in case of extreme weather across the world – it’s therefore a dangerous mix in the face of climate driven impacts.  

This is why we share these stories, as widely as possible, building on theexperiences and on the work that has been carried out by social movements, farmer and peasant organizations, civil society and academics across the world to develop the concept of agroecology. At CIDSE, we have engaged in the process of both clarifying what agroecology means, in order to avoid cooptation and misuse of the term by proposers of the  status-quo, and to join like-minded organizations and movements in the fight against false solutions, while putting into practice true alternatives.

This year’s World Food Day focuses on the interlinkages between food (in)security and migration but unless we name and address the true root causes of injustice, food insecurity and the climate crises, and hold up solutions that take into account the well-being of people, the respect for their human dignity and the protection of our ecosystems, we cannot make the type of deep transformation that is needed.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Josianne Gauthier

Josianne Gauthier is CIDSE Secretary General since September 2017. Before this, she was the Director of the In-Canada Programs at Development and Peace – Caritas Canada heading the awareness-raising, fundraising, public education, and advocacy campaign work carried out by the organization in Canada for the past four years.

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