Agroecology for people and planet

Image © Agroecology Fund

By |2022-02-04T11:56:14+00:00February 26th, 2019|Advocacy, Agriculture, Agroecology, Alternative Livelihoods, Biocultural Diversity, Biodiversity, Community|Comments Off on Agroecology for people and planet

An Interview with Daniel Moss, Executive Director of the Agroecology Fund (AEF).

The Agroecology Fund  began life as a collaboration between four funders, three from the US and one from Europe, who all shared the same objective of supporting agroecology. Alongside the work they were already doing within their Foundations, these funders decided that they could do better in terms of reaching deeper into the agroecology movement and sharing what they learnt if they pooled their resources. Now, four years later, there are 24 funders involved, including Synchronicity Earth.

We spoke to Daniel about his work with the Agroecology Fund, what the agroecology movement is and what it can achieve, and some of the challenges involved in making the world’s food system work for people and planet.

What is agroecology?

DM: Well, to tease the word apart, agro– relates to agricultural, cultivated landscapes, and ecology refers to the existing ecosystem, so essentially it means drawing the ‘assets’ of the surrounding ecosystems into your agricultural use. (see What is Agroecology?)

We’ve come to the point in human history where the idea of agriculture is basically to raze clear cultivated land, destroying all the soil nutrients, getting rid of what we call weeds and adding chemical inputs. In contrast, the idea of agroecology is to use local assets: key resources are soil, water, plants and biodiversity. Agroecological approaches aim to safeguard those resources and understand the complementarities between them.

The goal of agroecology is still food and fibre production, but, while for industrial farming growing food is a means to extract resources from the ground, with agroecology, the idea is that you want a flourishing ecosystem, which produces yields for consumption, but is regenerative, so the resource is sustained. In that sense, it’s the opposite of extractive industries such as mining – you’re always putting something back.

Farmer participating in the AgroEcology Fund’s 2016 Learning Exchange, Uganda. Image © Rucha Chitnis

So, is agroecology just about going back to doing things in ways that they’ve always been done, not necessarily about innovations or new ways of doing things?

DM: It is true that in the agroecology movement there is great emphasis on validating farmer knowledge – they know their crops, they know their local environments – and on supporting farmer to farmer exchange. But one of the challenges that agroecology faces is that it is often seen as a throwback or as being somehow anti-progress. In fact, while agroecology values the knowledge and experience of smallholder farmers, at the same time there’s a lot of new knowledge about the nutritional values of certain strains of rice and millet, for example, or the interaction between certain strains of plants that can provide more nutrients, and so on. We bring university researchers into these collaborations.

Agroecology works best when there is a marriage of ‘hard science’ with more ‘traditional’ types of knowledge. Farmers have often been marginalised and discredited for their knowledge, so the idea is to really uplift and to validate the farmer as a researcher, because they’re the ones that are doing the in-situ experimentation.

This is very different to the approach traditionally taken by many agriculture ministries. Agronomists were trained to disseminate knowledge that farmers required, but they were unfortunately generally captured by what’s called the ‘green revolution’, the transformation in agriculture into a high input, chemical industry. Following that approach, agronomists would come in from outside with ‘solutions’, whereas the idea with agroecology is that there are local solutions derived from farmers’ experience.

West African farmers working with Groundswell International © Groundswell International

What is the goal of the Agroecology Fund?

DM: The goal of the AEF is to amplify agroecological solutions, but that’s a bit of a mout