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The Principles of Agroecology

In this article, we’ll explain what agroecology is, the 13 principles of agroecology, how it impacts economic viability, the downsides to agroecology, and if agroecology is beneficial in the fight against climate change.
Green News
2023-12-21T00:00:00.000Z
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When we think of sustainable ways to improve our quality of life in the midst of climate change or to benefit the planet itself, we tend to think about the impact we create with material items such as clothing or technology – making our food consumption and agroecology lower on the list.

Agroecology is an approach to farming that aims to include both environmental and social aspects into the process of food production – with a goal to build greater resilience, efficiency and overall sustainability. 

In this article, we’ll explain what agroecology is, the 13 principles of agroecology, how it impacts economic viability, the downsides to agroecology, and if agroecology is beneficial in the fight against climate change.

What is agroecology?

Agroecology is a scientific method of farming which aims to incorporate ecological, social and economic factors into the production of food and how it is consumed. 

Some of the main goals of agroecology are to build greater resilience, encourage diversity, and improve the sustainability practices being employed in current agroecosystems. This is ultimately beneficial for both the consumer as well as farmers, seeing as more sustainable food production and consumption is healthier for people and can also help to boost farmer’s productivity and sales.
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💡Did you know? Agroecology was first introduced prior to World War II in 1928 when the term was first published by Basil Bensin, and was then used by zoologists in the 1930s. Since then, agroecology has continued to grow and evolve. 

In order to be as effective as possible, agroecology makes use of science and various ecological theories to propose, develop, and test various methods that may be used in agricultural systems. This type of extensive research often requires studying biology, socioeconomic factors, as well as the available and most relevant technologies that can be used in the proposed plan.

Some of the main values of agroecology include:

  • Promoting diversity to facilitate food security and preservation;
  • Collaborating in order to solve agricultural dilemmas with more ease as a result of combining resources and ideas; 
  • Improving the efficiency of agricultural systems and farming practices to evade using external resources;
  • Encouraging better recycling practices to mitigate the man-made concept of waste;
  • Building greater resilience amongst ecosystems and communities, as more diverse agricultural systems can help regions recover faster after a natural disaster.

👉 Ultimately, agroecology can serve as a way for farmers to develop a more productive and fair-minded food system – seeing as it will rely on a more holistic approach as opposed to using  chemicals or unnatural substances to encourage food production.

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What are the 13 principles of agroecology?

There are 13 main principles of agroecology: including participation, land and resources governance, connectivity, social values, economic diversification, and biodiversity.

In addition to serving as an outline to improve agricultural practices, agroecology is also viewed as a social movement – with these thirteen principles serving as a guideline for others to follow or be inspired by.

Here are the 13 main principles of agroecology broken down:

  1. Participation – Aimed at encouraging others to get involved, this principle of agroecology supports food producers to give their input on how agricultural and food systems are currently managed.
  2. Land & Resources Governance – This principle of agroecology is focused on protecting family farmers and sustainable managers who seek to preserve natural resources found in specific regions.
  3. Connectivity – As an effort to facilitate the relationship and trust between producers and consumers, this framework of agroecology works to rectify distribution networks by re-instilling food systems back into their respective, local economies. 
  4. Co-Creation of Knowledge – Two heads is always better than one. This principle of agroecology encourages participants to share their knowledge regarding farming tactics or scientific discoveries for the collective benefit.
  5. Social Values & Diets – Intrinsic motivation is essential to achieving any goal with success in the long-run. Therefore, it’s important to create food systems that work simultaneously with the region's traditions and societal norms while still preparing a wide-variety of  healthy and culturally conducive foods. 
  6. Fairness – Sustainability is often aligned with justice one way or another.  This principle of agroecology aims to support anyone who contributes to modifying the current food system under agroecology.  
  7. Economic Diversification – It’s important for all actors in agroecology to be rewarded for their efforts. This principle allows small farmers to gain financial independence in order to implement the other principles of agroecology more efficiently and effectively.
  8. Biodiversity – Seeking to maintain a wide variety of species, both plants and animals, can help to improve sustainable food production.
  9. Animal Health – All animals should be safeguarded throughout the process of implementing other principles of agroecology. 
  10. Soil Health – Healthy soil is vital for optimised food production and plant growth, meaning without prioritizing this principle of agroecology – the rest would be more difficult to achieve. 
  11. Synergies – In order for agroecology to prove worthwhile, it is imperative to create an atmosphere where all plants, animals, trees, water, and soil are working in conjunction with one another.
  12. Recycling – Under agroecological practices, it’s always best to use renewable resources to prevent excessive waste production.
  13. Input Reduction – Farmers or other actors in rectifying food production systems should make an effort to reduce their dependence on inputs, such as materials purchased from suppliers or hiring additional workers for labor. 

In addition to the 13 principles of agroecology, this scientific approach to food development also operates on these main elements:

  • Human & Social Value
  • Responsible Governance
  • Culture & Food Traditions 
  • Circular Economy
  • Diversity
  • Resilience
  • Regulation 
  • Efficiency

👉 Agroecology was developed as an effort to instill a more well-rounded approach to food production – one that doesn’t prioritise profit or productivity over the health and well-being over society or the environment, but does not forsake economic viability either. 

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How does agroecology impact the economic viability of farms?

Agroecology affects the economic viability of farms seeing as it seeks to reduce the dependency on external inputs, which in turn should make food producers more financially independent and more lucrative in the long-run.

Food production systems and farmers that make an effort to reduce their use of pesticides and fertilisers must undergo a transitional period, but over the long-term – more natural and diverse farming practices can help maintain productive farming practices and allow for more fruitful harvests.
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Some practices that farmers could implement to ensure agroecology benefits them financially include implementing diversity, mitigating the use of chemical fertilisers which harm soil and contribute to air pollution, improving overall pest control, or implementing any of the other 13 main principles of agroecology. 

👉 Overall, agroecology can help reduce operational expenses and allow farmers or food producers to reap the benefits of a more stable income – something becoming more important in the midst of climate change, as extreme temperatures and natural disasters continue to have an effect on agriculture.

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Why are the downsides to agroecology? 

Although agroecology could pave the way for future, more sustainable food production practices, many critique agroecology due to some of its downsides – which include how new the field of study is and an overall lack of consistency.

Agroecology, while it has a set of 13 main principles and other main elements which adhere to many other sustainable practices such as ESG – remains too novel for some people to get behind its ideologies and implementation, seeing as it has yet to be fully fleshed out.

In addition to this, one of the main problems many have with agroecology is that it doesn’t follow a set rulebook. In other words, some claim that a major flaw of the principles of agroecology is that the 13 main principles are more of a loose guideline as opposed to a meticulous, full-proof plan to rectify food production systems. 

For example, agroecology isn’t standardised or scalable – meaning that it can be hard to replicate success in farms across the world using the 13 main principles, seeing as each food farm is subject to various weather conditions, resources, and are different sizes. 

👉 In the end, while agroecology could prove successful for many food producers and farmers – it may not be conducive to be used as a baseline methodology seeing as the study and practice is still too new to take variables into consideration.

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Can agroecology help fight climate change?

Agroecology, despite its criticism, could still prove effective in the midst of climate change – seeing as when its principles are put into practice, it could result in a more profitable and consistent food supply, reduce air pollution, and ultimately help to mitigate global food waste seeing as agroecology could help maximise food production.

Here are a few more reasons why agroecology could help fight climate change:

  • Improved Air Quality – Seeing as agroecology promotes mitigating the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers, which often contribute to air pollution – agroecology can indirectly help to improve air quality.
  • Carbon Sequestration – Many practices in agroecology could help to sequester carbon into nearby soil. This ultimately allows for healthier soil which can absorb more carbon, and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. 
  • Reducing Emissions – One of the benefits of agroecological practices is that it reduces many traditional, energy intensive practices of farming – seeing as the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are avoiding, both of which contribute to more intensive energy processes and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Crop Rotation – Crop rotation allows for greater diversification, an essential component of agroecology. This can help to improve soil health, avoid pests, and help build more resilient agricultural systems that can withstand the negative impacts of natural disasters. 
  • Conserve Water – Agroecological approaches often utilise conservation techniques such as reducing water usage through the use of collecting rainwater, improved drip irrigation, and choosing water efficient crops. This can prove especially beneficial for countries suffering from drier climates in the midst of global warming.
  • Prevent Deforestation – Oftentimes, agroecology encourages the implementation of trees and woody shrubs in order to help with carbon sequestration and evade the existing pressure to tear down forests for agricultural purposes. Therefore, agroecology can help to prevent deforestation and the need for reforestation later on. 

Overall, while agroecology still has a long way to go before it is considered a reputable approach to rectifying our current food production systems – it still holds the potential to inspire farmers and food producers around the world to modify their current practices in favor of more sustainable ones.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about agroecology has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Seeking to understand how agroecology could have an impact on your business can prove difficult to understand, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help! Click here to book a demo and get personalised expertise on how you can start to reduce your own emissions and decrease your environmental impact.

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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