Home > In Focus > An Agroecological Transition is Necessary to Achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals

By Manlio Masucci, Navdanya International, 17 April 2018

Agroecology has proved to be capable of “reintroducing diversity on farms, strengthening local food systems, valuing traditional knowledge, ensuring equity and access to land and economic resources and respecting the multiple food cultures in the world. 


Promoting agroecology to make the necessary paradigm change to achieve the objectives of food security, sustainable agriculture and the eradication of hunger in the world. This is the commitment made by the Director-General of the FAO, José Graziano da Silva, on the occasion of the 2nd International Symposium on Agroecology, held at FAO headquarters from 3 to 5 April 2018. A commitment made with the presentation of the “Scaling Up Agroecology” initiative in the presence of 350 civil society organizations, 72 governments representatives and 6 UN organizations, that participated in the three day Rome event. The Symposium was an important opportunity to launch ideas and proposals, based on the results of studies and projects carried out around the world where agroecology practices are helping to improve the economic condition of large numbers of people, to reduce water and soil pollution as well as to promote equity and social inclusion. Thus Agroecology has officially entered in the United Nations agenda to contribute in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The FAO’s about turn has taken place four years after the first Symposium on Agroecology and following the repeated denouncements by civil society of the damage caused by the productivity paradigm of the Green Revolution, supported by large agribusiness companies: “The focus on increasing yields at any cost promoted by the Green Revolution – Chair’s Summary states – is not sustainable and not sufficient to eradicate hunger and poverty and to face the challenges of natural resources exhaustion, environment degradation and biodiversity loss and the need to adapt to climate change “. A model that is “worn out” according to the words of the Director-General himself, both because it has not solved the problem of world hunger, still with 815 million people suffering of hunger in 2016, and because the productivity mantra at all costs has shown an unsustainable cost from an environmental point of view due to the massive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that have contributed to soil contamination, groundwater pollution and loss of biodiversity.  The myth that agro-toxic substances are necessary to feed the world’s population had already been disproved by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations, Hilal Elver, who pointed out that the problems related to hunger are more linked to poverty, inequity and distribution rather than to production. On the contrary, Elver warned that the indiscriminate use of pesticides can be correlated to the deaths of about 200 thousand people per year, due to poisoning. It is time therefore to innovate a  production model that has been the benchmark of governments over the last fifty years, but has now reached its extreme limits in terms of sustainability. A renewal that will have to start with assessing the damage caused by the present highly polluting extractive system, fully aware that it is precisely agroecology, as noted in the final document, that has proved to be capable of “reintroducing diversity on farms, strengthening local food systems, valuing traditional knowledge, ensuring equity and access to land and economic resources and respecting the multiple food cultures in the world”. Thus agroecology has the potential to stem the degradation caused by the unsustainable dictates of the Green Revolution by promoting, through traditional practices and new scientific knowledge, a substantial change in the way we produce and consume our food. But  agroecology cannot be reduced to a simple inventory of practices and techniques: “Agroecology – states the declaration of small producers’ organizations and civil society – is a way of life of our peoples, in harmony with the language of Nature. It is a paradigm shift in the social, political, productive and economic relations in our territories, to transform the way we produce and consume food and to restore a socio-cultural reality devastated by industrial food production. Agroecology generates local knowledge, builds social justice, promotes identity and culture and strengthens the economic viability of rural and urban areas”.

That which the FAO defines as the “agroecological transition” can be achieved, as highlighted in the final document, only through a broad participation of the actors involved, including governments, civil society organizations, UN agencies, small and medium enterprises, universities and the consumers themselves. The “key actions” that have been identified, are the following: the strengthening of the role of small farmers and their organizations, the sharing of knowledge for the promotion of collaboration in research and innovation, the promotion of new markets based on agroecological production, the updating of institutional frameworks, political, legal and financial, to promote the transition, to favour integration and participation within territories and communities. Agroecology can also make a strong contribution in achieving certain specific sustainable development goals, such as the eradication of poverty and hunger, the guarantee of quality education, the achievement of gender equality, the increase of efficiency in the use of water, the promotion of decent jobs, the guarantee of sustainable consumption and production, the strengthening of climate resilience, the sustainable use of marine resources and the protection of biodiversity.

The promotion of agroecology thus calls into question its own protagonists, promoting participation and social organization directly at grassroots level. Producers and consumers, increasingly interested in quality nutrition, are called to make their voices heard and to act in order to support the agroecological transition. Should this social mobilization not be taken up and promoted, or even opposed, agroecology would run the risk of becoming an additional tool in the hands of agribusiness, whose interest lies in expanding a model of industrial agriculture that does not take environmental, economic and social sustainability into account.  Among the initiatives presented in the context of the Symposium, the most relevant seemed to be that of the World Future Council (WFC), FAO and Ifoam-Organics International, which launched the 2018 Future Policy Award to reward the best policies in favour of agroecology.

Small producers and civil society organizations, having taken note with satisfaction this first step made at the Symposium, are now asking the FAO and other UN organizations to increase their efforts and for governments to take appropriate measures to diversify trade policies and to launch public training programs, and institute technical and financial assistance for the recognition and promotion of agroecology. An appeal to which many governments have already responded affirmatively.  And it is not only the case of developing countries, as proved by the intervention of the French minister of agriculture Stéphane Travert, who announced that France will multiply by ten the number of agroecological farms with the goal of reaching 10% of the total in the French agricultural production scenario.

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