While agriculture was very successful on meeting global food demands in the 20th century, now the threats and impact of the practices and policies followed raises the need for a paradigm shift towards a truly sustainable food production system. A sustainable food production system is a collaborative network that integrates several components in order to enhance a community’s environmental, economic and social well-being. It is built on principles that further the ecological, social and economic values of a community and a region.
The science that can aim such restoration of the agricultural ecosystem and the food system as a whole is called Agroecology,
including the application of ecological principles to the design and management of biodiverse, productive and resilient farming systems.
Agroecology uses disciplines from modern agricultural science but its approach is also influenced by the indigenous knowledge systems about soils, plants, etc. that have nurtured traditional farming systems for millennia. Agroecology does not promote technical recipes but rather principles, it is not an agriculture of inputs but rather of processes.
In order for the technologies derived from the application of principles to be relevant to the needs and circumstances of small farmers, the technological generation process must result from a participatory research process in which farmers along with researchers provide input into the research questions and the design, running and evaluation of field experiments. Besides science and practice, agroecology also refers to a wide variety of social movements aimed at environmental protection, the development of sustainable farming systems and food sovereignty.
The concept of “movement” is used in order to stress the vision of social and economic positive impact that Agroecology potentially has for sustainable rural development The Agroecology sector emerged as a different model to address the problems of world agriculture caused by industrial food production model and it is based on the principles of Sustainability, Integrity, Equality, Performance and Stability.
The primary concepts of agroecology and corresponding management practices resonate with arguments for food security, food sovereignty and sustainable rural development. The agroecological concepts and principles embrace also a wide range of practices and have broad scope for implementation. This means that they have considerable resonance with other concepts, principles and practices in the field of sustainable agriculture that also offer alternative structures to the mainstream paradigm of industrial agriculture. Such key approaches are Permaculture, biodynamic agriculture, organic farming, conservation agriculture, urban farming, and multifunctionality in agriculture.
The context of agroecology expanded over the years from the field, through the farm, to the landscape; and in a wider understanding to the food system level. Agroecology promotes ecologically and culturally sound food systems and food sovereignty, protecting people’s ability and right to define their own models of food production, distribution and consumption. Such an approach in rural development can contribute to empowering disadvantaged communities through diversifying activities of farmers and including new groups in different levels of the food system- production, processing and trade. This helps to strengthen employment; local food security and food and prevent population decrease.
Vasilis Gkisakis – Mediterranean Agroeconomic institute of Chania.