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A Socially Inclusive Pathway to Food Security: The Agroecological Alternative

June/2012 no. 23
research brief
The International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth is jointly supported by the
Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme and the Government of Brazil.
By Ben McKay
A Socially Inclusive Pathway to Food Security:
The Agroecological Alternative
I. Introduction
With roughly 1 billion people unable to meet their minimum daily caloric intake, the issue of food security is imperative to
overcoming rural poverty. The way in which we produce food plays an extremely important role in solving the hunger epidemic
and reaching the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty. The dominant model of
agricultural development practised by many countries today is based on chemical-intensive agro-industrial complexes growing
monocultures for export. This model of corporate-controlled agro-industry has failed to produce positive results economically,
environmentally or socially. As one of the main contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, the agro-industrial model is
exacerbating global climate change, degrading arable land, deteriorating public health, decreasing food quality and disrupting
traditional rural livelihoods. Although this model was deemed to produce higher yields and increase productivity, it has failed
to increase food security around the world. In fact, since the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) started
calculating the number of undernourished persons worldwide in 1969, the number of hungry people has increased by
about 8 per cent —from 878 million in 1969 to an estimated 925 million in 2010 (FAO, 2012).
Based on a myriad of scientific research and satellite cases worldwide, there is a general consensus and growing support
among experts around the world that an agricultural model based on agroecology can provide a sustainable, socially inclusive,
productive and efficient way forward to increase food security and alleviate rural poverty.1 As a science and set of practices,
agroecology is very knowledge-intensive, participatory, organised and innovative. Derived from the convergence of two
disciplines—agronomy and ecology—agroecology implies farming methods based on diversification, biological interactions
and agroecosystem synergies which generate and enhance soil fertility, productivity and crop resilience. Despite its emphasis on
sustaining the environment and social inclusion through participatory frameworks, agroecology-based models have produced
impressive economic results in terms of yields, productivity and efficiency.2
This Policy Research Brief draws on case studies in Brazil and Cuba, as well as analytical papers on agroecology in theory
and practice, to contribute to the discussion on how countries can pursue a national agricultural development model based
on agroecology. Drawing on the case study experiences, the institutionalisation of an agroecology-based farm system must
come from both the state—with support services and investments—and society—with farmer-to-farmer networks and socially
inclusive participatory organisations. In Cuba, with the government lacking adequate resources, the agroecological movement
was largely based on societal actors in the form of rural labour organisations mobilising and creating farmer-to-farmer networks.
Although born out of necessity, the Cuban experience exemplifies the importance and effectiveness of farmers using social
capital to innovate and overcome difficulties with alternative forms of production. In Brazil, although rural labour organisations
are increasingly gaining influence and participating in policy discussions, the state’s comprehensive agricultural policies provide
substantial support, extension and investment for family farmers. The challenge is to scale up these programmes and create
increased incentives for agroecology-based production within the current policy framework.
II. An alternative Food System: Agroecology
The core principles of agroecology are based on using and recycling the nutrients and energy of the ecosystem in
complementary and diversified ways to create a biodiverse, resilient, fertile environment. It is a discipline that is extremely
innovative and knowledge-intensive, focusing on farmer knowledge and using farmer-to-farmer participatory methods and
exchange networks to share ideas, techniques and practices. Using the knowledge and expertise of those most familiar with the
ecosystem and its weather patterns, local farmers use a diversity of complex management schemes and adaptation techniques to
strengthen ecosystem resilience and minimise dependence on agro-chemical and energy inputs.3
In a comprehensive study of 57 less developed countries (LDCs), 286 agricultural sustainability projects consisting of 12.6 million
small farmers were evaluated after adopting agroecological practices. Occupying a total of 37 million hectares, or an average of
just under three hectares per farmer, the average increase in crop yield from using agroecology-based techniques was 79.2 per
cent. Based on a variety of farming systems—from smallholder-irrigated, rain-fed, wetland, humid, highland, mixed and urban—
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
smallholder-irrigated and urban-based farms saw the
highest increases, with an average of 129.8 per cent and
79.2 per cent, respectively (Pretty et al., 2006). This study
exemplifies the potential of pursuing an agroecology-based
farm system. The 37 million hectares of farmland evaluated
in the study represent a mere 3 per cent of the total
cultivated area in LDCs. An agroecology-based farming
system implemented on a much larger scale would
undoubtedly increase crop yields per hectare in a socially
inclusive and sustainable manner.
By lessening, or removing altogether, dependence on
external, synthetically based inputs, smallholders will not
have to use their incomes or become indebted to nurture
their chemical-dependent crops. Although international
food prices have increased in the past few years, the price
of fertilisers and crude oil products have more than doubled
the rise in foodstuff prices, making these external inputs
increasingly more expensive for smallholders (de Schutter,
2011). Eliminating the reliance on such external inputs will,
therefore, have a positive impact, not only on smallholder
incomes but also on the long-term sustainability of their
land and available resources.
The nature of agroecology farm systems is based on
smallholder and cooperative farms. This is due to the
multi-functionality of agroecology farm systems, their less
mechanised nature and the inverse relationship between
farm size and output, rendering small farms more productive
than large farms in terms of total output per unit area.4
This implies much more labour-intensive and diverse
strategies in managing people, plants and animals.
Due to the higher levels of underemployment in rural
areas, a model of agriculture which is more labour-intensive
will increase employment, decrease rural-to-urban migration
and provide social protection for rural livelihoods through
cooperatives, farmer-to-farmer support systems and
participation in peasant organisations.
III. Gaining Ground:
the Agroecology Movement in Latin America
In Brazil, agroecology started gaining ground in academia
as an alternative vision of agriculture in the 1980s.
Researchers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
such as Assessoria e Servicos a Projetos em Agricultura
(AS-PTA) first started disseminating information on the
agroecology alternative. This became central to farmer-to-
farmer cooperation and knowledge sharing.5 Under the
Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT), the National
Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)
incorporated agroecology into its research initiatives, as
did the Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education
Personnel (CAPES) under the Ministry of Education.
This played a major role in the institutionalisation process
of agroecology into research and implementation processes
in both academic and independent research institutions,
governmental departments and, ultimately, on the farm.
The Brazilian Association of Agroecology (ABA)—comprised
of small farmers, researchers and NGOs—has also been
instrumental in the institutionalisation and implementation
of agroecology in Brazil. The ABA works in conjunction with
the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA),
a regional network of researchers, professors, experts etc.
which promotes agroecology as an alternative to the crisis
Table 1
Brazil’s Assessoria e Servicos a Projetos em Agricultura (AS-PTA) Participatory Farmer Network
Source: Cohn et al., 2006.
StepTwoIdentifymai nproblemsandpote nt i alsoffarmers’agroecosystems
StepThreeAnalyseproblematiccausesusingaparticipatoryruralappraisal(PRA),engagingfa r mer s ,scientists,
StepFourBroadcastth eresultsofthePRAon localradio,televisions,communityboards.
Participatoryandpr o d uc ti v e
100%–3 00%averag eyi e ldincreases
ASPT APRAsyste mspreadtoover 200communitiesin15municipalities,involving10,000
far mers inthestateofPar ana alone.
Agro no micproblemsresolvedissuesofsoilmanagement,fertilisation,pes tcon trols,
traditionalvarietyseedproductionandimpr ovement,agroforestry.
Traditionalcropvarietiesrecovered:beans,corn,potatoes,rice,wheat,manio c.
Governmentexten si onagencythroughPRONAFcalculatesayearlycostof$5 0 0pe r farmer
assisted,whichis10time smorethanagroec ologicalparticipatorydevelopm entappr oac hes
whic halsoin clude researchandfarmerorganisations’capac itybuildingcosts.
Policy Research Brief
of industrial agriculture. In 2002, the National Articulation of
Agroecology (ANA) emerged as an arena for movements,
networks and civil society organisations to promote and
share experiences of agroecology systems in practice.
Even the agri-business-oriented Brazilian Agricultural Research
Corporation (EMBRAPA) has programmes on agroecology
and collaborates with ABA and ANA on agroecology-based
research. The largest rural labour organisations in Brazil—the
Landless Worker’s Movement (MST), the National Confederation
of Rural Trade Unions (CONTAG) and the Federation of Family
Farmers (FETRAF)—have also been active, though to different
degrees, in promoting and pursuing agroecology in practice.
The MST has created 12 Agroecology Autonomous Schools,
as well as the Centro ‘Chico Mendez’ and the Escuela
Latinoamericana de Agroecologia in Parana. This type of
grassroots support from below has encouraged and
influenced policy implementation from above.
In practice, it is the small family farms which have
implemented agroecological techniques. Approximately
100,000 family farms have adopted agroecological farming
practices in Brazil today—showing average yield increases of
300 per cent and 100 per cent for black beans and corn, as
well as increasing resilience to irregular weather patterns
(Cohn et al., 2006).
Family farms in Brazil account for 84.4 per cent of all farm
production units but occupy just 24.3 per cent of the total
area of rural establishments.6 With an average farm size of
18.37 hectares, family farms employ 74.4 per cent of the total
agricultural workforce and produce 70 per cent of all food
products consumed by Brazilians daily (IBGE, 2009).
Although family farms do not guarantee agroecological
techniques, they are conducive to the development of an
agroecological model. Small farms are more productive in
terms of overall outputs per hectare, more efficient, diverse
and resource-conserving and employ more people. Due to
the inherent connection to the land that most family farms
have, they are also much better stewards of the environment
and natural resources.7 Supporting small family farms is,
therefore, an important component of agroecology. Due to
their increasing importance, the Brazilian government has
implemented several programmes specifically targeting
family agriculture within its overall national strategy on
food and nutritional security, Zero Hunger.
Under The Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), the
National Programme for the Strengthening of Family
Farming (PRONAF) provides access to low-interest credit for
family farmers. The Technical Assistance and Rural Extension
(ATER) programme provided technical support and extension
for 2.3 million families in 2010 (MDA, 2010). ATER provides
technical support for crop-diversification techniques and
irrigation systems and aims to strengthen productive
organisation and stimulate agroecology-based productive
systems. ATER also has a sectoral policy which specifically
focuses on support for women, which was established under
the National Technical Assistance and Rural Extension
Programme (PRONATER) in 2004. By 2009, 90 projects were
established through a R$16 million investment, benefiting
31,000 women (MDA, 2010).
Brazil’s Food Acquisition Programme (PAA) was launched
in 2003 to ensure the public purchase of family farming
products to meet the needs of populations facing food and
nutrition insecurity. Family farmers receive a fair price from
the federal government based on a regional market value
average. These products are then donated to people facing
food insecurity through schools, day care centres, shelters,
hostels, nursing homes, hospitals and NGOs. Between 2003
and 2009, 764,000 family farms participated in the PAA,
benefiting 7.5 million people per year (MDA, 2010).
To encourage agroecological-based production, the PAA
offers a 30 per cent price increase above the market average
to agroecological producers.
To further strengthen family farmers’ market access,
the School Meal Law of the National School Meal
Programme (PNAE) was established and passed in 2009,
which determines that at least 30 per cent of school meal
funds transferred by the National Education Development
Fund (FNDE) must be purchased from family farms. The PNAE
provides meals to public schools, feeding 47 million
students with crops from local family farmers.
Although these programmes exclusively support family
farms, they do not exclusively support agroecology.
However, they exemplify how agricultural policies can be
designed with a dual-track approach of supporting (family
farm) production and social protection for poor people.
Brazil has now successfully established the institutional
capacity to effectively implement such a strategy, and with a
few changes of increased incentives, support and protection
specifically for agroecological practices within the existing
framework, the country could further transform its family
farm agriculture into one based on agroecological practices.
In December 2011, the Brazilian Association for Agroecology
hosted the VII Brazilian Congress of Agroecology (CBA) in
Fortaleza. This brought together over 4000 participants
including the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food
Supply, farmer organisations, experts and academics to
discuss strategies for building policy to involve the public
and private sectors. Moreover, discussions regarding a
National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production
are currently underway, with a workshop held in early March
2012 with numerous organisations led by ANA as well as
several governmental bodies such as MMA, MAP, MDS, MDA,
CONAB and INCRA.8 The coordinator of agroecology at the
Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), Rogerio
Dias, also plans to address agroecology as a main subject at
the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in
Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost its trade
preferences with the Soviet Bloc and entered its ‘Special
Period in Time of Peace’. With a substantial decrease in
trade, Cuba suffered an immediate decline in agricultural
production with the loss of petroleum-based imports,
machinery, fertilisers and pesticides (Altieri and Funes-
Monzote, 2012). From 1990 to 1993, Cuba’s Food Production
Index dropped by nearly 40 per cent, causing massive food
shortages across the country. Due to this crisis, the Cuban
National Programme of Action and Nutrition (PNAN) was
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Table 2
Support for Family Farming in Brazil
Source: MDA, 2010.
Pro gra mme Mand ate Res ults
theStre ngth eningof
FamilyFar mi ng
Provid esfourtypesofcreditlinesforfamilyfarmers
PRO NAFfundsin2010–2011:R$16 billion
Aver ageloan:R$7478 perfamily
PRO NAFfinancedover2million
cont ractsin2009
Tech nicalAssistance and
Provid estec hni ca lsupportandexte nsionforfamily
refo rm progr amme
ATERprovidesrura lex tens io nservicesto
ov er 2.3millionpe op l e
ATERSe ctor alPolicyfor
Wom en
pr od u cti v eorganisation,stimulateag roeco lo gyand
ecologicallybase dproductionan dincreaseaccessto
pu bl ic po li cies
By2009,31,000womenha dbenefittedfrom
ATE Rpr oj ects withR$16millionininvestments
Gover nmentpurchasesfooditemsdir e ct ly from
familyfarmersatasetfairprice(basedonre gi onal
marke taverage)anddist ributestope op l efacing
foodinsecurity.A30%priceincreaseisoffer edto
agroec ological producers
76 4,0 00 fam i lyfarmparticipants(suppliers)
Annua lav erageincomefromPAA:
PAAfundsforproc uringfood:R$2.7billion
fundsmustcomefromlocalfamilyfar me rs
PN AEprovidesfoodfor47millionstudents
across Brazil
Ove ra llpotentialmarketforfamilyfar ms
with inthePNAEisR$1billion/year
FamilyFar mi ng Insurance
Ins uranc eschemewh ichcoverscroplosseswhich
exceed 30%ofaharvestduetonatur alevents
Since2004 SEAFhasassisted500,000 fa mi lie s
with pa ym e n ts amountingtoR$200million/year
Garantia Safra
irrigatedareasmeasuringfrom0. 6to10hectares
no rt hregionofEspiritoSantastate
GarantiaSa fr a covers860municipalitiesand
assisted66 1, 00 0familyfar me rs in2009–2010
Pr ot ect sfamilyfarmerbeneficiariesofPRO NAF ’s
20 09 –20 10 :35cropswereinsured
Pri ceguarante ecoversuptoR$ 50 00
annuallyperbe ne fic iary
FamilyFar mi ng SealCertifiesproductsthatuseatleast51%ofraw
materialsprod ucedbyfamilyfarming
Benefitsthe4,36 7,902familyfar munitsinBrazil
with pr ef er r e dma rketac cess
established as a result of the International Nutrition
Conference in Rome in 1992. PNAN implemented a
widespread decentralisation of landholdings, management
and production. More autonomy was given to small
farmers and peasants—who, in the end, became
the key actors in the transformative process.
Farmers were forced to re-orient their agricultural production,
based on innovative methods of agroecology. Using a
model of agricultural development not based on chemical
fertilisers and heavy machinery, Cuba increased its food
production by 37 per cent from 1995 to 2004—an annual
average of 4.1 per cent—far surpassing the regional average
of 0 per cent during the same period (FAO, 2012). The Cuban
model of agroecology in both rural and urban areas has
produced impressive results—largely due to strong farmer-
to-farmer networks, organisation and the dissemination of
knowledge through participatory sharing organisations.
The Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forest Technicians
(ACTAF) was a key component of this agroecological movement,
providing training and extension based on their research
Policy Research Brief
activities. This research and technical advice was coupled
with strong peasant organisations such as the National
Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and the Campesino-a-
Campesino (farmer-to-farmer) Agroecology Movement (MACAC).
During the ‘Special Period’, large farm estates were also
redistributed as Basic Units of Cooperative Production
(UBPCs) which gave usufruct rights to farmers who were
previously workers of state farm enterprises. Small family
farms that own their own land also established Credit
and Service Cooperatives (CCSs) in which family farms
collaborate and group together to achieve economies of
scale in marketing harvests, obtaining credit and sharing
equipment, knowledge and practices. Landless peasants also
joined together to form Agriculture Production Cooperatives
(CPAs) in which all assets, including the land, are owned
collectively (Rosset et al., 2011).
From 2000 to 2003 MACAC spread to all Cuban provinces
as a nationwide farmer-to-farmer network in affiliation
with ANAP, CPAs and CCSs. In 2009, about one third (110,000)
of family farmers had joined MACAC, with an additional
12,000 farmer-promoters, 3,000 facilitators and 170 coordinators
(Rosset et al., 2011). MACAC has proven to be one of the most
effective participatory farmer networks and has allowed
farmers to access support services and expert advice and
share production practices in an inclusive framework.
Family farms in Cuba occupy just 25 per cent of total arable
land and produce over 65 per cent of the domestic food
supply (Altieri and Toledo, 2011). Depending on the region,
it is estimated that 46–72 per cent of small family farms use
agroecological techniques. Not only have studies shown
that agroecological farming systems are more productive—
feeding 15–20 people per hectare per year—but they have
also proven to be more resilient during natural disasters.
After Hurricane Ike swept over the island in 2008,
agroecological farms suffered damage levels of around 50
per cent, while monocultures were nearly completely destroyed
at levels of 90–100 per cent (Altieri and Toledo, 2011).
Furthermore, Cuba has also been a leader in urban
agriculture. An estimated 383,000 urban farms cover 50,000
hectares of urban landscape and produce over 1.5 million
tons of vegetables. These urban farms, registering top yields
of 20 kg/m,2 are not only extremely productive but are also
using otherwise unused land for productive food security
measures (Altieri and Toledo, 2011).
The Cuban experience of agroecological production is very
different from that of Brazil. The ‘Special Period’ forced small
farmers to transform their agricultural practices as a matter
of necessity. Farmers and technicians came together to share
experiences, expertise and innovative ideas with strong
supportive organisations and networks. In Brazil the
government’s policy framework for family farming supports
agroecological practices, but not in any exclusive or favoured
manner. Brazil’s framework also encourages industrial
agriculture—based on external/chemical-dependent inputs—
much more than agroecology-based practices. Brazil’s policy
framework for supporting family farmers, as shown in
Table 2, does provide an opportunity for the government
to encourage agroecological practices with an incentive
structure emphasising this type of production. The growing
support among rural labour organisations is also beginning
to encourage pro-agroecology policies and incentives
for such practices.
IV. State and Societal Challenges and Policy
Implications for an Agroecological Food System
To implement an effective agroecological food system at the
local and national levels, the state and societal actors must
be proactive. The challenges include high degrees of
organisation and using social capital to create vibrant,
participatory environments. With support and investment
from the state, peasant organisations and networks can
build an effective agroecological food system, but many
challenges exist. The two country case studies examined
exemplify some of the key policy pathways that can be
implemented to encourage and support an agroecology-
based farming system.
First, the participatory nature of agroecological
systems requires inclusive, community-oriented arenas
for networking and sharing techniques. Localised
farmer-to-farmer networks are extremely important
for the dissemination of information between farmers
in similar agroecological zones. Highly organised peasant
organisations are crucial for the success of this interactive,
knowledge-sharing, peasant-led alternative. This requires
establishing, encouraging and supporting farmer-to-farmer
networks such as AS-PTA, ABA, ANA and MST in Brazil
and ANAP and MACAC in Cuba. Numerous other networks
around the world, such as La Via Campesina, consisting
of 148 organisations in 69 countries, are essential for
the dissemination of knowledge. These socially inclusive
environments allow farmers to share their regional
expertise in a participatory mode of learning.
Table 3
Change in Crop Production and Agrochemical Use in Cuba
Source: Altieri and Funes-Monzote, 2012.
Cro p Percentage
inagrochemi caluse
1988 –199 41988–200719 88–2 007
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Through the advancement of these participatory
networks, working groups and knowledge-sharing
initiatives, gender empowerment should be prioritised.
Identifying discrimination against women in agricultural
policies is an important issue.
The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food,
Olivier de Schutter, has noted that despite the numerous
obstacles faced by women in rural areas, gender issues are
incorporated in less than 10 per cent of development
assistance in agriculture. Moreover, women farmers receive
just five per cent of agricultural extension services
worldwide (de Schutter, 2011).
Programmes such as Brazil’s ATER Sectoral Policy for Women
can work to address this bias through an agroecology-based
framework. Through these participatory initiatives and
practices, women can be further empowered through
socially inclusive policies and programmes.
Equally as important as peasant participation and
networking are the infrastructure and support services
available to rural livelihoods. Smallholders and cooperatives
pursing agroecological practices must have the proper
infrastructure and support services to work, use their
resources effectively and efficiently and access local markets.
Key services such as infrastructure (roads, electricity and
irrigation systems) and extension and access to credit,
insurance and distribution channels are necessary
components to support rural smallholder livelihoods.
In Brazil and Cuba, support for family farmers through
credit access programmes (PRONAF, CCS), technical assistance
(ATER, ACTAF, CAC), insurance (SEAF, Garantia-Safra, PGPAF)
and access to channels of distribution (PAA, PNAE, CPA) are
critical components of an agroecology-based farm system.
To further encourage a national model of agricultural
development based on agroecology, these policies
and programmes could offer increased incentives for
agroecological practices and offer programmes of credit
access, technical assistance, insurance and distribution
channels exclusively for agroecology-based family farmers.
Of particular importance is the need for market access.
The conventional agro-industrial model practised today is
dominated by a few large corporations controlling the
distribution channels between farmers and consumers—
shaping the current food system like an hourglass.
These intermediaries more often than not purchase crops
at (unfair) low prices and sell them to consumers at unfair
(high) prices. This exploitation should be co-opted by the
government by replacing private intermediaries with state-
run marketing and distribution agencies. Market access
programmes such as Brazil’s PAA and PNAE provide family
farms with guaranteed market access. Other programmes
such as the Family Farm Seal and PGPAF give family farms
guaranteed price support for their crops and recognition as
a family farm producer. These government-subsidised food
programmes could easily be adjusted to further encourage
agroecological farming practices by offering better prices
for agroecology-based production.
As emphasised throughout, agroecology is a knowledge-
intensive practice. This requires investment in research and
education and the dissemination of that research and know-
how to farmer-to-farmer networks. Prioritising agroecology
as a model for rural development will also lessen
dependence on highly expensive industrial agriculture
inputs such as chemical-based pesticides and fertilisers, as
well as genetically modified (GMO) seeds. Redirecting this
investment to applied research, education and developing
innovative technologies with the help of farmers, scientists,
academics, agricultural economists and other experts in the
field will create a vibrant environment for new
developments and knowledge-sharing.
A global food system which leaves one in seven people
hungry every day is unacceptable. It is clear that the way
in which we produce and distribute food today is not only
ineffective at feeding the world’s population, it is destroying
our natural environment and using natural resources at
unsustainable rates. However, there is a solution gaining
ground which has proved to be successful at the local level.
The agroecological food system has proven to be
productive, resource-conserving, socially inclusive and
highly sustainable. Agricultural policies directed at local-level
agroecological development will have long-lasting, highly
contagious positive effects for local populations and
increase food security in a sustainable manner.
1. See, for example, Altieri, M. and Nicholis, C. (2005). Agroecology and the Search for a
Truly Sustainable Agriculture. Mexico, UNEP; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
(2007). ‘Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD)’, Policy Brief 11.
Rome, FAO; International Assessment of Agricultural Kn owledge, Science and Technology
for Development (IAASTD)( 2008). Summary for Decision Makers of the Global Report
approved by 58 governments in Johannesburg, April 2008. Washington, DC, IAASTD; de
Schutter, O. (2010). Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food,
Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Human Rights Council, 16th session, agenda item 3.
New York, United Nations General Assembly.
2. See, for example, Pretty, J. N., Noble, A. D., Bossio, D., Dixon, J., Hine, R. E., Penning de
Vries, F. W. T. and Morison J. I. L. (2006). ‘Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields
in Developing Countries’, Environmental Science and Technology 40 (4), 1114–1119; and
Pretty, J. et al. (2011)‘Sustainable intensification of African Agriculture’, International
Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9 (1).
3. For a thorough review of agroecology as a concept, science and practice, see Wezel et
al. (2009). ‘Agroecology as a science, a movement and a practice: a review’, Agronomy
for Sustainable Development, Vol. 29, 503–515.
4. The ‘inverse relationship between farm size and output’ is widely recognised by
agricultural economists; see Barret, C. (1993). ‘On Price Risk and the Inverse Farm
Size–Productivity Relationship’, Staff Paper Series no. 369. Madison, WI, University
of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Agricultural Economics; Ellis, F. (1993). Peasant
Economics: Farm Households and Agrarian Development, 2nd Edition. Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press; Rosset, P. (1999). ‘The Multiple Functions and Benefits of
Small Farm Agriculture in the Context of Global Trade Negotiations’, FAO/Netherlands
Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land. Oakland, CA,
FoodFirst; Deninger, K. (1999). Making Negotiated Land Reform Work: Initial Experience
from Columbia, Brazil and South Africa. Washington, DC, The World Bank; Binswanger, H.
P., Deininger, K. and Feder, G. (1995). ‘Power, Distortions, R evolt and Reform in
Agricultural Land Relations’ in J. Behrman and T.N. Srinivasan (eds), Handbook of
Development Economics, Volume III. Amsterdam, Elsevier Science B.V.
5. See Table 1.
6. A family farm is predominantly operated by a family and can be no greater
than four fiscal modules (Law No. 11,326 of 24 July 2006).
7. See, for example, Holt-Gimenez, E. and Shattuck, A. (2009). Smallholder Solutions
to Hunger, Poverty and Climate Change. Oakland, CA, ActionAid International
and FoodFirst.
8. For more information, refer to document discussing a National Policy for Agroecology
available at <
Ben McKay, Visiting Researcher at the International Policy Center
for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in Brasilia.
The views expressed in this brief are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the Government of Brazil or the United Nations Development Programme.
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth
Esplanada dos Ministérios, Bloco O, 7º andar
70052-900 Brasilia, DF - Brazil
Telephone +55 61 2105 5000
E-mail: URL:
Altieri, M. and Funes-Monzote, F. (2012). ‘The Paradox of Cuban Agriculture’, Monthly Review, 63 (8).
Altieri, M. and Toledo, V. M. (2011). ‘The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature,
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... Within these networks, women and gender perspectives must be included to promote gender equality and sustainable policies, since the perspectives and roles of women regarding agriculture often differ to those of men, leading to different decisionmaking processes (Delgado-Serrano and Escalante-Semerena 2018; Kelemen et al. 2013;Yang et al. 2018). Including women in these networks would help empower them and generate fair and inclusive policies, in addition to potentially generating trust and solving conflicts among the group (McKay 2012;Westermann, Ashby, and Pretty 2005). In addition, women are generally more willing to adopt new farming practices and diversify farming activities (Seuneke and Bock 2015), so their involvement could be fundamental in transitions from conventional to agroecological systems. ...
... Thus, participation and collaboration are inherent to the nature of agroecology, and are essential for upscaling it. In particular, the creation of networks could facilitate the access of farmers to markets, or the generation of bottomup policies (Altieri, Funes-Monzote, and Petersen 2012;Holt-Giménez and Altieri 2013;McKay 2012). ...
The way farmers perceive their relationship with the agricultural system affects the type of farm management implemented. Thus, it is fundamental to understand the needs, views, and motivations of farmers to integrate scientific knowledge more effectively in the day-to-day problems of farmers and foster the adoption of more sustainable practices. We interviewed 12 agroecological and 10 conventional horticultural farmers from the Madrid Region of Spain to characterize their profiles and evaluate their views toward agriculture, challenges experienced, and adopted farm practices. We found that the sociocultural profiles and the number of products grown differed widely among farmers. Further, significantly more sustainable practices were adopted by agroecological farmers compared to conventional farmers, with wider diversification in productive activities. Based on the different perceptions of agroecological and conventional farmers, we discuss the barriers and opportunities for spreading agroecology in the study area.
... Utilizing ecological processes, it relies on efficient management and improved inputs to raise crop productivity per unit area. The rich biodiversity, habitat for wildlife, pest, weed, and disease control, versatility, sustainability, yield stability, healthy soil, microclimate control, and improved nitrogen and water use efficiency are all benefits of this regenerative agricultural mix [23,104,111,[126][127][128]. ...
... Utilizing ecological processes, it relies on efficient management and improved inputs to raise crop productivity per unit area. The rich biodiversity, habitat for wildlife, pest, weed, and disease control, versatility, sustainability, yield stability, healthy soil, microclimate control, and improved nitrogen and water use efficiency are all benefits of this regenerative agricultural mix [23,104,111,[126][127][128]. ...
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Covid-19, one of the most critical and widespread global pandemics, has resulted in extraordinary risk corollaries engulfing millions of people's lives and has caused an unprecedented economic downturn while amplifying food insecurity. A systematic review of 132 scientific communications was performed over a 15-year period, using articles from the ScienceDirect and Web of Science databases (2006–2021). In addition, 24 policy briefs, country papers, and publications from the UN, WHO, FAO, and OECD were cited. The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive review of existing literature on the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on agricultural food systems, as well as potential strategies for building robust, resilient, and sustainable food systems to ensure global food security, safety, and endeavors regarding future global emergencies, as well as new research policies while achieving SDG targets. This would fill a research gap while also having long-term implications for health, agricultural, and food resilience policy development in a rapidly changing world. Covid-19 demonstrates how human, animal, and environmental health are all interconnected, emphasizing the need for one health legislation and a paradigm shift in planetary health. Furthermore, it identifies potential mechanisms for rebuilding better systems by shifting priorities toward policy coherence, innovative food system governance, re-engineering market access, and nexus thinking in the food system approach. According to our findings, the COVID-19 posed unavoidable impediments to achieving SDG targets for food security and household poverty. Graphical abstract
... An acute awareness of energy use and energy production is a characteristic of most of these alternatives. These knowledge-based agro-ecological alternatives ensure employment, and the generation of rural purchasing power and aggregate demand (UN-HRC, 2010;mCkay, 2012;SCrieCiu, 2011). They use their systems perspectives and capacities within communities and networks to build resilience and handle stress. ...
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This paper discusses the double green revolution, a movement that has also been called sustainable intensification, and examines how and why it is different from and more pernicious than the green revolution. The double green revolution undermines national and global agricultural knowledge, science and technology, and wastes several opportunities for investing in healthy and sustainable societies, ecosystems and economies.
... Es la aplicación de métodos ecológicos en la agricultura (Wezel et al., 2009) que busca mejorar el uso y reciclaje de los nutrientes y la energía del cultivo utilizando técnicas más amigables con el ambiente (Por ejemplo, fertilizantes y pesticidas de origen natural) que las utilizadas en la agricultura tradicional (Tomich et al.;Vandermeer et al., 2009;McKay, 2012). ...
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Hace 30 años, Laura Esquivel nos regaló su novela, Como agua para chocolate, que aquí celebramos con 15 recetas y 15 ensayos. En este libro, 36 autores nos comparten su amor por la vida, por el planeta y, sobre todo, por la comida. Esta obra era necesaria y urgente en una época en la que son evidentes los efectos nocivos de las acciones humanas sobre el medio ambiente. Nuestro impacto ha sido tal, que los científicos ya hablan de una nueva época geológica, el Antropoceno, cuyo inicio se remonta a la mitad del siglo 20 y se puede fechar tanto por los rastros de la detonación de bombas nucleares, como por los restos óseos de incontables pollos que yacen en los basureros de todo el planeta. El conflicto entre la humanidad y la naturaleza surge de nuestra certeza de ser ajenos a ella. Pero eso es una percepción errónea. Los humanos somos parte integral de la naturaleza: de ella surgimos, con ella seguimos evolucionando y gracias a ella y a su biodiversidad, ha sido posible la existencia misma de nuestras diversas civilizaciones y culturas. Una vía para restablecer el vínculo perdido con la naturaleza es la comida. Después de todo, la comida también es biodiversidad, desde el maíz de las tortillas y las verduras del caldo, hasta la carne asada del fin de semana. Además, todas las personas comemos tres veces al día, o deberíamos poder hacerlo. Es así que, a través de distintas ensaladas, sopas, platos fuertes y postre, presentamos estas reflexiones sobre el estado del planeta. Y es que al considerar el origen, el uso y la sostenibilidad de ingredientes tan diversos como el nopal y las bellotas silvestres, pasando por verdolagas, zanahorias, papas, chapulines y otros artrópodos (considerados por muchos como el futuro de la alimentación humana), hasta el camarón, el pollo y la res, traemos a la mesa temas tan urgentes como el cambio de uso de suelo y el calentamiento global, ese que tiene al planeta «como agua para chocolate», pero no en el sentido recreativo. Esperamos convencer a los lectores de que replanteando nuestra relación con la comida, podemos contribuir a mejorar al mundo y avanzar hacia un estado en el que la humanidad y la naturaleza vuelvan a ser indistinguibles.
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Documentando la evidencia en Agroecología: Una perspectiva Latinoamericana CONTEXTO DE ESTE INFORME Los cambios profundos en la forma en que se cultivan procesan, distribuyen, consumen y desperdician los alimentos durante las últimas décadas generan amenazas cada vez mayores para el futuro de la alimentación a nivel local, nacional y global. Cuando estos cambios se combinan con las realidades del cambio climático, la extinción de especies, la creciente globalización y las presiones que implica el avance de la agricultura industrial en las zonas rurales, las amenazas a los sistemas alimentarios se intensifican. Durante miles de años, las formas tradicionales de producción y alimentación indígena y campesina han reflejado una cosmovisión basada en principios de reciprocidad que nutre activamente la salud, la cultura y la madre tierra Más recientemente, la ciencia, la práctica y los movimientos contemporáneos de la agroecología se basan en parte de esta sabiduría y a través de un dialogo de saberes con el saber occidental, promueven los principios para diseñar sistemas alimentarios saludables, equitativos, renovables, resilientes, inclusivos y culturalmente diversos. A pesar de los logros y avances de la agroecología, con respaldo mínimo de instituciones y fundaciones, los sectores convencionales de la agricultura expresan un fuerte escepticismo y elaboran contraargumentos en contra de los enfoques agroecológicos cuestionando su potencial transformador.
This paper argues, firstly, that the notion that a resolution of the agrarian question requires the dissolution of small-scale farming is not what Marx thought. It argues, secondly, that extractivist capitalist agriculture is not developing the productive forces. It argues, thirdly, that contemporary agroecological farming is a knowledge-intensive form of production that can maximize the productivity of energy flows, which are central to the productive forces. Cumulatively, it is suggested, the terms and conditions by which the contemporary agrarian question can be resolved is through an agroecological agrarian transition.
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O artigo busca explorar, desde uma perspectiva etnográfica, as múltiplas associações que se estabelecem entre práticas, agentes e materialidades na interação com “ideias agroecológicas”, em redes territorialmente referenciadas de promoção da agroecologia, com atuação na Serra Gaúcha e na Zona da Mata Mineira. As “ideias agroecológicas” emergem não como um referencial normativo dotado de coesão, mas como um catalisador de uma multiplicidade de agenciamentos e dinâmicas de interação, aumentando a densidade das redes e gerando efeitos de escala. As reflexões aqui apresentadas são resultado de um esforço relativamente longo e intenso de investigação, em que foram utilizadas diferentes estratégias de pesquisa incluindo observação participante, pesquisa documental e geração de dados relacionais. Observa-se que passadas mais de duas décadas desde a estruturação das primeiras iniciativas locais nos contextos territoriais estudados, é possível identificar importantes mudanças nas redes de associações estabelecidas na Serra Gaúcha e na Zona da Mata de Minas Gerais, com o engajamento de novos atores e intensificação das conexões estabelecidas entre diferentes domínios de rede, emprestando tons diferenciados às interações que se estabelecem no entorno da “agroecologia”.
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This paper provides an overview of what we call ‘agroecological revolution’ in Latin America. As the expansion of agroexports and biofuels continues unfolding in Latin America and warming the planet, the concepts of food sovereignty and agroecology-based agricultural production gain increasing attention. New approaches and technologies involving the application of blended agroecological science and indigenous knowledge systems are being spearheaded by a significant number of peasants, NGOs and some government and academic institutions, and they are proving to enhance food security while conserving natural resources, and empowering local, regional and national peasant organizations and movements. An assessment of various grassroots initiatives in Latin America reveals that the application of the agroecological paradigm can bring significant environmental, economic and political benefits to small farmers and rural communities as well as urban populations in the region. The trajectory of the agroecological movements in Brazil, the Andean region, Mexico, Central America and Cuba and their potential to promote broad-based and sustainable agrarian and social change is briefly presented and examined. We argue that an emerging threefold ‘agroecological revolution’, namely, epistemological, technical and social, is creating new and unexpected changes directed at restoring local self-reliance, conserving and regenerating natural resource agrobiodiversity, producing healthy foods with low inputs, and empowering peasant organizations. These changes directly challenge neoliberal modernization policies based on agribusiness and agroexports while opening new political roads for Latin American agrarian societies.
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Agricultural development is currently facing unprecedented challenges. With 800 million people already having insufficient access to food, population growth estimates project an even bleaker situation in the future. The article summarizes the major schools of thought regarding how to face the dilemma, and advocates sustainable intensification of agriculture, relying on integrated use of a wide range of technologies to manage pests, nutrients, soil and water. Local knowledge and adaptive methods are stressed rather than comprehensive packages of externally-supplied technologies. The article shows how regenerative, low-input agriculture, founded on full farmer participation in all stages of development and extension, can be highly productive. It is stressed that policy must not prescribe specific, concretely defined technologies or practices, as this would restrict future farmer options. Farmers and communities should be allowed and encouraged to adapt to changing conditions; what needs to be sustainable are local processes of innovation and adaptation. The article highlights environmental and economic benefits resulting from sustainable intensification practices, for farmers as well as communities and nations with examples are taken from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Despite the increasing success of sustainable agriculture, it is clear that the challenge remains to ‘scale up’ the process from small ‘islands of success’ to fundamental reform of both policies and policy formulation processes.
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Agroecology has played a key role in helping Cuba survive the crisis caused by the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe and the tightening of the US trade embargo. Cuban peasants have been able to boost food production without scarce and expensive imported agricultural chemicals by first substituting more ecological inputs for the no longer available imports, and then by making a transition to more agroecologically integrated and diverse farming systems. This was possible not so much because appropriate alternatives were made available, but rather because of the Campesino-a-Campesino (CAC) social process methodology that the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) used to build a grassroots agroecology movement. This paper was produced in a 'self-study' process spearheaded by ANAP and La Via Campesina, the international agrarian movement of which ANAP is a member. In it we document and analyze the history of the Campesino-to-Campesino Agroecology Movement (MACAC), and the significantly increased contribution of peasants to national food production in Cuba that was brought about, at least in part, due to this movement. Our key findings are (i) the spread of agroecology was rapid and successful largely due to the social process methodology and social movement dynamics, (ii) farming practices evolved over time and contributed to significantly increased relative and absolute production by the peasant sector, and (iii) those practices resulted in additional benefits including resilience to climate change.
2 CD-ROM: 1978-1999 and 1978-2010 (Archives: ask a librarian / En archives: demander au Centre de documentation)
Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food United Nations Human Rights Council, 16 th session, agenda item 3Agriculture and Greenhouse Gases: FAO's approach to addressing the unique challenges faced by agricultural statisticians
  • De Schutter
De Schutter, O. (2010). Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Human Rights Council, 16 th session, agenda item 3. New York, United Nations General Assembly. Food and Agriculture Organization (2011). 'Agriculture and Greenhouse Gases: FAO's approach to addressing the unique challenges faced by agricultural statisticians'. Rome, FAO, < wye_city_group/2011/documents/session4/Tubiello__Mayo__Salvatore_-_Paper.pdf> (accessed 7 February 2012).
Agroecology and the Struggle for Food Sovereignty in the Americas
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  • R Reider
  • C Steward
Cohn, A., Cook, J., Fernandez, M., Reider, R. and Steward, C. (2006). Agroecology and the Struggle for Food Sovereignty in the Americas. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Yale School of Forestry and the Environmental Studies (Yale F&ES) and the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP).
The environmental food crisis—The environment's role in averting future food crises
United Nations Environment Programme (2009). The environmental food crisis—The environment's role in averting future food crises. Nairobi, UNEP.
Agroecology and the Search for a Truly Sustainable Agriculture. Mexico, UNEP; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
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See, for example, Altieri, M. and Nicholis, C. (2005). Agroecology and the Search for a Truly Sustainable Agriculture. Mexico, UNEP; Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (2007). 'Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD)', Policy Brief 11.
Visiting Researcher at the International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in Brasilia
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Ben McKay, Visiting Researcher at the International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in Brasilia.
  • See
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See, for example, Pretty, J. N., Noble, A. D., Bossio, D., Dixon, J., Hine, R. E., Penning de Vries, F. W. T. and Morison J. I. L. (2006). 'Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries', Environmental Science and Technology 40 (4), 1114–1119; and Pretty, J. et al. (2011)'Sustainable intensification of African Agriculture', International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9 (1).