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Agroecology: science and politics: by Peter M. Rosset and Miguel A. Altieri, Canada, Fernwood Publishing and Practical Action Publishing, 2017, 160 pp., $19.00 (Paperback), ISBN: 9781552669754

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Agroecology: science and politics
Boaventura Monjane
To cite this article: Boaventura Monjane (2019): Agroecology: science and politics, The Journal of
Peasant Studies, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2019.1615184
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Agroecology: science and politics, by Peter M. Rosset and Miguel A. Altieri, Canada,
Fernwood Publishing and Practical Action Publishing, 2017, 160 pp., $19.00
(Paperback), ISBN: 9781552669754
Agroecology: Science and Politics, is the seventh volume in the Agrarian Change and Peasant
Studies Series, written by two of the most prominent and respected scholars with longstanding
research experience and a extensive publishing record, amongst other, on agroecology, agri-
culture and food, agronomy, rural sociology and agrarian movements. Rosset and Altieris
long history and deep roots within the food justice movement justiably earned them the des-
ignation scholar-activist or organic intellectuals.
There is a substantial body of literature on agroecology and other variants of non-conven-
tional/industrial farming methods and systems that have emerged over the past few decades.
This book successfully combines the technical and social aspects of agroecology or organic
farming, although not interchangeably more than any previous book. The authors advance a
convincing argument about the relevance and eectiveness of agroecology today as opposed
to the dominant paradigm based on commercial seeds, monoculture and agrochemicals.
Globally, agroecology is rapidly gaining traction, engaged in by a wide range of actors. Evi-
denced by the increasing number of producers, consumers, researchers, academics and acti-
vists that support agroecology and questioning the current dominant food system.
The rst two chapters of the book summarize the history of agroecology and its scientic
basis. It recognizes that the roots of agroecology lie in the ecological rationale of indigenous
and peasant farming knowledge and practices in dierent parts of the world, even though
peasants and indigenous people did not historically use this word(p. 41). Today, agroecology
is much more than a set of technical recipes. Instead, it is a set of principles where the gener-
ation of technologies and methods applied stem from participatory or farmer-led research pro-
cesses. As a continuation of traditional farming systems, agroecology is an accumulation of
experiences of peasants interacting with the environment without access to external inputs,
capital and so-called scientic knowledge(p. 10). Agroecology opposes agricultural intensica-
tion that has led to considerable losses in habitat diversity with great eects on the occurrence
of general biodiversity(p. 17). Already tested by farmers over a long period agroecology allows
farmers to maintain themselves because such systems strike a balance between farm-level pro-
ductivity, resilience, agroecosystem health and livelihoods(p. 19). The authors furnish us with a
comprehensive summary of the divergent currents of agroecological thought in recent history
and in diverse geographical regions.
Chapter 3 provides empirical evidence for agroecology. The chapter convincingly shows
that food production based on agroecological principles can be more productive, have
lower costs, reduce negative environmental impacts and increase the long-term sustainability
of agriculture(p. 5). Examples of successful agroecological-type farming systems from Africa,
Asia and the Americas are provided throughout the chapter. The chapter responds to a
central critique by scholars, whether agroecology is an appropriate response to feeding a
growing urban world population. As the authors contend, such agricultural systems not
only have fed much of the world population for centuries and continue to feed people in
many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, but also hold many of the potential
answers to the production and natural resources conservation challenges aecting todays
rural landscapes(p. 69). The authorsalso makes the case for the good performance of the
diversied farming system as well as its resiliency to climatic variability.
Chapter 4 interrogates the reasons why, despite having signicant advantages over indus-
trial agriculture, agroecological farming remains a marginalparadigm. The chapter suggests
that to overcome the obstacles of scaling-up agroecology, movement building is a necessary
political step. A few examples of successfulmovements are provided, attesting to agroecol-
ogys peripheralization, like the Campesino-a-Campesino methodology in Cuba, the Zero
Budget Natural Farming movement in India, and Agroecology Schools initiated by La Vía Cam-
pesina in the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Chapter 5 concludes the book by dealing with the politics emerging in the last few years
around the concept of agroecology and the movement that promotes it in various spaces
such as governments, universities, NGOs and companies. Contestations, disputes, disagree-
ments and appropriation of the concept are discussed. Rosset and Altieri implores social move-
ments and grassroots organizations to construct intentional organizing processes to scale-out
agroecology. The authors suggest that movements should defend agroecology from insti-
tutional plunder and co-optation, rejecting the narrow economicism that would reduce the
concept to a matter of productivity, yields and competitiveness, based on neoliberal economic
and scientic precepts(p. 131).
The scope of the authorscases and analysis is focused on what they refer to as peasant
agroecology. While recognizing that scientic and technical principles of agroecology could
be applied equally to small and large-scale systems of productions, they draw attention to
the danger of narrowing the signicance of agroecology to mere technicism. Simply applying
techniques means that even corporate food producers could claim to be practising agroecol-
ogy. The authorscaution it is not simply enough to apply agroecologicalmethods to call it
agroecology, there must be a cultural and political signicance attached to it.
This book is published at a critical period of sweeping global agrarian change. Agri-
businesses are extending their frontiers globally and new cash (ex) crops are incorporated
into the food chains. Notwithstanding the increasing prominence accorded to agroecology
everywhere (p. 4), arousing the interest of universities, research institutions, private companies,
government agencies and multilateral institutions, these institutions have discovered it as a
potential source of solutions to pressing problems of the global food system(p. 1). The domi-
nant industrial paradigm is increasingly gaining new terrains, support and nance. It is no exag-
geration to suggest the battle against the current food regime is of the David and Goliath-type.
Furthermore, agroecological ideologyand the strategies for scaling up and out seem to gen-
erate contention even amongst scholars within critical agrarian studies.
In a colloquium of progressive academics, students and a number of agroecologists,in
Vitoria, Spain in 2017, Henry Bernstein expressed strong skepticism towards proposals such
as agroecology and food sovereignty. Bernstein argues that capitalism has fully absorbed agri-
culture into circuits of capital, thus agrarian populists, as he refers to the proponents of agroe-
cology and food sovereignty, fail to properly understand the nature of modern capitalism
precisely the driver of the dominant paradigm agroecologists intend to destroy. Moreover,
Bernstein advocates for the appropriation of technologies developed by capitalism. According
to him, the problem with GMOs, for example, is simply that they are mostly developed and
controlled by the big chemical corporations(Bernstein 2013).
Activist and scholars have critiqued Bernsteins excessive economistic approach when ana-
lyzing agrarian transformations and dynamics and his disinterest in locating food regimes and
agrarian changes in a wider set of analyses of agrarian and capitalist transitions (Yeros 2013;
Friedmann 2016). Proponents of GMOs like Bernstein assume that capitalist technology is
developed and designed for the masses, missing an important point that knowledge and
technology are class based and class determined (Carchedi 2011). Rosset and Altieris book pre-
sents denitive evidence against the use of GMO seeds and other corporate agricultural inputs
that are harmful to the practice of agroecology.
Similarly, Ben Cousins of South Africa on another occasion criticized the concept of agroe-
cology as a strange ideato the African continent´s reality. The book under review responds to
this challenge, providing details on how agroecology principles are far from being distant from
the African continent.
Bernstein and Cousins make provocativebut valid points. However, it is dicult to subscribe
to their dismissal of agroecology and food sovereignty advocates in absolute terms. Grassroots
movements and their allies, including respected academics, are informed by a serious reading
and analysis of objective reality and are proposing sound alternatives and concepts. The strength
of their proposals and formulations is rooted in the fact that they do not solely engage in theor-
etical thinking but most importantly emerge out of social, political struggles and practices.
This raises a pertinent question: To what extent do agroecology and food sovereignty
make full sense in Africa? A number of African farmers, either by force(due to a lack of
nancial resources to purchase external inputs) or by choice, are practising agroecology agroe-
cologists. No one can deny that, as a practice, agroecology is a historical reality in Africa. Factors
such as weak productivity or persistent cases of hunger and malnutrition in many rural regions
of the continent have nothing to do with the practices and principles African peasants apply.
Instead, it has to do with a myriad of structural impediments, including the absence of public
policies that protect and support them, as well as the lack of other important components, such
as irrigation, infrastructures and fair markets.
Indubitably, from a political economy perspective, in the balance of forces with capital and
the state, African peasants occupy a weaker position. This is evidenced by the persistence of
landlessness, land grabbing, lack of markets and infrastructures for peasants. There are no con-
sistent pro-poor and pro-peasant rural and agrarian policies in most African nations. As capital
penetration is reportedly continuously expanding in the countryside, it suocates the peasantry.
Reports by research organizations and NGOs have denounced the intentions behind this
new expansion, as simply a means in the commodication of the entire agricultural sector in
Africa. Moreover, it criminalizes peasant agriculture, prohibiting the saving and exchange of
seeds among peasants. Africa is a sleeping giant with millions of small-scale food producers,
the majority producing with little or no external inputs at all. Pushing them into a commodied
food production system translates into billions of dollars for seeds and other inputs accruing to
industries at the expense of losing peasant knowledge, genetic diversity and the exclusion of
many producers.
As a principle and practice, the vision of agroecology oers not only strong resistance
against the dominant paradigm but also a sustainable alternative for African agricultural devel-
opment. One of the prejudices peddled against agroecology peasant farming is its sup-
posed lack of innovation and use of moderntechnologies. This book shows that these
assumptions are misguided and a huge mistake. From the Andes to the islands of Southeast
Asia, farmers plant multiple varieties of crops in their elds with impressive yields. Farmers
everywhere, particularly across the global south, know a variety of techniques to improve
seeds, fertilize the soils and treat diseases. Experiences demonstrate that agroecological
farming can be two to three times more productive compared to monocultural intensive
farming. Agroecology has nothing to do with backwardness; it has always and continues to
feed Africa. The conditions for a more eective or productive agroecological farming system
are already in place throughout the continent.
Nevertheless, the book pays scant attention to a more localized analysis of the implications
and limits of agroecology as a concept and practice. There are certainly constraintsattached to
the concept of agroecology that should be examined. These limits do not render the entire
vision and proposal unattainable; the rigid insistence that prohibits the use of agrotoxics, arti-
cial hormones, GMOs or other dangerous new technologies in agroecology(LVC 2015) could
be more exible from an African perspective. Numerous studies across Africa, including my
own research in Luale, Nyandira and Tchenzema (Morogoro region of Tanzania), have shown
that there are obstacles to building a fully agroecological food system in these areas. For
example, farmers combining food and cash crops apply some nonorganic items to ght
pests as a strategy to obtain a basic income and ensure the reproduction of the households.
Successful agroecological farming is found in many places in Africa. There are a number of
experiences in Mozambique and Zimbabwe where farmers self organize and produce enough
diversity of food crops to guarantee their local (food) sovereignty, while also allowing them to
acquire extra income. If well planned and supported by comprehensive state policies, agroecol-
ogy can produce healthy and adequate food that the continent needs for its rural and urban
Agroecology: Science and Politics builds on and outlines the contours of agroecology from a
Latin American perspective. To be sure, other regional experiences are highlighted in the book;
the analytical reasoningis strongly inuenced by the Latin American reality. This does not
diminish the scientic and analytical validity of the book or the weight of its arguments, but
perhaps it raises questions about the extent to which the Latin American experiences could
work for Africa. In fact, most of the African cases, experiences and examples supplied in the
book are mostly by non-African (and International) NGOs. What is lacking is a conceptual
and analytical exercise from an African perspective in order to make the point that Africa
does not need an intensive capitalist agriculture system, but rather agriculture that gives cul-
tural and economic autonomy and independence to the majority of African food producers.
Perhaps Africa needs its own book applying an African agroecological approach that will be
more suited to the conditions on the continent.
Despite these limitationsthis book needs to be read by scholars, activists and movements
in Africa and the broader global south. The book not only deftly presents the state of agroecol-
ogy today, but also inadvertently highlights important gaps that set the agenda for new
research and conceptualizations from regions the book dealt with insuciently.
Bernstein, Henry. 2013.Interview: Agriculture, Class and Capitalism.International Socialism.
Carchedi, Guglielmo. 2011.Behind the Crisis: Marxs Dialectics of Value and Knowledge. Historical Materialism Book
Series. Leiden and Boston: Brill.
Friedmann, Harriet. 2016.Commentary: Food Regime Analysis and Agrarian Questions: Widening the
Conversation.Journal of Peasant Studies 43 (3): 671692.
LVC. 2015.Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology.Mali, February 27, 2015. http://www.
Yeros, Paris. 2013.Book Review: Henry Bernstein (2010). Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change.Agrarian South:
Journal of Political Economy 1 (3): 341346.
Boaventura Monjane
Centre for Social Studies, Faculty of Economics, University of Coimbra
© 2019 Boaventura Monjane
El objetivo de esta reflexión es mostrar cómo se puede utilizar la agroecología en el desarrollo de un nuevo sistema agrícola post-COVID-19 como alternativa de desarrollo sostenible, revitalizando la agricultura campesina creando sistemas alternativos de producción animal y potencializando la agricultura urbana. Un sistema agrícola basado en la agroecología, es capaz de minimizar las futuras interrupciones generalizadas del suministro de alimentos debido a las pandemias y el cambio climático al mejorar los vínculos entre la producción de alimentos a pequeña escala, el consumo local y proporcionar pautas para la reconstrucción de un sistema agrícola posterior a la COVID-19. La agroecología es una estrategia que se centra en lograr la autonomía y la resiliencia, que puede transformar rápidamente las formas en que los pequeños agricultores producen y consumen alimentos al mismo tiempo que abordan los desafíos globales, incluido el cambio climático, la pérdida de biodiversidad, la inseguridad alimentaria, la pobreza y el deterioro de la salud.
Full-text available
Current food systems fail to directly link rural producers and urban consumers. This research explores and categorizes emerging community-based agritourism practices as strategies to reconnect rural food producers with urban consumers. The main research question of this study is: how can community-based agritourism link rural food producers and urban consumers as a rural livelihood diversification strategy? Mixed methods for data collection were selected to answer this question and analyzed with a deductive and inductive approach. These include the review of secondary grey and academic literature, shadow observation in three rural provinces, content validity index calculation performed by experts (n = 17), semi-structured multistakeholder interviews (n = 40), in-depth interviews with rural community leaders (n = 10) and a survey questionnaire distributed to a sample of urban consumers living in Bangkok (n = 400). Research outputs include: (1) an integrated framework of indicators to categorize rural livelihood diversification practices, built on the four environmental, sociocultural, economic, and health dimensions; (2) a list of rural diversification practices emerging in Bangkok city- region, with culinary tourism being a prominent one; (3) the statistical validation of the association between urban-rural relation and sustainable consumption, confirming that strong consumer-producer links lead to sustainable consumption and sustainable local food systems and (4) recommendations targeting community-based agritourism experiences to specific consumer niches. In this way, products and services can effectively leverage on context-specific environmental, sociocultural, economic and health assets of local rural communities.
The central disagreement between McMichael and Bernstein boils down to how each of them analyses food and agriculture in relation to capitalist dynamics. McMichael thinks the main contradictions of capitalism now stem from agriculture, and any positive future will be guided by farmers. Bernstein thinks capitalism has fully absorbed agriculture (including farmers not expelled from the land) into circuits of capital, turning agriculture into simply one of many sectors of accumulation and a major font of surplus labor. They have arrived by different paths to the same deeper question: Granted its illumination of the past, does the food regime approach remain useful for interpreting present contradictions, and if so, how? To invite a wider exploration of this very real and important question, I have tried to shift the debate towards a conversation about the complexity of the current transition. I start by widening the frame of the debate to include other writings by McMichael (his method of incorporated comparison) and Bernstein (his distinction between farming and agriculture). I conclude that food regimes and agrarian changes must be located in a wider set of analyses of agrarian and capitalist transitions, each of which misses something important. Older agrarian thought about urban society has much to offer but misses larger food regime dynamics; socio-technical transitions and new commons literatures offer critical analysis of technics, but lack appreciation of the centrality of food and farming; recent works recovering Marxist thought about human nature in a possible transition to a society of abundance and collaboration also ignore food and farming. Connecting with literatures outside the frame of food regimes and agrarian questions offers a way forward for those literatures and for ours.
Interview: ‘Agriculture, Class and Capitalism
  • Henry Bernstein
Bernstein, Henry. 2013. "Interview: 'Agriculture, Class and Capitalism'." International Socialism. interview-agriculture-class-and-capitalism/.
Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change
  • Paris Yeros
Yeros, Paris. 2013. "Book Review: Henry Bernstein (2010). Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change." Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 1 (3): 341-346.
Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology
  • Lvc
LVC. 2015. "Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology." Mali, February 27, 2015. http://www.