ARTICLE: ARTICLE: Agroecology as an Alternative Vision to Conventional Development and Climate-smart Agriculture

With the increasing drought in Africa, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is often proposed to enable small holder farmers to adapt or mitigate and become more resilient. It is also considered as a proactive method for managing the drought in the context of food security and is used interchangeably with agroecology. However, it differs fundamentally from agroecology. In this article, the Pimbert critically reflects on the difference between climate-smart agriculture and agroecology. It focuses in particular on the more transformative elements of agroecology and food sovereignty to clearly identify overlaps and divergences with CSA and explore its incommensurable values against conventional development frameworks.  This article: is a summary of an article published in Development Journal, 58 (2-3): 286-298.

This summary below outlines the fundamental difference between agroecology and climate-smart agriculture. Unlike Climate-smart Agriculture, agroecology provides four fundamentally different visions of development and well-being:
A search for a new modernity and peasant identity

Small holder farmers produce at least 70% of the world’s food which makes a large contribution to local food systems. However, the dominant development paradigm consider the shift from small holder farming to commercial farming as critical. Underpinning this paradigm is that small holder farmers should modernize as soon as possible and become fully commercial by applying industrial food and agriculture technologies that allow economies of scale. Global restructuring of agri-food systems threatens local food systems, with a few transnational corporations gaining monopoly control over different links in the food chain. This modernization agenda is often seen as desirable by most corporations and governments. In response to this development model that is geared towards the extinction of small-scale food providers, social movements like La Via Campesina are redefining what it means to be a ‘peasant’ through a process of re-peasantization where national and regional organizations are embracing the term ‘peasant’ projecting an alternative identity and modernity. Social movements claim that agro-ecology and food sovereignty can help invent this new modernity by regenerating autonomous food systems in rural and urban spaces.
From linear to circular food system

Agroecology in the context of food sovereignty goes much further than CSA’s focus on agricultural production because it questions the structure of the entire food system. Modern industrial food, energy and water systems are fundamentally unsustainable. It’s linear and increasingly global structure assumes the Earth has an endless supply of natural resources at one end, and a limitless capacity to absorb waste and pollution at the other. Agroecology offers an alternative to the conventional model of development that is a shift from linear systems to circular systems. A circular food system is based on two ecological design principles; first, nature is based on nested and interacting cycles. Second, ‘waste’is converted into a useful form by natural processes and cycles ensuring that waste from one species becomes food for other species in the ecosystem. A circular production system replace specialised and centralised supply chains with resilient and decentralised webs of food and energy systems that are integrated with sustainable water and waste management systems.It combines food and energy production with water and waste management aimed to reduce carbon and ecological footprints while maintaining a good quality of life through a controlled process. Well-designed circular systems based on cooperative, communal and collective tenure over land, water, seeds, knowledge and other means of livelihoods is critical.

Rethinking economics, trade and markets

In sharp contrast, to CSA and the conventional development models, a transformative agroecology and food sovereignty seeks to reduce dependence on corporate suppliers of external inputs and distance global commodity markets. A transformative agro-food regime translated into an approach that emphasizes forms of economic organisation and regeneration based on re-embedding agriculture in nature, relying on functional biodiversity and internal resources for production for food, fibre and other benefits, farmers distancing themselves from market supply inputs, farmers diversifying outputs and market outlets, a rediscovery of forgotten resource, trade rules that protect local economies and ecologies.

Deepening democracy

One of the clearest demands of agroecology and food sovereignty is for citizens to exercise their fundamental human right to decide on their own food and agricultural policies. Democratizing food systems governance means enabling farmers and other citizens, both men and women to directly participate in their choice and design of policies and institutions, decide on strategic research priorities and investments and assess the risks of new technologies.

In conclusion, the article shows that CSA and agroecology are not interchangeable concepts or practices that can easily coexist. They represent two fundamentally different visions of development and well-being. CSA is mainly designed to serve the interests of agribusinesses and the financial industry. Its approach is aligned with conventional development models that encourage the commercialisation and corporatisation of the food system based on uniformity, centralisation, control and expansion of global markets – including new carbon markets. In contrast, agroecology is aimed at rebuilding a diversity of decentralised just and sustainable food systems that enhance community and socio-ecological resilience to climate change. It deepens economic and political democracy while inventing a new modernity based on conviviality and plural definitions of well-being.

Full text available here

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