The following article consists of excerpts from Agroecology in Canada: Food Sovereignty in Action published by the National Farmers’ Union.
“Agroecology is much more than a set of technologies; it is a political and social system, a way of life, a form of resistance against corporate control of the food system, and quite simply the best means of achieving food sovereignty.”
— Ayla Fenton, NFU Youth Vice President
“Agroecology is the answer to how to transform and repair our material reality in a food system and rural world that has been devastated by industrial food production and its so-called Green and Blue Revolutions. We see agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life.”
Agroecology is a holistic approach to food production that uses—and creates—social, cultural, economic and environmental knowledge to promote food sovereignty, social justice, economic sustainability, and healthy agricultural ecosystems. Ultimately, agroecology means bringing agriculture back into harmony with human ecology, including our biology, our environment, and our cultural and political structures. In the fight against the corporate control of our food system, there is an opportunity— and a need—to establish agroecology as an essential component of food sovereignty. In doing so, we will be part of a coherent and unified movement with our allies around the world in La Vía Campesina.
Common Pillars of Agroecology
Based on La Via Campesina’s Declaration of the International Forum on Agroecology (2015)*
- Agroecology is a way of life, not just a set of technologies or production practices, and must be adapted to local contexts.
- Production practices should be based on ecological principles and an understanding that life cannot be commodified.
- Reduction of externally purchased inputs, and increased farm and community self-sufficiency will allow for greater farmer autonomy and strengthened rural economies.
- Peoples and communities who feed the world need their collective rights protected in order to secure their access and control over the commons (seeds, land, waters, knowledge, and culture).
- Knowledge sharing for food producers must be horizontal, peer-to-peer and intergenerational.
- Direct, fair distribution chains, transparent relationships, and solidarity between producers and consumers are needed to displace corporate control of global markets and generate self-governance by communities.
- Agroecology is political and requires us to transform the structures of power in society.
- Youth and women are the principal social bases for the evolution of agroecology. Territorial and social dynamics must allow for leadership and control of land and resources by women and youth.
Increase Farmer Autonomy
Farmer autonomy is about farmers being able to make decisions for themselves. As corporatization of the food system has increased, agriculture has become more industrialized, and decision making in the food system has moved from farmers, citizens and governments to corporate boardrooms. Transnational energy and agribusiness corporations seek to maximize their own profits by selling inputs (inflows) and promoting production of monoculture crops (outflows) which are purchased at low prices from farmers to resell to consumers at high prices. As a result, total operating costs of Canadian farms have risen by over 1300% since 1971*. In the same period (1971–2014), the Consumer Price Index has gone up 496%*. Clearly, the cost of farm inputs has risen faster than other costs; meanwhile the realized net farm income has not increased much at all, and its purchasing power has diminished by nearly 5 times. So the disconnect between the cost of farming and the rewards of farming is quite dramatic. In contrast, agroecological systems strive to minimize or eliminate costly inflows and unnecessary outflows. Farmers can utilize a range of techniques that work with nature, including biocontrols—methods of controlling pests and other problems with raw materials from the local environment (e.g. weeds and microorganisms).
“Although conventional wisdom claims that small family farms are backward and unproductive, research shows that small farms are much more productive than large farms if total output is considered rather than yield from a single crop” —Miguel Altieri, an expert in agroecology based at the University of California, Berkeley Agroecology’s overarching principle is to shift from linear one-way flows to continuous cycles. With agroecology, farmers strive to minimize losses of energy, water, nutrients and genetic resources while optimizing organic matter and nutrient cycling. Enhancing biodiversity and soil health promotes ecological processes and services that work for the farmer. Thus, productivity is no longer associated solely with yield. Other measures include food produced per hectare of land, efficient resource use, long-term ecosystem sustainability, and economic development.
In agroecology, the seed is a commons—the collective heritage of humanity to be saved, shared and reused without the restrictions of private property rights such as patents. When growers can share seeds, they enhance biodiversity and build the resilience necessary to adapt to new conditions created by climate change.
“Agroecology continues to grow, both in science and in policies. It is an approach that will help to address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, in the context of the climate change adaptation needed” —FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
Support Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge
Biopiracy is the process whereby private entities including transnational corporations (TNCs) claim intellectual property rights on genetic resources that have traditionally belonged to the commons. These resources have been managed, developed and shared for generations by Indigenous communities and peasants. Farmers who practice agroecology seek to develop mutually beneficial human relationships by duly acknowledging the peoples who have sustained essential resources and traditional knowledge. When farmers source and help to preserve production inputs such as heritage seeds, they contribute to the expansion of Indigenous and ancestral knowledge.
To read more about agroecology, and the NFU, visit:
For more on the history of agroecological principles and La Via Campesina, please see: