In much of our work, the term agroecology is thrown out in conversation, and it was at the forefront of many panels at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. It sounds like an interchangeable word for organic, but it is in fact much broader than that. This week, we take agroecology under inspection to define exactly what it is, and how it can apply to our food consumption and culture.
Agroecology is listed as an applied science. This means that is uses existing scientific knowledge and applies it towards practical goals, for example, engineering and medicine apply physics, biology and chemistry towards everyday uses. In agroecology, ecology (the study of organisms on Earth) combines with agricultural production to form a new system. More formal definitions of the term include, "the study of the relation of agricultural crops and environment” by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, while other researchers, “refer to agroecology as the study of the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment within agricultural systems.” It is viewed as a holistic approach to agriculture, which seeks to find balance and harmony between local communities and natural processes, for the common benefit of all. If farming was the human body, agroecology is a lifestyle that encourages you to be active, eat well and take care of your mental health so that you can function at your best on all levels, rather than sacrificing one over the others.
A “win-win” scenario for all is at the heart of agroecology. A few months back, we explored agroforestry and how trees and farming can coexist to improve outcomes for farmer, land and animals. This is a prime example of agroecology in action. While the term may be in tandem with “organic,” agroecology is much more broad, and can be applied to any method of farming that incorporates those principles.
What are the core principles of agroecology? In brief summary, they include:
- Farmers and communities first – empower the local people to find agricultural approaches, share knowledge and adapt to their specific social, environmental and economic needs
- Work with wildlife – look away from chemicals and towards methods that lets nature do the hard work for us, including pest control and pollination
- Ease environmental impact – by putting local first, it seeks to reduce emissions, conserve resources and value what is available
Supporting these practices can lead to a healthier system that may be able to tackle the enormous, seemingly impossible challenges our world faces with climate change, food poverty and deteriorating ecosystems. A vegetable grown in healthy soil, or an animal raised in a humane, natural environment, tastes better and is more nourishing, there is no doubt about that. If everyone across the globe approached their local food system from an agroecological point of view, lasting change and repair could be achieved in our food systems. It’s a daunting task, but by reading this, there’s a high chance you’re already taking part in it. Local Greens aims to only work with farmers who apply these principles. We receive lovely reports from our farmers about how birds and insects are returning to their native hedgerows, or how symbiotic plants keep pests away, along with all the hard work by hand they each put into their products. Our business approach stresses the local, and ethical trade with farmers to support their investment in their land. It’s a shift that many more businesses and suppliers can take, as the cost not to is much more dear.
Bridget Mugambe, from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, stated it best by saying, “Agroecology at the core is about respect. Respect for our soil, food, culture and environment.” We wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Agroecology is a varied concept, and it’s application to farming and a better food system is the way forward.