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  • Agroecology in the limelight at GLF Climate

Agroecology in the limelight at GLF Climate

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Originally posted on the Agroecology TPP’s website

As part of a three-day GLF Climate: Forests, Food and Finance – Frontiers of Change conference, held on the sidelines of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) on 5 – 7 November, the FTA-funded Transformative Partnership Platform on Agroecology (TPP) put together a series of interactive sessions to discuss agroecological transitions with world-renowned experts, indigenous people and youth.

The plenary titled ‘Growing the momentum for agroecological transformation to resilient food systems’ set out to link the 13 agroecological principles from the CFS HLPE 2019 report, the CFS policy recommendations on agroecological and other innovative approaches and the Coalition on Transforming Food Systems Through Agroecology with the imperative to reduce the contribution that agriculture makes to global warming while adapting to effects of climate change. In a pre-recorded interview – streamed at the plenary – with Fergus Sinclair, Chief Scientist at CIFOR – ICRAF and Co-convenor of the TPP, HE Gotabaya Rajapakse, the President of Sri Lanka, talked about the challenges of implementing bold policy reforms to promote agroecological transition at a national level:

“Despite the overuse of chemical fertilisers, which leads to soil degradation, and inefficiency of farming over many years, there is still a widespread belief within the farming community that organic fertilisers lead to lower yields. For this reason, there is a lot of resistance coming from the farmers in opposition of the restrictions in place against the use of chemical fertilisers – even though such restrictions are better for human health and that of the planet.”

Gabriel Ferrero, Chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security and the Ambassador of Spain to the UN agencies in Rome, spoke about the growing momentum for agroecology as well as Spain’s and CFS’s role and commitment to supporting it:

“What I am seeing from the apex of the multilateral system where the CFS stands, is that at all levels – from national governments to sub-national and local ones, to landscapes, territories and local communities – there is a global movement emerging in support of a transition that is based on agroecological and other innovative approaches built on empowering small-scale producers, family farmers and women.”

Alfredo Mamani Salinas, Vice-Minister of Strategic Natural Resources Development at Peru’s Ministry of Environment, shared insights into the Ministry’s work and approach on climate change along with practical measures of implementing agroforestry policies, such as being inclusive and leaving no one behind, recovering ancestral knowledge and working closely with indigenous people, all the while taking into account women and vulnerable communities.

Going deeper into issue of inclusion, the plenary involved representatives from youth, women and indigenous people, such as Genna Tesdall, who articulated a very clear demand from the YOUNGO constituency to COP26 to have agroecology specifically referred to by the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, while Monicah Yator from Kenya gave a feminist take on bringing agroecology to pastoralists and Patty Fong of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food outlined a vision for inclusive agroecological transition. The vision of an inclusive food system based on the principles of agroecology was taken up by Emile Frison, an expert on agricultural biodiversity at IPES-Food, who described the Coalition on Transforming Food Systems Through Agroecology, which emerged from the UN food systems summit and already has 27 countries and 35 organizations, including five UN bodies, regional farmer organisations, civil society and research institutions, committed to making agroecological transitions a widespread reality.

The 45-minute launchpad on ‘Actioning agroecologically-conducive policies for a food system transformation’ intended to bring the policy discussion aimed at the agroecological transformation of our current food system to the forefront. The digital session discussed the findings and feedback received during an open consultation period of the ‘Agroecologically-conducive policies: A review of recent advances and remaining challenges’ background paper with its authors – Frank Place of CGIAR and TPP, and Paulo Niederle of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and TPP. Practical Action Peru’s Maria Claudia Valdivia gave her perspective on the real-life constraints that farmers face in making the transition to agroecology happen on the ground:

“So many farmers have been telling me that the agroecological transition is necessary, but just how difficult it is to make it. What we are seeing now are these islands of change. Unfortunately, farmers are not in a leading position in the decision-making process. We need to be listening to them and giving them the opportunity to speak and make the right choices by developing their skills at a local level.”

The updated version of the background paper, based on the latest discussion, will be released soon.

An hour-long interactive session on ‘Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA): linking upstream and downstream catchments in Sri Lanka’ presented the climate rationale for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) EbA project in Sri Lanka, which blends agroecological approaches and EbA as it interconnects the upstream Knuckles catchment and downstream areas in a landscapes approach, involving a broad array of adaptation measures – from governance and financing to supporting the agroecological intensification.

Anura Dissanayake of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Irrigation spoke about the importance of the project – to be commenced in January next year – from a local perspective:

“Out of 50,000 small tanks for rainwater storage for agriculture and drinking, around 800 – 1000 are being washed off due to heavy floods. Heavy rainfall also causes landslides and land degradation in the country’s mountainous regions. This ambitious project will give us the directions for how to interact with the cascade system of downstream and upstream water management to help reduce flooding and consequent land degradation.”

Other speakers and scientists who shared their views on the role of ecosystem-based adaptation and the GCF EbA project include ICRAF’s Leimona Beria, Roeland Kindt and Tor-Gunnar Vågen, IUCN’s Sebastien Delahaye, and GCF’s Jerry Velasquez.

Lastly, the Transformative Partnership Platform on Agroecology (TPP) also contributed to a GIZ-organised session on ‘Ecosystem-based adaptation in agriculture: how agroecology can contribute to tackling climate change,’ in which Fergus Sinclair of CIFOR-ICRAF and the TPP called for: addressing whole food systems; eliminating perverse policies and creating enabling ones; integrating all related sectors, including water, forestry, and trade; creating landscape-level capital and policy institutions; and shifting power to benefit marginalized groups, including women and consumers.

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  • The COVID-19 pandemic and agroecosystem resilience: early insights for building better futures

The COVID-19 pandemic and agroecosystem resilience: early insights for building better futures

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John Rono harvests coriander on his farm in western Kenya for sale at an urban centre. Photo World Agroforestry
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Originally posted on ICRAF’s website.

Researchers have studied the impact on natural and managed landscapes and call for wiser and transformative solutions.

As part of socio-ecological systems, agroecosystems provide livelihoods for millions. The ecosystem services generated from agroecosystems provide the basic substances that we need to exist. Hence, the resilience of societies is dependent on well-functioning ecosystems, which is not a given in many developing nations.

As the world marks one year since the global spread of COVID-19, rupturing life as it used to be, it is time to take stock of the impacts beyond the direct medical aspects: on people, forests and agroforestry. A research team from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) studied in depth the wider effects and published their results in the journal, Sustainability.

They found that the impacts have been substantial. So much so that there will be a cesure between research done before, and research results obtained after, 2020.

‘As the reported impacts were both positive and negative,’ said Lalisa Duguma, ICRAF senior scientist researching sustainable landscapes and integrated climate actions and lead author of the article, ‘we started a systematic review of the emerging peer-reviewed literature, realizing that these still are snapshots that need to be interpreted in their local contexts.’

Owing to the disease, countries have closed land borders, ports and even their airspaces except for emergencies or medical goods and equipment supplies. With the planet more globalised than at any other time in human history, these measures, adopted to safeguard populations and contain the virus, created shocks to the broader economy, livelihoods and societal networks. This resulted in significant social effects that created further stress to the prevailing climate-change challenges, environmental degradation and increasing inequity.

Though COVID effects were global, developing countries were the most affected owing to disruptions to economic activities, including production and trade. The pandemic exposed faults in the highly advocated export market, revealing the weak readiness countries have when global issues arise.

In particular, in Sub-Saharan Africa, countries experienced a significant rural-to-urban movement over the last few decades, leading to expansion of urban areas that are strongly dependent on rural agroecosystems. Employment opportunities mainly drove the migration, either as casual or other forms of employment. Most rural households have one or more family members who have moved to urban areas seeking employment.

With the emergence of COVID-19, and measures taken to curb its spread, many employers laid off and reduced staff and casual labourers. Since they lost their jobs and had no other income sources, urban dwellers who were formerly remitters turned for help to their family members in rural areas. Others who lost their jobs returned to their rural areas, increasing demand for consumables. This may increase demand for agricultural land, which is often gained at the expense of forests and woodlands, especially by those living on the margins of forests.


A woman watering vegetables in Burkina Faso. Photo: World Agroforestry/Sophie Mbugua
A woman watering vegetables in Burkina Faso. Photo: World Agroforestry/Sophie Mbugua

In the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors, most interventions are time-sensitive, that is, seasonal, and if the schedule is missed, then farmers have to wait for the next year to implement similar tasks.

Owing to movement restrictions, field inventories, surveys, data collection and other field activities were slowed or discontinued completely to avoid risks to personnel and communities within which activities were to take place. Manenti and others, using responses from managers of protected areas, found that the managers were challenged to implement activities. The lockdowns led to the flourishing of invasive species that were usually managed when access was not restricted.

At farmers’ level, the impacts have been far-reaching. For instance, owing to the non-essential travel and movement restrictions and lack of prior preparation, farmers could not access input supplies, such as fertilisers, disease and pest control inputs and improved seeds.

One vital sector that usually generates substantial revenue for natural resource management in many countries is tourism. In many African countries, the tourism sector is strongly dependent on ecosystems. With the movement restrictions, tourists have temporarily abandoned the region and revenue from the sector has shrunk significantly. It is important to note that the sector supports most wildlife reserves, sanctuaries and private parks in Africa. For example, the United Nations World Tourism Agency indicated that, as of April 2020, almost half of global tourist destinations had closed their borders either totally or partially.

With the shrunken revenue owing to the pandemic, most of the natural resources (wildlife, landscapes and other natural habitats) that the sector relied on have received limited management investment owing to resource scarcity. Unless there are new support schemes, these resources may face significant degradation owing to lack of effective management. Unfortunately, the countries where such resources are located are also facing financial constraints, forcing them to channel available resources to priority and urgent interventions to control COVID-19.

Net impacts varied across continents and within countries, with global chains most at risk and some local supply chains actually flourishing. Diverse agroforestry landscapes with multiple options had ways to cope with the stress while overspecialized landscapes locked into, and dependent on, global supply chains were the most vulnerable. At least, that’s how it appears to be so far, write the team. Further compilations and analysis will be needed.

Overall, whether mitigative, adaptive, transformational or re-imaginative, all actions would need to be backed up by massive investments, policies and incentives. Investments will have to be justified by meeting the current and future generations’ expectations. Above all, leadership, collaboration and joint action will be needed if impacts from COVID-19 like stresses on socio-ecological systems would be minimised in the future.

‘In looking for a suitable “framing” for understanding the cascading effects in socio-ecological systems,’ said Meine van Noordwijk, ICRAF distinguished research fellow and part of the team, ‘we tried to combine the adaptive learning cycle of a resilience analysis scheme, with its breakdown of existing linkages and stored capitals, before the buds of new solutions can be identified among the rubble, with the various types of decisions in the driver–pressure–system–impacts–responses scheme.’

The SARS-CoV2 virus, the source of COVID-19, has had an impact on all Sustainable Development Goals and generated new visions of how humans should interact with nature. Source: Image 1: SARS-CoV2 virus:; Image 2: United Nations (; Image 3: World Agroforestry/Meine van Noordwijk
The SARS-CoV2 virus, the source of COVID-19, has had an impact on all Sustainable Development Goals and generated new visions of how humans should interact with nature. Source: Image 1: SARS-CoV2 virus:; Image 2: United Nations (; Image 3: World Agroforestry/Meine van Noordwijk

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of broader agroecosystems and related sectors and the livelihoods they support. Addressing these vulnerabilities needs measures that cascade from the national level to landscape and household levels. It needs a concerted effort across scales with decentralised roles and responsibilities at the various levels. It would be essential to design and focus on building back better actions around adaptive, transformational and re-imaginative approaches that target systemic changes over the long term. Adaptive, integrated approaches need to focus on adjusting socio-ecological system dynamics to be sufficiently responsive to COVID-19 types of stresses.

‘The most immediate responses of people minimize the damage of a newly emerging threat, before adaptation can occur,’ said Peter Minang, leader of ICRAF’s landscape research and a member of the team, ‘but building back better requires decisions at the transformative and re-imaginative levels, otherwise we may repeat the fragility that we have now observed.’

Specific to the zoonotic starting point of the coronavirus that triggers the COVID-19 disease, there is a debate on the degree of ‘segregation’ that is needed between human activities and the rest of the living world, write the team.

‘Some plead for a strict hygienic corridor, minimizing human interactions with potential sources of further zoonotic diseases,’ said van Noordwijk, ‘while others argue for accepting that humans are part of Nature and that no single wall can prevent human vulnerability, rather, resilience will have to be based on defences at multiple scales, including diversified livelihoods’ options and avoiding “lock-ins” that become a risk during “lock-downs”.’

The debate will continue, write the team, but it would be a missed opportunity if existing ‘engagement landscapes’, where researchers can understand the contexts, are not used to describe and analyse the cascading impacts and the bottlenecks to, and opportunities for, new solutions to emerge.

Read the journal article

Duguma LA, van Noordwijk M, Minang PA, Muthee K. COVID-19 Pandemic and Agroecosystem Resilience: Early Insights for Building Better FuturesSustainability. 2021; 13(3):1278.

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  • FTA Kunming Conference - Results

FTA Kunming Conference – Results

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In person participants to the FTA Kunming Scientific Conference. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith
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On 22–24 June 2021, the CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) organized the FTA Kunming International Conference 2021, which explored the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in enhancing diverse and sustainable landscapes.

All videos from the conference can be accessed here:

“Conserving and managing biodiversity is indispensable to the future of the planet, and conserving and planting trees is a concrete investment for future generations,” said Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA and a facilitator at the conference.

The FTA Kunming Scientific Conference was a hybrid event, with scientists either gathering in Kunming or connecting via Zoom. In the picture, Vincent Gitz, the FTA Director, speaking through Zoom to the plenary. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith

“Forestry and agroforestry exemplify the contributions of biodiversity and agrobiodiversity to sustainable and resilient landscapes, to a green and circular economy, and to sustainable agriculture and food systems for healthy diets.”

Hosted both virtually and in Kunming, China in cooperation with the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Research Institute for Resource Insects, Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF), the event provided an extensive set of recommendations for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, as well as the upcoming 15th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15), which will also be held in Kunming in October 2021.

Xu Jianchu, principal scientist at ICRAF and professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, speaking live in plenary and being broadcast via Zoom to all the participants. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith

Featuring a diverse lineup of speakers including scientists, practitioners, policymakers and members of civil society, the conference covered six main themes: trees for agroecology and circular agriculture, tree diversity, trees in the framework of the CBD, mountain ecosystems and food security, assessing benefits of landscape restoration, and trees for a circular green economy.

“Plants are the green wedge between plenty and poverty, between enlightenment and stagnation,” said Razan Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. “They provide the building material, the charcoal, the forage, the food and the medicine – and as such, their conservation, restoration and rehabilitation is existential to our survival.”

Climate change, environmental degradation and resource depletion have triggered the collapse of advanced civilizations in the past – and ours could be next unless we urgently change our trajectory, warned CIFOR Director General Robert Nasi.

“The average lifespan of a civilization is about 340 years,” said Nasi, “and if we consider that our current civilization started during the Industrial Revolution, we are probably not far from our expiry date unless we do something.”

Across more than 100 scientific sessions and poster presentations, speakers proposed a series of headline recommendations to conserve the world’s plants and forests and harness their benefits:

  1. Protect forests and acknowledge their contributions to biodiversity conservation, climate action and sustainable food systems
  2. Support forest and landscape restoration
  3. Promote the transition to agroecology
  4. Recognize and promote the benefits of biodiversity
  5. Leverage the full potential of trees on farms
  6. Mainstream orphan crops into cultivation
  7. Support innovations in knowledge, technology and institutions for resilient mountains
  8. Mainstream biodiversity in climate discussions and policy
  9. Promote the production and consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables and mushrooms, and leverage the potential of insects as a resource
  10. Understand, recognize, support and draw lessons from Indigenous and traditional culture and food systems
  11. Harness the potential of forests, trees and agroforestry in the transition to a circular bioeconomy
  12. Promote instruments that facilitate the joint consideration of landscapes and value chains


Speakers emphasized the critical need to forge strong partnerships across sectors and disciplines to address the multifaceted ecological crisis. “What we really need are bridge-builders,” said Ranjit Barthakur, founder of the Balipara Foundation in India.

Ranjit Barthakur speaking via Zoom to the plenary. Photo: World Agroforestry/Austin Smith

“We need people in the funding world who understand enough about technology – and who understand enough about conservation to get two groups to work together.”

A prime example is ecolabelling, according to ICRAF Director General Tony Simons.

“Likely within two years’ time, many food manufacturers will be putting labels with CO2 data on their food packets,” Simons predicted, “and all of the datasets, methods, approaches, protocols and standards that scientists and development partners are working on will enable them to report that in a meaningful way.”

“Countries, companies, civil society groups and even individuals need a lot of guidance when it comes specifically to biodiversity and the way that we manage land use and resources and connect them to our prosperous societies and habitats.”

Barthakur also pointed to the important role of technology in facilitating conservation, from genomics and remote sensing to satellite navigation and artificial intelligence, though he warned that humans must continue to take the lead.

“Technology can help us tremendously by focusing on what we save and how well we’re doing,” he said, “but it can never take the place of the courageous action of all of us to try and save humanity. Politicians and businesses have to finally wake up to the biodiversity challenge.”

By Ming Chun Tang. This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • A new partnership for more sustainable and equitable food systems

A new partnership for more sustainable and equitable food systems

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Agroecology Transformative Partnership Platform just launched at a side event at the 48th Plenary of the Committee on World Food Security

Food production is the world’s leading cause of biodiversity loss. It also accounts for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and causes widespread degradation of the land and water resources upon which it depends.

But could we redesign our food systems to work with nature, rather than against it?

Enter agroecology, a science that applies the principles and concepts of ecology to farming, making the most of nature’s resources without damaging or depleting them. It includes adopting practices that mitigate climate change, limit impacts on wildlife, and hand a key role to farmers and local communities.

A new initiative aims to spearhead the transition to agroecology. On 3 June, the Agroecology Transformative Partnership Platform (TPP) was launched at a side event of the 48th Plenary of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS 48). More than 460 people followed the discussions from 56 countries and posed questions to representatives from some of the nations implementing agroecological transitions.

Replay full event here

Initiated by the CGIAR research programme on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and the French Republic via research institutions CIRAD, IRD and INRAE, and with its secretariat at ICRAF, the Agroecology TPP will accelerate uptake of agroecology by addressing knowledge and implementation gaps, coordinating the work of key partners, and providing evidence to inform policymakers, practitioners and donors.

“If we are to preserve the health of our planet and ensure human sustainability, governments the world over must not hesitate to adopt bold policies,” said His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa, one of several high-level speakers at the launch. “Such policies should support ecological conservation, help combat the loss of biodiversity and enable people to achieve their economic aspirations in more sustainable ways.”

Sri Lanka recently banned imports of artificial fertilizer and agrochemicals as part of a “long-needed national transition to a healthier and more ecologically sound system of organic agriculture,” said President Rajapaksa, adding that the Sri Lankan government will be supporting farmers and agribusinesses in the agroecological transition through subsidies and the purchases of paddy at guaranteed prices.

Listen to the full statement of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka

CFS chair Thanawat Tiensin initiated the CFS48 plenary the day after by thanking the President of Sri Lanka for his statement at the Agroecology TPP side event. President Rajapaksa’s statement was replayed in full at the plenary to kick off the country statements following the adoption of the policy recommendations around the HLPE report. IFAD vice president Dominik Ziller, speaking on behalf of the IFAD president, described the HLPE (2019) report as “an essential reference to those seeking to meet the SDGs”.

France, meanwhile, is supporting countries in the Global South in adopting agroecological practices. Prior to funding the TPP, it contributed EUR 600 million at the launch of the Great Green Wall accelerator, which it hosted in Paris, to combat desertification in the African Sahel. In November 2020, France also hosted the Finance in Common summit, which launched a new coalition of public development banks led by IFAD to improve access to finance for smallholders and small-scale agribusinesses.

“For France, it is urgent to transform our current systems towards sustainable and resilient food systems that allow everyone access to quality, healthy, safe, diversified and sustainably produced food,” said Ambassador Céline Jurgensen, France’s permanent representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“France calls for a paradigm shift so that an agroecological approach can replace the Green Revolution of recent decades to meet the climatic, environmental and social challenges that we all face today in both the North and the South.”

Other panelists included representatives from Switzerland and Senegal, who highlighted the role of international institutions and projects in facilitating the transition to agroecology in the buildup to the U.N. Food Systems Summit (26–28 July).

“Thirty years ago, organic products had hardly any access to the market,” said Pio Wennubst, Ambassador for the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the U.N. in Rome. “Now 20% of the food consumption in Switzerland is organic-based production.”

“All the knowledge we developed in Switzerland cannot be simply transferred the way we did in the past with positive intentions. We need another connectivity, another way to discuss and connect with the world on these issues.”

Senegal, for example, is working with FAO to reduce chemical pesticide use through the Integrated Production and Pest Management Programme, which has also increased yields by around 40%.

“Senegal encourages all participants because it is not easy to promote new technologies, said Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Senegal’s ambassador to Italy, in a statement delivered by advisor Madiagne Tall. “But by raising each other’s awareness, we will all become aware of the need to deepen such approaches.”

Civil society actors also featured at the launch, including representatives of indigenous people’s organisations and social entrepreneurs from Paraguay and Kenya, who presented initiatives on farming practices, local and indigenous knowledge and voting on pesticide bans.

The TPP builds on a series of major dialogues and reports, in line with the 13 agroecological principles and policy recommendations from the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the CFS. It works across eight domains in partnership with a core group of institutions including FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Biovision, CGIAR, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), AFA, AFSA and the governments of France and Switzerland.

The TPP’s approach consists of four steps, said Elisabeth Claverie de Saint-Martin, director general for research and strategy at CIRAD. “To tackle knowledge gaps, first gather the best scientists around an unsolved issue. Second, define a common methodology. Third, apply to a wide diversity of situations and contexts; and fourth, try to generate useful knowledge, both specific to the contexts and generic.”

This approach has already been applied to a growing portfolio of projects across Asia, Africa and Latin America, she added, referring to a France-funded TPP project that aims to evaluate the socioeconomic viability of agroecological practices across Africa.

“As it goes forward, the TPP will contribute to creating a level playing field for agroecological approaches to be taken up,” said Fergus Sinclair, chief scientist at CIFORICRAF and co-convener of the TPP and project team leader of the HLPE report.

“The TPP will embrace the complexity needed to transition to co-created locally relevant agriculture and food systems, and enable the horizontal integration across sectors and vertical integration across scales required to translate national and international commitments under the UNFCCC, CBD, UNCCD and AFR100 into meaningful action on the ground.”

“The contribution of agroecological approaches to achieving the 2030 agenda by applying locally adapted solutions for agri-food systems that are environmentally sustainable and economically fair and socially acceptable is increasingly recognized. That is why the FAO conference requested the further integration of sustainable agriculture approaches, including agroecology, in FAO’s work,” said Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist at FAO. She then concluded the event with these inspiring words: “Through the newly established transformative partnership platform that you presented on agroecology, FAO will actively engage in inclusive collaboration with different stakeholders to transform agri-food systems for better production better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, and leave no one behind.”

Get involved by joining the TPP Community of Practice on GLFx.

By Ming Chun Tang. This article was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA). FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with ICRAF, The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Brussels Development Briefing 59: How local application of agroecological principles can transform food systems

Brussels Development Briefing 59: How local application of agroecological principles can transform food systems

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Agroforestry in East and Central Asia. Photo by World Agroforestry
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Leading agricultural scientist calls for transformation of the world’s food systems to align with agroecological principles

Fergus Sinclair, Flagship Leader 2 and Head of Systems Science at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) through collaboration with Bangor University, UK, explained at the 59th Brussels Development Briefing, 15 January 2020, how agroecological principles applied on farms can create sustainable food-production systems. A full streaming of the event can be replayed at this link.

It is now widely recognized, he said, that a major transformation of food systems is needed to achieve food and nutrition security globally in the context of a changing climate and that this will profoundly affect what people eat as well as how our food is produced, processed, transported and sold.

FTA’s Flagship Leader 2, Fergus Sinclair making his presentation at Brussels Briefings 59. Photo Brussels Briefings

According to Sinclair, bringing about such transitions to more sustainable and democratic agricultural systems that reconcile human and environmental health with social justice and, hence, are resilient, will not happen without major shifts in public policies and private-sector contributions to the governance of value chains at international, national and local levels as well as the active encouragement of innovation across these scales.

Agroecology is increasingly seen as being able to contribute to transforming food systems by applying ecological principles to agriculture to ensure a regenerative use of natural resources and ecosystem services. Agroecology also embraces social and cultural aspects in developing equitable food systems within which all people can exercise choice over what they eat and how and where it is produced. To this end, agroecology combines science, practice and social movements that complement each other although it is not inevitable that they remain in step with one another.

Agroecology comprises transdisciplinary science, sustainable agricultural practices and social movements that are precipitating widespread behaviour change. Agroecological principles map closely to principles of adaptation to climate change, with the notable exception that while they often exhibit resilience benefits, these are incidental rather than representing an explicit response to climate signals.

First slide from Fergus’ presentation at BruBriefs 59 [full set of slides available here]
Current market failures (for example, not costing pollution nor valuing the maintenance of soil organic carbon) and perverse policy incentives (for example, subsidizing use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides) combine to mitigate against decisions for farmers and other people in the food system to adopt agroecological approaches, despite their benefits for climate resilience.

Agroecology manifests at field, farm and landscape scales, for which different metrics of agricultural performance are relevant in order for agroecological practices to be fairly judged against alternatives. Operationalising new and holistic performance metrics for agriculture will require innovation in both public and private (value chain) sector governance.

‘There are three key actions required to enable adoption of agroecological practices at scale to build resilience of farming and food systems,’ Sinclair told the audience of representatives of Member States of the European Union, civil society groups, research networks and development practitioners, the private sector and international organizations.

‘A level playing field must be established that addresses market failures, reforms maladapted policies and improves the evidence base,’ he continued. ‘Food-system actors must also be willing to embrace complexity, connecting social movements and science, fostering co-learning and horizontal knowledge exchange and addressing “options by context” interactions.’

The third action is to enable integration, horizontally across systems and vertically across scales. In a simple matrix, Sinclair presented the complete set of 13 agroecological principles.

13 principles of agroecology
13 principles of agroecology

‘A key consequence of defining agroecology in terms of the application of principles,’ he said, ‘rather than as a set of practices, is that this implies that their application will result in changes to the agricultural and food systems to which they are applied. This is in line with the emerging consensus that there is an urgent imperative to transform current food systems — in terms of what people eat and how it is produced, stored, transported, processed and sold — to bring food production in line with demand and the capacity of the planet to produce and absorb pollution and waste.’

This leads, he argued, to a recognition that as different agroecological principles are applied, different levels of transition will occur, involving either incremental or transformational change, depending on which principles are involved and at what scale they operate.

A compelling illustration of how adoption of individual agroecological practices can operate to improve farm-level adaptation to climate change can be seen in a recent inventory of agroecological practices for Africa and their contribution to climate adaptation. Debray and others (2019) focused on agropastoral land use in semi-arid Africa and mixed crop and livestock production in sub-humid areas to evaluate the contribution to climate adaptation of agroecological practices in use by farmers. They found that these were mainly concerned with soil and water management but also included diversification of production, pest and disease control and livestock management. They identified seven categories of agroecological practices contributing to adaptation that were related to preventing land degradation, improving soil health, better water management, diversifying production, adaptive crop management, pest and disease control, and managing livestock.

‘Locally appropriate agroecological practices have potential to increase the resilience of livelihoods and enhance adaptation to climate change at field and farm levels across a wide range of contexts,’ he said, ‘often with significant mitigation co-benefits that might help to finance their establishment. Their potential will only be realized, however, if action is taken across hierarchical levels to remove barriers to their adoption. These need to address market failures and reform policies that create perverse incentives at the same time as adopting comprehensive performance metrics for agricultural systems that factor in social and environmental externalities. A reconfiguration of the relationship between formal science and local knowledge, including bridging differences in outlook and emphasis between social movements and the scientific establishment, is required to foster co-learning among the diverse range of stakeholders involved in development and promotion of agroecological practice. Finally, integration of policy processes across sectors and scales is required to create an enabling environment that encourages adoption of agroecological practices.’


Originally published at World Agroforestry (ICRAF).

FTA partner World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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