La Revolución Agroecológica de América Latina: rescatar la naturaleza, asegurar la soberanía alimentaria y empoderar al campesino The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants
Details of the Proposal

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Agroecology is providing the scientific, methodological and technological basis for a new ‘agrarian revolution’ worldwide (Altieri 2009, Wezel and Soldat 2009, Wezel et al. 2009, Ferguson and Morales 2010). Agroecology-based production systems are biodiverse, resilient, energetically efficient, socially just and comprise the basis of an energy, productive and food sovereignty strategy (Altieri 1995, Gliessman 1998). Agroecological initiatives aim at transforming industrial agriculture partly by transitioning the existing food systems away from fossil fuel-based production largely for agroexport crops and biofuels towards an alternative agricultural paradigm that encourages local/national food production by small and family farmers based on local innovation, resources and solar energy. This implies access of peasants to land, seeds, water, credit and local markets, partly through the creation of supportive economic policies, financial incentives, market opportunities and agroecological technologies.


The key idea of agroecology is to go beyond alternative farming practices and to develop agroecosystems with minimal dependence on high agrochemical and energy inputs. Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. As a science, agroecology consists of the ‘application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems’ (Altieri 2002). This implies the diversification of farms in order to promote beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem so that these may allow for the regeneration of soil fertility, and maintain productivity and crop protection (Altieri 2002). The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; enhancing soil organic matter and soil biological activity; diversifying plant species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; integrating crops and livestock and optimizing interactions and productivity of the total farming system, rather than the yields of individual species (Gliessman 1998). Sustainability and resilience are achieved by enhancing diversity and complexity of farming systems via polycultures, rotations, agroforestry, use of native seeds and local breeds of livestock, encouraging natural enemies of pests, and using composts and green manure to enhance soil organic matter thus improving soil biological activity and water retention capacity.


There are alternative farming systems that are significantly different from agroecological approaches. For example, organic farming systems managed as monocultures that are in turn dependent on external biological and/or botanical ( inputs are not based on agroecological principles. This ‘input substitution’ approach essentially follows the same paradigm as conventional farming: that is, overcoming the limiting factor but this time with biological or organic inputs. Many of these ‘alternative inputs’ have become commodified, therefore farmers continue to be dependent on input suppliers, cooperative or corporate (Rosset and Altieri 1997). We argue that organic farming systems that do not challenge the monoculture nature of plantations and rely on external inputs as well as on foreign and expensive certification seals, or fair trade systems destined only for agro-export, offer little to small farmers who in turn become dependent on external inputs and foreign and volatile markets. Keeping farmers dependent on an input substitution approach, organic agriculture’s fine-tuning of input use does little to move farmers toward the productive redesign of agricultural ecosystems that would move them away from dependence on external inputs. Niche (organic and/or fair trade) markets for the rich in the North exhibit the same problems of any agro-export scheme that does not prioritize food sovereignty (defined here as the right of people to produce, distribute and consume healthy food in and near their territory in an ecologically sustainable manner), often perpetuating dependence and at times hunger (Altieri 2009).


Agroecology is highly knowledge-intensive, and is based on techniques that are not delivered top-down but developed on the basis of farmers’ knowledge and experimentation. For this reason agroecology emphasizes the capability of local communities to experiment, evaluate, and scale-up innovations through farmer-to- farmer research and grassroots extension approaches. Technological approaches emphasizing diversity, synergy, recycling and integration, and social processes that value community involvement, point to the fact that human resource development is the cornerstone of any strategy aimed at increasing options for rural people and especially resource-poor farmers (Holt-Gimenez 2006). It is also in this context that agroecology promotes community-oriented approaches that look after the subsistence needs of its members, emphasizing self reliance, thus the usual presence of community grain banks. It is also an approach that very much privileges the local: providing for local markets that shorten the circuits of food production and consumption, and hence avoid the high energy needs of ‘long-distance food’.


Agroecological systems are deeply rooted in the ecological rationale of traditional small-scale agriculture (Toledo 1990, Altieri 2004) and there are examples of a myriad of successful agricultural systems characterized by a tremendous diversity of domesticated crop and animal species maintained and enhanced by soil, water and biodiversity management regimes nourished by complex traditional knowledge systems (Toledo and Barrera-Bassols 2008). Such agricultural systems not only have fed much of the world population for centuries and continue to feed people in many parts of the planet, especially in developing countries, but also hold many of the potential answers to the production and natural resource conservation challenges affecting today’s rural landscapes (Koohafkan and Altieri 2010). In this overview paper we will briefly examine the fundamental reasons why the promotion of an agroecological paradigm based on the revitalization of small farms and social processes that value community involvement and empowerment is the only viable option to meet the region’s food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change. We will also briefly look into the socio-ecological features and significance of peasant agriculture, and review the impacts that hundreds of agroecology-based projects in Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Central America and the Andean region have had on the environment, food production and rural social movements. We end by making some reflections on the triple dimensions of the agroecological revolution, namely, cognitive, technological and social, which combined partly gave birth to new modes of communication between activism and science, a process that according to Martinez-Alier (2011) has reached global proportions as agroecology has been incorporated in the vision of La Via Campesina, today’s most important transnational agrarian movement.


We argue that that the threat of food insecurity is the direct result of the industrial model of agriculture characterized by large-scale monocultures of transgenic crops, and that agrofuels exert pressures on increasingly degraded ecosystems further undermining nature’s capacity to supply food, fiber and energy to a growing human population. The tragedy of industrial agriculture is that a growing human population depends on the ecological services provided by nature (e.g. climate balance, pollination, biological control, soil fertility) which intensive industrial agriculture increasingly pushes beyond the tipping point (Perfecto et al. 2009).


Proposals and abstracts