Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally.

Representatives of more than 70 countries gathered in Rome recently to discuss this approach to creating a healthier and more sustainable food system. (We were there.) It was an invigorating and encouraging gathering, made more so when José Graziano da Silva, the director general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, called for “transformative change toward sustainable agriculture and food systems based on agroecology.”

Agroecology isn’t rocket science. It simply takes full advantage of nature’s assets, drawn from the farm itself and surrounding ecosystems, to grow food. But in a $5 trillion food system dominated by ever-growing corporate giants, an endorsement from the U.N.’s top food official for farmers to use compost as fertilizer, to take steps to attract pollinators as well as predators that consume agricultural pests and to grow complementary crops for soil health is a significant poke in the eye to a cynical, essentially self-regulating agriculture industry. It’s an industry that would have us believe that we need rocket science to grow a carrot.

Much of the world is waking up to the costs of the industrial approach that defines most of American agriculture, with its addiction to chemicals and monoculture. A new reckoning known as true cost accounting is putting dollar figures on industrial agriculture’s contribution to soil erosion, climate change and public health. At the same time, more and more countries — pushed by networks of small and medium-size farmers like La Via Campesina — are actively shifting to policies and investments that support agroecological food systems.

In India, the state of Andhra Pradesh, home to 50 million people, is investing $200 million to convert its farmers to the agroecological practice known as zero budget natural farming, which uses from-the-farm nutrients to grow crops without using costly chemical fertilizers or pesticides, which can push farmers into debt. More than 100,000 farmers there are already using this method, and an estimated 500,000 farmers in 3,000 villages will have moved to this method by the end of this year, three years ahead of schedule, according to organizers. The government plans to invest $2.3 billion to expand it to six million farmers within five years…

Read the whole op-ed here.

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