Dear scientists and donors, what part of ‘agro-ecology’ don’t you understand?
“Resource-conserving, low-external-input techniques have a proven potential to significantly improve yields,” Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has told the UN Human Rights Council at its Sixteenth session.
“In what may be the most systematic study of the potential of such techniques to date, Jules Pretty et al. compared the impacts of 286 recent sustainable agriculture projects in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (3 per cent of the cultivated area in developing countries). They found that such interventions increased productivity on 12.6 millions farms, with an average crop increase of 79 per cent, while improving the supply of critical environmental services.”
“Disaggregated data from this research showed that average food production per household rose by 1.7 tonnes per year (up by 73 per cent) for 4.42 million small farmers growing cereals and roots on 3.6 million hectares, and that increase in food production was 17 tonnes per year (up 150 per cent) for 146,000 farmers on 542,000 hectares cultivating roots (potato, sweet potato, cassava). After UNCTAD and UNEP reanalyzed the database to produce a summary of the impacts in Africa, it was found that the average crop yield increase was even higher for these projects than the global average of 79 per cent at 116 per cent increase for all African projects and 128 per cent increase for projects in East Africa.”
The most recent large-scale study points to the same conclusions, De Schutter has said. Research commissioned by the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project of the UK Government reviewed 40 projects in 20 African countries where sustainable intensification was developed during the 2000s. The projects included crop improvements (particularly improvements through participatory plant breeding on hitherto neglected orphan crops), integrated pest management, soil conservation and agro-forestry. By early 2010, these projects had documented benefits for 10.39 million farmers and their families and improvements on approximately 12.75 million hectares. Crop yields more than doubled on average (increasing 2.13-fold) over a period of 3-10 years, resulting in an increase in aggregate food production of 5.79 million tonnes per year, equivalent to 557 kg per farming household.
The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations:
As part of their obligation to devote the maximum of their available resources to the progressive realization of the right to food, States should implement public policies supporting the adoption of agroecological practices by:
• making reference to agroecology and sustainable agriculture in national strategies for the realisation of the right to food and by including measures adopted in the agricultural sector in national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and in the list of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) adopted by countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change;
• reorienting public spending in agriculture by prioritizing the provision of public goods, such as extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research, and by building on the complementary strengths of seeds-and-breeds and agroecological methods, allocating resources to both, and exploring the synergies, such as linking fertilizer subsidies directly to agroecological investments on the farm (“subsidy to sustainability”);
• supporting decentralized participatory research and the dissemination of knowledge about the best sustainable agricultural practices by relying on existing farmers’ organisations and networks, and including schemes designed specifically for women;
• improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets, using instruments such as public procurement, credit, farmers’ markets, and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.
The research community, including centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, should:
• increase the budget for agroecological research at the field level (design of sustainable and resilient agroecological systems), farm and community levels (impacts of various practices on incomes and livelihoods), and national and sub-national levels (impact on socio-economic development, participatory scaling-up strategies, and impacts of public policies), and develop research with the intended beneficiaries according to the principles of participation and coconstruction;
• train scientists in the design of agroecological approaches, participatory research methods, and processes of co-inquiry with farmers, and ensure that their organizational culture is supportive of agroecological innovations and participatory research;
• assess projects on the basis of a comprehensive set of performance criteria (impacts on incomes, resource efficiency, impacts on hunger and malnutrition, empowerment of beneficiaries, etc.) with indicators appropriately disaggregated by population to allow monitoring improvements in the status of vulnerable populations, taking into account the requirements of the right to food, in addition to classical agronomical measures.