Agroecology may be defined as a scientific field, a practice and a social movement. It constitutes an innovative holistic approach aiming at the sustainable and reasoned use of agricultural and hydric resources. This concept seeks to transform the present agricultural system by proposing solutions which integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development – the social, economic and environmental aspects – in order to fight against the roots of the problems of malnutrition, poverty and inequality.
Agroecology is an agricultural methodology based on the knowledge of the sciences of agronomy, biology and ecology. It materialises itself in a rational and efficient approach contributing to the emergence of a new healthy and sustainable agricultual situation, vital to a worldwide ecological transition. It enables the production of healthy foodstuffs with high nutritional quality, exempt of residues of products emanating from synthetic chemistry. The approach seeks as much to produce healthy and nutritional food as to regenerate the soils, the degraded environments, to promote biodiversity, to optimise the use of hydric resources, as well as to preserve the local genetic patrimony.
Agroecology not only places the ecological aspect at the heart of its process ; the human being is at the centre of its preoccupations. The local knowledge of farmers is included and reinforced, as the fundamental approach of agroecology passes before everything by a reinforcement of the agricultural sovereignty of local farmers. Agroecology is a system of management of farming practices assimilating the social, cultural and political principles of sustainable development and social justice.
The objective is to promote and support the replacement of a mass industrial agriculture by a mass of small local farmers, connected to their environment and consumer pool, contributing in a direct way to the social and economic fabric of their region.
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Agroecology has a strong potential to improve the quality of life of small agricultural producers.
It presents the following advantages :
- Reduction of costs linked to inputs (pesticides, seeds, fertilisers). Agroecology functions as much as possible in a short and closed circuit. The necessary inputs are produced by the agricultural system itself.
- Preservation of the soil. Measures of protection of the soil and sustainable management of its resources are integrated.
- Diversification of revenues, economic and cultural resilience. Agroecological production is not focalised on just one culture. Numerous plants are cultivated in beneficial associations and animals are reared.
- Better resilience in the face of climatic hazards in the context of global change. Numerous practices proposed by agroecology permit a better retention of water and favour a high biodiversity in the system.
- Impact on public health. Products are varied, of better nutritional quality and exempt of residues of products (pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers) emanating from synthetic chemistry.
The application of agroecology contains the following constraints :
- Large workforce necessary. The complexity and interlinking of different elements (trees, annual crops, animals) renders mechanisation difficult. The system developped tends to avoid the use of petrol.
- Complexity of production systems. The elaboration and management of an agroecological production system requires a good understanding of the interactions between the different species which comprise it.
- Difficulty to market a very varied offer. The establishment of a short and local marketing chain (markets, schools, restaurants, hotels, contract farming) necessitates time and energy.
- Yields sometimes lower than in traditional methods according to the crops. But a capacity of the whole system to produce more crops each year than traditional systems, on more reduced surfaces, exploited without petrol and synthetic chemistry.
- Difficulty to manage the pests in certain crops (especially vegetables and fruits). The phytosanitary plan rests on a high biodiversity in the system, with numerous predatory auxiliaries of crop pests, the use of attractive plants, trap plants, repellent plants, as well as locally produced repulsive mixtures (garlic maceration, chili pepper, neem and others).
Agroecology and the objectives of sustainable development
- SDG 1 : To eradicate poverty in all its forms everywhere in the world.
- SDG 2 : To eliminate hunger, ensure food safety, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
- SDG 3 : To enable everyone to live in good health and to promote the well-being of everybody at all ages.
- SDG 8 : To promote a shared and sustainable economic stability, full productive employment and a decent job for all.
- SDG 13 : To undertake urgently the adequate measures to fight against climate changes and their repercussions.
- SDG 15 : To preserve and restore terrestrial ecosystems, in taking care to exploit them in a sustainable way, to manage forests durably, to combat desertification, to halt and reverse the process of degradation of soils and put an end to the impoverishment of biodiversity.