Scientists’ Open Letter to FAO Director General Graziano da Silva, in Support of the February 2015 Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology

By IATP, et al.
Published June 24, 2015

24 June 2015

Dear Director General da Silva,

As scientists and scholars working in sustainable agriculture and food systems, we are writing to support and bring to your attention the recent Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology1, dated 27 February 2015. The Declaration affirms that agroecology can produce food in ecologically sustainable and socially just ways, and can “generate local knowledge, promote social justice, nurture identity and culture, and strengthen the economic viability of rural areas.”

The Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration resulted from a historic meeting in Nyéléni, Mali of “delegates representing diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (including hunters and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people.” Together, they represented those who produce as much as 70 percent of the world’s food, as recognized in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s 2014 State of Food and Agriculture report.

In September 2014, many of us wrote to you in the Scientists’ Support Letter for the International Symposium on Agroecology. We would like to reiterate that agroecology as a science, practice and social movement fosters an uncommonly promising synthesis of knowledge across many domains. In agroecology, traditional and experiential knowledge comes together with scientific knowledge, both social and natural, to animate a transdisciplinary, action-oriented approach to agriculture. This synergy fosters the sustainable production of healthy, diverse foods and provides a stable livelihood to farmers, while decreasing the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity, soils, waterways and climate. Applying principles of ecology to the design and management of such systems, it considers the food system as a socioecological system – encompassing economic, cultural and political dimensions while facilitating both sustainability and justice.

We find it disappointing, then, that agroecology is only mentioned once in the FAO Medium Term Plan[2], while “climate-smart” agriculture and various articulations of so-called sustainable intensification are mentioned throughout. Quoting from our previous letter, “no approach can be scientifically assessed as ‘sustainable’ according to most established definitions of sustainability” without incorporating “distributive and procedural justice.” Climate-smart agriculture and sustainable intensification lack the elements of procedural and distributive justice found in agroecology and food sovereignty, and so their ability to effectively address climate change and sustainability are scientifically questionable. We instead strongly encourage the FAO to seek to build on the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration, in particular, to build on its incorporation of sovereignty, rights and justice as key elements of a rational approach to a sustainable and food-secure system that promotes human dignity. At least, a greater focus on agroecology within FAO’s strategic planning would seem to be appropriate given the three regional agroecology meetings in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia to be held this year under the FAO’s auspices. The pertinence of agroecology in FAO’s work is particularly clear today with the first Regional Agroecology Meeting to be held shortly in Brasilia.

THE NYÉLÉNI AGROECOLOGY DECLARATION’S COMMON PILLARS AND PRINCIPLES

Given our support for a comprehensive socio-ecological approach to agroecology, we call on the FAO to give strong regard to the recent Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration, particularly its Common Pillars and Principles of Agroecology. In the previous letter, we encouraged the FAO member states and the international community to build on the proceedings of the FAO International Symposium on Agroecology to launch a U.N.-wide initiative on agroecology. We reiterate that call here, and propose that the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration offers a unique opportunity to serve as one of the foundations of such an initiative. As a document drafted by a wide array of civil society constituencies, it represents the uniting potential of agroecology. It is a logical basis for continued conversations around building agroecology as a potential pillar of work within the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and to provide guidance for the relevant FAO workstreams that will develop at national, regional and global levels in the future, following FAO’s commitment to integrate the knowledge exchanged during the 2014 International Agroecology Symposium into its internal work. Further, it can contribute substantially to inform the discussions and negotiations about agriculture within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. 

Adding to our previous call, we believe that the FAO 2015 regional symposia on agroecology are important opportunities for progressing the agroecological agenda, but realizing those opportunities will require positive actions. We therefore call on the FAO central administration, the regional and relevant national offices, as well as member states to make sure that:

  • The terms of reference of all the regional symposia (objectives, methodology, scope, expected outcomes, detailed program) are, or continue to be, developed with active participation and reflect the priorities of autonomous diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers, as represented through the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC);
  • The regional symposia duly take into account and build on the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration, and that their outcomes are consistent with it. This notably implies avoiding the reduction and cooptation of agroecology as a narrow set of technologies to fine-tune and further consolidate the industrial food system through concepts such as “climate-smart agriculture” or “sustainable intensification.”

Moreover, we call upon the FAO and member states to also plan the organization of two additional regional symposia on agroecology in Europe and North America before the organization of the 2016 FAO Regional Conferences.

The Regional Meetings will be exciting fora for advancing the agenda of agroecology in collaboration with scientists and farmers. We stand ready, as scholars, to aid the FAO and the world’s small-scale food producers and consumers, peasants, indigenous peoples and communities, hunters and gatherers, family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people, providing whatever knowledge and analysis we can to advance a comprehensive agenda on agroecology in the context of world food security, with particular attention to the four pillars of the food system: social, economic, environmental and cultural. We would be happy to contribute scientific analyses from our various established research projects relevant to the principles and pillars of the Nyéléni Declaration in particular, and look forward to helping build on the “dialogue of knowledges[3]” that is at the heart of agroecology in order that we all may advance forward towards a sustainable, agroecological, food-secure and food-sovereign future.

Signed,

M. Jahi Chappell, Ph.D.
Director, Agroecology and Agriculture Policy
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
Minneapolis, MN, USA

* All institutional affiliations provided for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsement by the respective institutions.

** Please direct return correspondence to Dr. M. Jahi Chappell at jchappell@iatp.org. Correspondence will be forwarded to the following individuals who have endorsed the letter.

Signing on the behalf of:

Miguel A Altieri, PhD
University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Colin Anderson
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Centre of Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Coventry University
Coventry, UK

Molly D. Anderson
Professor of Food Studies
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT, USA

Catherine Badgley
Associate Professor
University of Michigan
Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Residential College
Museum of Paleontology
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Jennifer Blesh
Assistant Professor
University of Michigan
School of Natural Resources and Environment
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Professor Valentine Cadieux
Director of Environmental Studies
Hamline University
St. Paul, MN, USA

Liz Carlisle, PhD, Fellow
Center for Diversified Farming Systems
University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Dr. A. Cristina de la Vega-Leinert
Geography and Geology Institute
Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University
Greifswald, Germany

Bruce G. Ferguson, PhD
Coordinator, Department of Agriculture, Society, and the Environment
El Colegio de la Frontera Sur
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México

Joern Fischer
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Lüneburg, Denmark

Mike Friedman
Assistant Professor of Biology
American International College of Arts and Sciences of Antigua
University Park, Coolidge
St. John's, Antigua, W.I.

Luis García-Barrios, Phd
Investigador Titular
Investigador Nacional
Ecosur
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Stephen R. Gliessman
Editor, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
Professor Emeritus of Agroecology
University of California – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, PhD Assistant Professor
Global Environmental Politics
School of International Service, SIS 306
American University
Washington, DC, USA

Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D.
Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Senior Scientist Center for Food Safety
660 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E.
Washington, DC,  USA

Alastair Iles
Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management
University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

S. Ryan Isakson
Centre for Critical Development Studies and Department of Geography
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Jack Kloppenburg
Professor Emeritus
Department of Community and Environmental Sociology
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI, USA

Jonathan Latham, PhD
Executive Director
The Bioscience Resource Project
Ithaca, NY, USA

Claire Luby, M.S.
PhD candidate
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI, USA

Kathleen McAfee
Associate Professor
International Relations
San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA, USA

Nathan McClintock, PhD
Assistant Professor
Toulan School of Urban Studies & Planning
Portland State University
Portland, OR, USA

Philip McMichael
Professor and Chair
Department of Development Sociology
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY, USA

V. Ernesto Méndez, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Agroecology & Environmental Studies
Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group (ARLG)
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT USA

Albie Miles, PhD
Assistant Professor
Sustainable Community Food Systems
University of Hawai'i, West O'ahu
Kapolei, HI USA

Maywa Montenegro, M.S.
PhD Candidate Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Raj Patel 
Research Professor
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX USA

Antonio Roman-Alcalá
International Institute of Social Studies
The Hague, Netherlands

Alicia Tenza Peral
Departamento de Biología Aplicada
Área de Ecología
Universidad Miguel Hernández
Elche, Alicante Spain

John Soluri
Associate Professor
Carnegie Mellon University
Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Aileen Suzara
MPH in Public Health Nutrition
University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Kathryn Teigen De Master
Assistant Professor
Agriculture, Society & the Environment
Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management
University of California-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA, USA

Alicia Tenza Peral
Departamento de Biología Aplicada
Área de Ecología
Universidad Miguel Hernández
Elche, Alicante, Spain

Ilyas Siddique
Professor of Agroecosystems
Dept. of Crop Science
Center of Agrarian Sciences
Federal University of Santa Catarina
Florianópolis, Brazil

Will Valley, PhD
Instructor, Applied Biology
Academic Director, Land, Food, & Community Series
Faculty of Land and Food Systems
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada

John H. Vandermeer
Professor, University of Michigan
Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Residential College
Museum of Paleontology
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Tom Wakeford
Reader (Associate Professor)
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
Coventry University
Coventry, UK

Robert G. Wallace, Ph.D.
Visiting Scholar
Institute for Global Studies
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.

Justine Williams
PhD candidate
Department of Anthropology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, SC USA

Hannah Wittman
Associate Professor
Faculty of Land and Food Systems
The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada

[1] Hereafter, the “Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration.”

[2] “The Director-General’s Medium Term Plan 2014-17 (reviewed) and Programme of Work and Budget 2016-17,” dated June 2015, retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-mm710e.

[3] “Dialogue of knowledges” is the translation of a specific term from social movements, “dialogo de sabers,” meaning a dialogue between different forms of knowledge/ways of knowing.  Retrieve from https://www.academia.edu/5817512/Di%C3%A1logo_de_saberes_in_La_V%C3%ADa_Campesina_food_sovereignty_and_agroecology_by_Mar%C3%ADa_Elena_Mart%C3%ADnez-Torres_and_Peter_M._Rosset._Journal_of_Peasant_Studies_2014. 




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