Last week, a landmark event took place in Mali. International movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24 to 27, to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty. The participants developed joint strategies to promote agroecology and to defend it from co‐optation.
Together, these diverse constituencies produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors – in terms of labor, time, and their knowledge of the food system practices – in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world. In 2002, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, these movements came together to strengthen their alliances and to expand and deepen their understanding of Food Sovereignty. Since then, the Food Sovereignty movement has come a long way, as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. (See IATP paper on Scaling Up Agroecology)
The gathering identified the industrial food system as a key driver of the multiple crises of climate, food systems, environmental, public health and others (see former IATP President Jim Harkness speaking on this ). Seeing agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life, the gathering identified agroecology as an answer to transforming and repairing our food systems and rural worlds that have been devastated by industrial food production and its so‐called Green and Blue Revolutions.
The gathering also recognized that agroecology is at a crossroads: Under pressure from movements and their allies, multilateral institutions, funders and research institutions are beginning to recognize it. However, there are attempts to redefine it as a narrow set of technologies, to offer some tools that appear to ease the sustainability crisis of industrial food production, while the existing structures of power remain unchallenged. The gathering rejected this attempt to co‐opt agroecology to help fine‐tune the industrial food system, while paying lip service to the environmental discourse, through initiatives with names, such as “climate smart agriculture”, “sustainable‐” or “ecological‐ intensification”, industrial monoculture production of “organic” food, etc. (see IATP blogs and commentaries: climate smart agriculture isnt agroecology; Defining our terms: Agroecology and sustainable agriculture)
Reiterating that the real solutions to the crises of the climate, malnutrition, and others will not come from conforming to the industrial model, the gathering recognized agroecology as the essential alternative to the model, and as the means of transforming how we produce and consume food into something better for humanity and our Mother Earth. The Forum developed common pillars and principles of Agroecology, strategies for moving forward. Here is a link to the Nyéléni Declaration on Agroecology, (See common pillars and Principles identified at the forum, pasted below)
Agroecology is now gaining legitimacy within international institutions, thanks to the power of these movements. For, example, late last year, FAO held a conference on Agroecology, and the final report provides guidelines and examples for food system change and improvement (Final Report of the FAO International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition). As they plan future symposiums later this year – and should use this declaration, particularly its emphasis on movements as leaders, as a basis for organizing those symposiums. The Declaration warns that policy makers cannot move forward on agroecology without the legitimate leaders, the practitioners of agroecology, and insisted that policy makers must respect and support agroecological processes on the ground rather than continuing to support the forces that destroy people and planet.
COMMON PILLARS AND PRINCIPLES OF AGROECOLOGY
Agroecology is a way of life and the language of Nature that we learn as her children. It is not a mere set of technologies or production practices. It cannot be implemented the same way in all territories. Rather it is based on principles that, while they may be similar across the diversity of our territories, can and are practiced in many different ways, with each sector contributing their own colors of their local reality and culture, while always respecting Mother Earth and our common, shared values.
The production practices of agroecology (such as intercropping, traditional fishing and mobile pastoralism, integrating crops, trees, livestock and fish, manuring, compost, local seeds and animal breeds, etc.) are based on ecological principles like building life in the soil, recycling nutrients, the dynamic management of biodiversity and energy conservation at all scales. Agroecology drastically reduces our use of externally‐purchased inputs that must be bought from industry. There is no use of agrotoxics, artificial hormones, GMOs or other dangerous new technologies in agroecology.
Territories are a fundamental pillar of agroecology. Peoples and communities have the right to maintain their own spiritual and material relationships to their lands. They are entitled to secure, develop, control, and reconstruct their customary social structures and to administer their lands and territories, including fishing grounds, both politically and socially. This implies the full recognition of their laws, traditions, customs, tenure systems, and institutions, and constitutes the recognition of the self‐determination and autonomy of peoples.
Collective rights and access to the commons are fundamental pillar of agroecology. We share access to territories that are the home to many different peer groups, and we have sophisticated customary systems for regulating access and avoiding conflicts that we want to preserve and to strengthen.
The diverse knowledges and ways of knowing of our peoples are fundamental to agroecology. We develop our ways of knowing through dialogue among them (diálogo de saberes). Our learning processes are horizontal and peer‐to‐peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding.
The core of our cosmovisions is the necessary equilibrium between nature, the cosmos and human beings. We recognize that as humans we are but a part of nature and the cosmos. We share a spiritual connection with our lands and with the web of life. We love our lands and our peoples, and without that, we cannot defend our agroecology, fight for our rights, or feed the world. We reject the commodification of all forms of life.
Families, communities, collectives, organizations and movements are the fertile soil in which agroecology flourishes. Collective self‐organization and action are what make it possible to scale‐up agroecology, build local food systems, and challenge corporate control of our food system. Solidarity between peoples, between rural and urban populations, is a critical ingredient.
The autonomy of agroecology displaces the control of global markets and generates self ‐ governance by communities. It means we minimize the use of purchased inputs that come from outside. It requires the reshaping of markets so that they are based on the principles of solidarity economy and the ethics of responsible production and consumption. It promotes direct and fair short distribution chains. It implies a transparent relationship between producers and consumers, and is based on the solidarity of shared risks and benefits.
Agroecology is political; it requires us to challenge and transform structures of power in society. We need to put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of the peoples who feed the world.
Women and their knowledge, values, vision and leadership are critical for moving forward. Migration and globalization mean that women’s work is increasing, yet women have far less access to resources than men. All too often, their work is neither recognized nor valued. For agroecology to achieve its full potential, there must be equal distribution of power, tasks, decision‐making and remuneration.
Youth, together with women, provide one of the two principle social bases for the evolution of agroecology. Agroecology can provide a radical space for young people to contribute to the social and ecological transformation that is underway in many of our societies. Youth bear the responsibility to carry forward the collective knowledge learned from their parents, elders and ancestors into the future. They are the stewards of agroecology for future generations. Agroecology must create a territorial and social dynamic that creates opportunities for rural youth and values women’s leadership