Family farmers learn sophisticated techniques of ecologically friendly agriculture from Biowatch in South Africa.

Family farmers learn sophisticated techniques of ecologically friendly agriculture from Biowatch in South Africa.

A Holistic Science

Agroecology integrates scientific understanding about how particular places work – their ecology – with farmers’ knowledge of how to make their local landscapes useful to humans. It builds upon the traditional knowledge of family-based farmers and encompasses basic ecological principles for planning and managing sustainable agricultural systems. Agroecology links ecology, agronomy, culture, economics and society to create healthy environments, food production and communities—supporting food sovereignty.

As a science, agroecology is the application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems. As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies between the components of the agro-ecosystem. It provides the most favorable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity.

Agroecology’s core priniciples:

  • Recycle nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs
  • Integrate crops and livestock, because the one supports the other
  • Diversify species and genetic resources in agro-ecosystems over time and space
  • Do not depend on a single crop
  • Do not use pesticides and fertilizers
  • Focus on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system (every element, including soil, forest and livestock), rather than focusing on individual species
  • Highly knowledge-intensive, based on techniques that are developed from farmers’ traditional and indigenous knowledge and experimentation rather than delivered from the top down.

Agroecology as a basis for change

It is a social process to enable small-scale farmers and farm workers/ farm dwellers to take control of their natural resources and manage their environment in a sustainable way, leading to food sovereignty. It is viewed as an emancipatory political project based on social and economic justice, and rooted in ecologically sound practice.

Agroecology also encourages us to think about our own relationship to land, our relationship to the ecosystem and our relationship with other people. This reflection is ongoing so that agroecology is not a result, but a continual process of learning, adapting and teaching ourselves and others.

Read more about IDEX’s work on agroecology on our blog.