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Agroecology: Science, Farming System, or Social Movement?

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This week's blog entry features a paper drafted by Dr. John Ikerd for his keynote address at the 2018 Organic Grain Conference. Held on February 1 in Champaign, IL, the Organic Grain Conference drew a crowd of 145 farmers, researchers, educators, advocates, and industry representatives for a day of learning and networking. John Ikerd is Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO – USA; Author of, Sustainable Capitalism-a Matter of Common Sense, Essentials of Economic Sustainability, A Return to Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms, Crisis and Opportunity-Sustainability in American Agriculture, and A Revolution of the Middle-the Pursuit of Happiness, all books available on Books and Kindle E-books. Email:; Website: or (Reproduced with permission of the author.)

“Agroecology” is a merging of the words agriculture and ecology. Its basic purpose is to reconnect agriculture with its biophysical, agronomic, economic, and philosophical root in natural ecosystems. I first became aware of agroecology as a science when I moved from the University of Georgia to the University of Missouri in 1988 to assume a leadership position in sustainable agriculture research and education programs. Sustainable agriculture was a new term and a new area of work for me, as it was for most others in the U.S. at that time. In September 1988, I attended an International Sustainable Agriculture Systems conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was organized by the “Agroecology Program” at The Ohio State University. For me, this was the beginning of a 30-year learning process that continues today.

One of the first books I read on returning to the University of Missouri was a book written by Miguel Altieri called, Agroecology; The Science of Sustainable Agriculture. The book describes agroecology in terms of farming systems that are rooted in the science of ecology. Altieri’s field research and case studies focused on his work in international agricultural development. However, ecology has no political boundaries. The ecology of the various places around the world where people farm can be very different, but the ecological principles of nature are the same on every farm.  My introduction to sustainable farming was rooted in agroecology.

I didn’t become fully aware of the importance of agroecology as a social movement until 2017. That year, I was commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to write the regional report on Family Farms of North America in recognition of the International Year of Family Farming.[i] At the international conference in Rome, where I presented my report, advocates of the global Food Sovereignty movement were well represented. They were clearly committed to promoting farming systems rooted in the science of agroecology as a sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture. At a recent conference in California, a U.S. representative of the FAO told a group that the U.S has been one of very few dissenting voices at recent FAO-sponsored international conference exploring the potentials of agroecology.

Perhaps the U.S. government, or agri-corporate lobbyists, see agroecology as a threat to their continued industrialization of global agriculture. Regardless, I believe U.S. farmers need to become more familiar with the concepts and principles of agroecology. Agroecology is not only a means of protecting or restoring food sovereignty to rural communities but is also a means of protecting the individual sovereignty of independent farmers. The agricultural economy of the U.S. is increasingly dominated and controlled by large multinational agribusiness corporations that have no compelling interest other than maximizing profits and economic growth.

Agroecology is a science, a farming system, and a social movement. First, agroecology applies the science of ecology to agriculture.[ii] Ecology is a study of the relationships of living organisms, including humans, with the other elements of their natural and social environment. There is a common phrase in ecology that relates directly to agroecology: “You can’t do just one thing.” The relationships in agroecosystems, such as those in the soil and among plants and animals, are incredibly complex. Everything is related, somehow and in some way, to everything else. Any one thing a farmer may do affects everything else on the farm—some in small ways and others in important ways. When farmers do one thing, they need to be aware of all the other things that may be affected on their farm as a whole. The unintended consequences may appear either quickly or at some time in the distant future.

Second, as a farming system, agroecology respects that the natural ecosystems upon which sustainable individual farming systems depend are inherently different or unique. Sometimes the differences are insignificant and sometimes they are critical to the performance of the farm as a whole. A set of specific farming methods and practices that are successful for one farmer on one farm may or may not work for another farmer or another farm—even though nature functions by the same principles on every farm. Agroecology respects the “natural ecology of place.” Agroecological farming systems are defined by principles rather than specific farming methods or practices. Methods and practices must respect the uniqueness of place.

Agroecology also respects “the social ecology of place.” Agroecology views humans as members of the earth’s integrally connected ecosystem. The farmer is treated as a member of a farm’s agroecosystem and the relationship between a specific farm and specific farmer is critical to the farm’s success or failure. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do traditional agricultural research relevant to agroecological farming systems, because what works for one farmer might not work for another, even on the same farm. Authentic organic farming also is rooted in the belief that a farm is an organism of which the farmer is an organ or integral part. This casts serious doubts on the ability to standardize authentic organic farming. Farming systems other than organic that treat farmers as members and caretakers of the earth’s integral community also may be consistent with agroecology.

Equally important, agroecology recognizes that farms are inherently interconnected with the specific communities and societies in which they function. The economic sustainability of a farm is interdependent with the willingness and ability of people in its local community, or the larger society, to buy its agricultural products. Less appreciated, the quality of life of farmers and farm families are affected by their personal relationships with others in their communities—their customers, their neighbors, and people they meet in town through churches, schools, or participation in public service. These relationships may critically affect the farmer’s sense of acceptance, belonging, and self-esteem. The quality of personal relationships affects the quality of farm life and may affect the economic success or failure of the farm.

Third, as a social movement, agroecology was a natural choice for the global “Food Sovereignty Movement.” Food Sovereignty proclaims, “The right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems."[iii]  Agroecology is a science-based approach to “ecologically sound and sustainable farming methods” that can be used to produce “healthy and culturally appropriate foods” and to retain the rights of people “to define their own food and farming systems” that respect the “natural and social ecology of place.” Perhaps more acceptable and more relevant to farmers in the U.S., agroecology seems a natural choice for a science-based conceptual foundation for the local food movement, which could evolve into a new post-industrial sustainable food system for America.

The FAO of the UN, in its statement of support for agroecology, made the following points:[iv]

  • The global food system is at a crossroads. The industrialization of agriculture has created a situation where we are faced with a growing global population, persistent hunger and increasing malnutrition, soil degradation, water pollution and depletion, and loss of biodiversity during a time of climate uncertainty. In other words, the current industrial system of agricultural production is simply not sustainable.
  • The challenge is to transition to an agricultural system that is capable of meeting the food needs of future society, not only by increasing productivity, but also by distributing food equitably—while not only protecting the natural environment, but also renewing and regenerating the resource essential for agricultural productivity, and increasing agricultural employment opportunities. The social and economic impacts of agroecosystems are inseparable from the ecological impacts.
  • Agroecology focuses on optimizing the interrelationships among microorganisms in the soil, plants, animals, people, society and the geophysical elements of the earth. Agroecology based farming systems are capable of increasing food production and nutrition, alleviating hunger through more equitable food distribution, increasing biodiversity, restoring soil health, replenishing available water, and increasing agricultural employment and livelihoods, while sequestering soil carbon and mitigating the effects of climate change. Agroecological farming systems are multifunctional and thus have the capacity to be sustainable.
  • Agroecology is adaptable to the ecological, social, economic, and cultural diversity of the many places on earth where agriculture is carried out to meet the nutritional needs of people. Agroecology works toward farming solutions that conserve and protect ecological integrity above and below ground biodiversity, and respects diverse cultures, aptitudes, and knowledge bases by honoring the contributions of women and youth to family farming, rural communities, and agricultural productivity.
  • Fundamentally different public policies, priorities for public investments, and research and educational agendas for public institutions are needed to meet the agri-food challenges of the future. Agroecology is the logical basis for evolving food systems because it is equally strong in environmental, economic, social, and agronomic dimensions. Agroecology can evolve as new challenges emerge and its multiple ecological, social, and economic benefits evolve.

The FAO’s position is supported by decades of agroecological research, particularly in the so-called developing nations of the world that are in greatest need of food security. A 2016 independent study by an International Panel of Experts in Sustainability (IPES) cited more than 350 scientific sources and described the evidence supporting the indictment of industrial agriculture as “overwhelming."[v] The IPES members are from highly respected academic institutions and international organizations around the world. They concluded, “Today's food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems, high GHG emissions, biodiversity losses, persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases, and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.”[vi]

The report concludes, “What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversify­ing farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods. Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversi­fied agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.”

Olivier De Schutter, leader of the independent panel observed, “It is not a lack of evidence holding back the agroecological alternative. The way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems. We must change the way we set political priorities,"[vii] If we are to reshape the future of farming and food production in the U.S. as well as the rest of the world, we must reset the political priorities and fundamentally reform farm policy. Agroecology is a logical alternative to industrial agriculture.

Agroecology requires ways of thinking that are fundamentally different from the specialization, standardization/mechanization, and consolidation mindset of industrial agriculture. The “integral ecological” perspective of agroecology also differs from the mindset of many ecologists, in that it considers humans to be integrally connected with all other living species and nonliving elements of the earth. Pope Francis recently brought integral ecology to widespread public attention when he used it as a central theme in his 2015 landmark Encyclical on Climate Change, Laudato Si. He focused on the failure of the environmental movement to address the social and economic roots of growing threats to “our common home” – the earth. He wrote, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”[viii]

Contrary to what many rural people have been led to believe, the ecological threats posed the economic exploitation of nature are real and are certainly not limited to agriculture. Continued denial will not shield rural America from the consequences of inaction. Gustave Speth, founder of the World Resources Institute, co-founder of the Natural Resource Defense Council, advisor to Presidents Carter and Clinton, wrote in his book Bridge at the Edge of the Earth, “”For all of the material blessings economic progress has provided, for all of the disease and destitution avoided, for all the glories that shine in the best of our civilization, the costs to the natural world, the costs to the glories of nature, have been huge and must be counted in the balance as tragic loss.”[ix]

Speth proceeds to reference the loss of half of the world’s tropical and temperate forests, half of the world’s wet lands and a third of the mangroves, 90% percent of large predator fish, 75% of healthy fisheries, and 20% of coral reefs. Species are disappearing a thousand times faster than normal, over half of agricultural lands are in states of deterioration and desertification, and persistent agricultural chemicals are now in the bodies of nearly every human on earth. Global climate change is but the latest in a long string of environmental crises to gain widespread public attention.

An early benchmark in the modern environmental movement was Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic book, Silent Spring,[x] which foretold the consequences of agricultural industrialization. She warned: “For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.”[xi] The latest benchmark is the global Agreement on Climate Change reached at a Convention of the United Nations (UN) in Paris in 2015.[xii] The environmental movement has been an ongoing battle to convince humanity to avoid self-annihilation through a responsible relationship with nature.

The UN call for adoption of the Paris agreement states: “Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions; also recognizing that deep reductions in global emissions will be required… and emphasizing the need for urgency in addressing climate change…”[xiii] Of the 197 nations attending the Paris Convention, only the United States and Syria have refused to sign the agreement. Nicaragua refused to attend the Convention because they did not believe the goals were sufficiently ambitious to address the problem.

Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the “Nobel Prize in Economics,” in his book, The Price of Inequity, links climate change and ecological degradation in general with economic inequity and blames irresponsible government policies. Governments have allowed exploitation of natural resources to provide unearned “rents” or profits for corporations rather than to benefit the rightful owners of the resources – the people in common. Stiglitz documents that recent growth in the U.S. economy has been captured almost entirely by the wealthiest Americans. “For the past 30 years, we’ve become increasingly a nation divided; not only has the top been growing fastest, but the bottom has been declining.”[xiv] The richest 20 percent of Americans earn more after taxes than the bottom 80 percent combined. He makes the case for a Green GDP, which includes social and ecological indicators of progress, as well as the usual economic indicators.

Pope Francis also points to the negative ecological and social consequences of economic growth.  “The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They may not affirm such theories with words, but… show no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behavior shows that for them maximizing profits is enough.”[xv] Pope Francis challenges global society “to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.”[xvi]

Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything also focuses on the challenges of global climate change and joins Pope Francis in calling for a cultural revolution. She emphasizes that climate change is but a symptom of major ecological, social, and economic problems that threaten the future of human life on earth. She points out the futility of relying on technological fixes—which often create more and bigger problems than they solve. She makes the case that addressing the root causes of climate change ultimately must “change everything.” She writes, “So this book proposes a different strategy: think big, go deep, and move the ideological pole far away from the stifling market fundamentalism that has become the greatest enemy of planetary health.”[xvii]

Agroecology is a response to the need to abandon the “market fundamentalism” that supports and drives industrial agriculture. The economic industrialization of agriculture was a noble experiment and well-intended, but it failed. In addition to the host of ecological and economic problems it has created, it hasn’t even fulfilled its most fundamental purpose—it failed to provide food security. Even in the U.S. we have more people classified as “food insecure” or hungry than we had back in the 1960s. One in eight Americans are classified as “food insecure,” and more than one-sixth of American children live in food-insecure homes—meaning a home where they can’t depend on getting enough food to support healthy, active lives.[xviii] 

In addition, the U.S. is plagued with an epidemic of diet related illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and a variety of cancers. The industrial food system has failed to reduce either hunger or malnutrition. Diet related health problems threaten the future of America, both physically and economically. I do not want to belabor the point, but an industrial food system is not sustainable. Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without diminishing opportunities for the future. Industrial agriculture has failed to meet even the basic food needs of the present—let alone preserve opportunities for the future.

Unlike industrial agriculture, which gives priority to economic efficiency, agroecology gives equal consideration to the multiple ecological, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability. Agroecology is consistent with some of the more popular approaches to sustainable farming, but differs from others. Perhaps the most important distinction is that agroecology is “context-specific,” meaning it recognizes that farming methods and practices that are sustainable for a given farmer, on a given farm, in a particular farming community may not be sustainable for another farmer, farm, or community. Sustainability requires harmony among the farmer, farm, community, and society. Thus, any specific approach to farming that is based on specific farming practices—such as no-till farming, precision farming, or “certified organic”—may or may not be agro-ecologically sound for any particular farmer.

Integral ecology views the farm as a living organism. As suggested previously, it is consistent with the philosophy of organic farming, but the holism or integrality of agroecology conflicts with USDA certification standards, which rely primarily on list allowable and non-allowable inputs to define “organic.” Current standards allow hydroponic organic production, meaning production without soil, which can hardly be reconciled with the farm as a biological, living organism. Current organic standards also allow organic animal products to be produced in large confinement animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which are far more like factories than farms. Agroecological farming—unlike no-till farming, precision farming, or other systems that focus exclusively on farming methods or practices—also requires economic equity and social justice for farm workers and consideration for the social and economic well-being of people in rural communities. Today’s corporately dominated agricultural operations simply lack the capacity to express the social and ethical values that are essential for agroecological integrity.

Agroecology has much in common with Holistic Management, in that both recognize the multiple ecological, social, and economic dimensions essential for sustainable farming. Both are also based on principles and processes of nature rather than specific methods or practices. However, Holistic Management is based on a specific step-by-step decision-making process, which may need to at least be modified to accommodate specific farmers or farming cultures. Regenerative Agriculture is an attempt to emphasize the need to move beyond simply sustaining the current situation to restoring and enhancing the productivity of soils and restoring the integrity of the overall agroecosystem. Sustainability recognizes the need for regeneration because it recognizes the necessity of meeting the needs of the future. However, sustainability also requires resilience and resource efficiency—as well as the need for social and ecological integrity. If regenerative agriculture is to be consistent with agroecology, it cannot be narrowly focused on ecological sustainability as the expense of social and economic integrity.

Several other farming systems—such as ecological farming, biological farming, biodynamics, and nature farming—all have elements in common with agroecology and have some minor or significant differences. In my opinion, agroecology can provide a useful concept and set of guiding principles by which other approaches to sustainable farming can be evaluated and modified, as necessary, to ensure their consistency with agricultural sustainability. I think sustainable farmers should use the farming system that seems to fit their individual preferences, their farm, and their community—but should continually reevaluate its ecological, social, and economic integrity. To me, this is the essence of agroecology as a farming system.

Finally, agroecology provides the scientific foundation for a social movement that emphasizes “the social ecology of place.” In the U.S., the principles of agroecology are most prominent in the local food movement. The popularity of local foods—farmers markets, CSAs, and other direct sales—grew along with the rapid growth in organic food sales during the 1990s. However, as organic foods moved into mainstream markets and organic food production became controlled by large food corporations, organic consumers increasingly turned to local farmers to ensure the ecological and social integrity of their food. While integrity may not be the word “locavores” use, their actions indicate their concerns are deeper than food quality or price.

The most frequently mentioned motivations of consumers for buying local foods include freshness, flavor or taste, and nutrition. People have learned that shipped-in foods generally are not as fresh and flavorful, and are probably not as nutritious, as fresh-picked, locally-grown foods at farmers markets, CSAs, and other local markets.[xix]  Many people consider local foods to be safer because they are more likely to be produced organically, or at least without pesticides or GMOs. In the case of meat, milk, or eggs, hormones or antibiotics are more common concerns. Most farmers who sell locally understand the concerns of people who buy local foods and attempt to address concerns that are not being addressed by the industrial food system.

In return, people who buy local foods often mention their desire to support local farmers economically and to help build stronger local economies and communities. Estimates based on comparison of local and industrial food production in general indicate that foods grown for local markets contribute about four-times as many dollars to local economies as commodities grown for industrial food production. That said, the popularity of local foods and the incentives to produce local foods cannot be reduced to economics. “Several studies have found that the social desirability of buying local food plays a central role in influencing consumers to participate in the local food economy.”[xx] Many local food advocates care about community.

People tend to trust “their local farmers” to not only produce “good food” but also to be good neighbors, good community members, and good stewards of the land. In other words, the local food movement in driven by the desire of a growing number of people to restore ecological, social, and economic integrity to their food system—by supporting local sustainable farmers. Some experts may question the importance of social, ecological, and unselfish economic motives for buying local. However, the fact that local foods clearly emerged in response to the perceived industrialization of organics suggests otherwise. Americans are trying to restore trust and confidence in “their food system” by “buying local.” For these reasons and others, farmers motivated primarily by profits or economics are unlikely to be successful in local markets. Eventually, their customers will see their foods as little different from industrial foods and will value them accordingly.

I believe the best hope for restoring and sustaining the ecological, social, and economic integrity of the American and global food systems is the Food Sovereignty Movement. Admittedly, Americans thus far have been reluctant to embrace the idea of “food sovereignty”—whether because of corporate propaganda marginalizing it as a “poor people or peasant” movement or a “not invented here” mentality. However, the principles of food sovereignty can be embraced and used to reshape U.S. and global farm and food policy, regardless of what we choose to call it.

The term, food sovereignty, was coined in 1996 by Via Campesina, which is an alliance of 148 international organizations.[xxi] Food sovereignty has since been defined, as stated previously, as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." [xxii] Food sovereignty is grounded in the proposition that safe, nutritious food is a basic human right – not something to be left to the indifference of markets or the vagaries of charity. Perhaps this is an obstacle to its acceptance among those who are skeptical of “economic rights.”

However, food sovereignty is not some socialist or communist idea. It is simply a reaffirmation of a God-given, self-evident, unalienable right stated in the American Declaration of Independence: the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All other rights, including liberty and happiness, are dependent on our right to life. Life ultimately is dependent on clean air and water and safe, nutritious food. Agroecology simply extends those basic human rights to those of future generations. Our Declaration of Independence also states that “to ensure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” What could possibly be more fundamentally American than farm and food policies that ensure the right of all people to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced by ecologically and socially sustainable means?

The Food Sovereignty Movement emerged as a clear and firm rejection of the industrialization of the global food system. People around the world were stating a determination to protect themselves from the economic exploitation of industrial agriculture, which also is perhaps the greatest threat facing rural America today. Food sovereignty claims the right of local control of decisions regarding land use, crop and livestock genetics, and natural resource protection. It seeks to ensure local control of food systems by supporting and rewarding local farmers who contribute to local food security. It is inclusive of all people in local communities and it respects and values diversity of gender, race, income, ethnicity, and other cultural differences. Food sovereignty is firmly rooted in the principles of agroecology.

The success of food sovereignty initiatives depend on effective local governance. Markets have proven fundamentally incapable of providing food security. Markets provide food for those who have enough money to buy enough food. Thus, hunger is inevitable in market economies because there always have been and always will be people who lack the physical or intellectual capacities or opportunities to contribute enough economic value to society to allow them to buy enough food. Economic value is determined by scarcity, not necessity. Effective governance will always be needed to ensure basic food security and other necessities of life.

I am convinced past government food assistance programs have failed because they have been impersonal and thus inherently bureaucratic—rather than local. The taxpayers who have paid for food assistance have had no personal sense of connectedness or responsibility for the recipients. Those receiving food assistance have had no personal sense of appreciation or gratitude for those who have paid for the food. This has left state and federal food assistance programs vulnerable to gross inadequacy, economic inefficiency, fraud, and abuse. With community-based programs based on the principles of food sovereignty, there would be strong personal motives to avoid, detect, and correct any inadequacies, misuse, or abuse of the programs.

Thus, food sovereignty will require an approach to governance fundamentally different from food assistance programs of the past. I have suggested the model of locally governed, cooperatively managed, “community food utilities.”[xxiii] Public utilities are commonly used in cases of “natural monopolies,” including public utilities for electricity, water, and sewers. However, public utilities are appropriate in any case of market failure—where markets cannot provide an essential public service for everyone in a community. Public utilities remove provision of such services from the economy to ensure that the needs of all are met. Food security is a market failure, which justifies the establishment of community food utilities.

One important difference between my proposed community utility and other public utilities is that local farmers, processors, distributors, and food recipients would all be members and included on boards of directors. The utilities would be managed as “vertical cooperatives” to ensure sustainability of the entire local food system. The nutritional needs of food recipients would be met by means that give priority to local food producers and would ensure that their economic returns are sufficient to support sustainable production practices. Current government food assistance funds would be integrated into the food utility. Educational programs would help recipients learn to select and prepare raw and minimally processed nutritious food. Maximum nutrition at minimum costs. A community food utility also would provide a stable economic foundation for a sustainable local food system that eventually could be available to all in the community, regardless of income.

If we have the wisdom to build local food systems on a solid foundation of agroecology, I can foresee a time when every community could have its own local, community-based food system. Communities would not be “self-sufficient” in food production, but would give priority to buying local foods from local farmers who give priority to local markets. Food sovereign communities would connect through relationships of integrity and trust to create regional, national, and even global networks. The corporate-controlled industrial/global food system of today would be largely replaced by a community-controlled sustainable, local food network.

If we view changing the global system as an individual task, it may seem unsurmountable. However, even national and global changes always happen locally—one person, one community, one state, one nation at a time. What’s most important is that we each can do our part in bringing about the changes that help make the world a better place to live and can create a better future for ourselves and for humanity. We don’t have to change the world by ourselves, we simply need to do our part.

As Pope Francis stated, “If we reflect on the proper relationship between human beings and the world around us, we see the need for a correct understanding of work; if we talk about the relationship between human beings and things, the question arises as to the meaning and purpose of all human activity”.[xxiv] “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us.”[xxv]

Agroecology is a science, a farming system, and a social movement. Perhaps most important it is a means of gaining a better understanding how the world works and our place within it, so we can find our purpose and fulfill our uniquely human responsibilities as members and caretakers of the earth’s integral community. What is at stake is not only the well-being of others of present and future generations, but our own dignity and sense of self-worth.


[i] John Ikerd, Family Farms of North America, working paper number 152, December, 2016, Published by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth of the United Nations Development Programme, .

[ii] Miguel Altieri, “Agroecology: principles and strategies for designing sustainable farming systems”, University of California, .

[iii] Nyelini Forum on Food Sovereignty, “Declaration of Nyeleni,” February 27, 2007, .

[iv] Agroecology Knowledge Hub, Overview, FAO of UN, .

[v] Andrea Germanos, “'Overwhelming' Evidence Shows Path is Clear: It's Time to Ditch Industrial Agriculture for Good Common Dreams, Thursday, June 02, 2016,

[vi]  IPES – Food, International Panel of Experts on Sustainability, From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems, June 2016,

[vii] Germanos, Common Dreams.

[viii] Francis, “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home” 2015, May 24, paragraph 139. Retrieved November 19, 2015.

[ix] James Gustave Speth, The Bridge at the Edge of the World (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2008), p 1.

[x] Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962)

[xi] Carson, Silent Spring, p. 15. 

[xii] United Nations, Framework Convention on Climate Change, “The Paris Agreement.”

[xiii] United Nations, Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Adoption of Paris Agreement,” Nov-Dec 2015, .

[xiv] Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequity – How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013), 5.

[xv] Francis, “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home” May 24, 2015, paragraph 109. Retrieved November 19, 2015. .

[xvi] Francis, “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, paragraph 114.

[xvii] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything; Capitalism vs. The Climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014) 266.

[xviii] USDA, ERS, “Food Security in the U.S., Key Statistics,” Updated Tuesday, October 11, 2016, .

[xix] A summary of studies of motives for buying local foods in provided on page 30 of the report by Sara Low and others, Economic Research Service, USDA, “Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress,” January 2015,

[xx] Low and others, ERS, USDA, “Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems,” 2015, page 30.

[xxi] Wikipedia, “Via Campesina,”  

[xxii] Nyelini Forum on Food Sovereignty, “Declaration of Nyeleni,” February 27, 2007, .

[xxiii] John Ikerd, 2016, “Enough good food for all: A proposal.” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 7(1), 3–6. .

[xxiv] Francis, “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, paragraph 125.

[xxv] Francis, “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, paragraph 160.


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