“It’s time to stop talking and start acting” : Agroecological farming for people and the planet

Back in 2009, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) issued a clarion call for a deep reform of agriculture globally.

“Business as usual is not an option,” the comprehensive, evidence-based global series titled Agriculture at Crossroads, stated boldly.

The IAASTD report urged, among other things, for global agriculture to respect the agroecological principles that had served farmers and nature well since the dawn of farming; practices such as organic farming and agroforestry which supply the nutritional needs of people without harming the natural resource base on which all life depends.

Despite its warnings and evidence base, the report received a lukewarm uptake at best, said Hans Herren, who led the IAASTD panels of experts in the mammoth task of preparing the series.

 L-R: Moderator Dr. Ravi Prabu and panelists: A. Leu, C. Tirado, H. Herren, P. Minang, M. van Noodwijk and A. Meybeck. Photo by Daisy Ouya/iCRAF

L-R: Moderator Dr. Ravi Prabu and panelists: A. Leu, C. Tirado, H. Herren, P. Minang, M. van Noordwijk and A. Meybeck. Photo by Daisy Ouya/iCRAF

At a COP21 side event devoted to agro-ecology and trees on farm, however, it was clear that the tide was turning in favour of environmentally sound farming. This is because people realize that unless radically changed, current global food systems will take a big knock from, and continue to impact negatively on, climate change.

“If we are in trouble producing food, you are in trouble eating it!” said André Leu, president of IFOAM – Organics International.

He added that agroecology locks carbon in the soil (the biggest carbon sink after oceans), bringing benefits such as better water retention to plants and reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Studies have shown that soils with organic matter produce 30% more than soils stripped of it.

Beyond food and nutrition security, Leu and co-panelists emphasized that agroecology offers a pathway to climate resilience and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all of which are intimately linked to SDG 2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

With a powerful visual of the relationship between agroecological farming practices and the SDGs, panelist Meine van Noordwijk, ICRAF chief scientist and professor of agroforestry at Wageningen University, said we need to “decarbonize the debate on forests, trees and climate,” integrate, and “get serious about rainfall, and better recognize the cooling, calming influence of trees on weather, landscapes and climate.”

Agroecology and SDGs. Graphic by Meine van Noordwijk

Agroecology and SDGs. Graphic by Meine van Noordwijk

van Noodwijk said trees, forests and agriculture are all connected. As are mitigation and adaptation, which he termed ‘Mitigadaptation’ (Miti, incidentally, is the Kiswahili word for trees, he said).

Dr. Cristina Tirado, Chair of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences Task Force on Nutrition and Climate Change based at UCLA, spoke on agro-ecology, nutrition and health.

Dietary diversity

She said new studies have shown that excess atmospheric carbon reduces the protein and mineral content of staple crops.

“A doubling of CO2 concentration from pre-industrial levels diminishes the concentration of essential minerals in plants, including ionome (the mineral nutrient and trace element composition of an organism). It also lowers protein concentrations in barley, rice, wheat and potato,” said Tirado, citing studies by Meinshausen et al., Ziska et al., Taub et al. and Loladze et al.

Linking this to agroecology, she said dietary diversity could be achieved sustainably using agroecological farming, which is able to produce higher yields, and more diverse food and products, promoting nutrition and health and curbing the ‘double burden’ of obesity and malnutrition. Tirado called for “nutrition-sensitive mitigation” supported by more research to make the case for agroecology for the policy makers.

Mr. Alexandre Meybeck, FAO Senior Policy Officer on Agriculture, Environment and Climate Change, presented the outcomes of FAO-convened regional agroecology meetings in Africa, Asia and Latin America. He said the FAO “considers agroecology practices, including organic agriculture and agroforestry, as means to answer the combined crisis of natural resource degradation, climate change and food and nutrition security.”

Panelist Peter Minang, co-Leader of the Environmental Services program at ICRAF, said the walls between adaptation and mitigation need to be broken, and a multifunctional approach to landscapes adopted.

“Stop talking, start acting”

The session was moderated by ICRAF deputy director-general Ravi Prabhu. He said the promotion of agro-ecology needs to be supported through a “multi-sectoral approach through applied research, integrated monitoring and evaluation, good governance and public policies.” He added that farmers must be brought front and center of the climate discourse, since they hold the key to meeting so many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The panelists emphasized the urgency for converting to agroecological practices, using the knowledge and resources we currently have.

“It’s time to stop talking and start acting,” said Herren.

The event, “Agro-ecology and trees on farm: climate resilience, food and nutrition security, and Sustainable Development Goals”, was held in Room 5, 2 December 2015, 16:45-18:15, as part of the Paris COP21. It was co-organized by IFOAM – Organics International, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the International Union of Nutritional Scientists (IUNS).

See more photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/icraf/albums/72157661908799136

See presentations by:

Meine van Noordwijk

Andre Leu

Cristina Tirado

Hans Herren



See ICRAF’s participation at Paris COP21






Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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