Agriculture + Ecology = Agroecology. Right?
Agroecology is one of those terms that has popped up through the evolution of ‘sustainable agriculture’. So why don’t we just say sustainable agriculture and be done with these other fancy pants names?
Sustainable agriculture is a fairly broad term, loosely defined and some would say corrupted to the point where we really don’t know what is sustainable.
While modern advances in agriculture have lifted production outcomes and efficiency, there has been growing concern that this has not been achieved sustainably and that there are trade-offs occurring between the natural environment and economics.
A number of pursuits have emerged through history that have been concerned with addressing this trade off. Biodynamics, organic agriculture, permaculture, holistic management and others are all practices of agriculture that are concerned with maintaining environmental health alongside production.
Although the practice and application of agroecology is multidisciplinary, agroecology has become a scientific discipline in its own right and a widely accepted term to describe the linking of agriculture to ecological principles. Specifically ecological principles of resilience through diversity, nutrient recycling and efficiency make agroecology stand out from general sustainable agriculture.
Agroecology has earned respect from many in the agricultural and ecology fields. So much so, that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has described 10 elements of Agroecology in an effort to transition Agroecology from local implementation to global outcomes.
What the scientists say:
Considered one of the founders of Agroecology, Steven Gliessman’s definition of Agroecology is a simple statement:
The science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems (Gliessman, 2015 pg. 345)
Migel Altieri goes a little further…
The application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems (Altieri,1995)
However, Agroecology is continuously evolving and has developed a broader definition encompassing numerous scales, farming systems, ecological zones, cultural and political spheres. Our appreciation for what agroecology is may need a broader definition.
The concept of agroecology has evolved as a scientific discipline, a set of practices and a social movement. As a science, it studies how different components of the agro-ecosystem interact. As a set of practices, it seeks sustainable farming systems that optimise and stabilise yields. As a movement, it pursues food sovereignty and new, multifunctional roles for agriculture. (Silici, 2014 pg. 6)
Altieri, M.A. (1995). Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture. Boulder, USA: Westview Press.
Gliessman, S. R., & Engles, E. W. (2015). Agroecology: The ecology of sustainable food systems (Third edition. ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
FAO. (2018). The 10 Elements of Agroecology: Guiding the Transition to Sustainable Food and Agriculture Systems. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Silici, Laura. (2014). Agroecology What it is and what it has to offer. IIED Issue Paper.