Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition – account of symposium hosted by the FAO

Maria Alicia MendoncaBy Maria Alice Mendonça, PhD-student Rural Development at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS, Brazil) and guest PhD at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University

During the days 18 and 19th of September, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations) hosted the International Symposium of Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, in Rome, Italy. See the FAO webpage for more information on participants, presentations, poster, videos and so on.

The conference was attended by over 400 people. Amongst them were academics and representatives from government and social movements from all over the world. The aim was to discuss agroecology in the context of global debates and strategies related to: food security, sustainable agriculture and local food systems. The symposium was divided in three parts. The first was a plenary session with presentations by experts at the forefront of scientific research and bystate officials involved in the construction and implementation of innovative policies on Agroecology and Food Security. This was followed by parallel sessions where social movements, such as La Via Campesina and the Articulation in Brazilian Semiarid – ASA, as well as academics and government representatives shared on the ground experiences with Agroecology in diverse countries. At the closing session, State’s ministries of France, Nigeria, Japan, Senegal, Costa Rica, Brazil (video message), the Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Union (video message) and the FAO’s general director, José Graziano da Silva made their statements and commitments to Agroecology and Food Security.

As a central statement coming from the panellists, Agroecology was emphatically defined as science, as practice and as social movement, assuming that this tripod is inseparable and interdependent. This statement was carried out by Stephen Gliessman (University of California), Pablo Tittonel (Wageningen University), Irene Maria Cardoso (University of Viçosa, and president of the Brazilian Association of Agroecology – ABA), Miguel Altieri (University of California) and Peter Rosset (El Colegio de la Frontera Sur – ECOSUR), among others experts. Pablo Tittonel urged scientists and governments to promote Agroecology, as a unique way to integrate local and scientific knowledge with complex agrosystems management. For him, this is an urgent challenge for the construction of sustainable agriculture at all scales. Miguel Altieri, Irene Cardoso and Peter Rosset presented rich and highly developed agroecological experiences, with a strong scientific grounding, grounded in Latin America. They highlighted the central role of farmers’ organisations and social movements in implementing agroecological practices for sustainable local systems that guarantee sustainable farm management and virtuous socioeconomic cycles. They also called attention for the importance of a paradigm shift in governments and institutions to promote and invest in agroecological practices and research worldwide. According to them, Agroecology should be sustained as a strategy of recognition and respect of the cultural, economic and environmental diversity worldwide, recognising sustainable agriculture and food security not only as a unit of production but also on a territorial scale. Finally, Stephen Gliessman highlighted the importance of connecting sustainable agriculture with the rules of the dominant agrofood system, reminding everyone that desired transformations will not be possible without association between agriculture and food production and consumption.

Parallel sessions showed existing agroecological experiences. Challenges were brought out by organizations, researchers and farmers. Among the many experiences discussed were examples with: water management in dryland areas, agroforestry, local market strategies, gender and Agroecology, seed conservation and breeding etc. These and other experiences were also organized in poster sessions exposed during the symposium.

To conclude, the FAO International Symposium made the important and brave step to consolidate Agroecology at the level of international organizations. It unveils the necessity to open institutional room to consolidate Agroecology into the global agenda, gathering efforts with the important document of the United Nations, on The Right to Food (De Schutter, 2014). Although, this is obviously not an easy task and much remains to be done in the next years in order to construct a cohesive debate that supports international cooperation and the construction of public policies aligned to the ‘tripod principles’ – science, practice and social movement. José Graziano da Silva, the FAO general director, commitment with Agroecology as a crucial strategy to confront unsustainable agriculture: “Agroecology continues to grow, both in science and in policies. It is an approach that will help to address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, in the context of the climate change adaptation needed”. Nevertheless, the desired paradigm shift will need patience and big efforts from everyone, especially at the grassroots level, and from the succeeded political initiatives, in order to push up for these windows of opportunities. The most difficult task, might be, to close windows that are still open, such as the one of Genetic Modified Organisms (GMO), as highlighted by the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology – SOCLA (2014).