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Agroecology: Zooming in on a definition

The concept of agroecology is multifaceted and includes the dimensions of science, practice and social movements, being strongly connected to the local context and traditions. Integration, diversification, resilience and productivity are some of the key elements of agroecology.

By Saghar Motarjemi, Chiara de Notaris and Johannes (Jeroen) Pullens

The word agroecology combines ‘agro’ i.e. agriculture, with ecology, which is a branch of biology that deals with the relations among living organisms and their physical surroundings. As you can see in the video below, there is no uniform understanding of the term agroecology. This is probably because of its multifaceted nature, which includes the three dimensions of science, practice and social movements. 

The understanding of the concept of agroecology has developed differently around the world, depending on the local context. In some contexts, the prevailing dimension is scientific (e.g. Denmark), while the social dimension predominates in others (e.g. Brazil).

A unique definition of the concept ‘agroecology’ cannot cover the broad perspective. We will therefore explore various aspects and examples of agroecology in different countries, emphasizing its connection to local knowledge and context. Since agroecology is part of our daily lives (in a direct or indirect manner), it is important to reach a common understanding of it.

Agroecology is multi-faceted

Integration, diversification, resilience and productivity are some of the key elements of agroecology. Integration is closely connected to diversification and implies building systems with synergy among all the components. Agroecology diversifies the roles available to the entire farmer family and makes the agricultural work more dynamic. Furthermore, agroecology creates opportunities for everyone and generates spaces for women to participate as promoters, facilitators and coordinators, which also contributes to gender equality. In addition, agroecological systems have greater biological and human resilience. Resilience is the capability of an agroecosystem to maintain productivity when subject to perturbation and adoption of agroecological practices in farming could decrease the effects of climate change.

Many farmers in areas that are geographically susceptible to natural disasters, have already witnessed the benefits of biological resilience. All of this, results in great levels of productivity and sustainability for farmers who practice agroecology. A good example of a successful implementation of all the above mentioned aspects could be Cuba. 

On the other side of the world, in Ethiopia, the integration of farming and forestry can solve problems of deforestation and hunger. In the highland forest of the Bale eco-region, higher yielding crop varieties are promoted so that more food is produced per hectare and less rainforest is converted to farmland, thereby reducing deforestation. In addition, reforestation promotes carbon sequestration, increases soil fertility, improves climatic conditions and ensures a reliable wood fuel supply, reducing the distance for carrying the wood. The results are yield increase, maintenance of the ecosystem and reduction of the burden on women who are mainly responsible for collecting and carrying the wood fuel supply. 

Overall, the multifaceted nature of agroecology reflects its approach to sustainability, with the aim of delivering contextualised solutions to local problems.

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