Agroecology Transformations Book

This open access book published by Palgrave develops a framework for advancing agroecology transformations focusing on power, politics and governance. It explores the potential of agroecology as a sustainable and socially just alternative to today’s dominant food regime. Agroecology is an ecological approach to farming that addresses climate change and biodiversity loss while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. Agroecology transformations represent a challenge to the power of corporations in controlling food system and a rejection of the industrial food systems that are at the root of many social and ecological ills. Two shorter publications, available to download, provide some of the main ideas presented in the book: Journal ArticleBackgrounder Brief.

In this book the authors analyse the conditions that enable and disable agroecology’s potential and present six ‘domains of transformation’ where it comes into conflict with the dominant food system. They argue that food sovereignty, community-self organization and a shift to bottom-up governance are critical for the transformation to a socially just and ecologically viable food system. This book will be a valuable resource to researchers, students, policy makers and professionals across multidisciplinary areas including in the fields of food politics, international development, sustainability and resilience.

The book builds on our wider work on Agroecology transformations. Many open access publications on this topic are available here. This ‘backgrounder‘ published with Food First shares a concise illustration one part of the overall framework, explaining the notion of Domains of Agroecology Transformations.

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Authors

  • Colin R. Anderson
  • Janneke Bruil
  • Michael Jahi Chappell
  • Csilla Kiss
  • Michel Pimbert

Testimonials

At a time of converging crises— social, environmental, economic, health— agroecology is capturing global attention as a real alternative to the industrial food system and a way to mitigate climate change, biodiversity loss, the loss of farming knowledge, farmer insolvency, and more.  This timely book presents how agroecology, as a transformative vision and practice, combats the exploitative capitalist food system of oppression and marginalization, not only of the world’s farmers but of the primacy of human well-being and ecological health.  This book is an indispensable guide to transformative agroecology in its multiple domains, illustrated through multiple case studies and analysis of the roles of governance and power.

–Molly D. Anderson, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Food Studies at Middlebury College. Member, International Panel of Experts in Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)

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This book is a generous offering to our movements and communities about the actions and policies needed to make agroecology the new paradigm for the future of food and agriculture. It clearly lays out the social and political dimensions of the food system transformation that we desperately need.

The book will nourish the dialogue between all the different actors working on agroecology and spells out the struggles at local level, the barriers that need to be overcome and overall gives a transformative agroecology the conceptual credibility that policy makers ask of us every day.

The new food system needs to be based on agroecology and food sovereignty — this book gives to all of us a new tool to make this possible.

–Andrea Ferrante, Schola Campesina

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Written in a joyful and convincing way, ‘Agroecology Now!’ provides a solid discussion of the multiple interfaces between agroecology and politics. It distinguishes six domains of transformation, each requiring specific repertoires for action and change. The book is enriched with an impressive amount of empirical illustrations and thus shows, inter alia, how agroecology contributes to a more relaxed world in which beauty and good taste can abound. 

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Professor Emeritus of Wageningen University

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There is growing evidence demonstrating the potential of agroecology for the transformation of the current food system towards sustainability. However, there is a need to develop the political theories on how to move from isolated experiences to effectively push or change the current regime towards transformation, avoiding the risks of being diluted or co-opted. This book dares to do that, building a robust theory of change based on six domains of transformation that limit or enable agroecology transformations.  

The authors’ perspective is that agroecology should not be seen just as a set of technical practices; on the contrary, it should be a process of continuous political transition based on core principles and commitments to both social justice and ecological regeneration.  

Everyone involved in agroecological experiences – farmers, practitioners, researchers, decision makers, social movements’ leaders – will benefit from this reading and from the fertile discussions this book will raise. The call for “Agroecology Now!” must be spread quickly and widely.  

–Emma Siliprandi, FAO Agricultural Officer, Lead Focal Point for the Scaling up Agroecology Initiative 

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“This book presents an important approach to a question currently debated by many social movements, researchers and policy-makers: how to support transitions towards agroecology and sustainable food systems. It is refreshing to read an academically grounded book on agroecology which gives importance to its political dimensions – a welcome reminder that transforming food systems cannot happen without challenging power dynamics and governance structures.” 

— Maryam Rahmanian, panel member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)   

Fig. 6.1 from book: CSA members of Little Donkey farm (Beijing, China) harvesting carrots (Photo credit: Jan Douwe van der Ploeg)

Excerpt from Intro – Agroecology Transformations: An Idea for Urgent Times

In her recent analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein ironically riffs off a famous phrase on crises by free-market economist Milton Friedman. When catastrophe hits, he noted, “the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around” (Klein, 2020). In the context of current and imminent crises — from climate change and biodiversity loss to hunger, poverty and disease — it is clear that agroecology is an idea that is “lying around”. But it is also far more.

Over the past five years, the theory and practice of agroecology have emerged as an alternative paradigm and vision for food systems. Agroecology is an approach to agriculture and food systems that mimics nature, stresses the importance of local knowledge and participatory processes and that prioritizes the agency and voice of food producers over corporations and other elite actors. As a traditional practice, its history stretches back millennia, whereas a more contemporary agroecology has been developed and articulated in scientific and social movement circles over the last century. Most recently, agroecology —practiced by hundreds of millions of farmers around the globe — has become increasingly viewed as viable, necessary and politically possible as the limitations and destructiveness of ‘business as usual’ in agriculture have been laid bare. 

But as a system, agroecology has powerful competition in the corporate actors who peddle high-tech, profit-centred ‘solutions’ that preserve an unjust and unsustainable food system. And it remains marginal, its potential effectively sabotaged by the political interests that continue to embolden the high-input industrial model. The battle for the future of food and farming is intensifying with the growing sense of urgency over our intermeshed ecological and social crises. 

There is now much evidence to show that our socio-economic systems are catastrophically undermining the function of natural systems. The IPCC (IPCC, 2019) notes that between 2007 and 2016, some 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions came from unsustainable practices in agriculture, forestry and other land-use activities. Other major reports have drawn attention to convergent crises such as accelerating extinction rates, (IPBES, 2019) looming water shortages for 5 billion people (WWAP (UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme), 2019), rising world hunger (FAO, 2019a), dangerous degradation and pollution of land and soil, mounting resource depletion,and a rise in levels of air pollution resulting in disease and health-related death (Health Effects Institute, 2018). And, most recently, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the vulnerability that arises from a just-in-time, centralized industrial food system (Wallace et al., 2020).

In fact, the pandemic has revealed how industrial agriculture contributes to the rise and spread of deadly pathogens by pushing agriculture and extraction further into the forest and by creating densely crowded genetically homogenous domestic livestock populations that are breeding grounds for the emergence of zoonotic viruses (Wallace, 2016; Wallace et al., 2020). ‘Industrial food’, as a system, both spawns large-scale ecological, social and economic problems and also reduces the capacity or resiliency of farmers and communities to cope with change. Major shifts are needed, not tweaks to the failing system we have. 

Despite significant underfunding and lack of research (see chapter 5), evidence on the multifunctional benefits of agroecology are growing (summarized in Chapter 2). In contrast, agroecology represents a system that works with nature instead of against it and offers an approach to food production that boosts biodiversity, creates ecological resilience, improves soils, cools the planet and reduces energy and resource use. It has been shown to be highly productive, to provide highly diverse dietary offerings, and to support process of community building and women’s empowerment.

The agroecology that we embrace in this book emerges not only as an alternative to the oft-critiqued industrial and corporate food system, however. It must also be part of the effort to counter racial capitalism, patriarchy and other forms of structural violence and oppression. Although anti-racism, indigenous cosmovision, decolonization and feminism are often found only in the radical margins of the agroecology canon, it is in these traditions that the transformative potential of agroecology can be deepened. Movements from Black Lives Matter to the World March of Women offer potential lessons and allies for agroecology. So do on-the-ground experiments with equity and radical democracy, such as those taking place in the autonomous region of Rojava in Syria; and the work of action researchers exploring decoloniality, feminist political ecology, queer ecology, critical physical geography, and beyond. 

In this context, a transformative agroecology can be imagined as one manifestation of a global struggle for emancipation — achievable through solidarities, ally-ship and strategic action. Thus, while food systems are this book’s focus, we make connections throughout to the intersection with wider struggles against oppressions and call for the field and practitioners of agroecology to integrate further with these wider movements for change.

A deeply politicized and collectivized practice of building agroecology from the bottom up is, we argue, essential basisfor transformation in food systems. We believe that this will happen only when the dominant regime is itself transformed to enable agroecology as anobjective of transformation. The dialectical process is central to the aim. We take an agency-centric approach (see, for instance, the discussion of agency in HLPE, 2019), working alongside our allies from many walks of life, in facing this challenge to the hierarchies and assumptions of the dominant regime. This represents substantial shifts in governance and power. If agroecology is indeed a good idea that was lying around, it is time to map out how we can seize the moment for the transition to a more just and sustainable food system, and society.