June 2014: The growing support for agroecology on the international political agenda was discussed on May 18th in Juazeiro, Brazil. Experts shared the various challenges they face in their respective countries when promoting agroecology.

The panel was part of the Third National Encounter on Agroecology (III ENA). It opened with a video message by Olivier De Schutter, former special UN rapporteur for the human right to food. He emphasised that we are already beyond the question whether or not agroecology is an option for the future of agriculture. In his opinion, facing the worsening of the food crisis, this question no longer makes sense: “The questions to be answered are “when” and “how” the international community will promote agroecology as an alternative to the dominant patterns of production and consumption. We cannot let the crisis get even worse. We need to prepare a transition, and the time to act is now.

De Schutter stressed the important role that Brazil has to play when it comes to the institutionalisation of agroecology. He thinks that the debate about the Sustainable Development Goals, which are to be adopted in September 2015 to replace the Millennium Development Goals, is a unique opportunity to include agroecology clearly in the political agenda of countries all over the world.

According to Paulo Petersen, executive director of AS-PTA and moderator of the panel, the growing international recognition of agroecology is a sign that people are now more aware of the unsustainability of the dominant agro-food systems: “The agroecological approach is being increasingly recognised for its compelling answers to the global systemic crisis that threatens the foundations of our societies today.

Voices from Latin America, Africa and Europe

After the video message, representatives of civil society organisations from Latin America, Africa and Europe talked about the challenges they face when promoting agroecology in their countries and regions. Like Olivier De Schutter, they stressed the importance of the Brazilian agroecology movement as a basis for building a more sustainable agriculture in the future.

Germán Alonso Vélez from the Seeds Network in Colombia said: “In Brazil, the government recognises and supports the agroecological movement. In Colombia, many peasant families are persecuted because they keep native seeds. It is considered to be a crime.” He explained how free trade and other dynamics of globalisation are destroying family farming in Colombia. “Therefore, we all look very carefully at the experiences and lessons of the agroecological movement in Brazil.

Karen Read of Biowatch South Africa described how many years of colonisation and the influence of outside cultures mark agriculture in her country, where social movements are also fighting for the creation of a national policy on agroecology. “But we are still working on a draft proposal and nothing has been made official yet.” She said that she will take home the slogan of the women participating in the Encounter on Agroecology: No feminism, no agroecology. “Women in agriculture need to be empowered. After all, they are the ones that protect seeds and biodiversity”, said Karen Read.

Complementing this contribution, Zayaan Khan from the organisation Surplus People Project in South Africa said that by supporting agribusiness, the South African government marginalises the majority of the population. “Big companies access water for a very low price while people are thirsty. In addition, all food products based on maize and soybean are contaminated with GMOs. But for us, access to land is the main problem.

Edith van Walsum, director of ILEIA in the Netherlands, recalled that her country is the second largest importer of soybeans from Brazil. “China, while being 100 times larger than the Netherlands, is the only country that imports more. What do we do with that much soybean in such a small country? We feed it to animals, we produce milk and pork meat and have become the largest exporter of dairy products in the world.” Van Walsum called for a global agroecological movement that is able to radically transform the dominant food system, which conceives food as another global commodity. In her opinion, “a global movement will strongly depend on strong national and local movements, just as in Brazil. It is important to be ‘globally connected, locally rooted’, which is the motto of the AgriCultures Network.” In Brazil, AS-PTA is the organisation that supports the connection between the Brazilian agroecological movement and the AgriCultures Network worldwide. Brazilian experiences are published in magazines in English, Spanish, French, Chinese and local Indian languages to an audience of over one million people from 150 countries. Edith van Walsum concluded: “We consider the Brazilian agroecology movement a source of inspiration. And this meeting is an example of the strength of this bottom-up movement.

Agroecology in the International Year of Family Farming

Petersen made reference to the 2014 International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). “We have to celebrate the IYFF. After all, the decision of the UN to give visibility to family farming was an achievement from civil society. But we must not only point out why family farming has to be recognised, but we must also discuss the ways in which we expect it to be promoted and developed. There are already several countries such as Brazil that have established specific policies for family farming. But the Brazilian experience has shown that broad and general support from the state is not enough. If we continue to shape agricultural policies using the productivist bias of agricultural modernisation, we end up increasing the dependence of family farms on global agribusiness chains and the financial markets. That way, family farming will become nothing but a a subordinate link to agribusiness.

In closing the panel, Onaur Ruano from the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development stressed the importance of civil society mobilisation during processes of change. He recalled that both the International Year of Family Farming and the Brazilian government’s National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production are the result of pressure by civil society organisations. Ruano said: “The implementation of the specific proposals that come out of the Encounter on Agroecology will depend strongly on the continuous coordination and collaboration of social movements both inside and outside of Brazil.

Posted by AgriCultures Network

Click here to watch the video message by Olivier De Schutter