Is a more sustainable agriculture possible?

 Is a more sustainable agriculture possible?

Agro-ecology is presented as an alternative method in the agricultural sector.

By Camilla Forti


During the event “Adaptation and Agro-ecology: women’s strategies for climate change”, first side event in the COP20, agriculture is the main topic. Specifically the debate focuses in agro-ecology as a strategy to counteract climate change. But, what are we talking about?

Agro-ecology, as explained by Laura Silici in her article “Agro-ecology: what is it and what it has to offer” (, can be defined as the application of concepts and precepts of ecology to the sustainable management of agro-systems.

The term was used for the first time in the 1930’s, with reference to the scientific study of biological interactions between different cultures and different parts of agro-systems. Since the 1960’s the discipline broadens its analysis without limiting only to small farms, but considering the complete agro-alimentary system. The discipline amplifies also its objective, acquiring a more holistic orientation, including in the debate together with the agronomic aspects, the socio-economic and political dimensions.

From the 1990’s agro-ecology becomes a scientific discipline that focuses in the study of the dynamics between ecologic processes and human activities. It proposes a method to understand which biological phenomena can be improved for the creation of a more sustainable agro-system from the environmental point of view and in relation to the agro-alimentary.
Nowadays, at the light of climate change and the growing concern for the alimentary crisis, agro-ecology in gaining importance. Supporting and improving biodiversity, conserving and using water more efficiently applying techniques of soil conservation, this discipline presents itself as an alternative to the current alimentary productive system which paradoxically is proving unproductive.

More than a science, agro-ecology is a system of principles, it is also considered as a movement which intends to oppose the current model of intensive agriculture that is ever more responsible for enormous socio-economic and environmental damages.

Agro-ecology and climate change

If we consider specifically the climate change aspect, this new model of agriculture increases resistance basing its grounds in growing and cattle raising techniques funded in the traditional local knowledge of each place, in the diversification of animal and vegetal species.

The result is an elevated level of agro-biodiversity, and consequently the offering of a larger amount of options for future adaptation. Positive aspects are also discovered in terms of mitigation thanks to the CO2 absorption in the soil and the diminished dependency on heavily contaminating machinery.

As discussed in the side event, in many developing countries agro-ecology is proving to be one of the best techniques of adaptation, which highlights the necessity of including small farmers into the debate in views of a possible agreement to be reached in Paris next year. In fact it is them who carry the traditional knowledge of their own agro-systems.

Furthermore, not only maximization of profit is to be considered but also optimization of the entire environment, it is them who hold the key for obtaining a higher level of sustainability.

According to Chris Handerson, member of Practical Action and one of the guest speakers at the event, in order to improve the current state of agro-ecology, we need new investment and public funds for research and support of local knowledge. Moreover, the current market system would have to be modified, so those who do not behave in a sustainable way from the environmental and socio-economic point of view are sanctioned.

Could this be applied to real life? Lets hope this negotiation can open a deeper debate on these subjects in view of the decisive agreement that necessarily will have to be reached in Paris 2015.

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