Thursday 9 June 2011

Agro-ecological farming

A recent report by the United Nations explores the role that agroecology can play in contributing to food security.  According to the report, ‘agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”.   It seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem.   It provides the most favourable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity.’

The report states that agroecology provides many agricultural benefits via improving soils.   It does this by improving organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity.   The principles of agroecology include improved nutrient recycling nutrients and reduced energy inputs, and diversifying farm biodiversity – from crop and livestock species to soil microbes.

As well as an emphasis on soils, agroecology also seeks to integrate crops and livestock, diversify species and genetic resources and focus on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species.

The system is highly knowledge-intensive but supports the development of drought resistant agricultural systems (including soils, plants, agrobiodiversity, etc.), not just drought-resistant plants.  In addition, agroecology delivers advantages that are complementary to better known conventional approaches such as breeding highyielding varieties.  These factors demonstrates its relevance to modern agricultural systems and objectives, as well as to traditional, smallholder agriculture.

Its focus on increasing crop diversity supports the increased use of nitrogen-fixing plants, including trees, to reduce reliance on external inputs.  It can therefore contribute to delinking food production from a reliance on fossil energy as well as contributing to climate change mitigation, both by increasing carbon sinks in soil organic matter and above-ground biomass, and by avoiding carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions from farms by reducing direct and indirect energy use.