There is no recipe for practicing agroecology, and neither is there for estimating its impacts. From taste to yield – from counting species to feeling empowered – farmers, researchers and consumers each have unique ways of tracking changes brought about by agroecology.
Taste keeps the spirit of food sovereignty alive
Back in 2012, Rumah Kopi Ranin opened a cafe based firmly on food sovereignty principles. The coffee shop is a dedicated place to appreciate the coffee production of smallholder family farmers from across Indonesia. Green coffee beans are sourced directly from small scale coffee producers. Visitors to the cafe experience food sovereignty by tasting it. Through taste they start to understand the important role of farmers in coffee production and also in taking care of agrobiodiversity and water. Taste, the simple indicator of quality, has triggered people to learn more about farming and connect with farmers. For this they facilitate farm visits. The initiative is proving that when people experience the exotic taste of coffee directly from the producers, they are attracted to the food sovereignty movement. After four years of operation, the cafe has become a meeting place for coffee lovers, from academics to scientists, students, artist groups and coffee farmers planning joint activities in the spirit of food sovereignty.
For more information: Tejo Pramono (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Smallholders’ livelihoods and agroecology’s potential
In Bilanga, eastern Burkina Faso, the local NGO ARFA (Association pour la Recherche et la Formation en Agro-écologie) introduced agroecologically-based farming techniques through farmer groups and farmer field schools. In this setting, a combination of the Anglo-Saxon Sustainable Livelihoods and the Francophone “Agriculture Comparée” approaches was used to assess agroecology’s impacts. Such a multidisciplinary framework allows for a holistic and nuanced analysis of farmers’ livelihoods and farming systems. Adopting the agricultural techniques proposed by ARFA incorporates the ecological principles of agroecology into the farming systems, increases yields and boosts adaptive capacity desperately needed in the region’s context of degrading soils, loss of vegetation and changing rainfall patterns. Group membership strengthens farmers’ social networks, builds capabilities through skills’ improvement and diversification, provides access to farming tools and inputs, and contributes to smallholders’ socio-political empowerment. However, a closer look at the nuances between farmers reveals discrimination related to social position, group access and position, training quality, material pools and personal physical condition. The strong focus on agricultural techniques at the expense of agroecology’s socio-economic, political and methodological principles leads to a situation where only some farmers enjoy the full potential of livelihood enhancement.
For more information, contact Diane Kapgen (dianekapgen@ulb. ac.be).
Farmers’ experience with agroecology
In Estelí, northern Nicaragua, 2014 was considered the drought of the century until it rained even less in 2015. The impacts of climate change, particularly ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ rain combined with changing rainfall patterns, have increased smallholders’ interest in adopting agroecological practices. These include agroforestry, companion planting and water harvesting. Some started this transition up to 20 years ago, but for most it was over the past five years. These practices are seen as an opportunity to mitigate the impacts of climate change by strengthening environmental resilience. While many farmers are wary of the additional labour needed to completely transition to agroecology, it is ever more important that they see positive impacts from their efforts. Fortunately, the changes observed are many and varied. Many agroecological farmers have detailed plans of their farms and a stronger focus on natural forest regeneration with a part of their land. Their diversified farms, including kitchen gardens, provide their families with a wide variety of fruits, herbs, medicinal plants, and vegetables. Farmers also mention improvements to their soil quality and as time passes are seeing yields increase for a variety of crops. Moreover, farmers find that their use of agroecological practices contributes to their sovereignty, through increased knowledge of good farming practices, and reduced reliance on chemical inputs.
For more information, contact Katharina Schiller (email@example.com).
Food forests good for people and nature
Concern for the loss of biodiversity is just one reason driving a growing interest in ‘food forests’ as an alternative way of producing food. Food forests, a type of agroforestry, are designed and managed ecosystems. They are rich in biodiversity and unlike monocultures, that are susceptible to pests and other catastrophes, the higher complexity created with different vegetation layers and the presence of many animal species offer resilience. There are benefits for both humans as well as for nature conservation. For example, farmers may plant particular species to attract birds that will regulate insect numbers, to attract other wildlife and to create a beautiful farm. In practice, how beneficial are they really? This question prompted a research project at Ketelbroek, the oldest food forest in the Netherlands. Jeroen Breidenbach and Emma Dijkgraaf have been searching for the most useful bio-indicators. They selected several easy-to-find species of birds, ground beetles and moths to monitor the succession of the food forest over, at least, the next 20 years. Some of the selected species are typical in young forests and some in old forests. This approach to monitoring biodiversity could be useful for measuring impact of other biodiverse food production systems. Of course, different species should be selected for different climate conditions.
For more information about Ketelbroek or this research contact Wouter van Eck (firstname.lastname@example.org).