The concept and practice of agroecology
Agroecology is a set of principles and practices intended towards sound management of the roles and interactions of different components of farming systems and their surrounding landscapes, i.e., sustainable ecosystems.
The role of human beings, via farming systems, is central in agroecology. Farmers, therefore, are critical actors in agroecological practice and agroecological transformation. They are stewards of biodiversity and the real keepers of relevant knowledge for this agenda. It is therefore important that agroecological knowledge and technologies are developed on the basis of farmers’ own knowledge and experimentation. Further, this means that agroecology has to be context-specific and culturally appropriate. Agroecology makes best use of the human, social, and environmental capital available locally.
Various definitions of agroecology agree on the following three elements in the understanding of agroecology:
- Scientific discipline – agroecology is founded on robust scientific and holistic approach to understanding different ecosystems and food systems. It seeks to understand the interactions of and explanations for the diversity, abundance, and activities of organisms and other components of an agroecosystem. It is a scientific approach that is participatory, trans-disciplinary, and inclusive of different knowledge systems, including indigenous knowledge systems.
- Agricultural practice – the heart of agroecology is the development of sustainable farming systems that optimises natural processes and stabilises yields. It is a body of locally adapted farming practices that includes appropriateness to under-capitalised small farm holdings, diversifying species and genetic resources, integrating crops and livestock, recycling nutrients and energy in the farm, preserving positive aspects of traditional ways of life, and a circular economy.
- Political-social movement – agroecology also seeks to mobilise a significant segment of the population to constitute a movement towards sustainable and environment-focused food systems. It is a socio-political movement that promotes social justice, fosters synergistic relationship and knowledge sharing across actors in science and farming practice, and strengthens the economic viability of rural areas.
Agro-Eco Philippines approach to agroecology
Agro-Eco Philippines has developed an approach to agroecology that features a core approach which six inter-related components and three enabling/support dimensions. These are illustrated in the infographic and explained in detail below:
- Science and practice – The foundations of agroecology are agronomy and ecology, as understood by farmers, managed by them, and translated into a range of farming technologies. Agro-Eco Philippines puts a premium on the central role of farmers in generating knowledge – through farmer-led research, development, and innovations – towards agroecological transformation.
This component of the Agro-Eco Philippines approach includes, among others: (a) farmer-centred and farmer-led agroecological research on retrieval, rescue, conservation, preservation, and dissemination of traditional plant and animal genetic resources, (b) rice-focused research including quality seed management, seed banking, and seed exchange, and development of rice-based sustainable farming system, (c) improved farming technology through seed research and actual practice of diversified integrated farming system, (d) use of organic inputs for soil fertility preservation and organic production, (e) development and promotion of climate resilient crops and climate resilient agriculture, and (f) community-based agroecology skills development and technology diffusion mainly through the training and mobilisation of farmer-trainers.
- Political empowerment – The political empowerment component of Agro-Eco Philippines approach to agroecology is founded on rights-based development approach and is primarily intended to empower small farmers to claim and enjoy their rights, particularly the right to food and right to development, from primary duty bearers, i.e., the government, as well as other rights brokers (e.g., civil society organisations.)
This component of Agro-Eco Philippines approach to ecology includes, among others, (a) continuous education and awareness raising among members on their rights and responsibilities as citizens, (b) accreditation and engagement in various special local governance bodies as an exercise in participatory governance, and (c) organisation of various forms of collective action to ensure consistent government support to farmers’ agroecological transformative efforts, including various forms of legislation at local, sub-national and national levels. An important aspect of political empowerment is the effort to ensure that farmers retain control of important genetic resources.
- Economic upliftment – Agroecology seeks the economic advancement of small farmers and their families. Agro-Eco Philippines works on three levels of economic work, i.e.,
- Household economic activities – All small farming households should generate adequate cash income and food security from their basic agroecological farming activities. The priority for agroecology is to provide for the family/household.
- Organisational/collective economic enterprises – Various organisations or groups of small farmers are encouraged to set up collective (organisation-managed) social enterprises that includes production and processing of organic products, certification, and establishment of marketing hubs. Agro-Eco Philippines believes that social enterprises should prioritise local markets.
- Sustainable local economies – Agro-Eco Philippines believe that thriving household economies and social enterprises will contribute to the flourishing of sustainable local economies as small farmers interact with other economic actors in the local ecosystem via various value-chains, generating support to compete with corporate agri-business interests, and facilitating consistent and adequate support from local government agencies and entities.
- Environment and biodiversity – Agricultural development should not cost the imbalance in the ecosystem. Agroecology has a significant potential in lessening human carbon footprint, and small farmers play a big role in achieving this. More broadly, the practice of agriculture, especially in the preservation and dissemination of more genetic materials contribute not only in the maintenance, but more importantly, in the flourishing of biodiversity.
- Gender and inclusion – Agro-Eco Philippines seeks the empowerment of women in the context of agroecological transformation. In particular, Agro-Eco Philippines work to train more women as farmer-trainers, establish women-only and women-led committees, and explore new and more substantive roles for women in agroecological transformation vis-à-vis traditional expectations of women as mere “keepers of the seed.” More broadly, Agro-Eco Philippines work with other organisations to address the bigger reality of patriarchy and other social-cultural norms that have negative effects on women and other marginalised sectors of rural society.
In the light of aging farmer population in the Philippines, Agro-Eco Philippines also works to encourage and inspire young people in rural communities to actively engage in agroecology-related work, either as farmer-trainers or agroecology advocates.
- Culture and spirituality – Agro-Eco Philippines, along with the broader community of agroecology practitioners and advocates strongly believe in the importance of culture in agroecological approaches. Agroecology places a premium on ensuring that technological approaches are appropriate to and respectful of local culture as well as actively promote positive social norms and structures. Agro-Eco Philippines also emphasises the importance of the spiritual dimension (however this is understood or practiced by specific groups of farmers) in establishing a more substantive bond between farmers’ agricultural practice and their environment.
- Community organisations or people’s organisations– Organisations of farmers in communities are the main building blocks of Agro-Eco Philippines as a network, in particular, and of sustainable rural ecosystems and economies, in general. Community organisations, in various modalities, provide important platforms, spaces and venues for collective learning, analysis, decision making and action-taking. In Agro-Eco Philippines-related farmer organisations, adoption of a raft of ecological technologies is the main basis for membership. An important part of this is compliance with Agro-Eco Philippines protocols for adoption (PGS certification) that includes farm planning, production mapping, and agricultural practices.
In addition, community organisations provide a supportive environment for continuing collective education and awareness building among farmer-members. Community-based trainings also facilitate the translation of scientific or exogenous terms and concepts into language that is more easily understood by local farmers.
Finally, community organisations provide unique spaces for engagement of women and young people in agroecological practice and movement building.
- Partnerships – Agroecology science and practice, whilst farmer-led and farmer-centred, is nurtured by effective farmer and scientist partnership. Thus, one primary axis for partnership for Agro-Eco Philippines is with academic institutions and relevant research centres (both government and non-government).
In addition, Agro-Eco Philippines nurtures different modes of relationships and partnerships (alliances, networking, etc.) with different categories of development entities at different levels. Agro-Eco Philippines seek different partnerships between local government agencies (especially village and provincial levels) and relevant farmers organisations. They also seek to link village, municipal, city and provincial agriculture and other government line agencies to harmonise support to small farmers.
Agro-Eco Philippines also works with various churches and other faith-based organisations wherever possible and appropriate.
Finally, Agro-Eco Philippines is an active member of a number of regional and national organic congresses (e.g., Regional Organic Agriculture Congress, National Organic Agriculture Board) and is a convener of the National Seed Network.
- Advocacy – Agro-Eco Philippines’ advocacy has two dimensions. One, promotional advocacy, involves public education and awareness of agroecology and right to food. This involves the organisation of various public fora on right to food and agroecology, public information campaigns around significant events such as the World Food Day, and various organic products marketing promotion.
Two, claim-making advocacy, is a push against development aggression and creating an enabling public policy environment (i.e., pro-small farmer policies at various levels). Agro-Eco Philippines has utilised public mobilisations, signature campaigns, participation in special governance bodies at the local level, lobby, dialogues, and participation in Senate hearings to deal with various issues such as opposition to the use of aerial spray, addressing land tenure issues, lobby for the allocation of 5% budget for organic farming from local government funds, tapping LGUs as farm learning sites, and opposition to the Rice Tariffication Law.
- International Solidarity – An essential element of Agro-Eco Philippines work on building a social movement on agroecology, as well as platforms for advocacy and influencing, is their active effort to foster relationships with other agroecology practitioners, supporters and advocates in other parts of the world. These relationships include knowledge sharing, farmer-exchanges, funding, etc.