27 Feb 2024

Agroecology, the only way forward

Climate Academy Fairtrade
Fairtrade Netherlands/ FI (NFOs, PNs)

By Sandra Uwera Murasa, Global Chief Executive Officer, Fairtrade International

Farmers across Europe mounted their tractors and took to the streets to protest against inflation, foreign competition, and the cost of combating climate change. While the protests were important in raising the voice of farmers to policy makers, what is really needed are policies and incentives that support the transition to agroecology globally. And European policy can play a role to enable that.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that agroecology “seeks to optimise the interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.” But simply put, it is a practice, science, and movement to bring about a fundamental transformation in the agri-food systems, to combat rural poverty, and to adapt to climate change.

For example, agroecology promotes farming practices that reduce emissions, recycle resources, and prioritise local supply chains. It enables climate resilient farming, which supports wildlife conservation and harnesses nature to do the hard work, such as pollinating crops and controlling pests. Finally, and equally important, it puts farmers and communities at the forefront, strengthening their ability to adapt agricultural practices that suit the specific socio-economic and environmental conditions of their local areas.

Fairtrade International, a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organisation founded in 1997 with the mission of promoting fairer trading conditions, has adopted a sustainable agricultural policy linked to agricultural production (predominantly destined for international supply chains) that puts agroecological principles and farming front and centre. Fairtrade believes in a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential, and decide on their future.

Fairtrade policies push for fair markets and trade, prices for producers that are enabling at least living income and wages and supports the substitution of chemical and synthetic pesticides with agroecological alternatives. This is done by requiring the adoption of agroecological practices amongst Fairtrade certified farmers and workers. It also invests in education and training to increase farmers’ knowledge on the subject area. Moreover, Fairtrade stands behind incentives for agroecological practices, including organic agriculture, agroforestry, reforestation, or non-deforestation.

We recommend that Europe should replicate and move towards agroecology. National governments must provide economic incentives and subsidies for farmers and companies who grow commodities in a sustainable manner. The European Union (EU) has to pursue supply chain partnerships and contractual agreements that do not harm local producers but instead integrate sustainability indicators related to farmers’ income, labour conditions, and fair prices, and at a minimum, prices that are above the cost of production.

This includes a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that would among other important elements, set clear and rigorous objectives that hold member states accountable through operational indicators that address environmental and societal challenges, such as the existing power imbalance, including unfair trade.

Moreover, EU policies need to support the building of local and territorial markets for agroecology, designing infrastructure and other food processing facilities, marketing strategies, and public procurement that connects smallholder markets. Plus, the EU needs to support training in the area of agroecological knowledge. This should include the use of more sustainable and resilient practices, fostering farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing, and advisory services to support farmers to agroecological transitions.

Agroecology is not new. The scientific discipline goes back to the 1930s and later grew into a set of practices beginning in the 1970s. It received spotlight attention in 2018 when José Graziano da Silva, the director-general of FAO, at a gathering in Rome with representative from 70 countries, called for “transformative change toward sustainable agriculture and food systems based on agroecology.”

The reasons behind the farmer protests that have spanned the EU, from East to West, are many, but what has emerged is that farmers are having a challenging time covering their costs. This is due to a flawed subsidy system that rewards farmers based on quantity – how much land they own – and not in terms of the quality of the food produced. Plus, the impact of industrialised agriculture is being felt, especially because of its precarious working conditions and its massive environmental and climate impact.

We agree that Europe needs to keep farmers and their needs at the forefront. The only way to do that is to move towards a food system transformation based on sustainable agriculture that is rooted in agroecological principles.

This article was originally published on Euronews.