Meeting the challenge of feeding the world and cooling the Earth

12 July 2011
Article

Two papers analysing the recent experience of Latin America, and Cuba in particular, support arguments that a shift from industrial-large scale farming to small-scale farming can bring environmental, economic and political benefits.

In March 2011, Olivier de Schutter, the UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food released a report: “Agro-ecology and the right to food” before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature, the report demonstrates that agroecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty.

The report therefore calls on states for a fundamental shift towards agro-ecology as a way for countries to feed themselves while addressing climate and poverty challenges. It has contributed to the resurging academic and public debate around industrial-large scale farming versus small-scale farming, especially in the context of food crisis, climate change and global land grabbing.

The Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS), committed to engaged research, offer contribution to this debate in the form of two very recently released articles on agroecology co-authored by two of the most important scholars on this topic. Both papers are available free in the JPS website.

The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants

By Miguel Altieri and Victor Manuel Toledo 

This paper provides an overview of what we call ‘agroecological revolution’ in Latin America. As the expansion of agroexports and biofuels continues unfolding in Latin America and warming the planet, the concepts of food sovereignty and agroecology-based agricultural production gain increasing attention. New approaches and technologies involving the application of blended agroecological science and indigenous knowledge systems are being spearheaded by a significant number of peasants, NGOs and some government and academic institutions, and they are proving to enhance food security while conserving natural resources, and empowering local, regional and national peasant organizations and movements.

The application of the agroecological paradigm can bring significant environmental, economic and political benefits to small farmers and rural communities

An assessment of various grassroots initiatives in Latin America reveals that the application of the agroecological paradigm can bring significant environmental, economic and political benefits to small farmers and rural communities as well as urban populations in the region. The trajectory of the agroecological movements in Brazil, the Andean region, Mexico, Central America and Cuba and their potential to promote broad-based and sustainable agrarian and social change is briefly presented and examined. We argue that an emerging threefold ‘agroecological revolution’, namely, epistemological, technical and social, is creating new and unexpected changes directed at restoring local self-reliance, conserving and regenerating natural resource agrobiodiversity, producing healthy foods with low inputs, and empowering peasant organizations. These changes directly challenge neoliberal modernization policies based on agribusiness and agroexports while opening new political roads for Latin American agrarian societies.

Available for free at the JPS website.

The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty

By Peter Michael Rosset, Braulio Machín Sosa, Adilén María Roque Jaime & Dana Rocío Ávila Lozano

Agroecology has played a key role in helping Cuba survive the crisis caused by the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe and the tightening of the US trade embargo. Cuban peasants have been able to boost food production without scarce and expensive imported agricultural chemicals by first substituting more ecological inputs for the no longer available imports, and then by making a transition to more agroecologically integrated and diverse farming systems. This was possible not so much because appropriate alternatives were made available, but rather because of the Campesino-a-Campesino (CAC) social process methodology that the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) used to build a grassroots agroecology movement.

Cuban peasants have been able to boost food production without scarce and expensive imported agricultural chemicals

This paper was produced in a ‘self-study’ process spearheaded by ANAP and La Via Campesina, the international agrarian movement of which ANAP is a member. In it we document and analyze the history of the Campesino-to-Campesino Agroecology Movement (MACAC), and the significantly increased contribution of peasants to national food production in Cuba that was brought about, at least in part, due to this movement. Our key findings are

  • the spread of agroecology was rapid and successful largely due to the social process methodology and social movement dynamics;
  • farming practices evolved over time and contributed to significantly increased relative and absolute production by the peasant sector, and;
  • those practices resulted in additional benefits including resilience to climate change.

Available for free at the JSP website.

Photo by Tach_RedGold&Green from flickr.com