There is more and more talk about agroecology, but what exactly is it about ?
Emmanuelle Poirier-Magona : Agroecology is a set of practices which aim to improve the balance between the increase in agricultural production – in terms of both quantity and quality – and the preservation of the environment. In practical terms, it involves making the best possible use of the services provided by nature (water, sun, atmospheric nitrogen, carbon…), reducing inputs (fertilizers, plant protection products, etc.) and promoting diversity. Agroecology brings together a large number of different practices : agroforestry, organic farming, combined cropping or crop/livestock farming, and other practices.
Agroecology appears simple but it is at the center of a number of debates : How to make the most effective use of existing know-how – or how to innovate and mobilize research – how to finance the agroecological transition – or how to put it into practice on a plot, on a farm, in a territory or in any country around the world ? These are all the issues which CIRAD, AFD and its partners are bringing together on the theme of agroecology at the next Paris International Agricultural Show.
Does agroecology provide a response to some of the challenges facing the humanity of the 21st century?
Agroecology is not the miracle solution, but it does clearly contribute to the major challenges our societies are now facing : nature conservation, fair remuneration for producers, food quality, adaptation to climate change… And this holds true for both emerging countries and the most developed countries, as agroecology has a lot of benefits.
Firstly, it improves the productivity of farming systems, other than by using improved seeds (GMOs) and inputs. The main objective is consequently to produce and contribute to feeding the planet and intensification is necessary in this context. But the question lies in knowing what trace we want to leave behind us, and this is where agroecology has a role to play, as it opens up a pathway towards more sustainable development.
For example, agroecological practices will focus on optimizing and managing water. Agroecology also promotes soil protection, reforestation (hedgerows, agroforestry), but especially the diversity of practices – with, for example, combined cropping or crop/livestock farming. These practices will preserve or recreate biodiversity and strengthen existing natural regulation (pollination or the integrated fight against animals/insect pests in particular). They will also store carbon in soils and trees, which contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil fertility.
Through the diversity of practices promoted, it also allows farmers to be better prepared to face potential shocks, from the climate for example, but also ensures more stable incomes as they are less related to a specific industry or market. Agroecology is therefore varied and full of promise for the future… All we have to do now is put it into practice on a large scale !
How does AFD support the development of agroecology?
AFD has been supporting agroecology in the broad sense for almost 10 years already – both in terms of techniques and actors. We seek to knock down the barriers which restrict its dissemination and thereby facilitate ownership of agroecology in our countries of operation. To achieve this, long-term assistance is required for the technical, organizational and institutional aspects. AFD-financed projects are along these lines.
One example : the project to support the agroecological transition with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This project, which starts this year, will allow producers’ organizations (POs) in 5 West African countries (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Togo) to implement agroecological intensification activities in their territories. The projects will be defined by the POs themselves, in partnership with NGOs, territorial authorities, research institutes, etc.
At the same time, work will also be conducted on a larger scale, with a focus on training – to integrate agroecology into existing teaching programs – and on the integration of agroecology into public policies. This substantive work on a regional dimension with ECOWAS enhances existing systems, i.e. those of NGOs from emerging countries and international NGOs to support agroecology. All this heralds the importance which agroecology is taking on around the world and confirms the interest of cooperation between partners, which is the basis for change.