The speakers were :
- Frédéric Apollin, Executive Director, Agronomists and Veterinarians without Borders (AVSF)
- Christian Huyghe, Deputy Scientific Director, French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)
- Christiane Lambert, farmer and Vice President of the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA)
- Anne Legile, project manager, Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity Division, Agence Française de Développement
Prospective scenarios predict that there will be a population explosion by 2050. This will automatically lead to an increase in needs for food production and job creation. In this context, agroecology provides solutions able to meet the economic, sociodemographic and environmental challenges of Southern countries. Yet is it the answer to these challenges, or just part of the answer? Does it involve doing away with dominant agricultural models or, on the contrary, does it correspond to a gradual and necessary development of these models?
“Agroecology”: One banner but many definitions
Agroecology became part of common agricultural practices back in the 18th century and subsequently developed in various forms. It is currently at the same time a scientific discipline, a farmers’ movement and a set of agricultural practices. It is based on a systemic approach by agricultural holdings and aims “to mobilize the potential of ecosystems in order to achieve autonomy from non-renewable resources” (F. Apollin). Its aim is thus to promote the functional diversity of species and make productive capital sustainable. It relies on agroforestry, the introduction of legumes or farming-livestock rearing, among other activities, and is also developing in the South in the form of a “dissemination of a whole host of local initiatives that are often led by farmers’ organizations, NGOs and local authorities” (F. Apollin).
A response to a number of challenges in the South
By its characteristics, agroecology can meet a number of the challenges of Southern countries. It guarantees the quality of products and sustainability of agricultural holdings and is also based on short circuits. Agroecology is hence capable of meeting the challenges of food security that will arise in the South in the years ahead. It is “labor intensive” (A. Legile) and would also be able to satisfy the growing needs for employment in Southern countries. While it contributes to “maintaining communities in rural areas” and reduces these countries’ dependence on imports, it is also capable of guaranteeing a satisfactory remuneration for producers. In other words, agroecology contributes to creating a real local economy (F. Apollin). It is “ecologically intensive” (C. Lambert) and, finally, improves the energy efficiency of agricultural holdings and contributes to “soil and natural resource conservation” (C. Huyghe).
“Agricultural models will inevitably develop towards an agroecological transition” (C. Lambert). Yet there are still many barriers to agroecology. It is for this reason that the steps taken for this necessary transition must be “pragmatic” (F. Apollin) and translated into “operational, reliable and secure proposals” (A. Legile). In addition, any agroecological approach must be tailored to the expectations and convictions of the farmers who participate in them, without forgetting to take account of the territorial and socioeconomic specificities of agriculture in the South (A. Legile, C. Huyghe).
The levrerage needed to develop agroecology
One of the aims is to offer consumers high quality products, without increasing their cost or cutting back on producers’ remuneration (F. Apollin). It is also a question of guaranteeing access for agroecological products to markets that are currently uncertain (C. Lambert). To achieve these objectives, it is also necessary to tackle the incoherence of the relevant public policies that are developed (F. Apollin), stimulate consumer demand for agroecological products (C. Huyghe), and change the way in which both urban and rural communities in the South view the farming profession, which needs to have its value restored. Finally, it is necessary to more effectively measure, disseminate and give visibility to the results of initiatives that already exist in order to convince people that this agroecological transition is relevant and effective.
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