Main for Agroecology: Who's definition is it?

Despite being the trendy buzzword in agriculture, agroecology is defined differently by country and organization. Even Canada has multiple visions.

Agriculture impacts everyone on the planet, even if most of its denizens are seemingly unaware of that fact or possess a laissez faire attitude to it. Mention ecology, and eyerolls commence as images of the Lorax creep into the imagination regardless of its real social impact.

And yet, whether it’s foodstuff such as dairy, meats, fruits, veggies, grains and pulses, or cotton, hemp and flax et al, there is a growing global demand for more, more and still more. Which is both good and bad for the agriculture industry.

Along with the demand and the necessity to farm either more land for larger yields or to farm more effectively, comes the double-edged sword of possible side-effects such as soil degradation, chemical runoff, air pollution and more—though that’s not necessarily the case here in Canada.

Agroecology has become the latest buzzword in the agriculture sector—a mashup of the words “agriculture” and “ecology” with the latter being the relationship of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. However, the definition of agroecology itself has become a tad lost in translation from its original root.

While the concept of agroecology was put forth to protect the environment from antagonistic farming methods, first-world countries such as Canada have, for decades, being doing a pretty good job of farming and protecting the environment.

But here’s the thing: agroecology has also become a fighting philosophy focusing on protecting the farmer from agency and power issues within food systems. Yes, protecting the ecology of the farm is still important, only that it has also taken on aspects that are less environmental and more farm protective.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone knows that the costs to operating a farm are always on the uptick.

Just looking at the total operating costs for Canadian farms—between 2018 and 2019—it’s an increase of 4.26 percent.

Compare that to the average Canadian inflation rate for the population over those same three years: increases of 1.6 percent, 2.27 percent and 1.95 percent, respectively, meaning that farm input costs have risen at a higher rate than costs incurred in the general population. Farming costs money.

Beware the Buzzword 

As noted, agroecology has recently become a buzzword in the agriculture industry, and not necessarily for the good.

The concept of agroecology farming has been used around the globe (Europe, for example) to much success, but its use to affect farming in developing areas (parts of Africa) has been called by researchers as the death of indigenous farming.

But what is agroecology? It depends on where one is and who is doing the talking.

For example, even though many European countries are utilizing what they themselves term “agroecology”, there is a large divide on what that means and how to define it.

Just as all European countries like to maintain their differences, so too is the divergence in utilizing the term. One country sees agroecology as primarily a scientific discipline studying the ecology of ecosystems; another links it solely to organic farming, while another recognizes it as the future law for agriculture.

To be fair, however, most European nations that follow the concept of agroecology, also consider the three pillars of sustainability: economic; social, and; environmental. If that sounds familiar, welcome to Canada, eh.

Canadian farmers have been mandated and have done on their own, a pretty good job of maintaining their livelihood by following those three pillars of sustainability for many a decade.
Or have they?

 

For The People

Proponents of agroecology, however, say we can do a better job.

The Canadian version of the National Farmers Union (NFU), headquartered in Saskatoon, is a direct-membership voluntary organization made up of Canadian farm families who share common goals promoting agroecology and food sovereignty. It is currently the only farm organization incorporated through an Act of Parliament.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) calls itself a unique animal amongst farm organizations in that it “advocates for people’s interest against control of our food system.”

This organization, however, contrasts with its American cousin, National Farmers Union—officially the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America—who protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities by promoting legislation and education beneficial to farmers, and by developing cooperative buying and selling methods and businesses.

When it comes to agroecology, the Canadian NFU defines it as: a holistic approach to food production that uses—and creates—social, cultural, economic and environmental knowledge to promote food sovereignty, social justice, economic sustainability, and healthy agricultural ecosystems.

In a fight against corporate control of the food system, the NFU (Canada) said there is a need to make agroecology an essential part of food sovereignty. Relative to Europe’s three pillars of agroecology, the NFU (Canada) have eight such tenets.

Finding a Balance

At its core, the concept of agroecology is an ideal—only whatever the original definition was, it has been coopted to be either more or different. It has evolved, with multiple versions existing at the same time.

Ecologically-speaking, could the agriculture industry do better as a whole?

Sure. And we are, regardless of one’s definition of agroecology. Farmers are always looking for the newest ideas or technologies that will not only make their farms more profitable but will also ensure the land and surrounding areas remain ecologically viable.

Corteva Agriscience (Canada) describes itself as a producer of best-in-class seeds, crop protection solutions and digital services, providing solutions to challenges through innovation and responsiveness, tailored via its customers' needs.

Kris Allen, Communications Leader - Canada for the company offered his take on the subject. “We know there is a way forward for sustainable climate action that enables producers to meet the demands of a growing population and securing the economic future for the vast majority of the world’s population who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

As a best-in-class provider of seed genetics that maximize yield and profitability suited specifically per customer needs, Allen explained that when paired with tailored crop protection solutions and Corteva’s Granular digital platform, Canadian farmers can realize incremental yield potential while minimizing inputs and preserving soil health.

“We believe farmers are stewards of the land. Our Climate Positive Leaders program recognizes early adopter farmers and ranchers who are practicing scalable sustainability initiatives that can go beyond their own operations with the goal that others in the industry consider how they could adopt a similar initiative on their own farm,” said Allen. “The Climate Positive Leaders Program recognizes those important relationships, requiring third-party organizations, including grower groups, non-profits, universities, and other technical assistance providers to nominate growers who they have seen successfully implemented climate positive practices.”

While not every farm wants to embrace the buzzword that is agroecology, it is time to give Canadian farmers more credit for their efforts.

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