Agroecology: towards another agriculture

‘Another agriculture is possible, and the future will be shaped by agroecology.’ That is, in substance, the message of the GIRAF group, co-founded by Pierre Stassart, a researcher at the University of Liege’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Management. In a recently published article the group looks into the history and the future of agroecology, an emerging discipline on the global stage, which aims to link up agriculture, ecology and social equity.

COVER AgroecologieIt is the story of an Earth, squeezed like a lemon until the pips squeak day after day in order that the best that it produces be extracted from it. It is the story of a world where close to 850 million people – or over an eighth of its overall population – suffer from famine. As the irony of fate would have it, over a half of them are farmers or agricultural workers. It is the story of a society where, under supposedly more developed skies, the scourge which must be battled against is no longer malutrition but…food wastage: 89 million tons of healthy and edible foodstuffs are thrown into the dustbin each year in the European Union’s 27 countries, or 179kg per inhabitant.

Inevitably, one might think that there is something which isn’t working properly on this Earth. That we should be able to put into place other modes of production. That a more equitable consumption should be able to come to the fore.

That is precisely the issue for agroecology. A neologism which Pierre Stassart, a researcher at the ULg’s Department of Socio-economics, Environment and Development, summarises in a few words. ‘Agroecology involves bringing social equity and ecology into agriculture.’

Along with eight other specialists from different backgrounds, he is a member of GIRAF (Groupe Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Agroécologie, an FNRS agro-ecology interdisciplinary research group). This group, founded in 2009, has just published an article entitled L’agroécologie : trajectoire et potentiel. Pour une transition vers des systèmes alimentaires durables (Agroecology: trajectory and potential. For a transition towards sustainable food systemss), which is in reality the first chapter of a book whose publication is planned for september 2012 (3). This text has a double objective: on the one hand to analyse what this emerging discipline today covers and to define on the other hand a series of principles which should guide its development.

Green Revolution

‘This movement was born in the United States at the beginning of the 1980s,’ explains Pierre Stassart. ‘From the beginning it leant on a criticism of the model of development in the countries of the South.’ At this time the ‘green revolution’ was at its peaak. The technological advantages in play since the beginning of the 1960s pushed the developing countries to turn their agricultural practices upside down. New varieties of high yield cereals, irrigation, mechanisationm, the use of fertilisers, etc. It was through the dissemination of this technological package that development was thought through, the objective being an intensification of agricultural productivity.

(1) Source: the European Parliament "Parliament calls for urgent measures to halve food wastage in the EU"
(2) Catholic University of Louvain, the Free University of Brussels, the University of Ghent, the Walloon Agronomy Research Centre.
(3) Stassart, P., M., P. Baret, J.-C. Grégoire, T. Hance, M. Mormont, D. Reheul, D. Stilmant, G. Vanloqueren, and M. Visser. 2012 (forthcoming) Trajectoire et potentiel de l'agroécologie, pour une transition vers des systèmes alimentaires durables. Pages 25-51 in D. Vandam, J. Nizet, M. Streith, and M. Stassart, Pierre, editors. Agroécologie, entre pratiques et sciences sociales. Educagri, Dijon.

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