By Kevin Okoth Ouko-Research and Policy Analyst, Kenya
Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, affecting every corner of the globe. As temperatures rise, extreme weather events become more frequent, and ecosystems are disrupted, it’s clear that urgent action is needed to mitigate its effects. Agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and land-use changes. At the same time, it is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as droughts, floods, and shifting growing seasons. The paradox here is that agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution. Countries are increasingly recognizing the need to adopt sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate the impacts of climate change and enhance food security. One such approach gaining prominence is agroecology. The Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA’s) involvement in agroecology advocacy stems from our commitment to justice, poverty alleviation, and environmental stewardship.
Agroecology often referred to as “the agriculture of the future,” is a holistic and sustainable approach to farming that seeks to integrate ecological principles into agricultural systems. Unlike conventional agriculture, which often relies heavily on synthetic inputs and monoculture, agroecology emphasizes biodiversity, soil health, and the use of natural processes to boost crop yields and resilience. This approach holds great promise in the fight against climate change for several reasons:
Carbon Sequestration: Agroecological practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and agroforestry can enhance soil carbon sequestration. Healthy soils can store significant amounts of carbon, reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Reduced Emissions: By minimizing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, agroecology helps reduce the carbon footprint associated with the production and transport of these chemicals. Additionally, the practice of no-till farming can reduce emissions from ploughing and soil disturbance.
Enhanced Resilience: Agroecological systems are more resilient to extreme weather events, a hallmark of climate change. Diverse cropping systems are less vulnerable to pests and diseases, reducing the need for chemical interventions.
Water Management: Agroecological techniques can improve water retention in soil, reducing the risk of erosion, drought, and the need for extensive irrigation. This is particularly important in regions facing water scarcity due to climate change.
Localized Food Systems: Agroecological practices often prioritize local food production and distribution. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation of food.
Global Policies and Initiatives for Agroecology
At the global level, policymakers are increasingly recognizing the importance of agroecological practices in addressing these pressing issues. Some of these policies and initiatives include:
United Nations’ Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028): The UN declared the decade of family farming with the aim of recognizing the importance of family farmers and promoting their role in achieving global food security. Agroecology plays a central role in this initiative, as it aligns with the goals of supporting small-scale farmers, promoting sustainable agriculture, and improving rural livelihoods.
FAO’s 10 Elements of Agroecology: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has developed a set of 10 elements that outline key principles of agroecology. These elements provide guidance to policymakers and practitioners on how to implement agroecological practices effectively.
The Global Alliance for the Future of Food: This alliance brings together foundations, governments, and civil society organizations to support a shift towards sustainable food systems. They advocate for policies that prioritize agroecology as a means of achieving food security and environmental sustainability.
The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food): IPES-Food is an independent panel of experts that provides policy recommendations to governments and international organizations. They have produced reports highlighting the potential of agroecology to transform food systems and address global challenges.
The Paris Agreement and Climate Mitigation: Agroecology is recognized as a climate-smart agriculture approach in the Paris Agreement. By sequestering carbon in soils, reducing emissions, and enhancing resilience, agroecology contributes to climate change mitigation efforts.
Support for Indigenous and Local Knowledge: Global policies increasingly emphasize the importance of preserving and integrating indigenous and local knowledge into agroecological practices. This recognizes the wealth of traditional farming wisdom and the need for inclusive, culturally relevant solutions.
Research and Education Initiatives: Many international organizations, universities, and research institutions are investing in agroecology research and education. This includes funding research projects, creating educational programs, and building networks of agroecology practitioners and experts.
Agroecology is not just a farming technique; it’s a holistic approach that has the potential to transform our agricultural systems and combat climate change. The principles and values outlined in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ resonate strongly with the practices and goals of agroecology. By embracing these principles and advocating for the adoption of agroecological farming methods, we can work towards a future where we truly care for our common home and ensure the well-being of all living beings on this planet. JENA’s advocacy for agroecology reflects our dedication to social justice and understanding of the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues. Through education, research, and on-the-ground initiatives, JENA is helping to build a more sustainable and equitable food system. Notably, by prioritizing sustainable practices that sequester carbon, reduce emissions, and promote resilience, agroecology can play a significant role in mitigating the effects of climate change. To realize its full potential, it’s imperative that governments, farmers, researchers, and consumers worldwide work together to promote and implement agroecological practices on a global scale. By doing so, we can create a more sustainable and climate-resilient future for our planet.