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Feeding the World with Agroecology

Feeding the World with Agroecology

On 25 September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations ratified the 2030 Agenda; it is the largest political programme, agreed at global level, ever concluded.
A program to change not only international policies but to transform, at a local level, the way of understanding the transformation objectives of our societies.
Agenda 2030 introduces the criterion of connection between all policy actions, with a systemic and overall vision; in a nutshell, no more unrelated policies but the awareness that every thought-out action, both globally and locally, must be evaluated for its connections and consequences on the rest of the processes.
Among the 17 objectives of Agenda 2030, divided in turn into 169 actions, we will focus on number 2: Zero Hunger.
The goals of objective no. 2 state that by 2030 we should be able to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. This would be achieved by doubling agricultural productivity and the income of small producers (especially women and indigenous peoples), ensuring sustainable food production systems and progressively improving land and soil quality.
The problem is that with current food production systems this goal is practically unattainable. This leads us to understand that a total change of understanding of agricultural production, of the relationship between it and the communities, is needed, clamoring for the speeding up of that paradigm shift that goes by the name of agroecology.
However, the question that should make us reflect is that, on the basis of scientific data and meta-analyses, experts, researchers and scientists agree on this; we recall that agroecology is not only a way of producing, respecting the principles and needs of ecosystems, but it is also a way of connecting social systems, communities, skills, knowledge, etc., creating, in fact, new social models that are perfectly integrated into the ecosystems in which they live. All this decreases the dependence on linear economy models, which make the exploitation of resources and large social aggregations their fortunes, creating the great ecological and social problems of our world.
Among other things, one of the key principles of agroecology is that these are based on the cultivation of multiple species on individual lands, replicating natural ecosystems in a synchronous and coherent way.
Science has been demonstrating to us, for some time now, with its research and meta-analyses, that these systems not only ensure a higher primary productivity than intensive and specialized systems but that, at the same time, they allow for a lower contribution of external inputs (pesticides , herbicides, fertilizers, etc.), thus closing the thermodynamic system, thus making it much more efficient, not only from an ecological point of view but also from a social point of view.
Even if everyone agrees on this, the disagreement arises under the pressures of various large interested groups, which with their false information and interested information systems (Greenwashing) lead Governments and political decision-makers off course.
Moreover, according to the latest United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world, almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019. This is 60 more than in 2015, when the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda. After a constant decline, since 2014 there has been a gradual increase in the number of people who go to sleep on an empty stomach (while in other so-called advanced countries, millions of people suffer from overweight due to excessive incorrect and the result of a highly polluting agri-food system).
According to estimates made worldwide by some scholars, our planet, considering the UAA (Useful Agricultural Surface) would be able to feed a population of over 10 billion people, the one that will populate the planet in 2050 and that this number could increase if agroecological systems were more widespread.
However, to do this requires a profound transformation, as a group of experts recalls in the recent FAO report on agroecology and other innovative approaches.
Let us immediately clarify that the problem of hunger in the world is not due to insufficient food production, which is unable to keep up with the constant population growth.
“Hunger is caused by the fact that great empires own 80% of the world’s land and they are all monocultures. This greatly limits the variety of food we can eat and makes agriculture increasingly vulnerable to climate change. In addition, we eat only 30% of this food, half of the crops feed livestock and the biofuel industry: 89 million hectares of land in Africa have been bought to produce them. Therefore we need a new paradigm, based on a new ethic to give access to land to small-scale farmers and create an agriculture no longer dependent on fossil carbons”. This affirmation comes from various authoritative voices, including Miguel Altieri, professor at the University of California, during a conference on agroecology held at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto which was also attended by Anuradha Mittal, founder of the Oakland Institute, and Yacouba Sawadogo , farmer in Burkina Faso.
We recall that agroecology not only applies ecological principles to food production, turning the agribusiness system upside down; in this way it takes care of natural resources and enhances biodiversity: in practice it offers us good practices for agriculture. The added value of agroecology is the political aspect, the fact that it aims to feed the poor and is based on the knowledge of those who have worked the fields for centuries, of those who with 20% of the land produce 89% of the food we eat.
World hunger therefore arises from the implementation of agricultural policies, which unfortunately are also widespread in Europe, where a few large landowners are the beneficiaries of the large proceeds of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and are in turn also those who with the agricultural systems intensive plants, as Jeremy Rifkin reminded us a few years ago, produce with a highly inefficient thermodynamic system (equal to about 1/10 of the agroecological one) thus exploiting the Earth’s resources, producing large emissions and, icing on the cake, creating large imbalances social, starting from the illegal hiring systems up to Land grabbing, i.e. the hoarding of land for various agribusiness purposes.
The world suffers from these abuses, born from the personal interests of those who hold the reins of the economy: “the agroecological movement opposes the theft of land by occupying it and electing governments that promote land reform that gives private property to farmers” – explains Altieri -. Even organic, fair trade and Slow Food work in this sense but they do so in the few windows left open by capitalism, while remaining subjugated by it. Capitalism must be eliminated by creating solidarity markets in which direct agreements are made between producers and consumers: capitalism does not work, a problem cannot be solved with the same mentality with which it was created, to paraphrase the well-known phrase of A. Einstein.
Without going far from Italy, just think of the experience of Sicily, where the Regional Law has already been in force since 2021. 21 of 29 July 2021: the law on agroecology of the Sicilian Region (but which at the time of writing awaits the Councilor’s signature on a proposal for an implementing decree that has been ready for over a year).
However, the estimates and studies carried out and reported in some qualified national magazines tell us that only if 10% of the agro-ecological systems were applied to Sicilian companies would there be incredible results.
Among these, pursuant to art. 7 of the same law, over 5,500,000 new trees of native Sicilian species would be planted, both fruit and forest, with great repercussions and benefits not only in the productive field but also in the ecological one.
Suffice it to say that, on average, an adult tree stores around 25 kg of CO2 per year, or 1 ton of CO2 per year for 40 adult trees.
Now, on average, it is estimated that a person emits around 4.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. This estimate takes into account direct CO2 emissions (for example, the use of automotive fuel or heating) and indirect emissions associated with the consumption of products and services, including food.
This means that around 192 trees would have to be planted each year to offset the CO2 emissions of a single Sicilian.
This means that if only 10% of companies switched to agroecology, we would compensate for the emissions of just under 3,000 Sicilian citizens, the equivalent of a small municipality.
But the discourse that is synthetically presented here goes much further; firstly because the increase in biodiversity, which is required in agro-ecological systems, would increase the efficiency of agricultural energy dissipative systems (implementing photosynthetic efficiency and CO2 absorption exponentially), furthermore the presence of tree cover would increase the sequestration of carbon from the soil but, in addition, since a circularity of production processes is required, many emissions related to the production of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, etc. would be significantly decreased, increasing the efficiency of the system and therefore the CO2 absorption/emission balance.

Mercati locali e GAS

It doesn’t end here; as reported in another article, and also confirmed here by studies published in national journals, if only 10% of farms used the renewable energy production methods envisaged in Regional Law 21/2021 (small production of electricity from renewable sources in agricultural tax regime and zero soil consumption) would cover about 83% of Sicily’s energy needs. Here we obviously understand that the CO2 absorption/emission balance would go clearly positive, allowing even before 2030 to reach the so-called neutrality.
This makes us understand that agroecology is a much more complex paradigm (albeit in the necessary summary of this article): it is a type of agriculture that encompasses various aspects. In addition to promoting ecological production, it favors the social, political and economic integration of peasants, and between peasants and urban society. Not only that but the effects of agroecology have, in the medium term, repercussions on the urban planning of our territories, recreating those conditions necessary for a decentralization of populations and reversing years of emptying of internal areas and impressive growth of large urban centers which, as is well known, they are highly energy-intensive and clearly settled on negative CO2 absorption/emission balances.
Agroecology is the ideal approach because it combines new technologies, the principles of ecological cultivation and the experience of farmers, a central element in development cooperation. The transition to this new agricultural system must start from small family farms. According to various international reports, the approximately 500 million small farmers could double their production, which according to estimates already feeds around 70 percent of the population in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and which, applied to our country, would bring us back to an unprecedented food and ecological solidity.
In a nutshell, it is increasingly evident (see the latest FAO report) that “Monocultures have reached their maximum productivity, so we must focus on the families of small farmers to increase the amount of food available”.
The paradox is that 75 percent of people who suffer from hunger live in the countryside and are largely supported by agriculture. And here too the answer comes from agroecology: a multifunctional approach that promotes democratic processes aimed at promoting food sovereignty, i.e. the control of production, land, water and genetic resources by local communities.
For this reason it is important, for example, that farmers create cooperatives to sell their products on the local market, without intermediaries, thus fighting against poverty or promoting, as contemplated by the L.R. 21/2021, the creation of GAS (Solidarity Purchase Groups).
Yet even today, listening to a large part of regional, national and international politics, under the pressure of a distorted vision of reality, it speaks of markets, often without knowing what these entities really are, of production excellence, without objectifying this concept, in ecological, health and social terms, but having as their only reference that damned (forgive me for the term) single parameter of the balance of payments and GSP, which are an old legacy of the linear economy that can no longer be proposed.
It is a vision that is now dead and buried, sanctioned not only by Agenda 2030 and by FAO but supported, above all, by studies, research, analyses, researchers from all over the world.
The question is that a large part of politics, as we see and know it today, arises from different drives, of a nature not related to real eco-social needs and, therefore, destined to die.
We are left with the imperative obligation to sow this new seed from which the planet and the society to come will be born, without forgetting that time is short and that Nature is already presenting it to us.

Guido Bissanti

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