The Principles of Agroecology

Towards socially equitable, resilient and sustainable food systems



What do we mean by agroecology? What does it look like? Is it scalable? Can we give concrete examples? How could we invest in or support it? Is it productive? Is there data proving its efficiency; that it is delivering on its promises? These are a few of the questions that often come up when speaking with people who are not terribly familiar with agroecology. When talking with people who are familiar with it, they raise other issues:

I don’t think they are really talking about agroecology: agroecology is not restricted to improving life in soils, it is so much more than that!”

It’s incredible, they use the word agroecology, but they’ve totally emptied it of its true meaning, it looks like they are using it to green-wash the industrial model”

“This might be how scientists are interpreting agroecology but peasant movements see it differently”

He/she’s not using the concept of agroecology but what he/she’s talking about is very much in line with how we see and define agroecology”

We could go on and on. Generally speaking there is a need to clarify what agroecology is and what it is not in order to gather political support, for the discipline to flourish, to avoid co-optation and fight against false solutions etc. Social movements, civil society, international institutions, and academics have made several attempts to clarify what agroecology means over recent years and this trend continues with many still trying to clarify it.

In our network, we felt there was a similar need for clarification and alignment. What follows is the initial outcome of this work. We decided to split the different principles into the four dimensions of sustainability: environmental, socio-cultural, economic and political. We believe it is a good way to capture the complexity and multi-dimensional aspect of agroecology. It allows us to understand agroecosystems and food systems by taking into account the social, economic, and political contexts in which they sit.[1] It also builds on categories of principles that have already been identified in previous work done by others in the agroecological movement.

We are clear what we are trying to achieve. Our aim is not to build a new definition of agroecology but rather to identify principles that will strengthen our narrative as well as our advocacy and programme work. We want to develop further a common vision and understanding of what agroecology (which we see as one of the main elements in achieving food sovereignty and climate justice) means and looks like.

This is the first step in a broader process that will also include the development of a practical guide which, together with these principles, should serve as the basis for initiating a dialogue in different parts of the world and within the member organisations of our network (assessing current practices and strategies). As our societies face deep social, environmental and economic crises and climate change imposes on our societies deep and radical shifts from current models of production and consumption, there is a certain urgency for agroecology to be understood and supported widely. With this humble contribution, we hope and believe that we can contribute to strengthening the existing agroecological movement, which is the purpose of what we are doing on agroecology.

Prof. Michel Pimbert, Coventry University (UK)