Agroecology: Achieving Social, Economic, and Environmental Sustainability

Posted on Wednesday, 14 December 2022 under Supporting Farmers and Ranchers Feature

Agroecology is an approach to farming that encompasses many practices and techniques. In simple terms, ecology is the study of the relationship between plants, animals, people, and the environment. Agroecology is the input of these ecological concepts in farming. Agroecology is a holistic mindset that considers three pillars of sustainability, social, economic, and environmental, applied to agriculture as an important way to ensure balance in a system. Climate change, through major environmental catastrophes, disrupts our social and economic systems. As a result, climate change mitigation needs to address all three pillars of sustainability. Climate challenges are interconnected and require a holistic approach, one to which agroecology lends. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states,

Agroecological transitions can support the simultaneous achievement of multiple sustainability objectives – economic, environmental, social, nutritional, health and cultural – holistically and in an integrated manner at different levels and scales while being adapted for different environmental and cultural contexts.

They urge that there is no one way to apply agroecological approaches, and local context needs to be considered. Geography, scale, and agricultural sector are important considerations for BC farmers.

Agroecology can help alleviate climate stresses by giving the farm the strength of adaptability and resilience. Share on X

Agroecological approaches include reduced tillage and disturbance, agroforestry, cover cropping, permaculture, organic principles, rotational grazing. These are just a few examples of the many that agroecology incorporates. Agroecology incorporates all these practices as a way of life, being in harmony with nature, and approaching agriculture holistically. Climate change adaptation is necessary on BC farms as we move forward with unpredictable weather events, and mitigation is crucial moving forward to slow the threat of climate change impact.

A healthy farm system increases a farmer’s ability to adapt to extreme and unforeseen climate events. Diversification is essential to agroecology and helps farmers adapt to climate events. By diversifying crops, a farmer may lose one crop and still have a variety of others for income. The National Farmers Union report, Agroecology in Canada: Food Sovereignty in Action, states: “With agroecology, farmers strive to minimize losses of energy, water, nutrients and genetic resources while optimizing organic matter and nutrient cycling. Enhancing biodiversity and soil health promotes ecological processes and services that work for the farmer. Thus, productivity is no longer associated solely with yield. Other measures include food produced per hectare of land, efficient resource use, long-term ecosystem sustainability, and economic development.” Agroecology can help alleviate climate stresses by giving the farm the strength of adaptability and resilience.

From an environmental perspective, agroecology can reduce emissions and external inputs in agriculture. By mimicking nature, agroecological principles help develop a farm system that is resilient and thriving without the need for external inputs. Karla Cox at Plot Twist Farms, along the Naramata Bench, adopts agroecology to work with nature, not against it. Cox says, “I aim to create a balance with nature to allow the ecosystem to thrive by making small adjustments and encouraging a multitude of species to coexist, recognizing that biodiversity creates resilience.” The plants and animals in a natural system feed off of and utilize each other to thrive, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to produce food. Systems that mimic nature are more resilient to climate impact, providing farmers with more stability in the years to come. Cox notes, “Creating a safe space for nature to flourish, I think, is what we really do to help the climate and environment.”

Agroecology allows farmers to control our local agricultural systems and strengthens societal structures. Rather than being at the mercy of large companies providing external inputs that harm agricultural land, we use our local, natural systems and resources to produce food when we take an agroecological approach. The United Nations stresses that agroecological systems are better positioned to avoid societal shocks, such as “pandemics and market disruptions, by re-localizing food systems and shortening value-chains, leading to greater resilience.”

Adopting an agroecological approach to agriculture includes economic security and sustainability for farmers. Share on X

Climate shocks affect every aspect of society, and any opportunity to alleviate said shocks is crucial to adopt. Community members support BC farmers for their efforts in mitigating climate change through agroecology. Mary Alice Johnson at ALM Organic Farm in Sooke notes that the community is hugely encouraging of her approach to farming. She says, “This sort of approach has not hurt me financially. I’ve become known in my community for being an asset.” Agroecology supports societies through climate shocks and is celebrated by consumers and supporters of local agriculture.

Farmers need more opportunities to expand and grow their farm systems. Adopting an agroecological approach to agriculture includes economic security and sustainability for farmers. Agroecology not only emphasizes the environmental well-being of the land and nature, but the approach also offers increased economic resiliency.

In an agroecological system, there are more diverse sources of income through diversified planting and mixed animal and crop systems. If a crop fails or gets hit particularly hard by a climate event or pests, an agroecological system has a large variety of other crops to create profit. As well, species utilize each other for strength. Cox says, “Any time you have a system that’s relying on one or two things going right, you’re screwed. You have to think like nature and understand that a pear tree doesn’t grow by itself in nature. It’s providing at least two or three services. Habitat for birds, fruit for people to eat, and shade for the plants underneath it. And, the roots are holding in moisture and nutrients.”