Inclusive ways to sustainable and healthy food for all

All around the world small-scale farmers are using sustainable and inclusive methods to produce food. Working together with nature and each other, they provide their families and communities with sufficient and healthy food. But their production methods are under pressure from large-scale agriculture and the globally dominant system of industrial food production. Together with our partners, Both ENDS is trying to turn the tide in favour of sustainable, local practices that are mostly known as 'agro-ecological' or 'nature-inclusive'. Why are we focusing on these methods? Agro-ecological practices are climate-proof and inclusive and increase the opportunities for communities around the world to produce their food sustainably.

From Analog Forestry in Central America to organic market gardening in Kenya, from FMNR in the Sahel to NTFPs in India – all of these agro-ecological practices protect ecosystems, give local communities a voice in how they live and how they use their land, make use of local knowledge and traditions, and ensure local, sustainable food production.


While large-scale agriculture and the current global food system have led to climate change, loss of biodiversity and the depletion and degradation of millions of hectares of soil, the sustainable (or transformative) practices promoted by Both ENDS and our partners help preserve and restore (agro-)ecosystems. They are also climate-proof: largely because agro-ecology improves biodiversity, the natural balance and the quality of land and water, these practices are better able to withstand the increasingly frequent fluctuations and extremes in the weather. Healthy and biodiverse river basins and ecosystems are much more resilient and also help to combat global warming.


In addition, these practices are not based on imported technological knowledge and materials, but build on local knowledge and traditions that often go back for centuries. That knowledge is supplemented by new scientific insights into ecological processes. As a consequence the agro-ecological ecosystems that are emerging around the world in various contexts can adapt very well to changing social, economic and climatological conditions.

Being embedded at local level means that communities have much greater say in how their food is produced. They themselves manage their land and water, store and sow their own seeds and make their own biological pesticide and fertiliser. Men, women, people with or without land – everyone has a role to play in the process. The focus is on cooperation for the exchange of knowledge and inclusive decision-making within (and often between) communities, so that little input (knowledge, materials, permission) is required from outside.

Food sovereignty

Local, sustainable ways of producing food based on agro-ecological principles help to achieve food sovereignty, the capability to sustainably provide in one's own food.  That is a step further than food security: while food security focuses mainly on producing sufficient food, food sovereignty is about people having control over the food they produce and consume. There is little evidence of such control in the global, industrial food system. Food produced on a large-scale often forces local, better quality products out of the market. Unlike agro-ecological and circular agriculture, large-scale agriculture rapidly depletes the soil and uses enormous quantities of water. That leads to scarcity and small-scale farmers lose access to land and water, and thereby their income. They are forced to stop farming or to participate in large-scale, non-sustainable production. This disrupts communities and harms ecosystems, and is completely unnecessary.

The focus on food security in many cases has proved not to work. Despite the worldwide increase in food production we have still not completely eradicated hunger and malnutrition. The industrial food system has proved very vulnerable to crises: climate change, natural disasters, sicknesses and war prevent food from reaching many parts of the world and cause prices – sometimes locally, but often also internationally – to rise so rapidly that buying sufficient food becomes too expensive for many people.

Both ENDS and our partners are therefore working to transform food and agricultural systems: to build local, inclusive and sustainable systems that are more resilient in the face of external factors and generate opportunities for everyone to produce their own food sustainably.

Support for local, sustainable practices

Financial and political support for these agro-ecological practices is however essential. If they are to survive and expand it is important, for example, that communities and small-scale farmers obtain better land-use rights and access to water. To achieve that, laws and rules – mostly at local level – need to be changed and implemented. It is also important that local legislation does not hamper the sale of local products.

Many systematic changes are also required at international level to promote and make possible local, sustainable food production. Trade agreements often compel countries to ban farmers and communities from harvesting and sowing seeds in favour of international seed traders with intellectual property rights on seed products. Governments help their international companies by supporting overseas activities like the construction of ports and roads to enable the bulk transport of agricultural products to the rest of the world.

Small farmers may also need financial support to get them started with sustainable food production. With a small grant, communities, cooperatives and women's groups can improve existing practices or develop new activities, for example start a new shop, set up a seed bank or draw up a marketing strategy. Both ENDS and our partners therefore call for better access to financial support for these groups. Most money still goes to large-scale, conventional agricultural projects rather than to agro-ecological methods. By focusing on small grants as an alternative to the current financial system and thus ensuring that public money is used for inclusive, sustainable practices, the necessary transformation of food and agricultural systems can be set in motion.

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