Transformative Practice


Agroecology is a diverse set of agricultural practices, a field of science and a social movement. It aims to transform food systems towards greater ecological sustainability, social justice, and resilience. Both ENDS and CSO-partners around the world support farmers and pastoralists practising agroecology, both on the ground and in gathering political and financial support.

As a practice, agroecology refers to a farming approach that applies ecological principles to foster interactions between soils, plants, animals, humans and the ecosystem to produce nutritious food in a sustainable, resilient and responsible way. It mimics and supports natural processes and respects the dynamic balance within ecosystems, to produce nutritious food that requires few external inputs. This approach builds on indigenous knowledge and is locally rooted.

Agroecology, however, is not just one practice in itself; there are many agroecological practices that are all tailor-made by local land users to their local environment. Examples from our network are farmer managed natural regeneration in the Sahel, analog forestry in Sri Lanka, Cameroon and Costa Rica, improving soil health of degraded soils through bioremediation in Bolivia, and organic family farms in Kenya and Brazil.

Sustainable and inclusive food production

Not only is agroecology a sustainable and climate-resilient approach to food production. It is also inclusive, as it puts small-scale farmers and pastoralists at the centre of change through responsible governance, close interaction between producers and consumers, co-creation of knowledge, circular economies and the upholding of social values. Women have a central role in agroecology: in holding knowledge, in producing and selling food and in feeding their family. Agroecological systems value women as autonomous actors. Rightly so, as most small-scale food producers are women. A nice example is the campaign on "cadernetas agroecológicas" (agroecological notebooks) in Brazil which support women getting insight in their food production and therefore gives them visibility and strength within their community.

Agroecology is a viable alternative to the dominant agro-industrial food systems, that are dependent on external inputs as capital, agrochemicals and synthetic fertilizers and that are directed at large international commodity trade that causes environmental damage through soil degradation, deforestation and climate change, and social inequalities through its need for land and cheap labour. Agroecology provides food for farmers, their communities and regions, contributes to the right to food and supports healthy soils and ecosystems.

Advocating for finance and policy support

Both ENDS and our partners are working to transform food and agricultural systems: to support 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.

Although agroecology is steadily gaining ground amongst farmers, NGOs, policymakers, scientists, trade unions, consumers and other allies, it can't keep up with the systematic policy and financial support for the agro-industry. Both ENDS and partners aim to change this.

It is needed that land users, and especially women and youth, get better access to land and that their land (use) rights are secured so that they will be able to invest in long term natural processes as soil health, growing trees and rainwater harvesting techniques. To achieve that, policies, laws, rules and procedures need to take land tenure security and inclusive land use planning into account. Another important enabling condition is that agroecological products should be favoured in local, regional and national markets over agricultural products that depend on agrochemicals, diminish soil health, and don't respect human rights.

Many systemic changes are also required at international level to promote and make possible local, sustainable food production. One of these changes is to remove restrictions for farmers to freely develop, share and preserve seeds. Currently, many trade agreements require countries to adopt or mimic the so-called UPOV rules for seeds production and seeds exchange. This means a country must comply to UPOV's strict rules that favour the interests of the multinational seed corporations and undermine the local, traditional, community seed management systems in which farmers share and develop their seeds to adapt to crises like drought and climate change and support (agro)biodiversity.

Policies should also focus on supporting local food chains and more plant-based diets, instead of supporting infrastructure for the transport of agricultural bulk products (like soy) around the world. This would at the same time increase the space for agroecological practices.

Small-scale farmers, especially women farmers who tend to have less access to land and (therefore) to financial resources than men, also need support to improve their sustainable food production. With financial support, communities, cooperatives and women's groups can improve agroecological practices and develop new activities, like setting up farmers markets, improving seed banks, or engaging with policy makers for better policies and land use planning. Both ENDS and our partners therefore advocate for better access to financial support for farmers, pastoralists, women, youth and the organisations that support them. Small grant funds and other innovative financial mechanisms are the way forward to ensure that food producers can be supported in the sustainable and inclusive transformation of food and agricultural systems.

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