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Science, Farming System, and Social Movement

“Agroecology” is a merging of the words agriculture and ecology. The purpose is to reconnect agriculture with its biophysical, agronomic, economic, and philosophical roots in diverse natural ecosystems. Agroecology is frequently identified as farming systems that are rooted in the science of ecology or as the science of sustainable agriculture. Ecology is sociocultural as well as biophysical. Food Sovereignty is a global agricultural movement with member organizations in more than 80 countries.23 The movement defines food sovereignty as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems”.17 Thus, agroecology is a science, a farming system, and a social movement.

First, agroecology applies the science of ecology to agriculture.2 Ecology is a study of the relationships of living organisms, including humans, with the other elements of their natural and social environment. There is a common phrase in ecology that relates directly to agroecology: “You can’t do just one thing.” The relationships in agroecosystems, such as those among living soils, plants, animals, and the people who farm, live in rural communities, and eat food are incredibly complex. Everything is related, somehow and in some way, to everything else. Any individual action a farmer may take affects everything else on the farm – some in small ways and others in important ways. When farmers do one thing, they need to be aware of all of the other things that may be affected on their farms as wholes. They also need to be aware of the impacts of their actions on their neighbours, communities, and larger societies. Unintended consequences of their actions may appear either quickly or at some time in the distant future. The science of ecology addresses temporal as well as functional and spatial relationships.

Second, as a farming system, agroecology respects the fact that the natural ecosystems and societies that sustain individual farming systems are inherently diverse and unique. Sometimes the differences are insignificant and sometimes they are critical to the performance of the farming system as a whole. A set of specific farming methods and practices that are successful for one farmer on one farm may or may not work for another farmer or another farm – even though nature functions by the same ecological principles on every farm. Sustainable farming methods and practices must respect the “natural ecology of place.” Agroecology also respects the “social ecology of place.” Agroecology views humans as members of the earth’s integrally connected ecosystem.