Solution Cluster 3.2.3

Transformation through agroecology and regenerative agriculture

This solution cluster is putting forward agroecological and regenerative agriculture approaches as a key lever to transform food systems, guided by the 13 principles of agroecology set out in the HLPE (2019) report. Application of these principles globally, supporting local innovation, has the potential to make a major contribution to reaching the SDGs in a holistic, integrated way. This transformation represents a paradigm shift away from a model of improving food systems based on maximizing productivity of a few major staples, grown predominantly as monocultures, and intensive livestock systems, that create costly environmental, health and social externalities; towards healthy, resilient, equitable and sustainable food systems. Rather than offering a few ‘silver bullet’ technology packages, the application of the 13 principles takes local innovation to scale, generating concrete, context-specific solutions that tackle real world problems harnessing all compatible technologies and stimulating development of new innovations. The added value of this paradigm shift is that it brings together a coalition of the willing to contribute to addressing objectives of all five UNFSS Action Tracks through integrated solutions implemented across sectors and scales. We propose that the 13 agroecological principles are adopted by the UNFSS to guide food system transformation globally.

About this Solution Cluster

Current agricultural and food systems are unsustainable. They are responsible for one third of global GHG emissions, alarming biodiversity loss, environmental pollution, degradation of land and water resources and increasing social inequities while still not providing food security and adequate nutrition for all.  As stated in many recent major reports from IPCC, IPBES, HLPE and others, it is now widely recognized that there is an urgent need for a profound transformation of agricultural and food systems to deliver simultaneously on economic, environmental, health, social and cultural objectives. Incremental steps to improve the efficiency of the dominant green revolution approach to agricultural improvement, although necessary, are not sufficient to address the climate, environmental, human health and social challenges we face today. Farming more in harmony with nature and cultures is a necessary imperative to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement, the post 2020 CBD and UNCCD targets and the SDGs. Agroecology is people centric, and recognizes the knowledge and innovation of food producers and local actors and their participation in governance processes relating to land and natural resources. It is based on the full participation of all actors in food systems, including workers, producers and consumers having agency in determining what food is produced and how it is produced, stored, processed, marketed, transported and consumed.  It is applicable in, and adaptable to all geographies.

Agroecological and regenerative agriculture approaches, including regenerative grazing, work with rather than against nature. They mainstream biodiversity, protect and restore critical ecosystem services and harness the full potential of natural processes, closing nutrient cycles, maintaining soil health and water retention, controlling pests and diseases, and enabling reduction in synthetic inputs, irrigation and threats to ecosystem function. With greater focus on enabling policies, agroecological approaches can deliver simultaneously in terms of higher incomes and decent work; more diverse, healthy diets; a healthier environment; an increased carbon sink; and more resilient and sustainable food systems in which producers and consumers are empowered and better connected to one another.  They improve soil health, restore degraded land and thereby prevent the need for further deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems. These approaches are knowledge and labour intensive rather than capital intensive. They require innovation and involve co-creation and sharing of knowledge amongst producers, other actors along value chains and scientists, through inclusive transdisciplinary research and development. They are linked to markets through value chains that realise added value of agroecologically produced food, as evident with organic certification and can be strengthened and protected by financial services, changes in the focus of agricultural incentives and insurance solutions. They support the creation of dignified work in rural areas, providing attractive jobs and higher income and empowerment of women, young people and indigenous and traditional communities. There are many examples demonstrating the potential of agroecological approaches to address the multiple challenges faced by our food systems today, despite very little investment in them so far. These examples include initiatives such as the Andhra Pradesh Community-managed Natural Farming programme that has over 700,000 farmers practicing agroecology with improved incomes and resilience and extensive agroecological transitions in France, Germany and Switzerland driven by policy shifts nationally and the European Commission Farm to Fork strategy. The rapid expansion of the organic food market is a response to an increasing demand for healthy, sustainably and ethically produced food. Almost 80 game changing solutions submitted to UNFSS embraced these approaches, reflecting the strong interest and commitment to boost agroecology and regenerative agriculture.

Firstly, by supporting the ambitious implementation of the CFS policy recommendations on agroecological and other innovative approaches adopted at CFS48. This will involve countries and organizations coming together in coalitions to simultaneously un-lock policy, market and institutional constraints including market failures, reconfigure research and development to support local innovation at scale, and to develop and deploy holistic metrics of agricultural and food system performance to track and guide transformation. Scaling will be achieved by matching transition pathways to the starting conditions and context in which they are situated, from agroecological intensification in much of sub-Saharan Africa where few inputs are used, to redesign in much of Asia, Latin America and Europe to change consumption patterns and substitute use of environmentally disruptive chemicals on monocultures with more biodiverse production systems that recycle and make full use of natural processes of pest and disease control and biological nitrogen fixation.  Critically important is fostering a step change in investment by both the public and private sector, stimulating the innovation necessary to support transformative change and the capacity development to sustain it, and de-risk new investments in agroecology. Concrete efforts will be made to address the missing middle between national and international commitments (UNFCCC, UNCCD, CBD, AFR100) and their implementation on the ground. This involves practical measures to integrate across sectors – such as agriculture, forestry, environment, water, energy, health and trade; and across scales – particularly creating policy instruments and social capital at local landscape or territorial scales where many ecosystem services first manifest and trade-offs and synergies amongst them can be managed.

Many farmer organizations have developed strategies for agroecological transitions and many civil society organizations have engaged in efforts to support agroecological transformation and to advocate for support for it. In West Africa, ECOWAS is implementing a major agroecology programme and is supporting the Alliance for Agroecology in West Africa that brings together over 70 farmers’, civil society and research organizations collaborating on the scaling-up of agroecology in the region. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) with over 30 member organizations is advocating for a transition to agroecology in Africa. The African Union introduced the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in nine countries and the Great Green Wall Accelerator is applying agroecological principles to restore degraded land and stop desertification. The Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development with 22 member organizations in 16 countries is promoting agroecology through capacity building, knowledge exchanges and support to on-ground work with men, women and young people in farms, fisheries and forested landscapes.  The Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA) promotes the development of the science of agroecology as the scientific basis of a sustainable rural development strategy in Latin America. Regeneration International educates different stakeholders on the benefits of regenerative agriculture and promotes policy initiatives to advance the transition to regenerative farming. Agroecology Europe promotes the transition towards agroecology-based farming and food systems in Europe. The FAO-lead ‘Scaling-up agroecology initiative’ brings together UN and other organizations to accelerate agroecological transformation. The Transformative Partnership Platform on agroecology brings together a global coalition of actors to address key knowledge and implementation gaps constraining agroecological transitions.  It has a rapidly developing science-policy interface and capacity development facility. Some initiatives taken by the private sector such as the OP2B coalition are committed to support regenerative agriculture deployment at large scales. An informal donor group, bringing together philanthropic foundations and country donor agencies, has been collaborating on planning increased and more efficient investments in agroecology. Several countries have developed policies that support agroecological transformation, including Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Senegal and Uruguay and many others are in the process of developing them. France and Switzerland have developed agroecology programmes and the European Commission with the Green Deal policy is committed to increase organic production. In Austria, 25% of its farming land has already been converted to organic agriculture. Sri Lanka has announced a national policy to transition to agroecological food production. All these initiatives constitute a strong basis to build upon through countries and organizations coming together in an ambitious coalition of the willing.

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