|Ecology and Agriculture - AgroEcology - - Agroecology - is the science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design, development, and management of sustainable agricultural systems. |
Agroecology is the science of sustainable agriculture; the methods of agroecology have as their goal achieving sustainability of agricultural systems balanced in all spheres. This includes the socio-economic and the ecological or environmental.
An agroecosystem is a key idea in agroecology - they are defined as "semi-domesticated ecosystems that fall on a gradient between ecosystems that have experienced minimal human impact, and those under maximum human control, like cities."1 -
Thus agroecosystems are generally defined as novel ecosystems that produce food via farming under human guidance. While farming methods
vary, traditional agroecosystems generally differ from natural ecosystems in six ways:
|Agroecosystems are maintained at an early successional state. Most crops are early successional species which require an abundance of sunlight, water, and fertilizers.
Naturally, these crop species would be replaced by later successional plants. Humans prevent the natural process of succession by clearing crop land of other vegetation and protecting crops against natural disturbances such as fires or storms.
|Agroecosystems generally exhibit monoculture: large areas of land planted with a single species. Monoculture can increase the vulnerability of crops to pests and can reduce the nutrients of the soil. Crop rotation is one method of counteracting monoculture hazards.
|In addition to monoculture, agroecosystem crops are generally planted in rows. In natural ecosystems, different species of plants grow mixed together, making them less vulnerable to pests.
|Agroecosystems have greatly simplified biodiversity and food chains. Predators, especially, are targeted and largely eliminated by pest control methods.
|Plowing, which is unlike any natural soil disturbance, exposes soil to erosion, reduces organic matter, and results in a loss of chemical elements.
|Crops are genetically modified and artificially selected to optimize yield.
|The agroecologist views any farming system primarily with an ecologist's eye; that is, it is not firstly economic (created for a commodity and profit), nor industrial (modeled after a factory). In fact, agroecosystems are both understood and designed following ecological principles. For example, integrated pest management aims to control problematic pests through introduction of other species, not application of pesticides or herbicides to kill that pest. An common example of this would be intercropping to attract beneficial insects within rows of a given plagued crop . The insects would balance the disturbed ecology represented by the pest, thus eliminating
unsustainable practices such as increasingly intensified pesticide use. |
The term itself appeared in the late 1970's. It arose from the recognition that Green Revolution-era agroecosystems were highly dependent upon inputs such as pesticides, capital-intensive machinery, and specific seed varieties engineered or bred in the global North.
The impacts of such agricultural systems have tended to exacerbate the intertwined social, political, and economic problems of the developing countries, or the global South.
K.H.W. Klages is credited as one of the first to discuss ecology and agriculture.
Practitioners take a critical view of modern industrial agricultural techniques, and see the industrial model as fundamentally or radically
(at its roots) unsustainable.
Some current world issues that tie into agroecology - and its coupling of agronomy with the social sciences - include food sovereignty and rural development.
An important movement which can be related to agroecology is agrarianism. Another current trend that has informed much work in agroecology is traditional agriculture or indigenous agriculture.
|Latin America and Agroecology
|Because of the ideological differences between industrial or mechanized agriculture and agroecology, its application has thus far been relatively limited in the U.S. (the country where industrial agriculture has been advanced the furthest). Latin America's experiences with North American Green Revolution agricultural techniques have opened space for agroecologists. Some countries where agroecological research and practice have flourished include Cuba and
Traditional or indigenous knowledge represents a wealth of possibility for agroecologists. The relationship between agronomists and traditional (often subsistence farmers) practitioners has been termed an "exchange of wisdoms." This recognizes that Western science
has some solutions and innovations to offer, while local knowledge systems developed over thousands of years have just as much, if not more, to offer. This becomes more evident still when the importance and
uniqueness of local ecologies are understood as underpinning agricultural systems.
- Organic movement - broadly refers to the organizations and individuals involved worldwide in the promotion of sustainable agriculture and organic farming, and a general opposition to agribusiness. Its history goes back to the first half of the 20th century, when modern large-scale agricultural practices began to appear. |
An abbreviated timeline:
|Sir Albert Howard is often referred to as the father of modern organic agriculture. His writings, and notably, the 1940
book, An Agricultural Testament , influenced many scientists and farmers of the day.
|In 1939, strongly influenced by Sir Howard's work, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment on farmland in England. It was the first scientific, side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming. Four years later, she published The Living Soil , based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiment. It was widely read, and lead to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group, the Soil Association.
|During the 1950s, sustainable agriculture was a research topic of interest, but science tended to concentrate on the new chemical approaches. In the U.S., J.I. Rodale began to popularize the term and methods of organic growing. In addition to agricultural research, Rodale's publications through the Rodale Press helped to promote organic gardening to the general public.
|In 1962, Rachel Carson, a prominent scientist and naturalist, published
Silent Spring , chronicling the effects of DDT and other pesticides on the environment. A bestseller in many countries, including the US, and widely read around the world, Silent Spring was instrumental in the US government's 1972 banning of DDT. The book and its author are often credited with launching the environmental movement.
|In the 1970s, worldwide movements concerned with the pollution and the environment increased attention on organic farming. As the distinction between organic and conventional food became clear, one goal of the organic movement was to encourage consumption of locally grown food, which was promoted through slogans such as "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" .
|In the 1980s, around the world, various farming and consumer groups began seriously pressuring for government regulation of organic production. This led to various legislation and certification standards being enacted through the 1990s and to date. Currently, most aspects of organic food production are government-regulated in the US and the European Union.
|In the 2000s, the market for organic products, including food, beauty, health, bodycare, and
household products, and fabrics, continues to grow rapidly worldwide.
More countries are establishing formal, government-regulated certification of organic food: in 2002 in the US, and projected for 2006 in Canada, among others. Monitoring and challenging certification rules and decisions have become a regular, high profile aspect of activists in the organic movement.
|List of organic gardening and farming topics
|Organic Volunteers - Coordinates internships on Organic Farms.
|Origins of the Organic Movement, One of the few published works documenting the history of the organic movement.
|Organic Consumers Association - Large activist resource site: "Campaigning for Food Safety, Organic Agriculture, Fair Trade and Sustainability".
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