Hands in the Soil

Our approach to agroecology  

Agroecology can be understood primarily as a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services (RegenFarm, 2021). We can define agroecology as the application of ecological concepts and principles in farming and food systems, informing a set of practices aiming at (Soil Association, 2021): 

  • Mitigate climate change (e.g. reducing emissions, recycling resources and prioritising local supply chains). 

  • Protect and enhance biodiversity (e.g. managing the impact of farming on wildlife and harnessing nature to do the hard work for us, such as pollinating crops and controlling pests). 

  • Supporting farmers and local communities (e.g. empower local people to find solutions to adapt agricultural techniques to suit the local area). 

Agroecology is also a field of academic and practitioner enquiry, an emerging scientific interdisciplinary domain at the crossroads of agronomy, soil sciences, ecology, political sciences and humanities (Wezel et al., 2009). Its interdisciplinary and holistic approach is often reflected in practices adopted by farming communities, activists and policymakers. From this perspective, agroecology can also be seen as a cultural and political movement in itself, with principles rooted in ecological worldviews, and socio-ecological relations being the key aspects to consider in design food and farming systems. The scales and dimensions of agroecological investigations and applications have changed over time, moving from the plot and field scales to farm and agro-ecosystem scales (Wezel et al., 2009). Currently, there are still three key scales at which agroecology principles and practices persist:  

  • At plot and field scales (mostly oriented to micro-adaptation of ecological and farming processes, involving an ecology of soil, soil-plant-climate interactions, bio-based processes);  

  • At the agro-ecosystem and farm scales (focusing on socio-economic conditions enabling ecological processes to be applied at farm business level), and  

  • Covering the whole food system (e.g. looking at the institutional and governance conditions for enabling transition into ecologically informed farming practices, from production to consumption and involving supply chain actors) (Wezel et al., 2009). 

Large food companies have recently considered adoption and diffusion of agroecological practices. Typically, this has entailed a reconfiguration of supply chain relations and the investigation of novel technological and contractual solutions to facilitate processes of adoption and diffusion of these practices. Examples include the regenerative agriculture programmes by Danone, General Mills, Barilla, and Balbo, amongst others. The corporate activism in the agroecology domain is relatively new, but has triggered various challenges particularly around the governance of agroecological practices in business-led projects and initiatives, as well as the push for more technology-oriented applications, such as precision agriculture, robotics and big data applied to system design.