The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is pleased to announce the winners of the CCIC and CASID writing competition for emerging academics/researchers and practitioners across Canada, Emily Kocsis and Guillaume Baggio. Emily Kocsis’ piece entitled “Mainstreaming agroecology: A Canadian leadership imperative” was selected for the practitioner stream and Guillaume Baggio’s piece entitled “Moving beyond calories: a quest for better evidence on culture, food insecurity and peace” was selected for the Academic/Researcher stream. You can find their submitted written pieces below as well as their bios.
Please note that the written submissions were assessed based on the criteria outlined here. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research, Student and Young Professionals Network Coordinator
Emily is an inter-disciplinary global health practitioner with a passion for systems thinking and ecosystem approaches to health. Currently, Emily works as a Research Assistant for an Indigenous Health consulting group, and as the Coordinator for the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research’s Students and Young Professionals Network. Emily earned her MSc in Global Health from McMaster University in 2014, focusing her research on traditional food systems in East Africa. Over the past five years, Emily has worked on a number of research and capacity building projects related to agriculture and food security in Peru, Canada, Kenya and Vietnam. Hailing from the fruit belt of Niagara, Emily has spent much of her life surrounded by agriculture. With plans to investigate the interplay between agriculture, migration and food sovereignty in Latin America through a PhD next year, Emily hopes to continue to explore and contribute to the global effort to build more sustainable food systems.
Mainstreaming agroecology: A Canadian leadership imperative
The future of industrial agriculture has become increasingly uncertain.1 Decades after the industrial farming practices of the “Green Revolution” were introduced, global food systems continue to be plagued by issues that have consequences for individuals and ecosystems alike.2 Modern industrial agriculture is depleting the world’s natural resources and generating record-breaking amounts of pollution and waste.3 We are producing enormous amounts of food per capita, and yet inequalities in food production and consumption have created a landscape where millions are malnourished, anemic or obese.4 As the socio-ecological costs of a system that privileges productivity over sustainability are revealed, an alternative model has emerged: agroecology.
Agroecology is an integrated approach to sustainable agriculture that applies ecological and social concepts and principles to re-design food systems from “farm to fork”.5 In agroecological practice, interactions between plants, animals, and humans are holistically integrated, with the ultimate goal of balancing community and ecosystem needs.6 Agroecology is the antithesis to the “one-size-fits-all” model; instead, it blends ecological science with traditional knowledge to co-create solutions to local problems.7 Although it is not a new invention– first described in the scientific literature in the 1920’s–support for agroecological farming has grown exponentially in recent years.8,9 This is due in part to landmark studies and data that illustrate agroecology’s capacity to: contribute to the production of nutritious food, safeguard biodiversity, promote adaptation to climate change, preserve food cultures, and boost local economies.10 UN institutions, international agencies, and governments have galvanized support for agroecology, with the FAO asserting that agroecology must be urgently “scaled up” to achieve sustainable food systems.11
The paradigmatic shift that has repositioned agroecology from fringe to centre stage presents a significant window of opportunity for Canada. As governments around the world begin to introduce programs and policies that explicitly support agroecology, Canada ought to reflect on its own approach to sustainable development and begin to take steps towards defining itself as a champion for agroecology. There are a number of different entry points for Canadian leadership, however, three areas in particular warrant consideration: 1) mainstreaming agroecology in development policy; 2) supporting the multilateral policy environment; and, 3) bolstering knowledge exchange and research.
To lay the groundwork for a leadership role, Canada must review its own international assistance policies, and prioritize agroecology. When the Government of Canada released it’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), markedly absent were long-standing priority areas for Canadian development assistance: agriculture and food security.12 Given that agriculture is central to the economy of most developing countries, with nearly 66% of rural people making their living through farming, Canadian development support is unlikely to be successful unless agriculture is made a priority.13,14 But, it is important to recognize that not all agricultural strategies are equally effective, and championing the right approach is critical. Canada should respond to evidence that smallholder agriculture has the highest potential to alleviate poverty—especially among women and girls—by supporting an approach that aligns with the needs and interests of peasant farmers: agroecology.15 Given that the FIAP is still in its infancy, there remains ample opportunity to remedy the exclusion of agriculture and food security by mainstreaming agroecology in the FIAP’s six key action areas. The FIAP provides a strong foundation to stand on, but with SDG targets fast-approaching, it is imperative to make agroecology a key component of Canada’s feminist international assistance goals.
Supporting a constructive public policy environment at the international level is another entry point for Canada to exercise leadership. Despite withdrawing slightly in recent years, Canada continues to be recognized as a major player in multilateral development cooperation.16 Given our reputation and credibility, Canada ought to use its voice at international tables to encourage financial and regulatory policies that support the scaling up of agroecology. The policies that multilateral bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development create deeply impact rural livelihoods.17 For example, at the Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations, a group of 33 countries successfully blocked a suite of measures that would have eroded local food sovereignty by allowing floods of cheap imports to be “dumped” into developing countries. Canada must support economic and trade policies that give low and middle-income countries the tools to protect their right to food.18 By advocating for agroecology-friendly policies, Canada has the opportunity to both re-assert itself on the world stage and improve the health and wellbeing of millions.
Lastly, Canada can advance the transition to agroecology by bolstering research and knowledge-exchange. The foundation of agroecological practice is farmers’ knowledge of local ecosystems and crops. This approach is fundamentally different to industrial agriculture, where information typically flows “top-down”, from research institution to farmer.19 Because agroecology is far more knowledge-intensive, existing processes for knowledge creation and dissemination must be strengthened, and new practices developed.20 Canada can make a profound contribution in this space. At the local level, organizations working at the intersection of agriculture and development can champion initiatives that institutionalize knowledge-sharing, such as farmer-to-farmer networks and community seed banks. Nationally, research institutions, like the International Development Research Centre can advance the knowledge-base of agroecology by funding research that works directly with farmers to characterize agroecological practices in different cultural and environmental contexts.21 Finally, at the international level, Canada should continue to be an ally to movements like La Via Campesina, that use the grassroots knowledge, ideas and experiences of farmers to achieve food sovereignty.
The environmental, economic and social implications of decades of industrialized agriculture are becoming increasingly apparent, precipitating momentous activity in the agri-food space. As agroecology gains traction globally, new spaces for actors to actualize policy, advocacy and action are emerging.22 Canada must seize this opportunity, and lead the way in advancing an agroecological agenda. Despite the discourse that pushes “magic bullet” solutions to the world’s food insecurity ills, what is likely needed are systemic changes to the way we grow and consume food.23 As an approach that focuses on pluralistic, interdisciplinary action, agroecology is an encouraging way forward, and Canada would do well to demonstrate its leadership.
- IAASTD, Agriculture at a Crossroads. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development Global Report, 2009, Washington, DC: Island Press.
- FAO. Symposium on Agroecology and Food Security, 2014.
- World Bank, Agriculture and Food Overview, 2019
- FAO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. 2019.
- Stephen Gliessman, “Transforming Food Systems with Agroecology,” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 40, no. 3 (2016).
- Tommy Dalgaard, Nicholas Hutchings, John Porter, “Agroecology, scaling and interdisciplinarity,” Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 100, no.1 (2003).
- FAO. The 10 Elements of Agroecology: Guiding the Transition to Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems, 2018.
- Stephen Gliessman, Agroecology: Ecological Processes in Sustainable Agriculture (Boca Raton: Lewis Publishers, 1998).
- FAO. Symposium on Agroecology and Food Security.
- IAASTD. Agriculture at a Crossroads.
- FAO. Symposium on Agroecology and Food Security.
- Matias Margulis, Why global feminism and food security go hand in hand, 2017 <https://www.opencanada.org/features/why-global-feminism-and-food-security-go-hand-hand/> [accessed October 22 2019]
- FAO, The economic lives of smallholder farmers: An analysis based on household data from 9 countries, 2015.
- FAO. Symposium on Agroecology and Food Security.
- Stephen Brown and Michael Olender, “Canada’s Fraying Commitment to Multilateral Development Cooperation” in Multilateral Development Cooperation in a Changing Global Order, eds. Hany Besada and Shannon Kindornay (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013),158-88.
- M Wibbelmann, “Mainstreaming Agroecology: Implications for Global Food and Farming Systems” Centre for Agroecology and Food Security Discussion Paper. Coventry: Centre for Agroecology and Food Security. (2013)
- United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council. Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, 2010.
- IPES-Food, Breaking away from industrial food and farming systems: Seven case studies of agroecological transition, 2018.
- Raquel Gonzalez, Jessica Thomas, Marina Chang, “Translating Agroecology into Policy: The Case of France and the United Kingdom,” Sustainability 10, no. 2390 (2018).
- IPES-Food, Breaking away from industrial food and farming systems: Seven case studies of agroecological transition