Royal and political backing for Coventry University's calls to mainstream agroecology in fight for food security

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Monday 14 October 2013

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Coventry University's Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS) is to unveil its new discussion paper, Mainstreaming Agroecology: Implications for Global Food and Farming Systems, alongside a key parliamentary group and with a ringing endorsement from HRH the Prince of Wales.

The paper will be launched on Wednesday 16th October at a Westminster lunchtime event hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology to coincide with World Food Day. It features a prestigious foreword from Prince Charles in his role as patron of Garden Organic, the UK's leading organic growing charity and a partner in CAFS.

The challenge of feeding the world's growing population without further damaging the natural resource base is becoming increasingly urgent and, say the CAFS researchers, must be met in ways that also allow adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

In the discussion paper CAFS outlines how mainstreaming the process and practices of agroecology can meet the challenges facing agriculture and food production - providing not only food, but also fuel, fibre and a wide range of other ecosystem services.

Dr Ulrich Schmutz, an agricultural economist at Garden Organic and one of the lead authors of the CAFS report, said:

Agroecology provides a much-needed approach to food and farming by looking at the systems as a whole. This includes the social and economic as well as environmental context of food production systems. Agroecology's potential in the UK is currently neglected; only about 2% of the public agri-technology research is spent on it v 15% on GM crops and 13% on marker assisted breeding. This ratio needs to reverse and UK public research investment should back a much wider technology and innovation mix which truly has the potential to contribute to global food security.

The CAFS paper has a specific focus on policy implications for the development of resilient food systems - and concludes with "an agenda for change":

  • Agricultural policy should prioritise the use of local resources to meet the requirements of agroecological faming and, where appropriate, support small farm agriculture and co-operatives;
  • Economic policy should create market conditions - including financial and regulatory mechanisms - that are favourable to rural and urban agroecological production, and develop improved markets for ecosystem services to provide incentives for their conservation and support for farming communities;
  • Cross-sectoral policies addressing food, markets and rural and urban development should include the development of robust frameworks for assessing and evaluating existing food production systems that focus on their ecological integrity and social-economic benefit, and use these as a basis for evidence-based policy;
  • Knowledge management and agricultural extension should prioritise exchange of knowledge on agroecological management practices between all stakeholders by building regional, national and international information resources and networks.
  • Research should address the implications of agroecological management in different cultural and environmental settings, both urban and rural, and further develop agroecological production.

In his foreword to the report, HRH the Prince of Wales wrote:

When I first became Patron of the Henry Doubleday Research Association, some 25 years ago now, it was because I appreciated the importance of sound academic research into the principles of ecologically-friendly gardening and farming practices. I am delighted that, over the past quarter of a century, the organisation, now known as Garden Organic, has continued to drive this agenda with numerous initiatives, including a new partnership with Coventry University to establish a centre for Agrocology and Food Security.

I am greatly encouraged that this first report, Mainstreaming Agroecology, is such a serious contribution to the movement. It sets out a pathway for how the Agroecological approach can make an evermore significant contribution to the world's food security. I hope this report will be read by all of those involved in food production and provision and would like to congratulate everyone at the Centre for Agroecology and Food Security for making such an assured start.

CAFS includes the world-leading researchers driving Coventry University's Grand Challenge Initiative in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. Speakers at Wednesday's Westminster event will be Dr Michel Pimbert, director of CAFS, and Dr Schmutz.

Ahead of the event, Dr Pimbert said:

Our mission is to undertake applied research and education on agroecology as the underlying paradigm of sustainable food and farming systems. This approach is required not only to ensure that all the people of the world are fed, but also for humanity to avoid destroying the life support system and renewable energies upon which it depends.

Whilst the term 'agroecology' has been increasingly used in international circles over the past two decades, it is less used and not well-understood in the UK, even within the alternative agricultural movements. This paper is written to inform the very broad audience of people and organisations working for change in the farming production, research and policy arenas.