University academic talks agroecology at Royal Geographical Society conference

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Monday 02 July 2012

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A sustainable agriculture expert from Coventry University will make her case for how the barriers currently preventing the widespread implementation of agroecology can be overcome to help ensure global food security, when she speaks at the Royal Geographical Society's annual international conference this week.

Dr Julia Wright, deputy director of the University's Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS), will deliver a presentation on 'Mainstreaming agroecology - the joy of paradigm shifts and uncertainties'.

Agroecology is the 'science' that underpins sustainable agriculture, and earlier this year Dr Wright launched a new policy document that outlines the scientific evidence on the potential for mainstreaming agroecology.

Dr Wright, a lead researcher in the University's Grand Challenge Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security, said:

The term 'agroecology' is now increasingly used in national and international policy and practitioner circles, from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Food Security and the international farmer association Via Campesina to the UK’s All Parliamentary Group on Agroecology.

With this, its definition is continually re-interpreted, and myths and misperceptions increase. Basing our production and food systems on ecological principles does not mean self-sufficiency, but rather self-reliance. It does not mean small scale, but rather appropriate scale. And it does not mean 'no growth', but rather increasing complexity.

My presentation will argue that attempts to change the system in a piecemeal fashion - through tinkering with individual techniques and technologies - is insufficient because underlying this is a need for a paradigm shift from the predominant industrialised mindset to an ecological mindset.

I will also propose that we cannot predict what might happen if agroecology were mainstreamed, because we have not done the science and practice on, for example, the impact a rehabilitated, 20cm deep topsoil would have on crop growth or hydrology, and neither can we predict the spontaneous interactions between culture, terroir and other regional factors that would influence the emergence of more localised and diverse food systems. However, some hints can be drawn from history, including the Cuban experience of transitioning its food and farming system in the late 1990s.

The three-day Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference runs from 3-5 July at the University of Edinburgh.

For further information, please contact Phil Smith at Communications Management on 01727 733388 or email