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The great approach of philanthropy in support of the agroecological movement

August 13, 2023

I was really impressed by this article by the Agroecology Fund and the Global Greengrants Fund about their partnership and approach to fostering agroecology through direct support to grassroots movements and Indigenous Peoples. This is the kind of support I would love to see predominant in philanthropy because it embeds all the principles I believe in human rights, food sovereignty, and respect for biodiversity and the environment through an ecosystem approach. The efforts of these Foundations to decolonize their grant-making process and prioritize grassroots movements and Indigenous Peoples with their knowledge and practices are groundbreaking.

 It is not surprising that, in the longstanding clash between industrial agriculture and sustainable agriculture models, they chose to prioritize agroecology. Agroecology is not only a way of farming ecologically, but also a practice and a social movement, in that it addresses more equitable social relations and favors the co-creation of knowledge, putting the food producers at the center of a more democratic, equitable, and fair food system. Practicing agroecology means accepting that all the living things in the ecosystem interact, and we must respect these interactions by not forcing nature for profit-based gains. It also represents a cheaper and more sustainable strategy for climate adaptation and mitigation.

In contrast with the Green Revolution recipe that prioritizes yield and uniformity over-diversification and resilience, agroecology responds with a transdisciplinary and participatory research approach that has preserved biodiversity for centuries and is now recovering more resilient and indigenous varieties as is the case of the Buryat cows, which show how indigenous knowledge revives and safeguards traditional livestock breeds, fostering biodiversity, climate resilience, and food justice.

I once heard that “tradition” can be defined as what has the power and capacity to resist over centuries. The potential of traditional varieties to bolster our resilience and food security is huge, especially if they are adequately supported, which is different from the current world reliance on just a few crops.

Supporting grassroots movements will also prevent the cooptation of the agroecology concept. Big corporations have already smelled the opportunity to make profits out of it, but the agroecology model they are sponsoring is just greenwashing – a strategy to attract consumers more sensitive to environmental concerns. It is focused on the technical side of the practices, which dismisses the social justice dimension, and perpetuates some of the shortfalls of industrial agriculture, like the reliance on (organic or biological) input suppliers.

ActionAid strongly supports communities working on agroecology. In our recent report “The human costs of the food crisis”, which was based on research spanning 14 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, we found that in this time of unprecedented food price crisis, community members in 12 of the 14 countries surveyed said that they were practicing agroecology to make savings on crop production, and more than a quarter (28%) of those surveyed said that they made compost to offset the soaring prices of chemical fertilizers.

With the support of ActionAid, Martha and her community in Nigeria have started farming cassava again. Because prices are so high, she is borrowing cassava stems, maize, and okra and practicing agroecological farming so that she can rebuild her livelihood.

Despite its enormous potential, agroecology is still underfunded by the international community, so the work led by the Agroecology Fund and the Global Greengrants Fund is a big step ahead.

I really hope their work will continue along this way and escalate to support organizations with close ties to grassroots movements and rural communities – in order to uphold their advocacy work and influence the policy change we need for a more democratic and resilient food system.