Many people, from scientists to farmers, are aware of the tenuous state of world agriculture in terms of sustainability and the systems that produce most of the products we use every day. The present state of production and consumption in Western countries, as well as others, does not work sustainably for most involved, even though in the short term it has been seen as the only working solution. This is especially true in the area of food production, where large scale water and environmental problems have incrementally devastated many parts of the world. There are also immense problems such as the documented loss of the topsoil itself that no one can deny. Yet this is an increasingly documented situation which global organizations like the United nations are beginning to recognize. An example of this is the following:
This refers to a recent report undertaken by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, and presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations, which discusses the potential benefit of an alternate perspective and methodology in relation to various nation’s food production systems and how it could possibly contribute to meeting societal needs in the future. It is written in light of not only the present problems, but the significant and likely future problems which are predicted.
To place the excerpts in context first we have to ask – what is Agroecology?
“Agroecology can be defined broadly or narrowly. Loosely defined, agroecology often incorporates ideas about a more environmentally and socially sensitive approach to agriculture, one that focuses not only on production, but also on the ecological sustainability of the productive system. [This definition] implies a number of features about society and production that go well beyond the limits of the agricultural field.
At its most narrow, agroecology refers to the study of purely ecological phenomena within the crop field, such as predator/prey relations, or crop/weed competition.”
[Susanna B. Hecht, “The Evolution of Agroecological Thought,” in Agroecology: The Scientific Basis of Alternative Agriculture p. 4. ].
Building upon this basic definition, below are a few excepts from the actual report (with added headers):
(The report defines Agroecology)
Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. It was created by the convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. As a science, Agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.”16 As a set of agricultural practices, Agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem. It provides the most favourable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity. The core principles of Agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species. Agroecology is highly knowledge-intensive, based on techniques that are not delivered top-down but developed on the basis of farmers’ knowledge and experimentation…
Agroecology is a coherent concept for designing future farming systems as it is strongly rooted both in science and in practice, and because it shows strong connections with the principles of the right to adequate food (Section III). It can be seen as encompassing – or closely related to – approaches such as “ecoagriculture” and “evergreen agriculture,” while the concepts of “ecological intensification” and “conservation agriculture” often follow certain agroecological principles. Agroecology is also linked to the “ecosystem approach to sustainable crop production intensification” recently supported by the FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG)…
To achieve this, however, pouring money into agriculture will not be sufficient; what is most important is to take steps that facilitate the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-preserving type of agriculture that benefits the poorest farmers. This will not happen by chance. It can only happen by design, through strategies and programmes backed by strong political will, and informed by a right-to-food approach. This report explores how agroecology, a mode of agricultural development that has shown notable success in the last decade (see Section III), can play a central role in achieving this goal….
Appropriate public policies can create an enabling environment for such sustainable modes of production. These policies include prioritizing the procurement of public goods in public spending rather than solely providing input subsidies; investing in knowledge by reinvesting in agricultural research and extension services; investing in forms of social organization that encourage partnerships, including farmer field schools and farmers’ movements innovation networks; investing in agricultural research and extension systems; empowering women; and creating a macro-economic enabling environment, including connecting sustainable farms to fair markets.
(A perspective on what food production systems should achieve)
Food systems should be developed in order to meet the following three objectives:
1. First, food systems must ensure the availability of food for everyone, that is, supply must match world needs…
2. Second, agriculture must develop in ways that increase the incomes of smallholders. Food availability is, first and foremost, an issue at the household level, and hunger today is mostly attributable not to stocks that are too low or to global supplies unable to meet demand, but to poverty; increasing the incomes of the poorest is the best way to combat it.
3. Third, agriculture must not compromise its ability to satisfy future needs. The loss of biodiversity, unsustainable use of water, and pollution of soils and water are issues which compromise the continuing ability for natural resources to support agriculture.
(The Importance of food growing systems that supply their own fertilizer needs)
Agroforestry or comparable techniques such as the use of leguminous-cover crops to fix nitrogen also have a huge potential. This matters particularly to the poorest farmers, who are least likely to be able to afford to buy inorganic fertilizers, and whom fertilizer distribution systems often do not reach, particularly since the private sector is unlikely to invest into the most remote areas where communication routes are poor and few economies of scale can be achieved. But it is also of great importance to low-income countries, which import to meet their inorganic fertilizer needs.
(Establishing systems by design observation, and adaptation)
In addition, the diversity of species and of farm activities that agroecological approaches allow are ways to mitigate risks from extreme weather events, as well as from the invasion of new pests, weeds and diseases, that will result from global warming. The agroecological practice of cultivar mixtures bets on genetic diversity in the fields in order to improve crop resistance to diseases. In the Yunnan Province in China, after disease susceptible rice varieties were planted in mixtures with resistant varieties, yields improved by per cent and rice blast disease was per cent less severe than when the varieties were grown in monoculture, leading farmers to abandon the use of fungicidal sprays.
Research in agroecological practices, in particular, should be prioritized, because of the considerable and largely untapped potential of such practices. Modern science combines with local knowledge in agroecological research. In Central America for instance, the coffee groves grown under high-canopy trees were improved by the identification of the optimal shade conditions, minimizing the entire pest complex and maximizing the beneficial microflora and fauna while maximizing yield and coffee quality. However, perhaps because such practices cannot be rewarded by patents, the private sector has been largely absent from this line of research.
(What he believes countries and states should do as public policy)
As part of their obligation to devote the maximum of their available resources to the progressive realization of the right to food, States should implement public policies supporting the adoption of agroecological practices by:
• making reference to agroecology and sustainable agriculture in national strategies for the realisation of the right to food and by including measures adopted in the agricultural sector in national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and in the list of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) adopted by countries in their efforts to mitigate climate change;
• reorienting public spending in agriculture by prioritizing the provision of public goods, such as extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research, and by building on the complementary strengths of seeds-and-breeds and agroecological methods, allocating resources to both, and exploring the synergies, such as linking fertilizer subsidies directly to agroecological investments on the farm (“subsidy to sustainability”);
• supporting decentralized participatory research and the dissemination of knowledge about the best sustainable agricultural practices by relying on existing farmers’ organisations and networks, and including schemes designed specifically for women;
• improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets, using instruments such as public procurement, credit, farmers’ markets, and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.
(end of excepts)
We see many key aspects of this report echoed in the conclusions of experts and scientists from their various studies, as well as the experience gained by traditional farmers during the last five decades of industrial agriculture. Nowhere in the world that we currently see the rush to propagate the model of Western food production systems based upon yearly purchases of corporate products of seed stock, fertilizer, and pesticide, has the prosperity promised by this system been realized. In fact, in many places to some degree the opposite has occurred. Yet many nations who have increasing expansion and growth rates in every area of societal growth and infrastructure such as India and China blindly run down the same path presently followed by the predominant Western paradigm of agriculture; one which is not likely to bring long term success to the common people involved in subsistence agricultural farming. Much of the academic literature and experimentation related to alternative systems of sustainable agriculture is based upon Agroecology, so it is important to see that its adoption is beginning to be advocated on a greater scale.
The present international economic system as it relates to most farmers entwines both nations and individuals in a series of unjust, interest-based loans in order to facilitate the modern system of agricultural production. Many countries see farmers slipping into a cycle of spiraling debt through interest-based loans and equipment investments. Modern history has born witness to the wisdom of the guidance of the Sunnah in prohibiting interest-based loans while encouraging just profit sharing based contracts for agricultural and other commercial endeavors. Yet the small farmer today in many Muslim countries is often faced with the option of blindly accepting the Western system which not only includes elements of economic transactions prohibited for Muslims, but which additionally neither leads to their success in their worldly endeavor of raising food to support their families, nor to their countries collectively producing agricultural goods that their people actually need. So they suffer first a greater loss, in terms of a comprehensive view of success which Islaam puts forward, as well as a lesser loss of never even reaching that worldly good they were seeking.
The potentially harmful consequences of climate change will not be significantly affected by individual change, but only along with a collective remedial actions to begin to correct the problem which present day industrialized societies have produced by their rates of resource consumption. Similarly, the present and increasing future problems related to the world agricultural production systems will need to be addressed collectively. We read more and more of initiatives undertaken by the Muslim countries in the Middle East to explore alternative sustainable solutions to energy and food production, and we ask Allaah to reward them and make them successful. The scale of the future problem is one in which any efforts to address fundamental problems faced by various nations, including most Muslim countries, is benefited by positive actions taken by governments and other similar societal institutions to find alternatives that comply with the guidelines of Islaam and still meet the needs of the Muslims they are responsible for. We hope that those given responsibility for these matters in Muslim countries begin to consider alternate systems such as this which may help fulfill the basic food needs of their societies in general as well as remaining in compliance with the guidelines of Islaam.
Many of the problems found in Muslim societies today come from them blindly following the nations who came before them, and accepting whatever they have been presented in the name of progress without questioning and due diligence, and without returning to the guided scholars whose role is to guide society to consider matters carefully. This social reality was foretold to us by the Prophet, may Allaah’s praise and salutations be upon him. We pray that Allaah grants the Muslims the understanding to consider everything that they do in their lives from the view that the success that Allaah calls them to in this life and the next is always regardless of the area- based upon adherence to the guidance of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah of His final Prophet and Messenger.