The 2020 Agroecology Day conference included six panelists with different backgrounds who shared their experience with an audience of over 150 people from 37 countries through a webinar session. This 9th edition was made possible by students of the Agroecology Master program and presented insights into the different dimensions of agroecology. The first part of the webinar introduced the work and perspectives of the panelists.
The first panelist was Marco Tasin, a former teacher at SLU who has decided to go back to farming. He mentioned the challenges that agroecology faces on the way towards sustainability. Whereas, “farmers are the real innovators”, currently their relevance as social actors is not recognized, thus, social justice is one of the most important and urgent challenges. He also emphasized the importance of information, knowledge exchange, and participation as the basis for agroecology. He shared his experience with students as a teacher at SLU and his experience back in Italy as a farmer within a local community.
Secondly, Tirion Keatinge works as a project manager at reNature, a company dealing with commodity production in an agroecological way by means of agroforestry. He introduced the filmographic work of Maja Lindström. Her videos showed how agroforestry can be used as a way to control crop diseases and how to manage existing forest plantations holistically to harness their full potential. Tirion mentioned how agroforestry contributes to the diversification of agricultural systems and that this is an agroecological solution within the commodity production. He also highlighted the urgency of the big changes that need to be implemented in the way the production is currently done, bringing up the role of farmers as key actors.
Following, Rim Melake, trainee at the European Commission, has worked with different actors in the sector of development cooperation. She alluded to the role of women in agriculture and food security, explaining that there is no simple answer to the issues related to this topic. Her experience in Ethiopia revealed the different implications and challenges that female farmers have to face, including aspects related to accessibility, different constraints and assumptions. She also mentioned that the issues are context dependent since communities around the world live in different realities. She further underlined that social issues within agriculture are seldom addressed and thus need more attention and should be on top of each agenda.
Subsequently Jonas Ringqsvist, a farmer who runs a small organic farm together with his wife presented his own work. His farm has a mixed production, including poultry, livestock and vegetable production, because he acknowledges the importance of high diversity. He emphasised the importance of soil health, adopting practices like minimum tillage, while maximizing soil cover to reduce soil disturbance. Moreover, he believes in being part of the local community and that relationships with other farmers and customers are very important. He also attaches a lot of value to the work with hand tools and small machines, rather than big machinery because “when you sit on the tractor you get disconnected”.
Magnus Ljung is a principal extension officer and researcher at SLU, as well as a part-time farmer. His role is to bridge the gap between university and community and his research has been mainly on collaborative processes focusing on people within the social-ecological system. He pointed out the importance of binding scientific knowledge and practical knowledge, while considering the different actors or stakeholders involved in the process. He also believes that there is a need for change and transformation within the context of sustainable development. As a farmer, he focuses on extensive farming and conservation.
Finally, Nicolas Carton has a background of formal education and research in agroecology and intercropping systems. He reflected that there are lots of different perceptions on what agroecology is. From his perspective two key criteria are whether there is an active harness of ecosystem services rather than a dependency on external inputs, and the degree of local embeddedness. He gave as example his work with legumes, specifically lupin, as this group of plants show a range of traits like nitrogen fixation, efficient water and energy use, and are GHG-efficient protein sources. According to him, the introduction of lupin in the intercropping system can deliver a series of advantages to the production.
The second part of the seminar addressed a series of questions by the moderation and the audience. The first questions related to how the panelists perceived their role in agroecology and the process of developing sustainable food systems. Then, the topic of collaboration was addressed. Panelists agree that collaboration between practitioners, industry, policy makers and research is essential to agroecology looking for a change in the system towards a more sustainable agriculture. The impact of research is very important, but local or traditional knowledge is also very relevant for innovation and future development. Thus, there is an urgent need to promote a stronger connection between farmers and research. This bridge of science and practice is embedded in a socio-ecological context.
Another question addressed the issue of how anyone can be involved in this path towards sustainability. A key aspect of this is communication with the society. It is very important to have informed customers and to raise awareness about the implications of agricultural practices, while promoting local production and consumption. This is being an “ambassador” of agroecology and setting an example, which implies to question our own behaviors, options and choices. This way people will start to understand that what they buy in the shop has an effect on the environment and the landscape. Another aspect is to get more involved in sustainable agriculture and “get your hands dirty”.
The questions raised by the audience brought about interesting discussions. Some of the outcomes of this last part were: not to underestimate what a small group of concerned people can achieve; small initiatives work; more labor intensive systems are not bad systems, but can be valuable to bring more people working on farms; gender issues are more relevant than it is often perceived; agroecological practices can be economically viable and ecologically sustainable; and that the connection with nature stands at the core of sustainable development.