Agroecology is a central theme in the Farm Experience Internship. The term Agroecology is derived from two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. The Farm Experience Internship (FEI) is an initiative brought from Brazil, where agroecology is also a powerful social and political movement. There, the foundation of agroecology was created by different kinds of movements and based on traditional agricultural practices. In the 1970s, these movements emerged as different forms of alternative agriculture, as a critique against the agricultural modernization, called the Green Revolution: the push-through of high responsive varieties (HYV; later also GMO’s), and the required oil-dependent technology, petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, and overall intensification of farms.
This all started in 1964, with the overthrow of the president João Goulart (member Brazilian Labour Party). João – a democratically chosen president – aimed at socializing the profits of large companies towards ensuring a better quality of life for the majority of the Brazilians and not just the elite. This made him being seen as a ‘socialist threat’ by the military and right-wing sectors of the society. Secretly supported by the USA, the military committed a coup d’état (overthrow of the government) on 1st April 1964. About a 30.000 people were tortured and killed, 50.000 detained and many are still missing. A pro-USA military dictatorship took power, which ruled the country for more than 20 years. (see for example the documentary ‘Brazil – A Report on Torture’)
The torture, killings and kidnapping of people is called the ‘Shock Therapy‘, or ‘Shock Doctrine’: an actual strategy which has been implemented in countries all over the world, mainly during the cold war. The idea is that when a country in shock, policies and regulations can easily be pushed through (see Noami Klein and short explanation on shock doctrine). In this way, (Western) Sovereign powers (governments, banks, World Bank, IMF, Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation etc.) were able to take control over a country’s :
1) government, by installing a military dictatorial regime after secretly backed coup d’etat (overthrow of the government)
2) economy, by pushing though regulations to enhance free market economy, enforce free trade regulation;
3) people, by controlling food production via the Green Revolution and pushing through regulations that shift a country from producing food crops (family farming) to cash crops (industrialized farming).
So besides policies and regulations enhancing the free market economy, also the Green Revolution was being pushed through in Brasil. The Green Revolution, or ‘agricultural modernization’, resulted in many negative impacts. One major negative impact is soil depletion. When fertilizers are added, a plant absorbs not only the extra N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) from the fertilizer, but it also absorbs increased levels of micro-nutrients from the soil, like zinc, iron and copper. Over time, the soil becomes deficient in these micro-nutrients. If these are absent, it also inhibits the plant’s capacity to absorb the fertilizer’s elements, so you need to add more and more, while the mineral and vitamin content of the plant is rapidly decreasing. Besides soil depletion, there was a rapid destruction of the soil life. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides damaged the healthy soil food web. This made it more difficult for local varieties to grow there, while High Yielding Varieties (needing a massive demand of water, fertilizers and pesticides and moreover contain less nutrients compared to local varieties) took over in agriculture. This meant a big loss in diversity both for natural ecosystem as well as a loss in diversity of the human diet. Meanwhile, diseases and pests start to break out due to the imbalance of the ecosystem. Some diseases and pests developed resistance to pesticides/herbicides within just a few years, leading to increased use and new developed products. After the introduction, many of the introduced pesticides/herbicides were banned due to these toxic effects on human health as well as on the environment. For thousands of people, this was too late however – they suffered form acute poisoning and many died – something which is still happening today. Besides this, the change in agricultural was also the start of the rapid loss of local knowledge, which was formed over thousands of years experience in agriculture. This is maybe one of the biggest disasters in agriculture history, since it creates increasingly more dependence on the free market economy. Also, the up-scaling and modernization of farms, meant that a small group of farmers became more rich, started investing in technology and now started out-competing the small family farms. Industrialized agriculture replaced human labour and left millions of people without a job, forced to sell the land and move towards the now fast growing slums. This process was even worsened, since Europe and USA started dumping huge amounts of food and dairy at the world market – which was so extremely cheap due to subsidy, with the result that local farmers could never sell their products for such a low price and were therefore totally out-competed. So indeed – when the Western World is producing more food, it is thereby also creating more poverty in the Third World, since it takes away the income of millions of local farmers! Increased competition, was combined with increased costs of farming due to the required inputs: fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, petroleum, machinery, seeds, increased water etc. Agriculture transformed in agribusiness, paving the way for the entry of corporations and their products. (see also this article which explains how the Green Revolution created hunger in Brasil).
The agro-ecological movements started to fight against the modernization and up-scaling of farms since the beginning of the implementation of the Green Revolution already. They started promoting family farms, as well as autonomy (independence of the free-market economy) and food sovereignty.
FOOD SOVEREIGNTY is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just incomes to all peoples as well as the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. – Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007. (see also short booklet Towards Food Sovereignty)
Note that the movements had strong objectives to break with organic agriculture third-party certification systems and formal markets (Wezel et al., 2009). They do this, because products can only be called ‘organic’ when they have an organic certification. This certification is often expensive, and small farmers are not able to pay this. Also, organic products are often sold at formal markets (e.g. big supermarkets), which out-compete local markets or small shops owned by local people. Agroecological movements focus instead on approaching local markets through a partnership with consumers. In this way, paying a lot of money for an (expensive) label is not necessary anymore, both for the farmers and consumers.
Agroecology became more and more a strong social and political movement, dealing also like environmental, social, economic, ethical and development issues – not only on the scale of the field, but now encompassing the farm as a whole and even focusing on the complete agroecosystem scale. Also social movements, like the MST (Landless Movement in Brasil) adopted agroecology as one of their ideals. Until today, the MST is the biggest social movement of Brazil, where landless people reclaim the land to produce food for their families and local markets.
Part of this growing agroecology movement took place on the Universities of Brazil. There, students demanded education about agro-ecology, they demanded the university to support again to those who produce the food: the farmers. In order to bridge the gap between the university and the farmers, students decided to set up a course about agroecology, both in theory (2 weeks at the university) as well as in practice (2 weeks at the farm). And this is the very beginning of the Estágio Interdisciplinar de Vivência (EIV), or Farm Experience Internship (FEI) in English. The Farm Experience Internship is one little step forward in the fight against agribusiness, by connecting students with the reality and needs of farmers, instead of solely being educated by (agribusiness-driven) Universities.
The concept of the Estágio Interdisciplinar de Vivência (EIV) from Brasil was introduced in the Europe in 2013, at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where it was named the Farm Experience Internship (read more about this at ‘How it all Started..’). Since the FEI is an initiative from Brazil, it is important to go in one line with the Brazilian concept of agroecology, which strongly emphasizes the social and political movement behind it, as well as the right to food (food sovereignty), and the benefits for the concretization of this human right. Therefore, we use a combination of three definitions of agroecology:
“AGROECOLOGY can be seen as a scientific discipline, agricultural principle and practice, and/or political or social movement (Wezel, 2009),
working with basic ecological principles for how to study, design and manage agroecosystems that are productive, natural resource conserving as well as culturally sensitive, socially just and economically viable (Altieri, 1995),
thereby not only showing strong conceptual connections with the right to nutritious food, but also providing proven results for fast progress in the concretization of this human right for many vulnerable groups in various countries and environments (de Schutter 2010).”
Currently, agroecological systems (Organic agriculture, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Farmers Markets, Biodynamic Production etc) are dealing with the complete food system. See for example the documentary Neste Chão Tudo Dá and Da horta à floresta from Brasil. These farmers and movements are fighting against the agribusiness’ idea of ‘producing more food to feed the hungry world’. We already have enough food to feed the world 3 times. Producing even more food led by agribusiness is not going to feed the world. It’s in fact the agribusiness that so often created hunger and made people poor due to the introduction of technology, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, High Yielding Varieties, GMOs, heavily subsidized food from the West, as well as privatization and land grabbing, justified in the name of ‘feeding the world’. Therefore it’s time to fight for food sovereignty: fair distribution of food, water, land and labour, fair prizes for the producers, the defense of local markets, healthy and nutritious varieties/food for all, recovery and revalorization of traditional peasant farming methods and a strive for closed nutrient cycles.
“Solving the sustainability problem of agriculture is the primary aim of agroecology. It is maintained here, however, that simply focusing on the technological aspects of the problem, even though promoted technologies are low-input, obscures the fundamental problems that lie behind the technology-induced environmental crisis and rural poverty affecting the agricultural regions of the world. Agroecology can provide the ecological guidelines to point technological development in the right direction, but in the process, technological issues must assume their corresponding role within a strategy of rural development that incorporates social and economic problems.” – Altieri, 1989, pp1
Food is a Weapon… See this excellent documentary from John Pilger: The Weapon is Food
However, pushing though the Green Revolution and the free market economy requires a shocking strategy (Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein):
“World hunger is created by destroying peoples’ capacity to feed themselves. If 800million people are hungry today, every one of those 800million people ten, twenty, thirty years ago used to grow their own food and feed themselves” – Vandana Shiva:
Partly because of the Green Revolution, we now have 2 billion hectares (1ha=10.000 m2) of degraded land worldwide. Our challenge is to rehabilitate these large-scale damaged ecosystems. And this is possible ALL AROUND THE WORLD:
Join the Farm Experience Internship & Let’s start an Agroecological Revolution Together!
‘There is a battle ‘for truth’, or at least ‘around truth’ – it being understood once again that by truth I don’t mean ‘the ensemble of truths which are to be discovered and accepted,’ but rather ‘the ensemble of rules according to which the true and the false are separated and specific effects of power attached to the true,’ it being understood also that it’s a matter not of a battle ‘on behalf’ of truth, but a battle about the status of truth and the economic and political role it plays (…) ‘Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. ‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it. A ‘regime’ of truth. This regime is not merely ideological or superstructural; it was the condition of the formation and development of capitalism. (…) The problem is not changing people’s consciousness – or what’s in their heads – but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth.’ – Michael Foucault, 1976.
Changing the Universities from within: FEI from Brazil:
INFO ON AGROECOLOGY (click on the articles below)
- The Scarcity Myth, 2003 (also about Brasil).
- Agroecology: Voices from Social Movements (documentary)
- Library on Agroecology
- ‘Het Echte Werk’ (booklet about agroecological farmers – in Dutch)
- Altieri, 1989. Agroecology: A new Research and Development Paradigm for World Agriculture.
- Altieri, 2002. Agroecology. The science of natural resource management for poor farmers in marginal environments
- Miguel Altieri on Agroecology (video)
- A conversation with Miguel Altieri (document)
- Silici, 2014. Agroecology. What is it and what it has to offer. IIED Paper
- OXFAM, 2014. Building a New Agricultural Future. Supporting agro-ecology for people and the planet.
- United Nations Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter
- Rosset and Torres, 2013. Food Sovereignty. Rural Social Movements, Dialogo de Saberes. Agroecology
- Presentation Hanny van Geel (La Via Campesina) on agroecology
- Declaration Mali on agroecology. Febr 2015
- How do we bring agricultural food to citizenship